Is Grain Free Cat Food a Good Choice? A Different Take on Feeding Your Feline

cat sniffing a large bowl of food
expert or vet photo
vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Grain free cat food is becoming more and more popular among pet parents, but is it a good choice? Learn here how to choose the best diet for your cat.

There is a lot of talks in the pet community about grain-free foods, and you might be wondering what’s causing all the hype. Many scientists believe that a grain-free diet is more appropriate for cats because they are carnivores, and foods rich in proteins rather than grain-based carbohydrates more closely resemble their natural diet.

But is grain-free cat food the right choice for your cat?

The Gripe with Grains

Grains like corn, wheat, and rice are the foundations for many cat foods. This is because they are cheap to produce and allow the food manufacturer to meet the carbohydrate requirements for their foods while saving some money.

These types of grains, however, can cause problems for some cats. Some cats are allergic to grains, and others have difficulty digesting them. Some scientists believe that this is because cats weren’t designed to do so -- they lack a salivary enzyme called amylase that helps break down carbohydrates like corn and wheat before reaching the stomach. Cats do, however, use amylase secreted by the pancreas during digestion in the intestines.

A wild cat’s natural diet would contain more protein, and it likely ingests only small amounts of carbohydrates through the proteins (or animals) they consumed.

Hence, grain-free cat food like Blue Buffalo cat food is the right choice for your cats. Consuming these food products will ensure that no grains go inside your cat’s stomach so that she can easily digest what she eats.

Grain-Free Advantages and Disadvantages

Some cats do great on grain-free diets, while others do not. Let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages.


  • Grain-free diets can contain more ingredients than your cat would be eating in the wild. Proteins like fish and meat are found in greater amounts in some grain-free foods. (However, some manufacturers of grain-free foods simply substitute other highly glycemic carbohydrate sources like potato and tapioca, similar to grains in their nutrient makeup.) Using grain-free cat food brands will ensure that your cat gets all the essential nutrition she needs. However, if she is not getting enough nutrition, you can try providing supplements like Atopica for cats to ensure that she stays healthy.
  • Some cats develop an allergy to grains, and grain-free diets aim to eliminate the ingredients causing the sensitivity.
  • Grain-free diets reduce the chances of allergy to cats who are allergic to grains. Not preventing this can lead to problems, including diarrhea, constipation, and food allergy. In this case, you will have to put in more effort to clean your house, especially if it is not used to using a cat litter box. However, you can use Dr. Elsey’s Cat Litter Attract. This cat litter has a pleasant scent that can attract your cat to use the litter box.


  • Because grain-free foods can be higher in protein, they can also be higher in fat. Be sure you are feeding your cat the appropriate portion size, so they do not put on weight. However, you can easily avoid this problem. You can try making your cat do more physical activity in different ways. To begin with, you can get interactive cat toys for her to play around with them and avoid putting on weight. Moreover, you can also take her on a walk or a hike along with you. However, ensure to take all the essential accessories like cat carriers, cat collars, clothes, etc., while going on a hike.
  • Grain-free foods that contain more protein will likely be more expensive. However, you will probably be feeding your cat smaller portions because of the high protein, which may make up for the price difference.

How To Shop For Grain-Free Cat Food

Talk to your veterinarian about whether a grain-free food is a good choice for your cat, and ask for brand recommendations. When shopping for grain-free cat food, be careful not to be tricked by labels that say “all-natural” or promise to make your cat healthier than anything else. You can get the full story by checking out the ingredients and nutrient analysis on the back of the bag or can.

Just because a food is grain-free doesn’t mean it will be right for your cat. Always check with your veterinarian before switching your cat to a new diet.

The Best Grain-Free Cat Food for Your Kitty

Cats are obligate carnivores. That means if they don’t eat meat, they can die. Meat is a crucial part of any cat’s diet, and while a balanced diet is vital, most cats can stand to have some of the filler cut out of their food. For a lean, high-octane diet, grain-free cat foods can help your cat burn a little bit cleaner, filling them up with all the proteins and vitamins they need without any starchy carbs that make some cats sluggish.

Now, you should always consult with your vet before switching your cat’s diet to something new, especially if the change is as drastic as one that omits a substantial portion of what they were eating. This diet is not for every cat. However, it benefits cats dealing with weight management issues or diabetes.

Diabetes can be a significant problem in cats. If that’s the case, you will see common symptoms like excessive urination, loss of weight, extreme thirst, dehydration, etc. Take your cat immediately to the vet and get the pet meds like Glipizide for diabetes. To avoid such problems, it is best to feed grain-free food like Wellness Cat Food and others mentioned below.

Here are a few of the top-rated grain-free cat foods.

Grain-Free Food

Wellness Core Grain-Free Dry


  • Packed with nutrients
  • No meat by-products or fillers
  • Full of antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and probiotics
  • High-quality animal protein

Taste of the Wild Rocky Mountain Dry


  • No hormones or antibiotics
  • Made with whole fruits and vegetables for an immunity boost
  • Great for all stages of life
  • Full of natural antioxidants

Nature’s Variety Instinct Canned


  • Gluten-free
  • Full of omega fatty acids
  • A complete and balanced diet
  • Great for all life stages

Tuffies Pet Pure Vita Dry


  • Pure ingredients
  • Boosts your pet's vitality
  • Eases your cat's digestion
  • Delicious and nutritious

Canidae Grain Free PureSEA


  • High-Quality Salmon Meal
  • Superior Digestibility
  • pH-balanced formula
  • Blended for optimal nutrition

B.F.F. Tuna and Shrimp Sweethearts


  • Whole meat tuna
  • Optimal nutrition for your cat
  • Enjoyed by even the most finicky cat
  • Made to meet human grade standards

Before Grain Salmon Dry


  • 96% meat content
  • All-natural, whole food source
  • Vitamins A and E for healthy eyes
  • No added preservatives

Frequently Asked Questions

Is grain-free food better for my cat?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as every cat has different nutritional needs and dietary preferences. While grain-free food has become increasingly popular in recent years, it is not necessarily better for all cats. Grains such as wheat, corn, and rice are good sources of essential nutrients like iron, thiamine, calcium, riboflavin, folate, and niacin. While it is possible to obtain these nutrients from other food sources, it may be more difficult to do so on a grain-free diet. Some cats may benefit from a grain-free diet if they have a specific dietary need or allergy to grains. However, most cats can digest grains without issue and may even benefit from the nutritional value they provide. When choosing a food for your cat, it's important to look for a balanced and complete diet that meets their individual nutritional needs. This includes considering factors such as age, weight, and overall health.

What shouldn't be in cat food?

There are several ingredients that should be avoided or limited in cat food. Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives can be harmful to cats and may cause allergic reactions or other health problems. While some carbohydrates are necessary for a cat's diet, too many can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. Cats have a low tolerance for salt, and excessive amounts can lead to high blood pressure and other health problems. Onions and garlic contain compounds that can damage a cat's red blood cells, leading to anemia. Raw eggs and meat can contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and other health problems. Chocolate contains theobromine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and even death in cats. Alcohol can cause similar symptoms and can also lead to respiratory failure and coma. Grapes and raisins have been linked to kidney failure in some cats, so it's best to avoid them altogether. Feeding table scraps to cats, especially during the holidays when there may be more rich or potentially toxic foods around, can also be dangerous. It's important to keep all food and drinks out of reach of cats and only to feed them food that is specifically formulated for their nutritional needs.

Do cats naturally eat grain?

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they are designed to thrive on a diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. In the wild, cats would primarily eat meat and would obtain some of their essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, from the organs and bones of their prey. Grains are not a natural part of a cat's diet, and their digestive systems are not well-equipped to digest large amounts of carbohydrates. However, some commercial cat foods do contain grains as a source of carbohydrates and other nutrients. While some cats may tolerate grains in their diet, others may be sensitive or allergic to them.

Do vets recommend grain or grain-free?

Veterinarians do not universally recommend either grain or grain-free diets for cats. Every cat is an individual and has unique nutritional needs, so the best diet for one cat may not be the best for another. While some cats may benefit from a grain-free diet, such as those with specific dietary needs or allergies to grains, many cats can digest grains without issue and may even benefit from the nutritional value they provide. It's important to note that not all grain-free diets are nutritionally complete, and some may be deficient in essential nutrients, such as thiamine or calcium. A veterinarian will typically recommend a diet that meets a cat's specific nutritional needs, which may or may not include grains. When choosing a cat food, it's important to read the label carefully and choose a high-quality product that is nutritionally complete and balanced for your cat's age, weight, and overall health.

Does grain-free cause heart problems in cats?

Recent research has suggested that some grain-free diets may be associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease in cats, specifically a type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a serious condition that can result in heart failure, and it's important to note that not all grain-free diets are associated with an increased risk of DCM. However, some grain-free diets that are high in certain ingredients, such as peas, lentils, and potatoes, may be associated with an increased risk. It's important to note that the link between grain-free diets and DCM is still being studied, and the exact cause of the relationship is not yet fully understood. However, the current research suggests that it may be related to imbalances in certain amino acids, taurine deficiencies, or other nutritional imbalances. If you are considering a grain-free diet for your cat, it's important to consult with a veterinarian to ensure that the diet is nutritionally complete and balanced and that it meets your cat's specific nutritional needs. It's also important to monitor your cat's health and watch for any signs of heart disease, such as lethargy, difficulty breathing, or decreased appetite.

More on Cat Nutrition

Cat Nutrition for Male Cats
What to Feed a Cat: Female Cats
Nutrition for Feeding a Senior Cat

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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