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We’ve rated Special Kitty cat food on ingredient quality, species-appropriateness, recalls, and more. Read our Special Kitty cat food review to learn how this brand stacks up.
The We’re All About Cats Standard—Special Kitty on What Matters
We’ve rated the brand on six key criteria for quality. Here’s how it rates in each of these six crucial areas.
- Species-Appropriateness – 2/10
- Ingredient Quality – 2/10
- Product Variety – 7/10
- Price – 10/10
- Customer Experience – 6/10
- Recall History – 4/10
Overall Score: 5/10
In total, we give Special Kitty cat food a 31 out of 60 rating or a D grade.
About Special Kitty
The Special Kitty brand is exclusive to Walmart which means you won’t find it on grocery store or pet store shelves – you can only purchase it in Walmart stores or online at Walmart.com.
The Special Kitty brand was designed for affordability, so it’s important to take claims made by the brand with a grain of salt. Here’s what Walmart has to say about the brand:
“Special Kitty understands the unique bond between you and your cat. Every moment together creates memories that will fill your heart for a lifetime. That’s why each one of our products is crafted with the care that cats love, and the attention to detail that cat lovers trust. For all the soft purrs, warm snuggles, and playful pounces – give your Special Kitty the very best.”
You’ll notice this particular description doesn’t make mention of specific ingredients or any actual details about the brand. In terms of product claims, most Special Kitty recipes include generic claims such as the following:
- Provides 100% complete and balanced nutrition for your cat’s optimal health
- Contains nutrients to support an active outdoor life
- Contains calcium and phosphorus to help support healthy teeth and bones
- Made with 25 essential vitamins and minerals
All of these claims may be true, but they are a little bit misleading. Let’s take the “complete and balanced nutrition” claim, for example.
When Special Kitty references “complete and balanced nutrition,” they’re talking about the nutritional requirements established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These requirements were determined through nutritional research and feeding trials to determine the minimum nutritional needs of cats and dogs.
Claiming their products offer complete and balanced nutrition leads consumers to believe Special Kitty products are a good source of nutrients. While it may be true that these products will meet your cat’s basic nutritional needs, there’s a lot of information being left out of the equation.
In reviewing the ingredients lists for a variety of Special Kitty cat foods, we noticed the following:
- High inclusions of fillers like corn, wheat, and soy
- Plant-based ingredients at the top of the ingredients list
- Heavy use of by-products and plant proteins
- Use of unnamed ingredients (like animal fat vs chicken fat)
- Artificial additives including colors and flavors
To make a long story short, Special Kitty cat food is primarily plant-based rather than animal-based. Low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, and soy make up the majority of their dry food products and their wet foods rely heavily on meat and poultry by-products.
Special Kitty may be affordable and easy to find, but we can’t give it our recommendation due to the poor quality of the ingredients.
Sourcing And Manufacturing
Not only does Special Kitty make heavy use of plant-based ingredients and artificial additives, but they don’t provide a lot of information about where their ingredients come from or how their products are manufactured. If you can’t find this information, we generally recommend looking for another brand.
Though we weren’t able to find a lot of specific information about the Special Kitty brand, we did find a few details about their manufacturing.
The first mention of Special Kitty as a brand that we found came from 1983. In the early years of the brand, Special Kitty was manufactured by Doane Pet Care, a company based in Brentwood, TN. At one point, Doane was the largest manufacturer of private label pet food, including as many as 175 store brands like Special Kitty and Ol’ Roy.
In 2006, Doane Pet Care’s U.S. company was acquired by Mars Inc., the same parent company that manufactured major cat food brands like Whiskas, Temptations, and Sheba at the time.
Until 2014, Special Kitty was manufactured by Mars PetCare and Del Monte Foods until Del Monte sold their pet division to Big Heart Pet Brands. A year later, Big Heart Pet Brands was acquired by the J.M. Smucker Company and it appears J.M. Smucker still manufactures the brand today.
Before choosing a cat food brand, it’s important to do your research. We always recommend looking into the products a brand offers, but it’s a good idea to look into the history of the brand itself as well.
Product recalls are an important indicator of quality for pet food manufacturers. Recalls happen when there’s an issue with the product and it needs to be withdrawn from sale for the safety of pets and pet owners. A product recall can occur for something as simple as a labeling error or for something as serious as contamination with food-borne pathogens.
Special Kitty has had a number of recalls over the years. Here’s a quick list:
- December 2019 (safety and quality issues) – In December of 2019, the FDA issued a recall for specific lots of Special Kitty Mixed Grill Dinner Pate cat food because the products didn’t meet “quality and safety standards.”
- January 2017 (low thiamine levels) – The FDA issued a recall for several Special Kitty canned foods in January 2017 due to low thiamine levels revealed in testing.
- October 2008 (potential salmonella) – The brand issued a recall for several Special Kitty dry foods which was later expanded by the FDA due to potential for salmonella contamination.
- September 2008 (potential salmonella) – The FDA issued a recall for several Special Kitty dry foods produced at a Pennsylvania plant due to potential for salmonella contamination.
- March 2007 (melamine) – One of the largest pet product recalls in U.S. history was related to melamine levels in cat foods including several Special Kitty wet food pouches.
Accidents happen, so you shouldn’t necessarily judge a brand based on its recall history – especially if there are only one or two minor recalls. When a brand has a long history of significant recalls, however, you should consider it a red flag.
What Kinds Of Cat Food Does Special Kitty Offer?
Special Kitty offers a wide variety of wet food and dry food options for cats. They offer formulas for adult cats and kittens as well as recipes optimized for indoor and outdoor cats.
Here’s a list of Special Kitty dry food recipes:
- Outdoor Formula Dry Food
- Gourmet Formula Dry Food, Seafood Flavor Blend
- Complete Nutrition Formula Dry Food, Chicken & Turkey Flavor
- Indoor Formula Dry Food, Chicken & Pea Flavor
- Kitten Formula Dry Food
- Naturals Dry Food, Chicken Flavor
In terms of their wet food offerings, Special Kitty has 5.5-ounce cans as well as larger 13-ounce cans. Though you may be able to purchase individual cans in-store, Walmart.com generally sells Special Kitty canned food in variety packs and multi-packs.
Here’s a list of Special Kitty multi-packs:
- Pate Wet Food Classic Variety Pack
- Turkey & Cheese Shreds Dinner Cuts in Gravy
- Poultry Cuts in Gravy Wet Food Variety Pack
- Favorites Variety Pack Cuts in Gravy
- Pate Wet Food Mixed Grill Dinner
- Kitten Recipe Pate Wet Cat Food Variety Pack
- Surf & Turf Variety Pack Pate Cat Food
In addition to wet food and dry food, Special Kitty offers an assortment of cat treats and cat litter. We’ll review Special Kitty cat litter at another time.
What Do Customers Think Of Special Kitty Cat Food?
When shopping for a new brand of cat food, it’s a good idea to see what other cat owners are saying. Cats tend to be picky eaters, so there’s always the possibility that your cat simply won’t like the food but reading other customer reviews can help you make a smart choice.
We took a look at a number of reviews left on the Walmart website by Special Kitty customers.
Surprisingly, many products had high ratings (4 stars or more) with hundreds, even a thousand ratings, or more. Many of the positive reviews we read mentioned the affordable price (an aspect caretakers for feral cat colonies deem essential) and wide variety of product choices. Negative reviews were predictably often related to poor ingredient quality.
Let’s take a look at a few customer reviews from some of the most popular recipes from Special Kitty.
“Wow I couldn’t believe how much my cats love this! I am the cat lady in my neighborhood. I take in every stray and feed all of the feral kitties across the fence. This food is very economical when you have many cats to feed. Special kitty has several varieties and my cats love it all.”-Pulleygirl54j reviewing Special Kitty Turkey & Cheese Shreds Dinner Cuts in Gravy
“Our 4 cats are super picky! Every time we try a cheaper brand of cat food they turn their nose up and it’s just a waste of money. After trying almost every store brand a couple cans at a time we were ready to give up. I saw this variety pack the other day and they were out of most of our name brand favorites. Its $14 so we figured if not we will donate them or send them to someone who would use them! SURPRISE!! They love them and I mean all of them!!”- Brittany reviewing Special Kitty Surf & Turf Variety Pack Pate Cat Food
“I use this to feed the feral cats purely because of the price. They seem content and healthy. My house cats however seem to throw up more when they eat it, and for some reason their poop stinks a lot more when they eat this than when they eat other brands.”– Kimberly reviewing Special Kitty Outdoor Formula Dry Food
“Not 22oz by far. 50% of the cans are full of water and juice. It’s the same amount of food as the smaller cans. Opening up a can is a lottery. You don’t know how much food you’re going to get.”- Elson reviewing Special Kitty Pate Wet Cat Food
“I always purchase Special Kitty Food and the stray cats and critters always chow down on it. This batch, for some reason, is going untouched so I fear there’s something unpleasant in the food. I do hope the manufacturer is not cutting corners. I thought with the description “Complete Nutrition” that it would be healthier for the kitties, but they won’t go near it.”- Pennysaved reviewing Special Kitty Complete Nutrition Formula Dry Food
What Did Our Test Cats Think?
To test Special Kitty cat food, we ordered two variety packs of wet food and two recipes of dry food. Here are the products we ordered:
- Special Kitty Pate Wet Food Classic Variety Pack
- Special Kitty Favorites Variety Pack Cuts in Gravy
- Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food
- Special Kitty Indoor Formula Dry Cat Food
The first thing we noticed about Special Kitty products was, of course, the price. Both variety packs were priced under $10 for twelve 13-ounce cans and 24 three-ounce pouches. The dry food was priced under $4 for a 3.5-pound or 3.15-pound bag.
When we opened the dry food bags, we weren’t surprised to find that the kibble looked pretty standard. The kibbles were average in size and had some color variation. Our test cats happily crunched away on the food, though we had to keep one cat out of the testing because she’s allergic to chicken. Both of the Special Kitty dry food products we tested feature chicken as a primary ingredient, but in the form of chicken by-product meal. Only one of the two listed chicken as the main ingredient.
Unfortunately, we had to keep one of our cats out of the testing for the wet food products as well. Some of the recipes listed chicken as an ingredient but many used meat or poultry by-products, so we had no way of knowing exactly what was in the recipe.
Generally speaking, our test cats seemed to approve of the flavor of Special Kitty food, and they were particularly interested in the Cuts in Gravy wet foods. They showed less interest in the dry food.
Special Kitty Cat Food – Top 3 Recipes Reviewed
|Product Name||Food Type||Main Protein Source||Calories||Price Per Ounce||Our Grade|
|Special Kitty Mixed Grill Cuts in Gravy||Wet||Chicken||66 kcal/pouch||$0.13||C|
|Special Kitty Classic Tuna Dinner Canned Food||Wet||Chicken||385 kcal/can||$0.05||C|
|Special Kitty Naturals Dry Cat Food||Dry||Chicken||374 kcal/cup||$0.86/pound||C|
All nutritional percentages in this table and hereafter are taken from the manufacturer’s guaranteed analysis. Exact nutritional percentages are not available. All calculated values are determined using these minimum and maximum published values and may differ from actual values. Special Kitty is the ultimate authority on their products, so please contact the company for more nutritional information.
This wet cat food formula comes in a 3-ounce pouch as part of the Special Kitty Favorites Variety Pack Cuts in Gravy. The primary source of protein is chicken, though you’ll also find meat by-product and beef on the ingredients list.
Though by-products aren’t necessarily bad, it’s never a good thing when they don’t come from a named source. We also don’t recommend cat foods that include low-quality fillers like wheat. This recipe also contains added color and guar gum as a thickening agent.
Another thing worth noting with this recipe is the large portion size. Walmart recommends feeding two pouches per 5 pounds of body weight per day. For an average 10-pound cat, that’s four pouches.
Because the food is cheap price isn’t a concern, but large feeding recommendations raise a red flag because it suggests the food may be low in nutrient density, so more food is required to meet your cat’s nutritional needs.
Water sufficient for processing, chicken, meat by-products, wheat gluten, beef, salt, natural flavors, sodium phosphate, guar gum, added color, potassium chloride, sodium carbonate, choline chloride, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, thiamine mononitrate, niacin supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, vitamin A supplement, biotin, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, folic acid), taurine, minerals (ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, copper proteinate, sodium selenite, manganese sulfate, potassium iodide), magnesium sulfate, DL-methionine, fish oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols).
|8% min||3% min||1% max||84%||ND|
|Ingredients We Liked||Ingredients We Didn’t Like||Common Allergens|
- Contains two whole sources of animal protein
- Rich in moisture and flavor
- Low in carbohydrates (estimated under 5%)
- Contains unnamed by-products
- Uses wheat gluten as a supplemental protein
- Long list of synthetic supplements required
This canned food recipe is called “Tuna Dinner” but the first ingredient (after water) is chicken. Tuna comes next, which we’re glad to see, but it’s a little misleading to name a product after an ingredient that doesn’t even make up the majority of the recipe’s protein.
Other problematic ingredients in this recipe include meat by-products, poultry by-products, and carrageenan. We also aren’t thrilled about the brewer’s rice, simply because there are more nutritious forms of rice that can be used in pet food. This recipe also includes artificial color.
Like the previous recipe, this formula makes heavy use of by-products, though it does include two whole sources of real animal protein. This formula is, however, low in carbohydrates. The estimated carb content of this recipe is only about 2%.
Water sufficient for processing, chicken, tuna, meat by-products, fish, poultry by-products, brewers rice, dried egg product, sodium tripolyphosphate, carrageenan, salt, guar gum, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, thiamine mononitrate, niacin, vitamin A supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin B12 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid, biotin), potassium chloride, iron oxide (color), choline chloride, minerals (ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite) vitamin E supplement, NP04.
|10% min||5.5% min||1% max||78%||3.5%|
|Ingredients We Liked||Ingredients We Didn’t Like||Common Allergens|
- Contains two sources of whole animal protein
- Only contains an estimated 2% carbohydrates
- Rich in moisture and natural flavor
- Contains unnamed by-products (poultry and meat)
- Uses carrageenan as a thickener
- Long list of synthetic supplements required
This Special Kitty dry food is described as a natural cat food with added vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients. Reading over the ingredients list, this seems to technically be true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. In truth, this formula is packed with by-products and fillers.
Though the first ingredient in this recipe is chicken, as promised, it comes from by-products. Fresh chicken doesn’t appear until the 8th ingredient, after five grain-based fillers.
Not only does this recipe make heavy use of low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, and soy, but it also uses an unnamed source of “animal” fat as the primary source of fat. The estimated carbohydrate content of this formula is over 25%, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the inclusion of five grain-based ingredients listed within the top 10.
Just about the only thing this recipe has going for it is the low price tag. Priced under $1.00 per pound, this formula is highly affordable. We just can’t recommend it because of the low-quality ingredients.
Chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, ground whole wheat, brewers rice, animal fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), corn meal, chicken, natural flavor, salmon, dicalcium phosphate, salt, potassium chloride, brewer’s dried yeast, choline chloride, taurine, zinc sulfate, fish oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), ferrous sulfate, vitamin E supplement, niacin, copper sulfate, vitamin A supplement, manganese sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, d-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin supplement, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid, sodium selenite.
|38% min||13% min||3% max||12%||ND|
|Ingredients We Liked||Ingredients We Didn’t Like||Common Allergens|
|Corn gluten meal
Ground whole wheat
- Animal protein listed as first ingredient
- Contains two whole sources of animal protein (chicken and salmon)
- Contains corn, wheat, and soy ingredients
- Heavy use of by-product and fillers
- High estimated carb content (over 25%)
How Much Does Special Kitty Cat Food Cost?
As a Walmart-exclusive brand, it should come as no surprise that Special Kitty is highly affordable. The recipes we reviewed above are all priced under $0.15/ounce for wet food and well under $1.00/pound for the dry food. Purchasing Special Kitty wet food in variety packs further drives down the price.
Overall, Is Special Kitty Cat Food A Good Choice?
Though Special Kitty is certainly one of the most affordable cat food brands we’ve reviewed, we can’t recommend it in good faith. This brand makes heavy use of grain-based fillers like corn, wheat, and soy and often relies on by-products rather than whole sources of animal protein.
Most of the Special Kitty dry foods we looked at had very high percentages of carbohydrate (often over 25%), though we were glad to see the wet foods were actually pretty low in carbs. The few good things we have to say about Special Kitty simply aren’t enough to outweigh the bad.
If you’re looking for an affordable brand of cat food, you can do much better than Special Kitty without spending a whole lot more. Check out our picks for affordable cat food here.
Where Is Special Kitty Cat Food Sold?
Special Kitty is a Walmart-exclusive brand which means you can only purchase it in Walmart stores or online at Walmart.com.