As a cat parent feeding your fluffy friends daily, have you ever wondered if wet or dry food is better for your cat? You should, because it definitely matters.
The short answer is actually neither, because the best idea is to feed both!
In this article, we’ll get into the details of each, weighing their pros and cons, guiding you on what to consider when making a choice, and offering tips on transitioning your cat’s diet.
Let’s make an informed decision for your furry companion’s nutritional needs!
Wet vs Dry Cat Food
Differences Between Wet Cat Food vs Dry Cat Food
One of the most noticeable differences between wet and dry cat food is the moisture content. Wet cat food, as the name suggests, is packed with moisture, often making up to 75% to 78% of the product.
This high water content is especially beneficial for cats that aren’t keen on drinking water regularly, ensuring they stay hydrated. On the other hand, dry cat food contains less than 20% moisture.
This means if your cat is primarily on a dry food diet, you’ll need to ensure they’re drinking enough water throughout the day to compensate. Water is essential for survival, obviously, and the reason why you should give wet food everyday.
The manufacturing processes for dry vs wet cat food are distinct. According to Purina, wet cat food is typically made by blending the ingredients, cooking them, saucing, and then sealing them in a can or pouch.
This process retains much of the inherent moisture in the ingredients. Dry cat food, however, goes through an extrusion process. The ingredients are blended, cooked at high temperatures, and then pushed through an extruder to form the kibble shapes.
This method removes much of the moisture, resulting in the dry, crunchy kibble many cats go crazy for.
Both dry vs wet cat foods are formulated to be nutritionally complete. However, the nutrient profile vary. Wet cat food often has a higher protein content and fewer carbohydrates, making it closer to a cat’s natural diet.
Dry cat food, due to its manufacturing process, might have a higher carbohydrate content. It’s essential to read the label and ensure that the primary ingredient is a high-quality protein source, whether you’re choosing wet or dry.
Texture plays a significant role in a cat’s preference for food. Wet cat food is soft and ranges from a chunky stew-like consistency to a smooth pâté. This soft texture is easier for kittens, seniors, or cats with dental issues to consume.
Dry cat food offers a crunchy texture, which many cats love. The crunchiness may also provide a mild abrasive effect, helping to clean their teeth as they chew.
Taste is subjective, and what one cat loves, another will turn their nose up at. Wet canned food often offers a richer, meatier flavor due to its moisture content and ingredients.
Dry cat food, while still flavorful, might not have the same taste intensity. But don’t be surprised if your feline friend has a strong preference one way or the other; cats are known for their picky palates!
Pros of Wet Cat Food
- High Moisture Content: A primary benefit of wet cat food is its high moisture content. Cats, by nature, aren’t always good drinkers. In the wild, they would get much of their water intake from the prey they consume. Wet cat food mimics this by providing hydration through the food itself.
- Rich in Protein: Many high-quality wet cat foods are packed with animal proteins. For instance, brands that list chicken, salmon, or beef as their primary ingredient ensure that cats get the essential amino acids they need for muscle growth and maintenance.
- Fewer Fillers: Wet cat food often contains fewer carbohydrates and fillers compared to some dry foods. This means that cats, which are obligate carnivores, get a diet closer to what they would naturally consume.
- Easier to Consume: Cats with dental issues, seniors, or kittens often find wet food easier to eat due to its soft texture. For example, a senior cat with missing teeth might struggle with kibble but can easily consume a pâté-style wet food.
- Variety: Wet cat food comes in a plethora of flavors and textures, from chunks in gravy to smooth mousse. This variety is beneficial for picky eaters, allowing cat parents to find a flavor and texture that their feline friend loves.
Cons of Wet Canned Cat Food
- Short Shelf Life: Once opened, canned cat food needs to be consumed within a short time frame or stored in the refrigerator. For instance, if you open a can and your cat only eats half, the remainder needs to be refrigerated and used within 24 hours to ensure freshness.
- Cost: On a per meal basis, wet canned cat food is generally more expensive than dry cat food. Over time, this can add up, especially if you have multiple cats.
- Mess and Odor: Wet cat food is messier than dry food. Some cats have a habit of dragging bits of wet food out of their bowl, leading to more frequent clean-ups.
- Portion Control: It can be challenging to determine the right portion size with wet cat food, leading to potential overfeeding. Unlike kibble, which is easily measured with a scoop, wet food requires more attention to ensure you’re not overfeeding or underfeeding your cat.
Pros of Dry Cat Food
- Convenience: Dry cat food is convenient. It’s easy to store, doesn’t require refrigeration, and has a long shelf life. For instance, if you’re going away for a weekend, just leave out a measured amount of kibble in a cat feeder without worrying about it spoiling.
- Cost-Effective: On a per meal basis, dry cat food tends to be more economical than wet cat food. This is especially beneficial for households with multiple cats or those on a budget.
- Dental Benefits: The crunchy texture of kibble can provide a mild abrasive effect, which helps reduce the buildup of tartar and plaque on a cat’s teeth. For example, some brands even offer dental-specific kibble designed to promote oral health.
- Portion Control: Measuring and controlling portions with dry cat food is straightforward. Using a scoop, cat parents can ensure their feline friend is getting the right amount of food, which is particularly beneficial for cats on a weight management plan.
Cons of Dry Cat Food
- Moisture Content: Dry cat food has a low moisture content, usually around 10%. Cats that consume only dry food need to drink more water to stay hydrated. This is a concern for cats that aren’t naturally inclined to drink a lot of water. Keep that water fountain or cat water bowl flowing freely!
- Carbohydrate Levels: Due to the extrusion process used in manufacturing kibble, dry cat food requires a starch component, leading to higher carbohydrate levels. While some carbs are necessary for the kibble-making process, excessive amounts aren’t ideal for cats, which are obligate carnivores.
- Quality Variance: While there are many high-quality dry cat foods on the market, there are also options that use fillers like corn, wheat, and soy as primary ingredients instead of high-quality protein sources.
- Taste and Freshness: Once a bag of dry cat food is opened, the kibble starts to lose its freshness, which might affect its taste. My cat has never noticed this, but yours may! It’s essential to store dry cat food in a cool, dry place and ideally in an airtight container to prevent ants or the dog from getting into it.
- Potential Health Concerns: Some studies suggest that a diet exclusively of dry food is linked to certain health issues in cats, such as urinary tract problems. However, it’s crucial to note that many factors contribute to feline health, and diet is just one component.
Feed Both Wet and Dry Cat Food!
Both wet and dry cat food have their unique advantages, but the short answer is that you should feed both.
Combining them offers a holistic approach to feline nutrition, and ensures that your cat benefits from the diverse range of nutrients, textures, and flavors. To be clear, I’m not talking about mixing together (unless it’s what your cat likes better).
How to Select a Wet or Dry Cat Food
Selecting the right cat food is a daunting task, especially with the plethora of options available. Let’s explore the factors you should consider when making this choice.
The ingredient list is a window into the quality of the cat food. The first few ingredients typically make up the bulk of the product. Ideally, you’d want to see a high-quality protein source, such as chicken, salmon, or beef, listed as the primary ingredient.
Avoid foods that list fillers like meat by-products or by-product meals, corn, wheat, or soy as main ingredients. These fillers are less nutritious and will not offer the essential species specific nutrients your cat needs.
Your Cat’s Health Needs
Whether dry or wet food is better for a cat depend on their health conditions, too. Below are a few common ones:
Diabetes: Cats with diabetes require a diet that helps regulate their blood sugar levels. Wet cat food, which generally has fewer carbohydrates and more protein, is hugely beneficial for diabetic cats. Also look out for low carb wet cat food on the market.
Dental Disease: For cats with dental issues, the texture of the food plays a significant role. While wet food is softer and easier to eat, dry kibble may offer a mild abrasive effect, helping to reduce tartar buildup. For dental health, consider a mix of both or specialized dental kibble.
Obesity: If your cat needs to lose weight, consider foods that are lower in fat and calories but still nutritionally complete. Wet cat food, which often has fewer fillers and more protein, is a better option for weight management.
Urinary Tract Health: Diet plays a pivotal role in managing and preventing feline lower urinary tract diseases. Wet cat food, with its high moisture content, helps in keeping the urinary system flushed and hydrated. There are also specialized foods formulated to maintain urinary health, or low ash cat food.
Chronic Kidney Disease: A primary concern with kidney disease is dehydration. The kidneys play a vital role in maintaining fluid balance, and when they’re not functioning optimally, a cat becomes dehydrated more easily. Wet cat food helps ensure that cats receive adequate hydration from their diet, reducing the strain on the kidneys. Be on the look out for low protein cat food that lightens the kidney’s load.
Whether your feline friend is a playful kitten, an active adult, or a chilled senior, their nutritional needs will differ. Kittens require more protein and fat for growth, while it’s better for senior cats to consume fewer calories in the form of quality wet food.
Ensure the food you select is appropriate for your cat’s life stage.
While we all want the best for our cats, budget constraints are a reality for many.
Wet cat food can be pricier per meal vs dry food. However, there are high-quality options available in both categories that won’t break the bank. It’s about finding a balance between quality and affordability.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets nutritional standards for pet foods. Look for foods that meet or exceed AAFCO guidelines. This ensures that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition for your cat.
Your Cat’s Preference
Last but certainly not least, consider your cat’s preference. Some cats will plainly like dry food better than wet food. Other cats might 100% prefer the crunchiness of dry kibble and may even lead owners to ask “do cats need wet food?”
It’s essential to find a food that not only meets their nutritional needs but also pleases their palate.
How to Transition Your Cat to a New Food
So maybe you got a new cat food, and it’s time to start feeding it. What’s next?
Like going from kitten formula to solid food, transitioning your cat to a new food requires patience and a gradual approach. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to smoothly transition your cat to a new food without issue.
Start Slowly: Begin by mixing a small amount of the new food with the old food. A common ratio to start with is 25% new food to 75% old food. This allows your cat to get used to the taste and texture of the new food gradually.
Monitor Your Cat’s Reaction: Pay close attention to how your cat reacts to the new food mixture. Look for signs of digestive upset, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or a lack of appetite.
Increase the New Food Gradually: Over the next 5-7 days, gradually increase the proportion of the new food while decreasing the old food. A typical progression looks like:
- Days 1-2: 25% new food, 75% old food
- Days 3-4: 50% new food, 50% old food
- Days 5-6: 75% new food, 25% old food
- Day 7: 100% new food
Consistency is Key: Ensure that you’re consistent with the feeding times and amounts during the transition. This helps your cat establish a routine and reduces the chances of overfeeding.
Stay Observant: Even after you’ve fully transitioned to the new food, continue to monitor your cat’s health and behavior. Look for signs of allergies, digestive issues, or any other adverse reactions.
I’m Gary Hu, a proud cat dad to a 15 lb Maine Coon. Have taken care of outdoor and indoor cats for over 10 years, and learned tons on behavior, habits, health, and products. I help new Maine Coon (or any other cat) parents with common questions and issues based on real, practical experience.