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Is Wet or Dry Food Better for Cats?

Good nutrition is essential for a healthy body condition score, glossy coat, and overall quality of life. All pet parents want to give their kitties the very best, but information about pet food is often contradictory and confusing. 

The attempt to untangle the wet vs dry food debate may raise more questions than answers, but current research can help you work with your vet to choose the food and feeding schedule that fit your cat’s individual needs. 

wet vs dry food cat eating kibbleThe case for wet food vs. dry food:

Let’s face it, wet food is on a pedestal. Not only do most cats go crazy at the mere sight of a can, but there also seem to be some common sense benefits. There are also plenty of anecdotal drawbacks.

In general, many pet parents believe that canned food is:

  • Closer to a cat’s “natural” diet
  • A special treat
  • More hydrating than dry food
  • A possible cause of diarrhea
  • Good for weight loss
  • Likely to cause weight gain

If some of these statements seem contradictory — they are! Here is what science has to say about separating myths from facts, and deciding what criteria to prioritize when choosing pet food. 

Is wet food more hydrating for cats?

Cats are notoriously poor drinkers, and chronic dehydration is a known risk factor for chronic kidney disease. At a glance, it only makes sense that canned cat food would be more hydrating than dry kibble. After all, wet food is, well, wet. 

But does a choice of wet or dry food make a difference in your kitty’s body water content and urine concentration? Researchers are skeptical: studies involving cats fed canned and dry diets indicate that overall hydration may depend more on the food’s protein and mineral content than its moisture. This could indicate that healthy cats with access to fresh water adjust their drinking to balance their diet. 

Does wet food give cats diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the double-edged sword of the hydration argument. Some pet parents swear that the canned stuff leads to loose stools, but it’s more likely that tummy troubles are due to the introduction of unfamiliar food.

Many cats are highly sensitive to changes in their regular diet, so new food should always be introduced gradually. If wet food is only an occasional treat, cats who overindulge are likely to experience diarrhea.

Do cats need a low-carb diet? wet vs dry food orange cat

Cats are obligate carnivores that need a protein-based diet to survive, but does this mean that carbohydrates are bad for kitties? 

Conventional wisdom states that dry food’s higher carb content elevates cats’ blood glucose, increasing the risk of feline diabetes. The science, however, doesn’t necessarily bear this out. 

While cats certainly metabolize carbohydrates differently than omnivores, they still metabolize them efficiently. Most research doesn’t point to any association between carbs and feline diabetes. Other factors, like your cat’s feeding schedule and the overall nutrition content of their food, are much better predictors of well-regulated blood glucose. 

Is wet or dry food better for weight loss?

Wet food often looks meaty and indulgent, and most cats’ enthusiasm for the tell-tale sound of the can opener would have pet parents believe that it is richer than kibble. 

In fact, canned food’s high moisture content means that it is typically less calorie dense than dry cat food. Does this mean that the wet stuff can help plump kitties shed pounds? The answer appears to be an underwhelming it depends. 

A healthy weight is a better safeguard against feline diabetes than any specific type of cat food, but nutrition certainly matters. Cats that eat too much or too often are at risk for poor quality of life. If you’re concerned about your kitty’s body condition score, talk to your veterinarian to determine the optimal serving sizes and feeding schedule for your cat. 

The Bottom Line

Can both wet and dry cat food be part of a healthy diet? Absolutely!

The meaningful differences in their pros and cons are related to your kitty’s specific individual needs and preferences. If you’ve noticed changes in your cat’s weight, bathroom habits, activity level, or general health, it’s important to visit your veterinarian to address possible underlying causes before chalking it up to diet. 

Unlike dogs, cats won’t always eat what is put in front of them. With effort and patience, you can establish a balanced diet that’s as nutritious as it is tasty.