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Why Wet Food Is Best For Cats & Dogs

Have you ever wondered whether to feed your pet wet food or dry food? There are pros and cons to each choice, but in the end, wet food is best for pets. Dry pet food was introduced to the public in the late 1800’s. It was based on the idea of “hardtack” used as a ration for sailors at sea. Manufacturers later developed pet food in biscuit and pelleted form and promoted it as a cheaper, more convenient alternative to feeding table scraps to pets.

It’s tough to argue with the fact that dry pet food is cheaper and easier to store. Putting aside cost and convenience, there are many reasons dry pet food doesn’t stack up to wet pet food when it comes to optimal health.

Moisture Level is Higher

To make dry pet food, a dough is formed by mashing and mixing ingredients. The dough is heated to relatively high temperatures to cook and dry the ingredients. It’s then extruded (think Play-Do Fun Factory) and cut into kibble. A low moisture level makes the food less likely to spoil so it is shelf-stable. The moisture level in the average dry pet food is 6-12%. Compare that to a moisture level of closer to 70% in their ancestral or wild diet.

The moisture level in food is particularly important when it comes to feeding cats. Modern domestic cats descended from desert-adapted ancestors and have low thirst drive. Cats depend on the moisture in food for adequate hydration. Cats fed dry foods consume approximately half the amount of total water (in their diet and through drinking), compared with cats eating canned foods (Kane 1981).

A higher moisture level benefits all the body systems, but nowhere is it more important than in the urinary system. When dogs and cats take in more moisture, they produce more urine. A larger urine volume dilutes the minerals that are naturally present in urine, reducing the chance of kidney and bladder stone formation.

Finally, consider what happens to dry kibbles in your pet’s stomach. Most animals swallow the majority of their kibble meals whole. When the intact kibble reaches the stomach, a lot of liquid must be absorbed before the dry chunk breaks down. It takes a lot of digestive juices to accomplish this! The swollen kibbles can stay in the stomach for a long time which can cause discomfort and symptoms of indigestion.

More Protein and Fat (Less Carbs)

Wet (canned) pet food is lower in carbohydrates than dry pet food. Dry pet food must have a large quantity of starchy ingredients so it can be shaped and baked into its kibble form. The other reason carbohydrates make up a large part of dry food is that carbs are cheaper than protein and provide about the same amount of calories.

Dogs and cats can eat a diet relatively high in carbohydrates, but a high carb diet is not similar to their ancestral/wild diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require nutrients that only come from meat. Wild cats survive eating rodents, small reptiles, and insects (Freeman 2013). They don’t eat corn or potatoes.

Dogs have adapted more than cats to sharing the human diet, but many experts believe that even dogs fare better on lower carbohydrate diets. Neither cats nor dogs have a nutritional requirement for any carbohydrates. So why would you want to give them dry foods that have more than 50% of their calories coming from carbs?

Food Stays Fresher

Part of the reason dry pet food is so convenient is that it has a long shelf life. The truth is that the pet food shelf life has no legal regulation. Even if there is a “Best By” date on the bag, stores are not required to dispose of them after that. The food may or may not be nutritionally adequate after that date, but it’s still legal to sell it to the public.

Pet food manufacturers calculate how much vitamins, fats, and minerals break down over time. Dry pet food is made with higher starting levels of nutrients. This is done in an attempt to ensure the food will still be nutritionally adequate after it has sat in a bag on a warehouse shelf for a long period of time. Bags of dry pet food that are at or past the “Best By” date most likely have some level of fat rancidity and decreased vitamin content.

Wet pet food, on the other hand, is sealed into a container which prevents contact with the outside environment. That means that ingredients are less affected by oxidation, desiccation and moisture absorption. Properly stored wet/canned pet food will have some degradation of nutrients over time but can be expected to stay fresh longer than dry pet food in a bag.

Conclusion

Wet pet food is best for pets for numerous reasons. It’s closer to what dogs and cats would eat if they had to find their own food. For that reason, wet food tastes better and is more appealing to most animals. The lower carbohydrate level, higher moisture level and increased freshness of wet pet food make it the clear winning choice for optimal pet health.
Resources
Freeman, L. M., Chandler, M. L., Hamper, B. A., & Weeth, L. P. (2013). Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243(11), 1549-1558.

Kane, E., Rogers, Q. R., & Morris, J. G. (1981). Feeding behavior of the cat fed laboratory and commercial diets. Nutrition Research, 1(5), 499-507.

Zoran, D. L. (2002). The carnivore connection to nutrition in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 221(11), 1559-1567.