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With its iconic ginger spokescat and economy pricing, 9Lives has been a cat food staple for over 50 years. But is this brand a good choice for your cat? Find out in our unbiased 9Lives cat food review.
The We’re All About Cats Standard—Rating 9Lives on What Matters
We’ve analyzed 9Lives and graded it according to the We’re All About Cats standard, evaluating the brand on species-appropriateness, ingredient quality, product variety, price, customer experience, and recall history. Here’s how it rates in each of those six key areas.
- Species-Appropriateness – 4/10
- Ingredient Quality – 4/10
- Product Variety – 7/10
- Price – 7/10
- Customer Experience – 5/10
- Recall History – 4/10
Overall Score: 5.1/10
We give 9Lives cat food a 31 out of 60 rating or a D grade.
9Lives was created in 1957 and, after taking on its iconic spokescat, became one of the most recognizable brands in the industry.
Morris was discovered by an animal talent scout in 1968. Described as the “Clark Gable of Cats”, the orange tabby’s charm was central to a clever marketing campaign that made 9Lives one of the United States’ best-selling cat food brands.
9Lives is owned by Big Heart Pet Brands, a subsidiary of the J.M. Smucker company. Other brands in the Big Heart Pet Brand family include Meow Mix, Natural Balance, Nature’s Recipe, and Milo’s Kitchen.
Sourcing and Manufacturing
9Lives dry cat food is manufactured in facilities located in Kansas and Pennsylvania. Their wet cat food production is split between facilities in the United States and international manufacturers. The company says that they source most of their ingredients from North America, but doesn’t go into detail on their sourcing practices.
Has 9Lives cat food been recalled?
Yes. 9Lives has been recalled at least twice during its 60-plus years in the industry.
In December 2018, two varieties of 9Lives canned cat food were recalled due to potentially low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1).
In early January of 2017, several flavors of Meaty Paté canned food were pulled off the shelves due to potential thiamine deficiency. The recall was expanded 8 days later to include more Meaty Paté flavors. In addition to 9Lives foods, the recall involved two other Big Heart Pet brands—EverPet and Special Kitty.
What kinds of cat food does 9Lives offer?
The 9Lives cat food lineup includes six varieties of dry cat food and an expansive selection of wet products. 9Lives wet food lines include Tender Morsels, Meaty Paté, Protein Plus®, and Hearty Cuts.
9Lives products have ingredient lists similar to most budget cat foods. Poultry and meat by-products outnumber named meats, plant proteins appear in all of the dry foods, and all of their recipes contain at least one artificial additive.
9Lives Cat Food – Top 3 Recipes Reviewed
|Product Name||Food Type||Price per Ounce||Our Grade|
|9Lives Daily Essentials with Chicken, Beef, & Salmon Flavor||Dry||$0.05||D|
|9Lives Protein Plus with Chicken & Tuna Flavors||Dry||$0.07||D|
|9Lives Hearty Cuts with Real Beef & Chicken in Gravy||Wet||$0.07||C|
Chicken by-product meal and corn gluten meal appear to be the primary protein sources in this dry cat food.
Let’s take a closer look at this popular 9Lives recipe. It’s a dry food called Daily Essentials.
We’ll be evaluating the ingredient list in a moment, but first, let’s talk about what’s on the front of the bag. Unlike some foods that highlight protein sources in the name, this food is simply called “Daily Essentials”. The words “with the flavors of chicken, beef, and salmon” appear in a text bubble located close to the bottom of the bag.
This isn’t an accident—FDA labeling regulations outline the meaning of certain words and phrases on cat food labels. This label appears to adhere to the “with” and “flavor” rules. A food named with the word “with” in the title must consist of at least 3% the named ingredient on a dry matter basis. The phrases “beef flavor”, “flavor of salmon”, and other uses of the word “flavor” mean that the food must taste like the ingredient mentioned, but doesn’t have to contain that ingredient.
That said, how much chicken, beef, and salmon is in this cat food and is it a species-appropriate, nourishing recipe? We’ll have to look at the ingredient list to find out.
Whole ground corn is the first ingredient—an economical grain that contributes significantly to the food’s carbohydrate content. The second ingredient is chicken by-product meal. According to AAFCO pet food definitions, this refers to “ground, rendered clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry (in this case, chicken) such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.”
Chicken by-products are followed by corn gluten meal, soybean meal, and whole wheat. These plant ingredients contribute to the food’s protein and carbohydrate content.
Beef fat is added as a species-appropriate source of fatty acids. After beef fat, the food contains meat and bone meal, an ingredient defined as “rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.”
Small amounts of animal-sourced ingredients appear before the end of the ingredient list. One is animal digest, which is a highly-palatable additive made from hydrolyzed animal tissues. The second is salmon meal, which contributes to the “chicken, beef, and salmon” flavor mentioned on the front of the bag.
The food is colored with Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Blue 2, all artificial dyes associated with negative health effects.
It includes BHA as a preservative. According to the National Toxicology Program, this synthetic preservative is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
Overall, this is a plant-heavy kibble with moderate protein, low fat, and high carbohydrate content.
The food has 306 calories in each cup.
Whole Ground Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, Whole Wheat, Beef Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Meat and Bone Meal, Animal Digest, Salmon Meal, Salt, Phosphoric Acid, Choline Chloride, Titanium Dioxide (Color), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Potassium Chloride, Taurine, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, BHA (Used As A Preservative), Blue 1, Blue 2, Rosemary Extract.
|Crude Protein||30% min|
|Crude Fat||9% min|
Daily Essentials with Chicken, Beef, & Salmon Flavor Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Breakdown
Ingredients We Liked: Beef Fat
Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Whole Ground Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, Whole Wheat, Meat and Bone Meal, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, BHA, Blue 1, Blue 2
Common Allergens: Chicken, Beef, Meat and Bone Meal, Fish
- Contains animal-sourced fat
- Most cats seem to like the food’s flavor
- High carbohydrate content
- Animal and poultry by-products outnumber named meats
- Contains artificial colors
- Contains BHA
Chicken by-product meal, soybean meal, and corn gluten meal appear to be the primary protein sources in this dry cat food.
9Lives emphasizes high-quality protein content as this food’s main selling point. Protein Plus cat food, according to 9Lives, contains 33 grams of high-quality protein per 100 grams of food. Note that there’s no set definition of what constitutes “high-quality” protein in cat food.
According to its name, the food is made “with chicken & tuna flavors”. FDA regulations state that food with the “flavor of” a given ingredient need not contain any of that ingredient—but it does have to taste like it.
In the case of 9Lives Protein Plus dry food, chicken and tuna do appear on the ingredient list, but they’re not the primary ingredients.
The food’s first ingredient is whole ground corn, which is primarily a source of carbohydrates and helps to give the kibble its structure. It’s followed by chicken by-product meal, a concentrated source of animal protein. The next ingredients are soybean meal and corn gluten meal, both sources of plant protein. A small amount of whole wheat is included later on the ingredient list.
Instead of fat sourced from a named animal, the food contains “animal fat”. While it’s good to see animal-derived fat rather than plant oils in cat food, it’s unclear from which animals this fat was sourced.
The food contains a tiny amount of tuna meal. It’s listed after animal digest—a flavor additive typically sprayed onto the kibble for added palatability.
Once you reach the end of the ingredient list, you’ll see a long series of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids added to make the food nutritionally complete. In addition to these supplements, the food contains multiple added colors. It’s made with caramel color, yellow 5, and red 40. All of these artificial colors are associated with negative health effects. BHA is added as a preservative. Though generally recognized as safe by the FDA, consumption of this preservative may come with health risks.
Overall, this dry food has moderate protein content, low fat, and high carbohydrate content.
9Lives Protein Plus dry cat food has 300 calories in each cup.
Whole Ground Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Animal Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Whole Wheat, Animal Digest, Tuna Meal, Phosphoric Acid, Salt, Caramel Color, Calcium Carbonate, Choline Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Vitamin a Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (source of Vitamin K Activity), Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin), Titanium Dioxide (Color), Yellow 5, Taurine, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Red 40, BHA (used as preservative), Rosemary Extract.
|Crude Protein||33% min|
|Crude Fat||9% min|
9 Lives Protein Plus with Chicken & Tuna Flavors Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Breakdown
Ingredients We Liked: None
Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Whole Ground Corn, Soybean Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Whole Wheat, Caramel Color, Yellow 5, Red 40, BHA
Common Allergens: Chicken, Fish
- Cats like the way this food tastes
- High carbohydrate content
- Packed with plant ingredients
- Contains artificial colors
- Contains BHA, a potentially harmful preservative
Meat by-products appear to be the primary protein source in this wet cat food.
By using the word “with” in “Hearty Cuts with Real Beef and Chicken”, this label suggests that hearty cuts are the main dish and real chicken and beef are served up on the side. But what are “hearty cuts”? Based on the ingredient list and information from a 9Lives representative, they’re not chunks of meat, but a mixture of meat and other ingredients that are extruded and formed into chunks.
The ingredient list starts with water sufficient for processing. Ingredients are listed in order of their pre-cooking weight, so it makes sense that water would be the first ingredient, though some of that water is cooked off during processing. Meat by-products are the second ingredient. According to AAFCO definitions, this term refers to a variety of muscle meat, organs, and other tissues sourced from cows, pigs, sheep, or goats.
After meat by-products, the list mentions the real beef and chicken mentioned in the food’s name. They’re followed by soy protein concentrate, along with wheat flour, modified corn starch, and steamed bone meal.
In addition to the primary ingredients, this 9Lives food contains several additives. Natural flavor, an additive typically made from hydrolyzed animal tissues, is added to enhance the food’s palatability. Caramel color gives it a meaty-brown color. This dye isn’t only unnecessary—it’s potentially dangerous. Caramel color may be contaminated with 4-MEI, a carcinogenic chemical.
The ingredient list concludes with a variety of synthetic vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Overall, this 9Lives canned cat food is high in protein with low fat and high carbohydrate content.
9Lives Hearty Cuts with Real Beef and Chicken has 112 calories in each can or about 20 calories per ounce.
Water Sufficient for Processing, Meat By-Products, Beef, Chicken, Soy Protein Concentrate, Wheat Flour, Modified Corn Starch, Steamed Bone Meal, Natural Flavor, Salt, Caramel Color, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Iron Oxide (Color), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Taurine, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite).
|Crude Protein||8% min|
|Crude Fat||2% min|
9 Lives Hearty Cuts with Real Beef & Chicken in Gravy Estimated Dry Matter Nutrient Breakdown
Ingredients We Liked: Beef, Chicken
Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Meat By-Products, Soy Protein Concentrate, Wheat Flour, Modified Corn Starch, Caramel Color
Common Allergens: Beef, Chicken
- Contains real beef and chicken
- Free of carrageenan and other gums
- Contains caramel color
- Uses a plant protein concentrate
- High carbohydrate content compared to other canned foods
What do customers think of 9Lives cat food?
The brand receives primarily positive reviews on Amazon and Chewy. While happy reviews outnumber negative ones on these retail sites, the story is different on ConsumerAffairs. That’s not uncommon—Consumer Affairs attracts more unhappy buyers than satisfied ones and the best-selling brands receive the harshest criticism.
What, specifically, are unhappy customers saying about 9Lives?
Most say that after eating 9Lives for a short period of time, their cats became sick. They describe lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes, seizures and anemia. Multiple reviewers said that switching their cats off 9Lives food seemed to help. While some of the cats were likely affected by the thiamine deficiency that prompted a recall in January of 2018, it’s unclear how many incidents were connected to 9Lives cat food.
“I love feeding my cats the premium foods with meat as first ingredient yet sometimes I have to cut back. And then there are also the strays and the fosters. This food is my plan B. Friends of mine harbor 20 cats at any given time and the cats live to ripe old age and are n good health, so, No need to feel guilty.” – katie52, reviewing 9Lives Protein Plus with Chicken & Tuna Flavors Dry Cat Food
“This wet food is by far the best wet food on the market, or at least my cat seems to think so! It is his favorite, and he prefers it over more expensive top shelf brand foods of the same nature. I trust his nose. I have a good friend who works in a processing plant where they make this food, so I know EXACTLY what goes into this food. I also alternate his wet food with a top shelf brand, but Chewy won’t allow me to divulge that brand. Sorry. Here’s a hint LOL! (There is a Julie A. 1965 Movie-“The ***** are alive w/the sound of music), so for you crossword fiends, that should be easy for you. He loves gravy, the more gravy the better and this food HAS gravy galore!” – Mike, reviewing 9Lives Hearty Cuts with Real Beef & Chicken in Gravy
“this 9Lives leaves a lot to be desired the Raccoons loved it the Cat’s did not.” – Meow, reviewing 9Lives Protein Plus with Chicken & Tuna Flavors
“The cats do like the food I don’t like the way the fur feels now not soft and fluffy. So going back previous food which I can purchase locally. Thank u” – grettagirl, reviewing 9Lives Daily Essentials with Chicken, Beef, & Salmon Flavor
How much does 9Lives cat food cost?
9Lives is one of the cheapest cat food brands you’ll find on the shelf. If you follow 9Lives feeding guidelines for a 10-lb cat, the brand’s wet food costs about $0.77 per day. Their dry varieties are considerably cheaper at around $0.10 per day.
Overall, is 9Lives a good choice?
9Lives is easy to find and easy to buy even if money is tight, but it’s not the most nutritious choice. Plant ingredients and potentially-harmful additives appear in every 9Lives recipe.
Where is 9Lives cat food sold?
9Lives cat food is sold in grocery chains, big box stores, and pet product stores. Online, you can buy 9Lives through Amazon, Chewy, and various other retailers that sell cat food.
About the author
Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.