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

Carl    International

9/10/2016 10:36:48 PM

My previous cat had diabetes and I gave her insulin twice a day for eight years until she died. All she ate was dry. I know that's what gave her diabetes. When I started feeding her wet, her insulin needs were cut in half. You don't find cats looking for food in corn fields or rice paddies, dry food is NOT species appropriate, and please, quit perpetuating that myth it's better for their teeth. She had to have teeth pulled and cleaned regularly, with all that dry food she ate her teeth should have been sparking. My new cat will never see a piece of that dry cooked-to-death kibble. I can't believe a vet wrote this article.

Kylie    Saint Louis, MO

3/22/2015 12:45:41 PM

I switched my cats from dry food to canned only, over a year ago. Since then, they have completely stopped barfing and leaving skid marks on my clean bedspreads and carpets. I did this after trying several brands of wet and dry, and even switching to grain free. I think the dry food was the problem.

cat lover    houston, TX

2/7/2015 12:24:10 PM

i think a mixture of wet and dry food are best for wet food i prefer purina one or iams

Amy    San Marcos, CA

1/12/2015 1:32:50 AM

I think the person who wrote this article is correct you should offer both wet & dry food but it should be good quality food! sorry fancy feast but you are the junk food of the cat food world! Meat should always be first thing you see on the back of the bag not corn. My Lucy loves crunching on dry all day but a little at a time she did start to gain weight so I started to measure it to a 1/4 cup and she makes it last. Jack loves wet food so I leave him a small can of wet food every night since he is young and likes to play and eat at night but since he doesn't really like to drink water yet I always mix in about 1 table spoon of cold bottled water. Variety is always nice!

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