Cat owners often ask the question, is dry or wet food better for cats? The answer is not black and white. Both types of cat food have upsides and downsides. In this article on wet vs. dry cat food, we’ll go over all of the pros and cons to help you decide which is best for your cat.
Whether dry or wet, look for foods that meet AAFCO standards.
All commercial cat foods—whether dry or wet—provide all the nutrition cats need as long as the food meets the standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) demonstrating that the food is complete and balanced for the cat’s life stage.
The life stages include adult, kitten, pregnant and lactating females, and all life stages (any cat of any age).
In theory, it shouldn’t matter if a cat eats dry food or wet food, but each type has its benefits and drawbacks.
Dry cat food, also known as dry kibble, is a highly processed, shelf-stable food. Dry cat food is good for a long time in the original sealed bag, sometimes a year or longer. Look for a “best by” or “use by” date on the bag to find out if an unopened bag is still fresh.
Once opened, it’s best to use dry cat food within about six weeks. Although you might be tempted to transfer your dry cat food into a plastic container, it’s best to keep it in the original bag, which has a special liner designed to maximize the freshness of the food. Fold the top of the bag down all the way, squeezing out as much air as you can, and clip it closed, then store the bag in a cool, dry place.
Wet cat food, also known as canned cat food, is generally less processed than dry cat food, but also very shelf-stable. Unopened cans, trays, and pouches of wet cat food last a long time, usually several years.
As with dry food, look for a “best by” or “use by” date on the can, tray or pouch to determine if unopened wet cat food is still good. Once opened, wet cat food is highly perishable. Food can only be left out a few hours before it will spoil, and leftovers must be refrigerated. Use wet cat food within five to seven days of opening it.
Dry Cat Food Pros and Cons
Dry cat food has many benefits. Because it contains less moisture content than wet cat food, dry cat food is nutrient-dense and cost-effective. Dry food is also convenient—it’s easy to serve, it can be left out all day for cats that like to graze and there’s no need to refrigerate leftovers. Many cats love the taste and crunchy texture of dry food.
On the flip side, dry cat food is usually higher in carbohydrates than wet cat food, and typically has less protein (especially animal protein) than wet cat food. Although cats can digest and absorb beneficial nutrients from carbohydrates, cats have no minimum nutritional requirement for carbohydrates.
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that in the wild, cats would eat very little if any carbs as their diet would mainly consist of eating small prey animals (high amounts of protein and moderate amounts of fat). Dry cat food is a less natural type of diet for cats, although domestic cats have evolved to live and thrive on dry cat foods.
Although you may have heard that dry food is better for your cat’s teeth because it scrapes the teeth clean, this is an old wives’ tale. In general, dry cat food is no better for your cat’s teeth than wet food, and it no more keeps a cat’s teeth clean than eating crackers or cereal would keep your teeth clean.
Read More: Best Dental Cat Treats 2020
However, some dry cat foods have been specially developed and clinically proven to help remove tartar from a cat’s teeth.
These special dental health foods, which have received the seal of acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), include Hill’s Prescription Diet Feline t/d, Hill’s Science Diet Oral Care for Cats, Hill’s Healthy Advantage Oral+ for Cats, Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets DH Feline Formula and Royal Canin Feline Dental Diet.
Dry Cat Food Pros
- Long shelf life
- Convenient (easy to serve and can be left out)
- More energy-dense than wet food
- Many cats love the crunch and taste
Dry Cat Food Cons
- Lower water content than wet food
- Contains less protein than most wet foods
- Contains more carbohydrates than wet foods
- May be difficult for cats with dental issues or missing teeth
- Cats may overeat the bowl is kept filled
Wet Cat Food Pros and Cons
Compared to dry diets, wet cat food has a much higher water content—at least 75 percent. Extra water is a great thing for cats, since many cats don’t drink enough water and are often chronically dehydrated. In the wild, cats would get a lot of moisture in their diet by consuming entire prey animals like mice and rats, so cats biologically have a low thirst drive.
Because of this extra water content, wet food is great for cats that need to drink more water, such as cats with certain health problems like kidney disease or urinary tract issues like urinary crystals or cystitis. Low-carbohydrate diets are sometimes recommended for diabetic cats, and wet cat food generally meets that requirement.
Wet cat food also contains more protein than dry cat food, especially animal protein. Cats, being obligate carnivores, are made to consume and digest high amounts of animal protein, moderate amounts of fat and minimal amounts of carbohydrates, and wet food checks those boxes nicely. Many cats love the taste of wet food, especially picky eaters and older cats.
One of the biggest downsides of wet cat food is cost. Even though it’s a good thing, all that extra water weight means wet cat food is less nutrient-dense than dry food, so you have to feed more of it. Ounce for ounce, it’s also more costly than dry food. Because wet food is perishable, you have to pick up your cat’s food after a few hours or it will spoil.
This can be hard for cats that prefer to nibble throughout the day, especially if you are away from the house and can’t feed three or four small meals a day. Leftovers must be promptly refrigerated and used up with a week, so you need to stay on top of what’s left in the fridge.
Wet Cat Food Pros
- Higher water content than dry food
- More protein than most dry food
- More animal protein than most dry food
- Fewer carbohydrates than dry food
- Long shelf life when unopened
- Very palatable (tastes good)
- Good for cats with dental issues or missing teeth
Wet Cat Food Cons
- Less energy dense than dry food
- Perishable once opened (must be refrigerated)
- Can’t leave it out all day
The Best of Both Worlds
If you’re torn about whether to feed your cat dry food or wet food, consider offering both. You might serve one meal of dry food in the morning before you leave for work, then offer wet food in the evening once you return home. Or, if your cat tends to eat her food all at once, mix the two types together. Any amount of wet food can boost your cat’s overall diet with extra water intake and extra protein. If you have a kitten, offer both dry food and wet food early on. Cats usually develop preferences for taste and texture early in kittenhood. If your kitten only eats dry food she might turn her nose up at wet food in the future (and vice versa). For all cats, always offer plenty of fresh, clean water. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you are still wondering about the best food for your cat, especially if your cat has specific health issues like urinary-tract disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or other problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do cats need wet food every day?
Whether dry or wet, healthy cats get all the nutrients they need from any form of cat food provided it is certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as complete and balanced for the cat’s life stage (the life stages include maintenance for an adult cat, kitten and pregnant/lactating females, or all life stages). However, wet cat food does provide the benefits of extra water and protein in a cat’s diet, so it's beneficial to feed wet food every day if you can.
Can cats live on dry food only?
Yes, as long as the pet food is high-quality and is labeled complete and balanced according to AAFCO standards.
Should cats eat both wet and dry food?
Since there are pros and cons to both wet and dry cat food, feeding both types of food may offer the best of both worlds: the extra water and protein from the wet food and the convenience of dry food.
Is wet food bad for cats’ teeth?
The oft-told theory that dry food is better for a cat’s teeth than wet food is mostly untrue. Dry cat food cleans a cat’s teeth no better than crackers or cereal clean a human’s teeth. Feeding a cat only wet food is not bad for the teeth. However, special dental diets that contain the VOHC seal have been clinically proven to support dental health and keep the teeth cleaner. All cats should have their teeth brushed daily with a pet-safe toothpaste and cleaned professionally by the veterinarian at least once a year.