Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trader Joe's dry cat food

Trader Joe's sells three different varieties of dry cat food. Or, more precisely, Trader Joe's has sold them. I'm really not clear on whether all three are still currently available. In no particular order, these are the Whole & Natural Cat Food Formula (which I'll call "Wholesome"), the Premium Dry Cat Food With Chicken & Rice Formula ("Premium"), and the Premium Chicken Meal Formula Cat Food ("Meal").

I spent nearly a year gradually rotating my cat, Lucy, through these, along with what is generally regarded as one of the best dry cat foods on the market, the "Natural Evolutionary Diet--Chicken Recipe" from Blue Wilderness (dark blue bag).

To remind you of the surpassing beauty of the food tester for this post, here's my little girl, lying on a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

This is who we have to please. And all four products seem to do that equally well.

Lucy isn't so good with words, so my only means of judging how well she likes her food are her actions. Specifically, does she eat it all at once (good!) or eat just enough to take the edge off of her hunger, and come back later when she's hungry again (not so good)? Occasionally she has tried foods that she dislikes enough not to touch at all, but none of the ones under consideration here triggered that reaction. With all four of these products, she would sometimes eat it all at once, and sometimes do the eat-some-come-back-later thing. I could not tell any consistent pattern; it seemed pretty random which days she would do which. But the fact that no product consistently got one type of response or the other suggests to me that she deemed them all about equally fit to eat.

How do they compare nutritionally? Let's take the Blue Wilderness as the standard for comparison. Its first three ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, and turkey meal. It contains no poultry by-products and no grains. It is 40% protein, 18% fat.

The first ingredients in "Wholesome" are chicken meal, brown rice, and whole oats. It is 32% protein, 20% fat.

With "Premium," it's chicken meal, ground rice, and ground corn. 32% protein, 14% fat.

Finally, with "Meal," it's chicken meal, ground whole corn, and wheat flour, with 30% protein, 18% fat.

In short, all of the three TJ's products are significantly inferior to the Blue Wilderness. Of course, they're also hugely cheaper.

For more than a year now, Lucy's vet has been urging me to stop feeding her dry cat food at all. This is not based on some particular problem Lucy has; she is, I'm happy to report, perfectly healthy. But the vet explained that for a variety of reasons, dry cat food just is not good for cats. It's a lecture the vet delivers to all of her clients.

I was skeptical of this at first. After all, vets, like other professionals, can develop idiosyncratic opinions that don't necessarily line up nicely with what the science actually shows. But her urgency on this point prompted me to look into it on my own, and I have become convinced that she is correct.

Dry food is a lot cheaper than canned, and it brings with it substantial advantages in mess and convenience for the owner. But it's not better for the cat. All dry cat foods include large amounts of carbohydrates, which cats just can't process well. Their natural diet of mice, birds, and other small animals is basically protein and fat, with very little carbohydrate. Wet food also forces a certain minimum amount of water, which house cats typically drink too little of.

And so, after months of contemplation, procrastination, self-justification, and dithering, back in February I finally made the big change. Lucy had been getting dry food in the morning,  canned food at night, and I switched her from that regimen to all canned food. Specifically, it's "Fowl Ball" from Weruva, which Lucy loves. Among all canned cat food, it's comparatively high in protein, low in fat, and low in carbs. (See here for a detailed discussion of what you should look for in cat food, plus a downloadable spreadsheet comparing commercial products on those most important parameters.)

I keep some of the Blue Wilderness dry around for rare occasions, such as when I'm going to be gone for two feedings in a row; I can put out a bunch of it, so Lucy can graze on it through the day as she sees fit. That way, I don't worry that she's going hungry waiting for my late arrival. Or when I'm away for a few days and somebody else is taking care of her, the dry is easier to deal with. But her mainstay is now something that I think is just about the highest quality cat food I can provide for her, given the limitations of (1) reasonable cost and (2) her fairly picky palate.

Will I buy it again? 

No. In February, after I finally made the big switch, I took the leftovers to a local animal shelter.

I'm not trying to be prescriptive or dogmatic about what every other cat owner should do. I'm well aware that cats can be extremely willful animals, who won't necessarily agree to like or even tolerate what their humans think they should. There's also a huge variety of circumstances--financial and otherwise--in which cats are cared for, so I make no pretense to having the universal answer. However, even if you have made a thoughtful, informed decision to have part or all of your cat's diet be dry food, you can do much better than any of the Trader Joe's offerings.


  1. My cat wouldn't eat either of the TJ's cat foods. She eats dry Wellness for Seniors. Our vet recommended feeding only wet food, but she will not touch it. She is a rescue and I think has only had dry food. Do you have any suggestions for her switching to wet food? We've tried twice, but the vet could offer us no additional tips.

  2. Get a copy of "The Cat Bible" by Tracie Hotchner. She has excellent advice on cat nutrition generally and dealing with finicky eaters specifically.

  3. I bought the natural TJ's cat food with probiotics (on my second bag) and see my cat dragging her rear on the carpet!! I took her to the vet and a stool sample, they suggested another food.

  4. Maybe coincidence but my cat got very sick after eating a bowl of TJ "wholesome". Cost a high Vet bill to rule out an obstruction. Could be he had a reaction or did swallow something and it passed. One of his toys was a fur covered plastic mouse he had chewed into sharp small shards! I tend to think it was the food he had not had before. Wondering if any one else had this problem with TJ cat food.

  5. I pay about $30 for a large bag (I forget the actual size) of cat food at Petco. I decided recently to try TJ's dry cat food (think the 1st one you show here). I mixed it with the old food, then by itself. She wouldn't eat it! She ate some when it was mixed, but I think she must've been picking out her old food. I threw it away. Went back to her other food, which she is loving. I LOVE Trader Joe's, but guess we can't love everything.