We all want the absolute best for our feline companions, whether that means buying them their 400th mouse toy that they will immediately discard in favor of the cardboard box it came in, or feeding them a well-balanced diet full of nutrients. But the latter may be a bit more complicated, because cat owners are faced with the tricky debate of whether to feed our cats wet food, dry food, or a combination of both. You’ll hear passionate opinions on both sides of the aisle, and it’s clear that either option has its own fair share of pros and cons. So, rather than chasing our own tails about it, we talked to some experts to find out once and for all: Wet vs. dry cat food? Which is the best option?
Wet vs. Dry Cat Food: Which Is the Best Option?
And what about mixing the two?
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Meet the Experts
- Dr. Bruce Kornreich, DVM, PhD., Director of the Cornell Feline Health Center received his DVM from Cornell University in 1992. Following one year of small animal private practice experience in central New Jersey, he returned to Cornell as the first Cardiology resident in 1993. After one year as a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Pharmacology, he began graduate studies in the Department of Molecular Medicine and received his PhD in Pharmacology from Cornell University in 2005. He is board certified in Cardiology by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and has been a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Clinical Sciences since 2007.
- Dr. Nicole Savageau, VMD - Veterinarian at The Vets of Austin received an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and earned a VMD degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Her special interests include feline medicine, preventative medicine, exotic animal medicine, soft tissue surgery, and cytology.
What Are the Benefits of Wet Food for Cats?
The most significant benefit of wet food for cats is (surprise, surprise) the higher amount of water content! Before we domesticated them into the cuddly lap companions they are today, cats in the wild would get most of their hydration from the high moisture content in the prey they were hunting. This led to cats evolving to not naturally have a very high thirst drive, and so may not drink enough water on their own accord. Therefore, cats may need a bit more encouragement to keep themselves properly hydrated to avoid potential health complications. According to Dr. Bruce Korenriech, the Director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, cats are highly prone to chronic kidney disease and urinary issues, and a lack of sufficient water may contribute to or exacerbate those. In fact, wet food has around 75 percent water content, versus dry food’s approximate 10 percent. That difference is as stark as cats and dogs (sorry)!
Another big upside of wet food is its palatability. According to Dr. Nicole Savageau, VMD, “Wet cat food is often more appealing to cats than dry kibble because of its taste and texture. This can be especially beneficial for cats who are picky eaters.” A cat? Picky eater? Unheard of! (If you know you know.) But luckily, wet food tends to come in such a large variety of different proteins and flavors, you’re bound to find something that sends even the pickiest cat sprinting from the other room as soon as they hear the faintest whisper of a can opening.
So yes, wet food is an especially wise choice if your cat suffers from, or is at risk of, conditions such as obesity, kidney disease, and urinary tract issues due to the higher water content and lower levels of caloric density, which keep your cat full longer on less food.
However, every rose has its thorn and wet food isn’t without its set of pitfalls. Largely, it’s the more expensive option, and has a much shorter shelf life once opened.
What Are the Benefits of Dry Food for Cats?
Good old reliable kibble! Some of the main benefits of dry food include convenience and price, which are very important factors to consider. Despite our cats believing they are the kings and queens of the household, we cat owners have to actually pay the bills! Dry cat food is less expensive than wet, and doesn’t spoil nearly as quickly, which is helpful especially if your cat likes to slowly graze on food throughout the day. Dr. Bruce emphasizes, “It’s easy to serve, it’s less prone to spoilage once opened, it’s generally more affordable, and in some cases, dry food is more energy dense, which can be helpful if a cat needs to put on weight.”
Dry food is also a convenient option if you’re not home for every mealtime and want to set your cat up with an automatic feeder, or even a slow feeder if they tend to get over-excited at meal time, munch too quickly, and make themselves sick (Who among us hasn’t been there?).
Additionally, some vets believe that there may be some potential dental benefits to certain dry cat foods, including tartar and plaque removal, especially if they are specifically formulated for oral hygiene and have a Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval. However, Dr. Bruce emphasizes that the jury is really still out in the veterinary world on whether there’s enough data to prove those benefits, and that the best thing you can do for your cat’s dental health is brush their teeth daily. Easier said than done for feisty cats out there, of course.
Mixing Wet and Dry Food for Cats
So, I love my cat and want her to live forever, but I also have to pay rent and preserve my own sanity (if you’ve ever gotten fruit flies from wet cat food sitting out, you understand)—what is a cat owner to do? Well, Dr. Nicole wisely recommends, “In general, feeding your cat a combination of wet and dry food can provide a balanced and nutritious diet.” If you want to reap all the health benefits and hydration of wet food, while also benefiting from the convenience and price of dry food, it could be a great idea to feed your cat a combination of both wet and dry food! And while I await my Nobel Prize for this innovative suggestion, I’ll also admit that introducing new and different foods to your cat can be tricky. Dr. Bruce suggests doing it gradually. “Don’t go from one food to another food overnight. One night feed them 75 percent of the old food, and 25 percent of the new food, then switch to 50/50, and so on. Switching intermittently and gradually is likely to make it so the cats will be accepting of different types of food.”
An additional tip from this cat mom, if you feed your feline both wet and dry food daily and they happen to strongly prefer the taste of one type of food over the other, feed them their favorite food for dinner rather than breakfast, so you don’t wake up to an angry cat screaming in your face at 6 a.m. every morning!
The Bottom Line
Most commercial cat foods, whether wet or dry, do provide a sufficient amount of nutrition. So, if you have a healthy adult cat, feeding them a mix of both wet and dry food can absolutely provide them the nutritious, balanced diet they need, while still being relatively convenient and affordable. Dr. Nicole also recommends always checking the labels for a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which indicates the food meets the minimum nutritional requirements for cats. She also suggests checking the actual ingredients: “Look for cat foods that contain high-quality protein sources, such as chicken, turkey, beef or fish. Avoid products that contain by-products, fillers, or artificial additives, such as colors or flavors. The ingredient list should be easy to read and understand.” Sorry, Whiskers, no Cool Ranch Doritos for you!
Dr. Bruce also notes that a healthy adult cat should generally eat around 250 calories per day, and however you want to achieve that balance between wet and dry, is up to you (and of course, your cat!) and can of course vary cat by cat based on their age, health, weight, lifestyle, and preference. But the most important thing is that they eat enough food, period—there are no benefits to a cat on a self-imposed hunger strike!
Cats with specific health issues like diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, and urinary tract issues may of course require more of a certain type of food, or even a prescription diet targeted towards their health concerns, so always be sure to talk to your vet about what is the best feeding choice for your cat.
And as my own cat is currently glaring at me, trying to telepathically tell me it’s time to give her a treat, I would be remiss to not mention that Dr. Bruce also recommends that treats be no more than 10 percent of a cat’s caloric daily intake (but don’t tell my cat I said that.) Bon appetit, kitties!