Which is Best: Canned Cat Food or Dry Cat Food?

See which cat food wins in the ongoing debate over which is best: wet cat food or dry cat food.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Updated: August 5, 2013, 12 p.m. EDT

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Maine Coon Cat with Outstretched Paw
Canned cat food can provide hydration to cats that don't readily drink water.
Q: Is canned food good for cats? I was told it is bad, and that I should only feed my cats dry cat food. That is what I have been doing.
 
A: We’re wading into controversial waters with questions like this. I’m sure that no matter what answer I give, people will strongly disagree.

Dry cat food is good for:
  • Cats prone to dental issues. Dry cat food, especially the prescription dental dry foods, creates some abrasive action on the teeth when it is crunched, and thus slows down the rate that tartar accumulates on the teeth.
  • Underweight cats. Dry food tends to have more calories than canned food, so dry food would be effective for cats to gain weight.
Canned cat food is good for:
  • Underweight or nutritionally challenged cats, who need to put on calories, because canned cat food smells more strongly and entices cats.  
  • Conversely from the above, overweight cats. Canned cat food has fewer calories and is better for weight loss.
  • Cats with urinary issues also do much better when fed a canned diet. Cats with constipation issues also do better when fed a canned diet, as these diets contain more moisture.
Much has been written about dry cat food, carbohydrates and feline diabetes. Many people believe that cats on a mainly dry cat food diet are at increased risk of diabetes because of the high carbohydrate content found in many dry foods. The carbohydrate content of the dry foods is not responsible, per se, for the increasing incidence of diabetes in cats. Dry foods are much more likely lead to obesity in cats, and it is the obesity that predisposes cats to diabetes.

I feel that the quality, not the particular food, is most important. Feeding a little canned cat food in the morning and evening, and having some dry food out for the cat to snack on during the day is a reasonable approach; cats like to eat multiple small meals throughout the day, and people who work all day are understandably reluctant to leave canned food out all day for their cat.

Cats that become overweight or develop urinary issues should have their dry food reduced. Cats with a predisposition for dental issues should be fed a prescription dry diet, ideally. I personally am not a proponent of "raw” diets, but that’s another (controversial) issue entirely.
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Reader Comments

brooke    International

10/9/2014 6:44:34 AM

Linda. My cat wasnt eating at all and the vets gave me food that is actually like pate so soft it can be syringed give that a go

Sarah    Torrington, CT

9/5/2014 4:52:09 AM

Our UTI-prone Weggies eat ONLY wet and an occasional treat. We have a young cat who loves dry food. Our perfect solution is Primal Freeze Dried #catfood which can be served wet or dry. The cats all love it. We get it here as we can't find it locally: LINK We also use PetNaturals Oral Health for dental care. LINK

Pamela    Oshawa, ON

9/4/2014 10:40:23 AM

I fed Royal Canin dry food for adult cats and 1 can of Fancy Feast chicken in the morning and another at night this keeps his bowels moving

Lynda    Ventura, CA

7/1/2014 11:53:46 AM

I have a 5 year old feral rescue female who has always gone to Vet for check-ups and dental care. Last year they pulled most of her teeth. I have had her since she was a kitten and can't understand why she lost so many teeth with a very healthy diet.Now I find she "gulps her dry food and I have to make sure her wet food is a "pate" type or I have to mash and cut it up in really small pieces so she can eat, why don't they make a high quality food that is for teeth less cats & for older ones with same problem. Any suggestions, thank you.

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