Wet food. Dry food. Semi-moist diets. Options available for feeding your cat are many. And many pet owners have very firm beliefs about what type of food is best for us. The same is true of veterinarians; many believe one type of food is better than the other.
Let’s take a look at the most basic of questions about cat food. Dry food or canned food? Is one better than the other? Let’s take a look at the arguments on both sides. I’m just going to present the facts here. You’ll have to decide for yourself which is best. From my perspective as a cat, I haven’t turned down a meal yet. I like both types.
We’ll talk about dry food first. It’s easy for you humans to feed. Just pour the food in a bowl, put the bowl on the floor and you’re done. What’s easier than that. It seems that lots of you don’t really like handling wet food. It’s smelly and it takes more effort to feed. But then, in my view, the smellier the better.
Dry foods can be more effective in keeping our teeth and gums healthy too, according to some cat owners and veterinarians. In fact, some dry foods are even marketed as dental diets to reduce plaque, tartar and gingivitis.
On the other hand, most dry foods are higher in carbohydrates than some wet foods. There are plenty of pet owners and veterinarians that advocate a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for cats. It’s tough to get that combination in a dry food. Carbohydrates are used in the manufacturing process to help the kibble keep its shape.
One of the arguments offered by the proponents of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is the fact that this type of diet is often recommended for cats that are diabetic. In fact, some (but certainly not all) diabetic cats fed a high protein, low carbohydrate diet actually improve to the point that their blood glucose stabilizes and insulin injections become unnecessary.
Those who believe that it’s okay to feed a dry diet point out though that there is no evidence that feeding these high protein, low carbohydrate wet diets to cats that are not diabetic actually prevents diabetes. They believe that the number one predisposing factor for developing diabetes for a cat is being overweight, not the diet the cat is eating.
But there’s another side to that coin also. (You knew it was coming, didn’t you?) Many cats that are fed free choice have a tendency to overeat and gain weight as a result. This is particularly true of altered (i.e. spayed/neutered) cats. Proponents of feeding wet food point out that it is easier to overfeed using dry food because it is so easy to just pour the food into the bowl without measuring. Of course, dry food can be measured and cats can be put on a regular feeding schedule even with dry food. It just takes a little more effort to stay away from the “pour it in the bowl when the bowl is empty” trap.
Then there’s the issue of moisture content. (You didn’t really think we were finished talking about the great cat food debate, did you?) Getting cats to drink enough water can sometimes be problematic, depending on the cat. There are conditions in which you might want to increase your cat’s water intake also. For instance, cats with chronic kidney failure can benefit from increased water consumption as can cats with lower urinary tract disease.
There’s no doubt that wet food contains far more moisture than dry food. For many cat owners and veterinarians, that alone tips the scale toward feeding wet food.
Opinions on this topic vary widely and many of you humans have passionate beliefs about which is best. I’ll end by mentioning that the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have stated in their 2010 Life Stage Guidelines that healthy cats do just as well on dry food as wet. In fact, here is a direct quote from the Guidelines:
“Satisfactory diets for cats contain all the required nutrients in proper balance, are palatable and digestible, and are free of spoilage and contaminants. The specific source of nutrients in feline diets is irrelevant when these criteria are satisfied. Both canned and dry food have been found to support health during all life stages. The presence of a label guarantee that the food was tested using feeding trials provides the current best initial evidence that a diet is satisfactory.
The panel examined published peer-reviewed evidence-based studies in healthy, client-owned cats for any significant health effect of: feeding canned versus dry food (including contribution to dental health); providing a variety of foods versus a consistent diet; feeding high protein, low carbohydrate versus lower calorie and high fiber diets; feeding raw diets; providing dietary supplements, or access to grass or plants. Based on the available data, specific recommendations in favor of any of these practices cannot be made.
Despite the concern surrounding the effects of carbohydrate in dry foods, current evidence suggests that housing and activity (which may be a marker of welfare) are more significant predictors of health. Evidence does not support the carbohydrate content of foods as being harmful or an independent risk factor for diseases such as obesity or diabetes.”
So, what have you decided? It’s a complicated choice, isn’t it? And we’ve just scratched the surface of the cat food debate. For instance, we haven’t even talked about raw food diets and home cooked diets.
Luckily, you don’t have to make the choice alone. Your veterinarian can help you sort through all the differing opinions and choose the diet that’s right for your individual cat. Remember, your veterinarian is the best source of information about all things cat. Diet is something you might want to talk about with your veterinarian the next time you take your cat in for one of those important regular examinations.