Not only are there a bajillion brands of dog food, but then there’s the type of dog food—dry vs. wet. How do you know which to pick? Generally speaking, wet food is better for dogs than dry food. Wet food has fewer carbohydrates, which are difficult for dogs to digest, and more water, which keeps dogs hydrated. As we’ve said time and again when discussing training techniques, breed standards and best dog parent practices, every pup is an individual. Before you change up any routine (food included), go over your options with your vet and use what you know about your dog’s health and personality to make decisions. Whether it’s wet or dry food, you want your dog’s nutrition to work for them.
Why diet matters for dogs
Doggy diets matter the same way people diets matter: We are what we eat. According to The Forever Dog: Surprising New Science to Help Your Canine Companion Live Younger, Healthier, and Longer by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, the most followed veterinarian on social media, and pet health leader Rodney Habib, the single most important factor when it comes to dog health is diet. A poor diet can lead to obesity, joint problems, gastrointestinal issues and much more. Rather than treating these ailments later in your dog’s life, be deliberate about your dog’s diet today to set them up for success tomorrow.
Dogs are carnivores with short gastrointestinal tracts. While they’ve evolved from wolves (who rarely eat carbohydrates) to domesticated animals who can handle some carbs, they actually lack the enzyme that digests carbohydrates. This means their diet should consist primarily of protein and fat. There have been some studies indicating grain-free diets are bad for dogs, but the truth is grain fillers are bad for dogs, not necessarily real whole grains like rice and quinoa.
In any case, Dr. Becker believes carbs shouldn’t take up more than 10 percent of your pup’s daily meals. She recommends a rough 50/50 ratio of protein to fat for a dog’s diet. Ideally, we should achieve this ratio exclusively through fresh, unprocessed foods.
Is wet or dry food better for dogs?
Overall, wet food seems to be better for dogs. Dr. Gary Richter, veterinarian and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, says if he had to choose, he’d pick wet canned food. “It has fewer carbohydrates than [dry] kibble,” says Dr. Richter. “Fewer carbohydrates are healthier for dogs because evolutionarily, they don't want the [roughly] 60 percent carbohydrates found in dry food. They can lead to weight gain, digestive issues, and immune problems.”
However, Dr. Micah Youello, a partner doctor with Heart + Paw in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, believes there’s no significant benefit when it comes to wet and dry food. “Both are generally balanced nutrition and are fine for dogs to eat,” says Dr. Youello.
When in doubt, check with your vet to discuss the options. Your dog’s breed and medical history will help determine the best food (or combination) for your dog.
Health benefits of wet food
Aside from having fewer carbohydrates, wet food has hydrating properties. “Wet foods have more water content and would be healthier for those pets with kidney disease or urinary tract issues,” says Dr. Youello. He adds that wet food might taste better to picky eaters. This could be due to its high protein and fat content (two components essential to a healthy dog diet).
Wet food is also easier to consume for dogs with painful mouth or dental issues. Rather than chowing down on hard kibble, your dog can almost lap up wet food.
If your pet is always begging for more but needs some weight control, the high water content of wet food allows your dog to eat what feels like a larger portion but is actually providing the same number of calories as a small portion of dry food.
Health benefits of dry food
There are a few instances where dry food might be the best route for your pet. “Dry foods often have more fiber [and] bulk which can be good for many gastrointestinal diseases,” Dr. Youello says. “Dogs with chronic diarrhea, for example, may do better on a dry food formulated with more fiber. Similarly, dogs with diabetes mellitus generally do better on a dry food, as there’s usually more complex carbohydrates compared to a canned food.”
While dry food is also touted as a good option to keep your dog’s teeth clean, it’s not recommended to feed them dry food for this reason alone. There are many toys and treats on the market that tackle plaque and nothing will ever compare to cleaning your dog’s teeth yourself.
Should I feed my dog wet and dry food?
A combination of wet and dry food is definitely an option. Again, ingesting a variety of food sources is better than banking on one. However, switching back and forth between wet and dry food is not recommended. This could easily cause digestive issues or an upset stomach. Dogs enjoy routine and tossing it up frequently could mess with their internal schedule.
The ideal dog diet
Dogs who consume a variety of fresh or lightly processed foods tend to live longer and have fewer health issues than dogs who eat processed dog food—wet or dry. According to Dr. Becker, fresh and lightly processed foods are only “slightly altered for the purpose of preservation with minimal nutrient loss.” These are foods that have been frozen, dehydrated, vacuum packaged, refrigerated or fermented.
Dr. Richter says, “Ideal nutrition for a dog is a balanced fresh whole food diet. These diets are evolutionarily appropriate and provide the animal with the spectrum of nutrients their body is designed to thrive on.”
Unfortunately, most commercial dog foods are ultra-processed. This means the food goes through several steps of processing and is far from fresh. Oftentimes, wet and dry processed pet food contains additives and chemicals that, while enhancing flavor and texture, could be more harmful in the long run. Processed foods have been linked to inflammation which can lead to additional health issues like gingivitis, pancreatitis, arthritis and more.
“Specific [processed dog food] formulations may work better for some medical conditions than others, but there is no situation where a highly processed diet is going to be superior to a properly formulated fresh food diet,” Dr. Richter says.
Luckily for dog owners, fresh pet foods are more readily available than ever before. Companies like Ollie, The Farmer’s Dog and Sundays are formulating human-grade dog meal plans without crazy processing. While these can seem pricey, it’s worth considering the big vet bills you could incur in the future due to declining health. Raw, fresh vegetables, bones and fruits can also serve as snack alternatives to processed treats.
When in doubt, check with your vet!