The 7 Best Cat Food With Grains

Share Email Pinterest Linkedin Twitter Facebook

Our Review Process

Our reviews are based on extensive research and, when possible, hands-on testing. Each time you make a purchase through one of our independently-chosen links, we’ll receive a percentage of the proceeds. Read more about how we’re supported here.

The carb controversy is widespread with experts weighing in both for and against carbohydrates in cat food. The truth is, we still have a lot to learn about the digestion and nutritional requirements of cats.

As you stroll down the cat food aisle at your local pet store, you may find yourself asking, “Can cats eat grains?” In this guide, we’ll take the question one step further to determine not only whether cats can eat grains, but whether they should.

At A Glance: Best Grain Inclusive Cat Food To Buy

Clock
500
hours of
research
Eye
25
brands
vetted
Check
7
features
reviewed
Star
7
top
picks

Want a quick look at the products reviewed in this article? In the comparison table below, we’ve highlighted some of the most important features of each product. You’ll find more detailed information about each product later in the article.

Overall Best
10.0
Picked by 31 people today!

Natural Balance Ultra-Premium Chicken & Liver Pate Formula Canned Food

  • Features a single source of high-quality animal protein
  • Rich in animal-based omega-3s from menhaden oil
  • Nutritious brown rice supplies fiber and essential nutrients
Budget Pick
9.8
Picked by 31 people today!

American Journey Indoor Cat Total Health Formula Chicken & Brown Rice Dry Cat Food

  • Four sources of high-quality animal protein
  • Contains nutritious brown rice and barley
  • Affordably priced around $0.13 per ounce
Premium Pick
9.5
Picked by 25 people today!

Castor Pollux Organix Organic Turkey, Brown Rice & Chicken Recipe Canned Cat Food

  • Contains four sources of organic animal protein
  • Organic brown rice is a nutritious source of fiber and energy
  • Rich in moisture to support your cat’s hydration
Best Dry Cat Food
9.4
Picked by 21 people today!

Farmina Natural & Delicious Chicken & Ancestral Low-Grain Formula Dry Cat Food

  • Seven of the top 10 ingredients are animal-based
  • Contains two nutritious whole grains
  • Primarily relies on animal fat from herring oil and chicken fat
Best Wet Cat Food
9.3
Picked by 18 people today!

Canidae Balanced Bowl Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe in Gravy Cat Food

  • Contains three sources of animal-based protein
  • Sweet potato and brown rice supply nutrients and fiber
  • Made with about 50% protein on a dry matter basis
Best Kitten Food
9.2
Picked by 18 people today!

Blue Buffalo Tastefuls Chicken Entrée Kitten Pate Wet Cat Food

  • Protein-packed and calorie-dense for growing kittens
  • Rich in moisture to support your kitten’s hydration
  • Contains nutrient-rich brown rice and sweet potatoes
Best For Sensitive Stomachs
9.1
Picked by 18 people today!

FirstMate Wild Pacific Salmon & Rice Formula Canned Cat Food

  • Features fresh salmon as the primary ingredient
  • Very limited list of ingredients, highly digestible
  • Free from fillers and artificial additives

Why Should You Trust Us?

Having reviewed over 177 of the world’s most popular cat food brands and hundreds of formulas. We spent hours researching, contacting pet food companies, and analyzing labels. With the help of our cats, we’ve also accumulated hours upon hours of hands-on experience with different cat foods.

Based on that research, we’re bringing you an updated list of the best cat food brands and products that contain grains. We’ve researched the brands themselves and evaluated individual recipes to bring you our top picks.

The Best Grain-Inclusive Cat Foods On The Market

At the top of the list is a single-protein canned food formula from Natural Balance. Featuring fresh chicken and chicken liver, this recipe is balanced with nutritious brown rice and menhaden fish oil.

#1 Overall Best: Natural Balance Ultra-Premium Chicken & Liver Pate Formula Canned Food

View on Chewy View on Amazon

Read Our Full Brand Review

As a single-protein canned food recipe free from fillers and artificial additives, this Natural Balance recipe is highly digestible and packed with nutrients. It features fresh chicken and chicken liver as the primary sources of protein with brown rice for carbohydrate support.

This recipe contains over 40% crude protein on a dry matter basis, so while it contains about 25% carbohydrate, it more than meets your cat’s needs for protein.

The food is rich in moisture to support your cat’s hydration and doesn’t contain low-value grains like corn, wheat, and soy. It’s also free from artificial additives like colors, flavors, and preservatives.

The primary downside of this formula is that it is thickened with guar gum and carrageenan. Carrageenan has been identified as a potential carcinogen and, while guar gum is less controversial, it has been known to trigger digestive issues in sensitive cats.

Ingredients

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Brown Rice, Natural Flavor, Dried Egg Product, Carrots, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin, Vitamin A Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin), Guar Gum, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Dicalcium Phosphate, Menhaden Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Cranberries, Carrageenan, Rosemary Extract.

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 9%
Crude Fat: 6%
Crude Fiber: 1.5%
Moisture: 78%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 40.91%
Fat: 27.27%
Fiber: 6.82%
Carbs: 25%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 30.96%
Fat: 50.12%
Carbs: 18.92%

Ingredients We Liked: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Brown Rice, Dried Egg Product, Menhaden Oil

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Guar Gum, Carrageenan

Common Allergens: Chicken

What We Liked

  • Features a single source of high-quality animal protein
  • Rich in animal-based omega-3s from menhaden oil
  • Nutritious brown rice supplies fiber and essential nutrients
  • Moisture-rich to support your cat’s hydration

What We Didn’t Like

  • Thickened with guar gum and carrageenan

#2 Budget Pick: American Journey Indoor Cat Total Health Formula Chicken & Brown Rice Dry Cat Food

View on Chewy

Read Our Full Brand Review

Many pet food brands use low-value grains like corn and wheat to bulk up their products and bring down the price, but American Journey focuses on nutritious grains like brown rice and barley. This dry food formula is incredibly affordable, priced around $0.13 per ounce.

This dry food formula is primarily chicken-based, but contains extra protein from turkey and dried egg. It also contains pea protein as a concentrated source of plant protein, unfortunately, but it is not one of the top five ingredients.

Chicken fat and menhaden fish oil are the only significant sources of added fat and, being animal-based, they are very species appropriate for cats.

Where this recipe falls flat is where most dry food formulas do. It doesn’t contain the moisture your cat needs for proper hydration and the total carbohydrate content is much higher than we like to see. Overall, however, it provides a moderate amount of protein and fat supported by digestible whole grains.

Ingredients

Deboned Chicken, Brown Rice, Barley, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Pea Protein, Dried Egg Product, Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Powdered Cellulose, Natural Flavor, Peas, Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid), Menhaden Fish Oil, Inulin, Salt, Flaxseed, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Taurine, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Sulfate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Iodate), Spinach, Apples, Blueberries, Carrots, Cranberries, Pumpkin, Mixed Tocopherols (Preservative), L-Carnitine, Rosemary Extract.

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 32%
Crude Fat: 15%
Crude Fiber: 6%
Moisture: 10%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 35.56%
Fat: 16.67%
Fiber: 6.67%
Carbs: 41.11%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 30.35%
Fat: 34.55%
Carbs: 35.09%

Ingredients We Liked: Deboned Chicken, Brown Rice, Barley, Chicken Meal, Turkey Meal, Dried Egg Product, Chicken Fat, Menhaden Fish Oil

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Pea Protein, Peas

Common Allergens: Chicken

What We Liked

  • Four sources of high-quality animal protein
  • Contains nutritious brown rice and barley
  • Affordably priced around $0.13 per ounce
  • Primary source of added fat is animal-based

What We Didn’t Like

  • Contains some peas and pea protein
  • No dry food provides the moisture your cat needs

#3 Premium Pick: Castor Pollux Organix Organic Turkey, Brown Rice & Chicken Recipe Canned Cat Food

View on Chewy View on Amazon

Read Our Full Brand Review

Your cat deserves the highest-quality cat food you can consistently afford and, if you have the budget for it, this Organix recipe from Castor & Pollux might just fit the bill.

This formula features organic turkey as the primary source of protein, supplemented with organic chicken, organic chicken liver, and organic dried egg product. The organic brown rice provides a small amount of plant protein along with fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

All of the main ingredients in this recipe are organic and sourced from sustainable farms in the USA. This food is free from artificial additives as well as low-value grains and legumes.

As our premium pick, this food is a little bit pricey – over $0.50 per ounce. It also contains guar gum as a thickener. It is, however, rich in both moisture and healthy fats while being moderate in protein and carbohydrate content.

Ingredients

Organic Turkey, Water Sufficient for Processing, Organic Brown Rice, Organic Chicken, Organic Chicken Liver, Organic Coconut Flour, Organic Dried Egg Product, Calcium Carbonate, Organic Flaxseed, Organic Cranberries, Tricalcium Phosphate, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Organic Guar Gum, Salmon Oil, Minerals (Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate), Choline Chloride, Taurine, Vitamins (Niacin, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid).

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 8%
Crude Fat: 6%
Crude Fiber: 1%
Moisture: 78%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 36.36%
Fat: 27.27%
Fiber: 4.55%
Carbs: 31.82%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 27.05%
Fat: 49.28%
Carbs: 23.67%

Ingredients We Liked: Organic Turkey, Organic Brown Rice, Organic Chicken, Organic Chicken Liver, Organic Dried Egg Product, Organic Salmon Oil

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Organic Guar Gum

Common Allergens: Chicken

What We Liked

  • Contains four sources of organic animal protein
  • Organic brown rice is a nutritious source of fiber and energy
  • Rich in moisture to support your cat’s hydration
  • Free from low-value grains and artificial additives

What We Didn’t Like

  • Expensive, over $0.50 per ounce
  • Contains guar gum

#4 Best Dry Cat Food: Farmina Natural & Delicious Chicken & Ancestral Low-Grain Formula Dry Cat Food

View on Chewy

Read Our Full Brand Review

While whole grains make a nutritious addition to a balanced cat food diet, we prefer brands that don’t go overboard. This dry food from Farmina is a low-grain formula that features whole ancestral grains like spelt and oats along with numerous sources of animal protein.

Boneless chicken and dehydrated chicken form the foundation of this recipe, supplemented with protein from eggs and herring as well as essential fatty acids from chicken fat and herring oil.

Seven of the first ten ingredients in this formula are animal-based. Of the remaining three, two are nutrient-rich whole grains and one is an added source of fiber. It’s worth noting that while this recipe doesn’t contain beans or lentils, it does contain some pea fiber and alfalfa is a legume. Suncured alfalfa is a high-protein ingredient rich in phytonutrients.

As a dry food, this recipe doesn’t provide for your cat’s hydration needs, so you’ll need to supplement his moisture intake elsewhere. It is a moderate-protein, moderate-fat recipe with fairly high carbohydrate content and no artificial additives.

Ingredients

Boneless Chicken, Dehydrated Chicken, Whole Spelt, Whole Oats, Chicken Fat, Dried Whole Eggs, Herring, Dehydrated Herring, Herring Oil, Dried Beet Pulp, Pea Fiber, Dried Carrot, Suncured Alfalfa Meal, Inulin, Fructooligosaccharide, Yeast Extract, Dried Pomegranate, Dried Apple, Dried Spinach, Psyllium Seed Husk, Dried Sweet Orange, Dried Blueberry, Salt, Brewers Dried Yeast, Turmeric, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Ascorbic Acid, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamine Mononitrate, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Choline Chloride, Beta-Carotene, Zinc Methionine Hydroxy Analogue Chelate, Manganese Methionine Hydroxy Analogue Chelate, Ferrous Glycine, Copper Methionine Hydroxy Analogue Chelate, Dl-Methionine, Taurine, Aloe Vera Gel Concentrate, Green Tea Extract, Rosemary Extract, Mixed Tocopherols (A Preservative).

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 36%
Crude Fat: 20%
Crude Fiber: 1.9%
Moisture: 8%
Ash: 8.1%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 39.13%
Fat: 21.74%
Fiber: 2.07%
Carbs: 28.26%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 32.56%
Fat: 43.93%
Carbs: 23.51%

Ingredients We Liked: Boneless Chicken, Dehydrated Chicken, Whole Spelt, Whole Oats, Chicken Fat, Dried Whole Eggs, Herring, Dehydrated Herring, Herring Oil

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Pea Fiber, Suncured Alfalfa Meal

Common Allergens: Chicken, Fish

What We Liked

  • Seven of the top 10 ingredients are animal-based
  • Contains two nutritious whole grains
  • Primarily relies on animal fat from herring oil and chicken fat
  • Low-glycemic formula may be appropriate for diabetic cats

What We Didn’t Like

  • Contains some legumes
  • No kibble provides the moisture your cat needs

#5 Best Wet Cat Food: Canidae Balanced Bowl Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe in Gravy Cat Food

View on Chewy

Read Our Full Brand Review

As one of the lower-carb recipes on our list, this Balanced Bowl recipe from Canidae is our top wet food pick.  It features fresh salmon and chicken as the main ingredients with fish broth for flavor and moisture. It also contains nutrient-rich sweet potato as well as brown rice for supplemental protein, fiber, and essential nutrients.

This recipe is rich in moisture which makes it a hydrating addition to your cat’s diet. Because it is free from artificial additives and low-value grains, it is also highly digestible.

Where this recipe falls short is in its high starch content and reliance on plant-based fats. Sunflower oil is less biologically valuable than animal fats like salmon oil and starches like tapioca and potato offer limited nutrition compared to whole grains like brown rice. This recipe also contains two gum thickeners.

Overall, however, it is very high in protein – around 50% on a dry matter basis and is not overwhelmingly expensive for a high-protein canned food.

Ingredients

Fish Broth, Salmon, Water, Chicken, Sweet Potato, Brown Rice, Sunflower Oil, Glycine, Pea Protein, Tricalcium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Guar Gum, Modified Tapioca Starch, Potato Starch, Potassium Chloride, Powdered Cellulose, Dried Whole Egg, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Magnesium Sulfate, Taurine, Paprika (Color), Alpha-Tocopherol Acetate, Zinc Oxide, Nicotinic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Sodium Selenite, Cholecalciferol, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex, Folic Acid, Potassium Iodide, Magnesium Oxide.

Ingredients We Liked: Salmon, Chicken, Sweet Potato, Brown Rice, Dried Whole Egg

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Sunflower Oil, Pea Protein, Guar Gum, Modified Tapioca Starch, Potato Starch, Xanthan Gum

Common Allergens: Fish, Chicken

What We Liked

  • Contains three sources of animal-based protein
  • Sweet potato and brown rice supply nutrients and fiber
  • Made with about 50% protein on a dry matter basis
  • Rich in moisture to support your cat’s hydration

What We Didn’t Like

  • Primarily relies on plant-based fat
  • Contains peas and starchy plant ingredients
  • Made with two gum thickeners

#6 Best Kitten Food: Blue Buffalo Tastefuls Chicken Entrée Kitten Pate Wet Cat Food

View on Chewy View on Amazon

Read Our Full Brand Review

Kittens grow quickly and they need a protein- and calorie-dense diet to fuel their development. This canned kitten food from Blue Buffalo is a healthy grain-inclusive option.

Fresh chicken is the first ingredient, supplemented with additional protein from chicken liver, dried eggs, and brown rice. This recipe relies primarily on animal-based fat from fish oil – a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids – and it’s free from low-value grains and animal by-products.

Helping your kitten achieve and maintain a healthy weight is important. With about 34% crude fat on a dry matter basis, this canned food provides a concentrated source of calories with about 50% crude protein. It’s low in carbs as well, ensuring that the majority of your growing kitten’s nutrition comes from animal sources.

This recipe is nutrient-rich and moderately priced, but it does contain several gum thickeners and carrageenan. It’s also worth noting that the primary added fat is vaguely named fish oil, though there’s no reason to assume the quality of the fish oil is poor.

Ingredients

Chicken, Chicken Liver, Chicken Broth, Dried Egg Product, Natural Flavor, Fish Oil (source of DHA-Docosahexaenoic Acid), Brown Rice, Guar Gum Sweet Potatoes, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Potassium Chloride, Tricalcium Phosphate, Taurine, Salt, Carrageenan, Cassia Gum, Magnesium Sulfate, Choline Chloride, Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Niacin Supplement (Vitamin B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin Supplement (Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Supplement, Biotin (Vitamin B7), Potassium Iodide, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), preserved with Mixed Tocopherols.

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 11%
Crude Fat: 7.5%
Crude Fiber: 1.5%
Moisture: 78%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 50%
Fat: 34.09%
Fiber: 6.82%
Carbs: 9.09%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 35.24%
Fat: 58.35%
Carbs: 6.41%

Ingredients We Liked: Chicken, Chicken Liver, Dried Egg Product, Fish Oil, Brown Rice, Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Cassia Gum

Common Allergens: Chicken

What We Liked

  • Protein-packed and calorie-dense for growing kittens
  • Rich in moisture to support your kitten’s hydration
  • Contains nutrient-rich brown rice and sweet potatoes
  • Primarily relies on animal-based fat

What We Didn’t Like

  • Contains several gum thickeners
  • Made with carrageenan

#7 Best For Sensitive Stomachs: FirstMate Wild Pacific Salmon & Rice Formula Canned Cat Food

View on Chewy

Read Our Full Brand Review

Formulated for all life stages, this canned food formula is appropriate for both adult cats and kittens. It’s a limited ingredient recipe made with a single source of protein and it’s free from gums and artificial thickeners. All of these qualities make it a good choice for cats with sensitive stomachs.

With boneless salmon as the first ingredient, this recipe provides 50% crude protein on a dry matter basis. The only other main ingredient is rice. While we’d prefer to see brown rice as a more nutritious alternative to white rice, the simplicity of this formula makes it highly digestible.

In addition to being a digestible option for sensitive cats, this FirstMate recipe is also low in fat and calories which may make it an appropriate choice for weight control.

Ingredients

Boneless Skinless Salmon, Water Sufficient for Processing, Rice, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Monodicalcium Phosphate, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Calcium Iodate, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Taurine, Kale, Blueberries, Raspberries, Cranberries, Carrots.

Guaranteed Analysis

loader
Crude Protein: 11%
Crude Fat: 3%
Crude Fiber: 0.5%
Moisture: 78%
Ash: 2%

Dry Matter Basis

loader
Protein: 50%
Fat: 13.64%
Fiber: 2.27%
Carbs: 25%

Caloric Weight Basis

loader
Protein: 46.25%
Fat: 30.63%
Carbs: 23.12%

Ingredients We Liked: Boneless Skinless Salmon, Rice

Ingredients We Didn’t Like: None

Common Allergens: Fish

What We Liked

  • Features fresh salmon as the primary ingredient
  • Very limited list of ingredients, highly digestible
  • Free from fillers and artificial additives
  • Low in calories, appropriate for weight control

What We Didn’t Like

  • White rice may be less nutritious than brown rice

Can Cats Eat Grains?

A healthy human diet consists of lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains but these dietary recommendations don’t directly translate for cats. Cats are, after all, obligate carnivores while human beings are omnivores.

When it comes to the ideal feline diet, it’s all about animal products.

Your cat’s diet should be built on a foundation of animal-based proteins and fats with minimal carbohydrate because felines simply aren’t built to process plant foods as efficiently as animal products.

But does that mean that even nutrient-rich foods like whole grains are harmful for cats? Not necessarily. In fact, some veterinary nutritionists suggest carbs play an important role in a domestic feline diet.

It is largely undisputed that cats have no biological requirement for carbohydrates in their diet – all of their energy requirements can be met through consuming protein.

That being said, research suggests that cats can digest carbohydrates to absorb and utilize energy in the form of glucose in a manner similar to other animals. In addition to providing a source of energy, carbohydrate metabolism produces the building blocks for other important nutrients like vitamin C and nonessential amino acids.

The belief that cats should be fed a meat-only diet stems largely from three ways in which the feline digestive system processes carbs:

  1. Cats have lower levels of carbohydrate-digesting enzymes in their intestines than omnivores like dogs (and humans).
  2. Cats don’t possess glucokinase, a liver enzyme that converts glucose from carbs into a usable form of energy.
  3. Cats don’t possess amylase in their saliva. Amylase is an enzyme that starts carbohydrate digestion.

While a cat’s digestive system may not look the same as a dog’s or work in the same way as a human’s, decades of research suggest that healthy carbohydrates like grains are a perfectly acceptable addition to a balanced feline diet.

What Does A Healthy Grain-Inclusive Diet Look Like?

Because cats are obligate carnivores, a meat-based diet will always be more species-appropriate (and generally more preferable) to your cat. Given the research summarized above, however, it’s worth considering the potential benefits of including digestible whole grains in your cat’s diet.

When it comes to carbohydrates in a domestic feline diet, balance is key.

We won’t dive too deep into the biology here, but while cats are able to digest carbohydrates in a manner similar to other species, they seem to be less susceptible to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) with regular consumption of carbohydrates. While humans – and dogs, to some degree – are prone to developing diabetes with high carbohydrate intake, cats may not be.

In fact, research published in the early 2000s determined that cats are able to adapt to varying levels of protein and carbohydrate in their diets as long as their minimum protein requirements are met. This science refutes the hypothesis that cats will start breaking down their own muscle for protein if fed a carbohydrate-inclusive diet.

In other words, as long as your cat’s diet contains a minimum of 26% protein on a dry matter basis (30% for kittens and pregnant/lactating females), there is no nutritional downside to including healthy carbohydrates like grains.

The key words here are “healthy carbohydrates.” While all grains contain carbohydrates, not all foods in the carbohydrate category are grains.

Whole grains like brown rice, whole oats, and barley are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. They also contain some plant-based protein and are generally more digestible than processed grains. Processed grains like corn, wheat, and soy are commonly used as fillers in cat food and, in addition to being harder to digest, offer very limited nutritional value for cats.

When it comes to other carbohydrates in a feline diet, fresh fruits and vegetables can be nutritious but you may want to think twice about recipes that make heavy use of legumes like beans, lentils, and peas. We’re talking primarily about grain-free diets.

Are Grains Linked To Dilated Cardiomyopathy?

The grain-free pet food trend really gained traction in the early 2000s following a wave of pet food recalls linked  to contaminated grains sourced from China. Pet food manufacturers began using legumes like beans, peas, and lentils in place of grains like corn, wheat, and rice – a move that appealed to many health-conscious pet owners.

As grain-free diets started to take over pet store shelves and, with it, the assumption that grains are inherently bad for pets began to proliferate.

Pet parents around the world began switching their pets to grain-free diets and over the course of the next decade, a new trend started to emerge. Between 2014 and 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received over 500 reports of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) – a form of heart disease – in pets following a grain-free diet.

In 2018, the FDA announced that it had begun investigating these reports. Though the investigation is ongoing, there is some evidence linking certain diets to an increased risk for heart disease in dogs and, to a lesser degree in cats.

The diets implicated in this link are bracketed as ‘BEG’ i.e. boutique, exotic, or grain-free – especially those that feature legumes, pulses, or potatoes as the main ingredient.

Final Thoughts

As a cat owner, it’s your responsibility to make an informed decision regarding the best diet for your cat. We generally prefer meat-based, low-carb formulas balanced with animal-based fats but, given the research discussed above, there’s no reason to exclude healthy grain-inclusive cat foods from your list of options.

Learn more about your cat’s nutritional needs in our complete guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I be worried about my cat being allergic to grains?

The proliferation of grain-free diets has contributed to an increase in concern among pet owners about the potential dangers of grains for cats, namely grain allergies.

The truth is that food allergies are rare in cats and, when they do occur, they’re most commonly triggered by common proteins like chicken, beef, and eggs rather than carbohydrates like grains.

What’s better - a grain-free or grain-inclusive diet?

There’s no simple answer to this question. As long as your cat’s minimum requirements for protein are met, you have a lot of wiggle room to work with. Keep in mind, however, that the legumes frequently featured in grain-free cat foods have been linked to heart disease, though more study is needed in this area.

On the other side of the coin, a grain-inclusive diet featuring low-value grains like corn and wheat may be just as problematic.

What is the ideal carbohydrate content for commercial cat food?

Commercial cat foods contain an average of 20 to 40 percent carbohydrate. While we typically prefer meat-based cat foods that contain a maximum of 10% carbs, some research suggests that cats  may actually choose higher-carb foods over high-protein foods.

This conclusion combined with the results of opposing studies suggest that it may ultimately come down to palatability - your individual cat’s preferences for flavor, protein type, and nutritional composition.

Avatar photo

About Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.