Wet or Dry Cat Food: Which One Is Best for Your Cat?
As a pet parent, while it’s nice to have so many excellent cat food options available, maybe it also feels overwhelming to choose which is best for your pet.
Below, we’ll offer some tips for an important choice cat owners face: whether to feed dry food, wet food, or a combination of both.
Wet Food vs Dry Food for Cats: What’s the Difference?
Dry food refers to pet foods that come in kibble form, usually in a bag. Wet food may refer to pâté-style, chunks of meat in gravy, or any other moist form of pet food, typically packaged in a can or a pouch.
Both dry and wet food, if they are good quality and nutritionally complete and balanced, can provide everything a cat needs for optimal health.
The main difference between them is the moisture content, or the proportional amount of water in the food. Dry cat food contains an average of 6-10% water, while wet cat food may contain 70-85% water.
On average, wet cat food also contains a higher percentage of protein and fat—and a lower percentage of carbohydrates—than dry food. However, this can vary greatly depending on the brand and formulation.
Wet Cat Food: Pros and Cons
One advantage of wet food, at least for pets with certain health conditions (more on this below), is the high moisture content. Higher proportions of protein and fat relative to carbohydrates can also be of benefit, since cats are obligate carnivores (they must eat meat).
Another advantage of wet foods is that they may be more palatable to picky eaters. But this depends on a cat’s individual preference.
One disadvantage of wet food is the cost of feeding a pet. Since wet foods have a lot of moisture, a cat owner is paying for that water content and will need to purchase a larger quantity of food.
Another big disadvantage is that wet foods are not as convenient as dry foods. Meals can be messy and require more cleanup. They spoil quickly (within a few hours) if left out, so any uneaten portions must be thrown away. Opened cans or pouches must be refrigerated (and many cats don’t care for cold leftovers).
Dry Cat Food: Pros and Cons
Due to the lower water content, dry food has a higher nutrient concentration per volume. This means a cat can eat less and still get everything they need. This, combined with the longer shelf life, means feeding kibble is usually much more cost effective.
The downside of dry food is the lower moisture content, which means a cat needs to drink more water rather than getting water primarily from their food. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem for most cats—assuming they are provided with fresh, clean water at all times.
There are also some concerns about the higher relative concentration of carbohydrates being fed to a carnivorous species. However, many vets agree that the quality of the food, as well as a cat’s lifestyle, may be equally important (or more important) than switching to wet food.
Is Wet Food Or Dry Food Better for Cats?
There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of food. So, there is no single “correct” answer to this question. Either (or a combination of both) options can be perfectly healthy and appropriate for a feline friend.
The following information provides general information, but it may not apply to all cats. The most important things are to choose a high quality food and to discuss your cat’s individual nutritional needs with your veterinarian.
With that in mind, below are some things to consider when choosing between wet vs. dry food for your cat.
Your Kitty’s Life Stage
This means kitten or adult—or even food for a senior cat, which is available from some manufacturers. A cat’s nutritional needs change as they grow and mature.
Additionally, very young kittens may need wet food while they are teething. And for some senior cats, wet food may tempt their appetite if they are prone to undereating or weight loss.
Health Conditions That Require More Water Intake
The main health conditions are kidney disease and problems of the urinary tract. For kitties with these health issues, increased fluid intake helps “flush out” their urinary system.
For that reason, many vets recommend canned or wet food for these felines. However, that doesn’t mean that wet food is always superior.
A high quality dry food could be much better than a low quality wet food. And some kitties may require prescription formulations.
While it’s not possible to list every health condition here, another condition that could benefit from increased water intake is chronic constipation.
Also, cats with upper respiratory infections may prefer wet food temporarily. It has a strong odor that they can detect despite a stuffy nose and a soft texture that is easier to swallow.
Considerations for Cats With Diabetes
Unfortunately, type 2 diabetes—which is associated with obesity—is common in cats. For these kitties, a low-carb diet (i.e. wet food) may be beneficial.
However, every cat is unique. And the quality and specific nutrient profile of the diet may be more important than whether the food is wet or dry.
Also, lifestyle is a huge consideration. A kitty with excess body weight can be at risk for diabetes whether their food is wet or dry. So no matter what you feed, try to encourage your furball to play every day and stay active!
Dental Disease Considerations
Maybe you’ve heard that dry food is better than wet food for dental health, since it helps to scrape tartar off a cat’s teeth. There is some truth to this. However, the effect varies from food to food, and it’s not a substitute for regular dental care.
For maximum dental benefits, ask your vet about dental diets and treats that are specifically formulated for this purpose.
Cats who are older and have dental or gum disease may prefer wet food because it’s more comfortable to chew. A better solution is usually to pursue veterinary dental care, to manage any discomfort of the mouth a cat may be experiencing. But wet food may help kitties who are unable to undergo a full dental cleaning under anesthesia, due to health reasons.
Obesity and Choosing a Food
Obesity is common in cats and may lead to conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, skin issues, and more. Since dry food tends to be “free fed” and left out all day for unlimited snacking, that may make a cat more likely to develop obesity. So, if your pet tends to overeat, their food should be measured.
Wet food may provide an advantage here, since it has a lower calorie density. That means a kitty can eat more of it and possibly feel fuller.
Measuring the food—along with making sure your kitty gets enough physical activity—may be more important than whether the food is dry or wet. Choosing a weight loss diet can also be crucial to successful, healthy weight loss.
How Your Budget Factors In
It’s important to feed your furry friend the best diet you can reasonably afford. But in some cases, the expense of wet food just doesn’t work for the family budget (or schedule).
If finances are tight, it may make more sense to invest in a high quality dry food, then save the difference in cost for any future veterinary care your kitty may need.
Don’t Forget Your Cat’s Preference!
Felines tend to have strong opinions on which foods they like or don’t like. Often, this means they’ll prefer dry food over wet, or vice versa. They may even have a preference on pate versus meat in gravy, size or texture of kibbles, or another very specific factor.
Sometimes, trying to change a picky eater’s food can be an exercise in futility. Unless there is a pertinent medical consideration, it may be best to stick with the food your kitty prefers.
How Much to Feed a Healthy Kitten or Cat
Good quality cat foods have a recommended feeding amount listed on the packaging or obtained by calling the manufacturers helpline. This amount represents your cat’s total daily (per day, rather than per meal) caloric and nutritional needs, based on their age and weight.
Here are some tips for using this feeding recommendation:
Each food brand and formulation has unique calorie and nutrient densities, so it’s important to check the feeding guide for the specific cat food you are using. Otherwise, under or overfeeding could occur.
For most cats, it’s best to divide this total volume into at least two meals per day (or 3-4 for growing kittens), rather than feeding it all at once.
Consider when to feed your kitty. The measured amount of dry food may be left out for grazing, or divided into meals as part of the daily routine. Wet food must be offered at meal times, to prevent spoilage that could occur if the food is left out all day.
Cats who are over or underweight may need a different amount. Ask your vet team for advice.
The recommended feeding amount is just a starting point. Your cat’s individual metabolism, lifestyle, health conditions, or other factors could mean you need to increase or decrease their feeding amount.
Any time you change your cat’s food, monitor them for weight gain or loss. Adjust their food intake if needed.
Also, asking your vet team for advice with the food change or feeding amount is never a bad idea.
Is It Okay to Mix Wet and Dry Cat Food?
For most cats, yes! It’s perfectly fine to feed a combination of wet and dry cat foods. Many cat owners do this as a cost effective way to offer a nutritional diet with new tastes and a moisture boost.
However, this can require a little bit of math to ensure a cat isn’t being overfed.
To avoid overfeeding and risk of obesity, the daily feeding amount of each food must be divided proportionally. For example, if feeding a 50:50 mix, feed HALF the recommended amount of each type of food. The two halves will add up to the total required amount.
Also, consider food safety. If mixing wet and dry together, treat it as wet food—which means it can’t be left out for more than a few hours, and uneaten portions must be discarded.
Choosing the Best Food for Your Cat
Feeding your kitty a nutritionally balanced diet is very important—whether you choose wet food, dry food, or a combination of both. Good food helps a cat stay healthy from the inside out and have energy for all of life’s activities—everything from grooming to napping to playing.
Each furry companion is unique. Therefore, the ideal food for one feline may be different from what works for another kitty.
For a personalized recommendation, consider setting up a nutritional consultation with your veterinarian.