There is no consensus on whether cats should be fed wet food, dry, or both. Even pet nutritionists disagree, some insist cats are better off only fed one or the other. This article will provide you with enough facts that you can form your own decision.
Cats are true carnivores, they need meat in their diet. Within the cat food industry there are many dry foods that put cheap filler into their food. Corn is the prime culprit here, often seen either in the top spot on cheaper pet foods or in two of the subsequent positions (often making it more prevalent in a food than meat). We have to remember that ingredients are listed in the order of their prevalence in a food. As such many of the lower priced foods (and a few of the higher priced ones) are loaded with ingredients the cat does not need, and can barely digest.
In contrast canned food, by its very nature, tend to contain mostly meat. The exception are the foods marketed as “chunks in gravy” gravy being carbohydrates, something the cat does not need, and the foods marketed as “stews with vegetables”.
This is not to say that dry foods never have good meat content, the better foods have excellent meat content, but few owners are aware of what to look for when buying pet food, and fewer still know where to look. As a rule of thumb grocery stores never sell good pet food, and even some big box pet stores do not sell purely good pet foods. To learn more about buying pet food, see "Related Links" below.
Cats seldom drink as much water as they should. Water is important for cats as it helps them maintain a healthy urinary tract. Dry food, by its very nature, is dry... canned food will contain more moisture. Owners can encourage cats drink more water by keeping their bowl fresh or by feeding canned food with water mixed in – to make a soup.
The big push for those in favor of feeding dry food only is that dry food helps keep a cats teeth clean. Indeed dry food does not stick to their teeth like canned food would.
I was working in an SPCA and a Siamese Cat was brought in by its owner. The owner told us the cat was 3 years old. A couple of days later the health tech was checking the cat before putting it up for adoption, when she looked at the cats teeth she was horrified to see that the cat was clearly much older, probably even in its teens – the condition of its teeth being so bad. Normally that would have been it for the cat (nobody adopts older cats, even at 3 the cat didn't have much hope). However she was so enraged at being lied to she broke the rules and called the guy to tell him so. Lucky for the cat, because the owner had his original purchase papers for the cat, showing when he bought her as a kitten, indeed she was only 3, but had been fed a diet of strictly canned food.
The people who advocate canned food only will argue that in the wild cats eat meat, not dry food, and as such canned food is closer to what they normally eat. We must remember in the wild cats also scrape their teeth along bones which would help keep the teeth cleaner. Our domestic house cats are not wild cats.
Authors "barn cat" he was abandoned here by his old owners.
Natural Feeding Pattern
Dogs eat their meals all at once, then digest. Cats normally eat several smaller meals throughout the day. Canned food should not be left out for more than 20 minutes or bacteria starts to grow in it. However, dry food can be left out all day, making a more natural eating habit for the cat.
Beneficial Additives in Dry Food
In the better quality dry foods some additional ingredients can prove advantageous. Yucca controls odors, beet pulp helps with digestion and hairball control, cranberry aids urinary tract health. These are all minor ingredients that do not interfere with the meat content in good quality foods.
Because wet food is softer it is easier for a cat to digest. For this reason it is an important part of the diet in kittens and older cats.
Putting it Together...
Young kittens (and pregnant or nursing cats) should be given several (4-6) small meals (1 teaspoon per feeding) of canned per day. The same goes for extremely old cats. Both should have free access to a good quality dry food throughout the day (kitten formula for kittens, senior formula for adult cats).
By the time the kitten is 12 weeks of age it should be getting 2 – 3 small meals of canned food a day. Ideally at least one, or all, of these feedings should have water added to make a soup to help the cat maintain a healthy urinary tract system. Again, it should have access to a good quality dry food all the time.
Indoor cats can be switched to adult food between 6 - 10 months of age, unless they are underweight. Outdoor cats can be switched to adult food between 8 – 12 months of age as they are typically expending more energy.
Cats who are outdoors in the winter should be given extra canned food.
Feeding canned food is at an owners discretion, many people do not feed adult cats canned food at all, however I do recommend feeding canned food once (or even twice) a day to mature cats. Again this only needs to be a teaspoon of food but should be mixed with water. I suggest feeding canned food at night rather in the morning, or your cat will try to wake you up earlier and earlier.
- Never mixed canned food with the dry.
- Throw out any canned food left in a bowl if a cat does not eat it after 20 minutes.
- Food and water should be offered only in stainless steel bowls, or ceramic bowls, never in plastic bowls (which can contain bacteria).
- Learn your ingredients, all cat foods market themselves and good nutrition, few really are.
- When you feed a correct diet, you have fewer health problems.
- When you feed a good food, your cat actually needs to eat less, and will have less poops in the litter box.
- Once you have found a good food, stick with it, changing cats food too often results in upset stomach and can contribute to food allergy issues.
- Cats who have been strictly fed canned food may not want to try dry food, put the dry food in the microwave for 10 seconds to bring out the natural oils and smells.