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Do Cats Need Wet Food or Is Dry Cat Food Enough?

 
By Matthew Nesbitt, Journalist specialized in animal research. March 5, 2020
Do Cats Need Wet Food or Is Dry Cat Food Enough?

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An adult cat's diet needs to be in careful balance for them to receive proper nutrition. A kitten's diet is even more delicate than that of an adult due their their vulnerability and development. A balanced diet not only allows a cat to survive, but to thrive. When we adopt a cat, it is our responsibility to best ensure the state of health and well-being they deserve. While animal nutritionists generally agree upon what nutrients felines need, these nutrients come in various forms. Wet food, dry food, homemade food, raw diets and more have the potential to feed our cat properly.

There is a general sense that wet food is the best type of cat food, but then why do so many people only feed their cats dry food? Do cats need wet food or is dry cat food enough? AnimalWised looks at the diet schedule of adult cats and kittens to best answer these questions.

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Feline diet and types of cat food

Since the domestication process began, a cat's diet hasn't changed significantly. When we compare dogs to their wild cousins, they have adapted to better tolerate grains and non-animal protein based foods. Cats have not envolved in the same way. As with their wildcat cousins, domestic cats are obligate carnivores. This means they need the proteins, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients (such as taurine) which come from animal sources.

The different types of cat food available to domestic cats include:

  • Wet cat food: usually comes canned, but is also available in pouches.
  • Dry cat food: sometimes referred to as kibble, this is a compound food which usually comes in large bags.
  • Homemade cooked food: some people may want to provide the same animal-based nutrition by providing cooked food at home or by supplementing it with other foodstuffs.
  • BARF: an acronym for biologically appropriate raw food or bones and raw food, BARF diets feed cats raw meat which mimics the food they would otherwise eat if hunting their own prey.
  • Vegetarian: some people provide vegetarian and even vegan diets to their cats. However, cats need certain nutrients which cannot be found in noon-animal based food. Even when supplemented, the cat may develop dietary disorders which can develop over a long period of time before symptoms are observed.
  • Medical diet: when a cat has a certain medical issue such as kidney failure or diabetes, a veterinarian may put them on a specialized diet to best ensure their health.

Among the different types of cat food, wet and dry commercial products are by far the most common. However, in the debate over wet vs dry food, many are not sure how much wet food they should give a cat or even if they need to provide any at all.

Do Cats Need Wet Food or Is Dry Cat Food Enough? - Feline diet and types of cat food

Wet food versus dry food - advantages

When we discuss feline nutrition, it is important to remember that the type of food is not the only factor to consider. How much food you give to a cat is also a very important part of their dietary requirements. While many cats will self-regulate how much they eat, others will struggle with portion control. Overeating leads to various health problems include gastrointestinal issues, organ problems and obesity.

Wet cat food advantages

There are various reasons cats will enjoy eating wet food more than dry food. They include:

  • Flavor: many of us have experienced a cat running to their bowl when they hear a bag of kibble being opened, but there is often an extra spring in their step when we open canned wet food. The flavoring and gravy which often accompanies wet food makes it practically irresistible to cats.
  • Texture: perhaps because it better mimics the type of food they would eat in the wild, wet food has a texture which cats really seem to enjoy.
  • Nutrition: since canned cat food uses less processed forms of meat (although it will have still been processed to a certain extent), it often contains better nutritional value.
  • Moisture: the high moisture content of wet cat food helps them to stat hydrated.

Dry cat food advantages

Despite the advantages of wet cat food listed above, many people still exclusively provide dry cat food for their pets. The reasons for this include:

  • Affordability: dry cat food is generally less expensive than wet cat food. Since we need to provide for a cat's feeding every day, dry food helps a lot of people who have smaller budgets.
  • Teeth: the texture of dry cat food can help protect the cat's teeth by scraping off plaque and other dirt.
  • Nutrition: although it may not always be as good as wet cat food, a quality dry cat food will still be able to meet all of a cat's dietary requirements. They are also sold in various formulae depending on the health status of the cat.
  • Energy: dry cat food is energy dense and is particularly good for mother cats.

Wet food versus dry food - disadvantages

While both dry and wet cat food have their pros, they also have their cons. Looking at the disadvantages of both wet and dry cat food, we can get a better idea of what to feed our own cat.

Wet cat food disadvantages

  • Expense: while some may purchase wet cat food for their cat all the time, its costliness makes it prohibitive for others. Some may only buy it on special occasions.
  • Spoilage: while canned cat food and puches will last longer, once they are opened, they will spoil much more quickly that dry cat food pellets or kibble.
  • Fat: while wet or canned cat food generally has more protein than dry cat food, it also often has more fat. This means it may not be suitable for cats with certain diseases or which are trying to lose weight.

Dry cat food disadvantages

  • Flavor: since many cats enjoy eating wet cat food much more than dry cat food, they can become picky. This may only happen when they first eat wet cat food and realize it is an option for them.
  • Moisture: has much less moisture content, meaning the cat will need to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Carbohydrates: due to the fact that many commercial dry food products will pack their product with more carbohydrates. This means the cat may need to eat more to get their right nutrition.

How much wet food should I give my cat?

As you can see, the wet vs dry cat food argument is not very easy with pros and cons on both sides. What these aspects tell us is that knowing what to give to your cat is partly circumstantial. It will not only need to factor in the cat's well-being and health status, but the financial and practical circumstances of the human guardian.

It is possible to only feed your cat wet food and for them to be healthy. However, you will have to be very careful with portion control. The higher fat content means obesity is a greater risk.

Kittens will need to be fed wet food when they are first weaned from their mother's milk. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, their underdeveloped teeth make chewing dry food more difficult. Secondly, since they are growing so rapidly, the higher fat and protein are beneficial to their development.

Adult cats can have a diet which is made of exclusively dry food, but only when it is of good quality. This is because the food should be formulated to meet all of the cat's nutritional needs. There will be different formulae for different cats. For example, the age of the cat will affect their nutritional requirements. Diabetic cats or those with kidney failure will also need a specific formula.

What is ideal for most people is to feed their cat a main diet of dry food. They can then give the cat wet food sporadically as both a supplement and treat. However, whatever you feed your cat should be discussed with your veterinarian to ensure the individual cat is getting the nutrition they require.

Do Cats Need Wet Food or Is Dry Cat Food Enough? - How much wet food should I give my cat?

What if my cat will not eat any dry food?

Some cats will seem hesitant to eat dry food. There are various reasons why this may be, but they will be difficult to determine. However, feeding a cat wet food is simply not financially viable for some families. Here are a few things you can do to help encourage a cat to eat dry food:

  • Change product: cats can go through different taste preferences, similar to humans. Even when they like one product before, it is possible they will refuse to eat it at a later stage. Changing their product might encourage them to eat dry food, but we will still need to ensure it is nutritionally suitable for them.
  • Mix in wet food: if you mix in a little wet food to the dry food, they should find it more appetizing. Slowly you can put in less and less wet food until they only eat the dry food.
  • Mix in broth: while it will need to be broth suitable for cats (i.e. no onion, garlic or other food toxic to cats), you can add some into the dry food to give flavoring. Homemade bone broth is particularly tasty for cats. Even a little water might encourage them to eat it in case the texture is an issue for them.

Once you make these changes, your cat should start eating dry food out of habit. If you have the resources, you can look into homemade food or raw food diets, but always check with a veterinarian before doing so. Also, if you run out of cat food and are at a loss, this article on how to feed your cat when you run out of cat food might be helpful.

If you want to read similar articles to Do Cats Need Wet Food or Is Dry Cat Food Enough?, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.

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