Round up a group of cat parents and bring up the subject of dry food versus wet food and you’ll be in for a wild ride. People have vastly different opinions on the issue, making information online, understandably, fraught with misinformation. To get to the bottom of the issue, we first must examine the domestic cat’s physiology, then explore our options.
First things first, what are a cat’s base dietary needs?
Cats, unlike dogs who are omnivorous, are unable to easily break down vegetable protein. Cats are “obligate carnivores,” which means they require muscle-based meat in their diets to thrive, particularly the amino acid taurine.
Similar to other carnivorous animals, cats also have very short digestive systems because they weren’t built to break down the tough cellulose matter found in plants. Introducing cellulose to their diets can cause a whole host of problems.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that canned, wet cat food is always better than dry kibble. Many cat owners have successfully raised healthy cats on kibble-only diets; others have found the most success with wet food.
Why the variation? Well, it likely has to do with the quality of the food being served. The best kibble will likely outperform the worst canned food, making this an issue that falls very much on a spectrum. That said, dry kibble lacks in one very specific area, and that is: water content.
What’s the big deal about water content?
Prey consumed by wild cats is made up of about 70 percent water. Canned wet can food follows this trend, averaging 80 percent water or so, where dry food typically lands somewhere around 10 percent.
Cats, at the same time, are extremely prone to dehydration. When chronically dehydrated, they can develop life-threatening conditions such as chronic renal failure (CRF) and urinary crystals or other forms of blockages. (Read more about that here.)
Because of this, cats who eat exclusively dry food need to be consuming approximately one cup of water for every ten pounds of body weight in a 24-hour period. In hot weather, this number only increases. On the other side, cats on wet food diets need only drink a third of a cup or so each day.
I can get my cat to drink water. Is there anything else I should know?
Getting enough water each day is a serious indicator of whether or not your cat will be successful on a dry food diet. However, there’s one more thing you should be aware of and that’s obesity.
Cats on dry food diets are more prone to obesity and diabetes than cats who eat wet cat food. This is partially due to the high carbohydrate levels in most kibbles and partially due to owners’ propensity to free feed dry cat food. To combat this issue, consider initiating meal times and portioning or switch to a canned food diet. And if you do, make sure to check the ingredients! Remember: quality first.