While almost every pet food website is happy to walk you through the best dry cat food recipes or the perfect cat food for your dog’s allergies or tastes, very few are willing to point out cat foods that should be avoided.
There are several reasons that a cat food recipe could be considered one of the worst. The most notable of these factors include a poor nutritional profile, poor quality ingredients, or a consistent history or trend of recalls or safety lapses.
We will walk you through some of these factors and then highlight which cat food brands we think you should avoid no matter what.
The Worst Cat Food Ingredients
The question of which ingredients found in cat food are poor quality is a controversial and touchy subject. Many individuals within the industry will push that certain ingredients can offer cats with appropriate nutrition and should not be avoided.
But others will push the point that some of these ingredients are chosen thanks to their low cost and are often the poorest and least nutritious cuts of meat.
Unnamed Meat & Fish Ingredients
Meat and fish ingredients that are not clearly named or defined should be avoided as much as possible. The reasoning behind this isn’t that they can not provide nutrition but the fact that they are not accountable.
The manufacturer could alter or change what these ingredients consist of as they please, which could have a negative impact on your cat’s health.
Examples of popular Unnamed meat and fish ingredients include Meat & Bone Meal, Meat By-Products, Fish, and others, and these ingredients can often be the most abundant meat sources present.
Many of the lower-cost cat food brands utilize a large range of poor-quality vegetable and grain ingredients. Examples of these could include grains like Corn and Wheat or starches like Potatoes.
In contrast to dogs, cats do not need to consume any plant matter in their diet and would be better off without them. What is especially damaging to cats is consuming high quantities of these carbohydrate-dense ingredients.
Even if they are ‘higher-quality’ or not processed, plant-based ingredients need to be present in small portions to ensure there is a plentiful supply of animal or fish-based protein.
Inappropriate Cat Nutrition
The ideal nutrition for cats is a regularly debated topic, and there are many contrasting opinions. Regardless of these, the AAFCO set out minimum levels of nutrients such as protein and fat that cat food must contain to be sold in the USA.
For cat food designed for adult cats, a recipe must contain a minimum of 30% protein, 9% fat, and various minimum levels of vitamins and minerals. These minimums are based on a dry-matter basis which excludes any moisture present in the food.
While these standards set out minimum levels, we and many others do not believe they are sufficient nutrition for most cats.
We will reiterate that cats should not consume large proportions of carbohydrates, as they are not an ideal component of their diet. Instead, almost all cats would be better served with a diet focused on animal-based protein and fat with minimal plant matter.
Most low-cost and poor-quality cat food brands only just surpass the minimum standards set by the AAFCO and then make use of low-cost plant-based ingredients to pad out their recipes.
Unsafe Cat Food
Unsafe cat food is an even bigger concern than cat food that is just poor in ingredient quality or nutrition. Unsafe cat food can lead to your cat feeling unwell, being sick, or even death in extreme cases.
There are a number of ways cat food can be unsafe. These include the presence of foreign material, contamination from pathogens, unsafe or inappropriate nutritional values, or spoilage from improper storage or transportation.
Issues like this are often distributed or announced to consumers and cat owners through recalls. These recalls aim to provide more detailed information and to strongly suggest or insist that consumers return/throw out the products described.
You can see an example from the FDA’s website of a recall issued by Midwestern Pet Foods below.
Consumers should be very cautious of cat food brands with a consistent history of recalls, especially if they relate to issues such as contamination.
A consistent history of contamination or other serious lapses will suggest improper safety and quality procedures at the brand’s manufacturing facilities.
If you want to learn more about a cat food brand’s recalls, including which recipes were recalled and why, we highly recommend checking out our index of brand reviews, which you can find here.
The 8 Worst Cat Food Brands
Purina Cat Chow
Many pet owners will be very familiar with Purina Dog Chow, but there is also a cat equivalent brand to this popular low-cost brand, known as Cat Chow.
Purina is a behemoth of a pet food brand that is owned by the conglomerate Nestle which also has popular brands from other industries such as Perrier Water, Cheerios Cereal, and KitKat Chocolate Bars.
While some of the recipes within these brand’s product ranges are high-quality and well worth considering, the recipes offered by Purina Cat Chow are not.
Cat Chow recipes contain huge proportions of grain ingredients such as Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Wheat, Rice, and Soy. As we mentioned earlier, these ingredients are dense sources of carbohydrates and plant-based protein and are not suitable to be eaten by cats in large quantities.
If that wasn’t enough, most Purina Cat Chow recipes provide the bare minimum nutrition to meet AAFCO Standards. For example, Purina Cat Chow’s Complete dry at food recipe contains just 32% protein and 12% fat.
Sadly, Purina Cat Chow is not a recall-free brand, and from our research, we could find at least one recent recall that the brand was forced to issue to customers in 2011. This recall was related to possible Salmonella Contamination of 870 bags of dry cat food shipped to Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon.
You can read the full details of this recall in Purina’s press release here.
Salmonella is a serious risk to both humans and cats, and as such, it must be taken very seriously by pet food brands such as Purina to minimize exposure and harm.
Outside of Purina Cat Chow, the Purina brand as a whole has had several more recalls over the last decade from other sub-brands.
This included additional recalls for Salmonella contamination in brands like Purina One, as well as for nutritional imbalances in recipes for Purina Veterinary Diets and Purina Pro Plan.
Meow Mix is a low-cost cat food brand owned by the large pet food conglomerate J.M. Smucker company, which also owns brands other recognizable brands like 9Lives, Natural Balance, and Nature’s Recipe.
Sadly Meow Mix is not a nutritious cat food brand, and their recipes are often crammed full of high proportions of carbohydrates and the bare minimum protein and fat that is required.
Many Meow Mix recipes do not have meat listed as their first or second ingredient and instead have dense grains like Corn or Soybean.
These ingredients provide not only carbohydrates but also plant-based protein, which is not as optimal for cats as animal-based protein. Plant-based protein is often more difficult to digest and absorb or lacks the full range of required amino acids.
You can see a prime example of this in the below Ingredient List and Guaranteed Analysis of Meow Mix Original Choice dry cat food.
As you can see, Whole Ground Corn and Soybean Meal make up the recipe’s first two ingredients and are present in huge quantities. Meat ingredients like Chicken By-Product and Turkey By-Product Meal are included in much smaller quantities.
Similar to Purina Cat Chow, the nutrition these ingredients provide are only just above the minimum standards with this recipe containing a minimum of 30% protein and 11% fat.
From the research we conducted, we believe Meow Mix has issued at leave one recall in its recent past which took place in April 2021.
This recall was due to Potential Salmonella Contamination of two lots of Meow Mix Original Choice dry cat food. As we mentioned earlier, Salmonella Contamination is a serious risk and one that can not be ignored.
These products were sold in Walmart stores in Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
If that was not concerning enough, other brands that are a part of the J.M. Smucker company have undergone recalls in recent history.
For example, in 2018, J.M Smucker Company initiated voluntary recalls of various wet dog food recipes due to the potential presence of Pentobarbital, a euthanasia drug.
We could also find evidence of several other J.M Smucker brands issuing recalls for issues like nutritional imbalances and ingredient quality.
Friskies is another Purina pet food brand, and it specializes in the production of wet/canned cat food rather than traditional dry cat food. Their presence is widespread, and they are one of the biggest producers of low-cost wet cat food in the United States.
Sadly, Friskies shares many of the traits of the other Purina brand mentioned in this article, which is Purina Cat Chow.
While Friskies recipes often contain some named meat ingredients like Chicken, they also often contain unnamed meat ingredients like Meat By-Products or Liver.
These vague ingredients are not accountable and, therefore, can not be relied upon as a source of beneficial nutrition for cats.
In addition, Friskies makes extensive use of low-quality grain ingredients in its recipes, such as Wheat Gluten, Soy Flour, and Corn Starch Modified.
These highly processed ingredients provide large proportions of carbohydrates that cats do not need in their diets and can lead to health problems such as obesity.
You can see a simple example of this below, which is the core ingredient list of Friskies Chicken & Salmon Dinner In Gravy recipe. Meat By-Products, Wheat Gluten, Corn Starch Modified, and Soy Flour are all present.
Despite widespread rumors online among cat owners, there haven’t been any Friskies recalls that we could find evidence for in quite some time.
The last recall we could find detailed and reliable information on was in 2011 and was once again due to Potential Salmonella Contamination.
As we discussed earlier, Salmonella Contamination is a serious risk and can harm humans and cats. Recalls regarding Salmonella must be taken seriously and the food disposed of and not fed to cats.
To get the complete picture on Friskies, including its product range, full selection of ingredients, and production information, we recommend you read our Friskies Brand Review.
9Lives was founded in 1957 and has been a staple cat food brand in the United States ever since. 9Lives is owned by the company Big Heart Pet Brands, which in course, is owned by J.M Smucker company.
Like many other brands mentioned here, 9Lives utilizes a large range of dense grain ingredients like Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, and Wheat.
These ingredients are not ideal for a cat’s diet, and they’d be better replaced with high-quality meat and fish ingredients.
Thanks to the presence of huge proportions of these low-quality grain ingredients, the nutrition provided by many of 9Lives’ cat food recipes is extremely poor and some of the lowest in the industry.
For example, their Daily Essentials dry cat food recipe contains just 30% protein and 9% fat. You can see its full Ingredient List and Guaranteed Analysis below.
Sadly, 9Lives has two recent recalls that they were forced to issue, one which took place in 2017 and another which took place in 2018.
The 2017 recall affected many of 9Lives’ wet cat food recipes and was due to a potential thiamine deficiency. Thiamine, which is also known as Vitamin B1, is a critical component of a cat’s nutritional intake.
Early symptoms of thiamine deficiency are Anorexia and vomiting, but the deficiency can progress to cause Impaired Vision, Ataxia, Tremors, and Seizures.
The 2018 recall from 9Lives was extremely similar to the 2017 recall and also related to potential thiamine deficiency and related to wet cat food products shipped across the United States.
The fact that 9Lives had recalls regarding thiamine deficiency within the span of two consecutive years is extremely concerning and shows that the problems were not addressed sufficiently.
Whiskas is a well-known cat food brand that can be found on the shelves of grocery stores like Walmart and is popular in several countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
Whiskas is best known for its wet cat food products, and they have a vast product range of these recipes, but they also produce a smaller range of dry cat food.
Whiskas wet cat food recipes often include some named meat or fish ingredients like Chicken or Tuna, which can be beneficial additions. However, others contain lower-quality meat ingredients like Meat By-Products.
Their recipes also contain notable portions of several grain ingredients like Corn Starch Modified, and Wheat Gluten.
These grain ingredients are not welcome additions to cat food recipes, especially wet cat food, and they pad out the recipe with poor-quality nutrition, high in grains and plant-based protein.
Below is an example of the ingredient list of one of their dry cat food recipes.
Whiskas is one of a select few to be featured in this article to have a recall-free record, and we could find no evidence that they had issued recalls in their recent past.
This recall-free record is somewhat impressive given their age and size but certainly does not mean they should be praised.
However, Whiskas parent company, Mars Petcare, has had a large number of recalls across its brands. For example, Mars Petcare issued a recall in the UK for its Pedigree and Chappie recipes due to harmful levels of Vitamin D.
Mars Petcare in the US also issued several recalls of Pedigree dog food in 2014, 2012, 2008, 2007, and 2004 for issues such as the presence of Metal Fragments or Foreign Objects, Potential Salmonella Contamination, and Mold.
We could also find information around several recalls for Iams due to Salmonella, Mold, and Aflatoxin during the last two decades.
This consistent record of recalls issued by Mars Petcare brands does not fill us with confidence in their safety and quality procedures.
If you would like to learn more about Mars Petcare and Whiskas, be sure to read our in-depth Whiskas Brand Review.
Like many other larger dog food brands, Sportmix expanded into the cat food market in search of new opportunities to grow.
Despite Sportmix being originally designed for sporting and working dogs with requirements for high proportions of protein and fat, the nutrition offered by Sportmix cat food recipes is extremely disappointing.
For example, Sportmix’s Original Recipe cat food contains a minimum of 30% protein and 10% fat which is only just above the bare minimum required by AAFCO.
This lack of protein and fat is not surprising when you look at their ingredient list as they make extensive use of grain ingredients like Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, and Wheat.
Thankfully Sportmix does not utilize unnamed meat and fish ingredients and instead uses ingredients like Chicken By-Product Meal, Chicken Fat, and Menhaden Fish Meal.
Sadly, Sportmix has a very recent recall issued against it, which is one of the primary reasons we chose to include the brand.
In late 2020 and early 2021, up to 110 dogs are reported to have died due to consuming Sportmix dog food, with over 200 more getting sick but surviving.
This recall was due to the presence of Aflatoxin in its recipes, which is a poison. Aflatoxin is a mold that grows on corn and other grain ingredients that are used in Sportmix recipes and have been found in several other brands’ pet food recipes over the last two decades.
Despite the focus of this recall being on dogs, Sportmix’s cat food recipes were also included (Sportmix Original Cat). It is not clear if any cats died or were harmed from this issue, but we suspect so, given the reports online and in the media.
In March 2021, the scale of the issues at Midwestern Pet Foods increased further, and a huge number of recipes from Earthborn Holistic and Pro Pac were also recalled due to the potential presence of Salmonella.
This recall affected popular products such as Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch, Great Plains, and Meadow Feast. You can read more about this concerning recall in our Earthborn Holistic Brand Review.
We hope that Midwestern Pet Foods take these two recent recalls seriously and addresses the evident shortages in their safety and quality procedures.
Luvsome is a pet food brand owned and sold by the grocery store Kroger. Kroger is a huge grocery brand that was founded back in 1883 and now has thousands of locations across the United States.
While Kroger isn’t known for being a large player in the pet food market, many pet owners side with the convenience of buying their pet food at grocery stores like Kroger, Walmart, or others.
We couldn’t find any definitive information on when Kroger started selling Luvsome, but it has been quite some time now, and there are no signs of them disappearing.
Luvsome is one of the few brands mentioned here to use whole meat and fish ingredients, including popular industry examples like Chicken and Beef.
Sadly, Luvsome is let down by its plant-based ingredients, which include Corn, Wheat, Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, and Soybean Meal.
For example, Luvsome’s Natural Chicken cat food recipe contains Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, and Corn all in the recipe’s first five listed ingredients.
These ingredients are not an ideal component of a cat’s diet and contribute to high proportions of carbohydrates and plant-based protein.
In addition, Luvsome makes use of some less than ideal ingredients such as Animal Fat. While animal fat could be a beneficial addition, its lack of transparency is concerning and enables Luvsome to easily swap it between whatever ingredient suits them.
Based on our research, we do not believe that Luvsome cat food recipes have ever been recalled, which is worth pointing out and is something for the brand to maintain.
However, we believe that Luvsome is made by a third-party partner of Kroger rather than in-house. Several of the large pet food manufacturers in the United States who produce food for grocery stores have had extensive recalls.
If you’d like to learn more about Luvsome, including information on its ingredients, nutrition, and product range, check out our Luvsome Brand Review Page.
Grreat Choice is not a well-known brand, but shoppers of PetSmart stores will be familiar with it. It is a PetSmart exclusive brand and can not be found in other pet food stores like Petco and Pet Value.
Like all the brands listed here, Grreat Choice is aimed at the low-cost cat food segment, and it shows in their ingredients and nutrition.
Some examples of ingredients used in Grreat Choice cat food include Corn, Meat and Bone Meal, Wheat Middlings, Ground Wheat, Poultry Fat, and Corn Gluten Meal.
Meat and Bone Meal is a particularly concerning example of unnamed meat ingredients and is a heavily processed ingredient made from the remaining bones and tissue of an animal.
We’ve already discussed many of these above, but we want to reinforce that these ingredients are either not accountable or are extremely dense sources of carbohydrates and plant-based protein.
This kind of nutritional profile is not suitable for cats, and they would be better suited to a diet high in animal or fish ingredients.
Grreat Choice has a recent recall against it from February 2017, which related to possible metal contamination in its Grreat Choice Adult Dog Food With Chicken and Rice Classic Ground.
Recalls for metal contamination often come due to lapses in quality control or when ingredients are sourced from lower-quality sources.
Contamination such as this can have deadly consequences as they are often unknowingly consumed by dogs who do not notice them among their favorite food.
If you would like to understand more about Grreat Choice, including its history and background, be sure to head on over to our Grreat Choice Brand Review.
Our Cat Food Recommendations
Now that you’ve learned about some of the worst cat food brands and recipes available, we’d like to introduce you to some of the best.
First, if you are interested in learning more about cat food and feline nutrition, we strongly recommend checking out our Cat Food Guide. Here we discuss the different types of cat food available, what nutrition cats require and why, and what ingredients are commonly found in cat food.
Interested in researching and understanding more about a specific cat or pet food brand that isn’t mentioned here? Head on over to our brand review page, which you can find here.
To date, we have reviewed hundreds of pet food brands and are slowly building up and improving our index of information.
Lastly, we have a large number of articles discussing niche or specific cat food types. Be sure to explore some of the links below if they are of interest to you.