Is Wet or Dry Food Better for Cats?

Cat licks mouth

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There's a reason felines are called finicky. Cats tend to be particular about just about everything.

Switch kitty litter brands and prepare for a full-scale protest; adjust the view to the backyard at your peril. It’s no wonder that many owners stockpile whatever food their cats deem acceptable. But there are differences between dry and wet cat food that could affect your cat’s long-term health. Dr. Annie Price of Ormewood Animal Hospital in Atlanta offers advice on what’s best for cats.

“For years and years, you remember vets saying that canned food is junk food,” she says. “We found that’s not necessarily accurate.”

Price says that cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they rely on meat for nutrition and lack the enzyme required to break down plant material. As descendants of desert-dwelling hunters, cats also thrive on food that resembles what’s consumed in the wild. Their ideal meal has plenty of protein and fat, with very few carbs. Cats also tend to be dehydrated, which leads to kidney issues over time. Canned cat food typically contains about 80 percent moisture so felines get a little additional water in their diet along with the protein benefits. While dry kibble may include a higher percentage of protein, Price says the dry stuff also includes far too many carbohydrates.

“It is not so much about the protein but about limiting the carbohydrates (empty calories), which cats do not efficiently use,” she says. “Dry food is almost like carb-loading at every meal.”

High-carbohydrate diets lead to obesity and weight-related health issues such as diabetes, a prevalent issue among couch-dwelling counterparts. In its “State of Pet Health 2012” report, Banfield Pet Hospital notes a 90 percent increase in the number of overweight cats treated between 2007 and 2011. Excess weight also leads to costly health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and thyroid issues.

When shopping for wet cat food, Price recommends pate formulas that include chicken or turkey – animals that cats would typically hunt during outdoor adventures. Leave tuna, sardines and other fish on the shelves.

“Desert-dwellers won’t find much fish,” she notes. “We developed that ideal based on cartoons.”