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Wet Cat Food vs. Dry: What to Use and When

Wondering about the benefits and drawbacks of wet cat food vs. dry? Here’s what you need to know to keep your cat healthy.

The proper diet for your cat depends on many different factors, including their age, pre-existing health conditions, weight, and activity level. There are many components of a healthy diet that you should consider, including how often to feed your cat, how large or small their portions should be, and what time of day they should be fed. Another component that confuses many cat parents is the wet cat food vs. dry debate. Which is better for your cat? What about a combination of the two? Here’s what you need to know about the difference between wet cat food vs. dry and how to decide which is better for your feline friend.

Wet Cat Food vs. Dry: How Are They Different?

To better understand which of these options is best for your cat, it’s important to look at the actual differences between wet cat food vs. dry. The primary characteristics that differentiate the two are:

  • Moisture level
  • Cost
  • Maintenance and storage requirements
  • Method of development
  • Appeal
  • Nutrition

The Obvious Difference: Moisture Level

The obvious difference between wet cat food vs. dry is the moisture content of the food itself. Wet cat food contains much more water than dry cat food. While the typical dry food contains about 10 percent water, the typical wet cat food contains closer to 70 percent water.

Wet Food Tends to Be More Expensive Than Dry

Another significant difference between wet and dry cat food is the cost. Dry cat food is typically more affordable, with your dollar stretching farther in feeding your cat. Dry food is typically advisable for people on a very strict budget or someone with a large number of feline mouths to feed (such as a good samaritan that feeds community cats). Some estimates even place wet cat food at about twice as expensive as dry food. This is in part because it often contains more meat, which is an expensive ingredient.

Dry and Wet Cat Food Need Different Maintenance and Storage

Another thing to consider in addition to the higher cost of wet cat food is that it requires more careful storage and can spoil more easily. Dry cat food often comes in large bags and can be stored anywhere dark and cool, such as a closet. Its shelf life is significant, while wet cat food has to be stored in the refrigerator once it’s been opened. If it’s left out for more than an hour, there might be bacterial growth that could threaten your cat’s health, and it should be thrown out. This storage challenge often deters many cat parents from purchasing wet food.

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Dry Cat Food Is Made Differently from Wet Food

The manufacturing process is also different for wet food than dry food. The creation method of the food is mainly significant because of how it affects the nutritional content of the food. Canned wet cat foods are usually made by combining and heating meat, grains, water, fat, and vitamins. Dry food combines and cooks most of these same ingredients (with less water) and then applies high pressure, which makes the starches in the food easier for the cat to digest. Sometimes, the dry food is finished with a spray of fat to make it more tasty.

Wet Food Is Often More Appealing to Picky Felines

Another major difference in wet cat food vs. dry is your cat’s own opinion of the food. Cats tend to find wet food more appealing. The texture and flavors of wet food more closely resemble the food that felines in the wild tend to eat, so there is an evolutionary component to this. It can be hard to get a very picky cat to enjoy dry food.

Nutrition Content of Wet Cat Food vs. Dry

The nutritional content of wet cat food is different from that of dry food, which is why these two different types of food can address different nutritional needs for your cat. Dry food is often more carbohydrate-dense and also sometimes has additional probiotics that can support your cat’s gut health. Because so much of wet food is water, it is inherently less dense in calories than dry food. This can make it a good choice for cats who are struggling with obesity or weight gain.

The protein, fat, and carbohydrate ratios of your cat’s food will be a hugely important part of deciding what diet is best for your pet. Not all dry foods or wet foods are the same, which is why it’s important to discuss this important decision with your veterinarian.

Questions to Consider When Comparing Wet Cat Food vs. Dry

Here are several questions to consider when choosing between wet cat food vs. dry:

  • Is my cat overweight?
  • Does my cat need additional hydration?
  • Does my cat have dental issues?
  • What will my cat eat?
  • Can I use a combination of wet and dry food for my cat?

Is My Cat Overweight or Obese?

Dry cat food is more calorically dense than wet cat food and typically comes in a large bag that doesn’t offer the pre-portioned sizes of a can of wet cat food. For these reasons, dry cat food is sometimes associated with weight gain and obesity in cats. If your cat is already overweight, your veterinarian may recommend that you stick with wet cat food because its higher water content will make your cat feel more full while taking in fewer calories. Likewise, if you have an underweight cat, they may encourage you to use dry food.

Does My Cat Have a Health Condition That Requires Additional Water Intake?

Some health conditions that typically plague cats may benefit from a diet that includes more hydration. Issues related to the kidneys, urinary tract, and even diabetes may be managed with a wet cat food diet that encourages your cat to consume more water. Your veterinarian will be able to advise on whether the additional hydration offered by wet food makes it a better choice for whatever health conditions your cat might be battling.

The additional water in wet cat food can also support a cat who suffers from consistent constipation.

Are My Cat’s Teeth and Gums Healthy and Strong?

Dental needs will play a crucial role in the wet cat food vs. dry food debate. Dental problems are common in felines, and if your cat has sensitive teeth or gums, they might not be able to chew crunchy, dry cat food. The soft texture of wet cat food is better for cats that struggle with dental problems and tooth sensitivity.

On the other hand, if your cat’s mouth is healthy, dry kibble is better for maintaining your cat’s dental health and preventing dental disease. The crunchy pieces break up plaque and tartar as they are chewed.

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What Kind of Food Is My Cat Willing to Eat?

Cats are often picky eaters, and you can’t starve them out with the hopes that they will simply get hungry enough to eat whatever you give them. Many cats are stubborn enough that their health and nutrition will suffer before they eat something they don’t like. It’s very important that your cat is getting enough calories in their daily diet, and achieving that goal will require you to consider taste and texture as a factor when choosing the right type of food.

Does My Cat Have Specific Nutritional Needs?

Cats at different ages and stages of life have different nutritional needs. For example, a high-protein diet is important for cats of all ages, but especially for growing kittens. Because wet cat food typically has more protein and less carbohydrates than dry food, it might be a better choice for kittens. On the other hand, senior cats are typically less active and their kidneys are aging, which means a high-protein diet might place additional pressure on their organs.

Age will be one of the factors to consider when assessing your cat’s nutritional needs and deciding between wet cat food vs. dry.

Will a Combination of Wet and Dry Food Work for My Cat?

When it comes to wet cat food vs. dry, you don’t have to choose exclusively one. In fact, your cat’s needs and preferences will likely change throughout their lifetime. Combining wet cat food with dry and changing out your cat’s diet regularly may be the key to keeping your cat healthy and happy. Knowing exactly how to split between the two will depend on your cat’s specific needs, so consult your veterinarian about how to combine wet and dry cat food for a perfect cat diet.

Wet vs. Dry Is Just One Piece of the Cat Diet Puzzle

The benefits and drawbacks of wet cat food and dry cat food are just one part of your cat’s overall healthy diet. There are plenty more things to consider, from portion sizes to scheduling to specialized diets for any conditions your cat might have. No matter what kind of cat food you use, it should be certified or approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This ensures that it is nutritionally balanced for your feline’s needs.

Remember that you need to be consistently assessing your cat’s health needs to ensure your pet is comfortable and healthy, as those needs will likely change throughout their life. Always discuss your cat’s diet with your veterinarian to ensure you’re considering the whole picture when choosing between wet cat food vs. dry.

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