Should You Feed Your Cat Wet or Dry Food? Here's What Veterinarians Say

Learn the pros and cons of each food type so you can choose the best option for your pet.

Ensuring that your cat is healthy and happy is any pet parent's top priority, and one of the best ways to do so is by feeding them the best food on the market. There are two main options to choose from: wet and dry food. It goes without saying that wet food has high water content, while dry food is a dry, shelf-stable option. Both are common and come veterinarian recommended—but is one ultimately better for your cat? Here, veterinarians weigh in on the topic and share the pros and cons of each food type so you can make the best choice for your four-legged friend.

The Difference Between Wet and Dry Cat Food

The biggest difference between wet and dry cat food is the water content, says Catherine Barnette, DVM, a Florida-based veterinarian and contributor to pet parent resource Covetrus' Great Pet Care. "The water content of dry cat food is typically around 10 percent, which means that 90 percent of the food is providing nutritional value for your cat," says Dr. Barnette. "Canned food, in contrast, usually contains about 75 percent water." This moisture content varies, depending on how each type of food is manufactured.

How Wet Food Is Made

Wet pet foods are made by mixing ingredients and cooking them inside a container like a can, tray, or pouch, says Athena Gaffud, DVM at "Though no extreme heat is applied, the food in the container remains sterile until opened," she says.

How Dry Food Is Made

Dry pet food is made by baking or extrusion, says Dr. Gaffud. "Dry and wet ingredients are mixed together to form a dough," she says. "The extrusion process includes thermal and mechanical treatments, where the dough is heated under pressure and pushed through a dye machine that cuts the kibbles." From there, the kibbles are dried, cooled, spray-coated, and packaged.

cat looking at hand holding food
Cris Cantón / GETTY IMAGES

Pros of Wet Food

High moisture content is wet food's claim to fame. Learn why this can benefit cats.

Helps Health Conditions

If your cat has certain health conditions, such as lower urinary tract disease, kidney disease, megaesophagus, or dental problems, feeding them wet food could help. The extra water will flush out their systems, which helps relieve renal or urinary conditions, experts say. "In the case of megaesophagus, there is difficulty passing the food from the mouth to the stomach, so a softer diet would be more ideal," says Dr. Gaffud. "Since wet food has a softer consistency, this is easier to chew for cats with dental problems."

Smell and Flavor

Wet food typically has a strong aroma, which is appealing to cats. Plus, these foods come in a wide range of flavors, which means there are more options for picky eaters, says Dr. Barnette.

Weight Management

Wet food can also help your cat lose weight. "The moisture content makes cats feel more satiated and prevents frequent eating," says Dr. Gaffud. "In addition, higher-moisture diets are typically less calorie-dense, making them ideal for weight loss in obese cats."

Cons of Wet Food

According to veterinarians, there are some cons affiliated with this food type.

Shorter Shelf Life and More Maintenance

The high water content makes wet cat food expire quicker. "Once a wet cat food container is opened, it should be consumed within 24 hours," says Dr. Gaffud. "Once exposed, wet cat food has a higher risk of contamination that could cause gastrointestinal upset when cats accidentally consume it."

Since wet food can't be left at room temperature for more than two hours, cats also need to eat it quickly. "Additionally, your cat's food bowl must be thoroughly cleaned after each meal to prevent bacterial growth," says Dr. Barnette. "Finally, open containers of wet food must be refrigerated and should be discarded after five to seven days."

Higher Cost

Overall, wet cat food is usually more expensive than dry food—and is less cost effective than buying bags of dry food in bulk, says Carly Fox, DVM, senior veterinarian at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City.

Pros of Dry Food

While not a hydrating option, there are several pros to feeding your cat dry food, according to the veterinarians.

Cleans Their Teeth

Cats have to chew dry food more than wet, which actually cleans their teeth and keeps tartar at bay. "A dental specific (or Rx) dry food also helps in preventing periodontal disease in your cat," says Dr. Fox. "Chewing larger pieces of kibble helps improve their dental health."

Longer Shelf Life

Dry food lasts longer and is easier to store, experts say. "There is no risk of spoilage when dry cat food is left at room temperature, so there is less food wastage," says Dr. Gaffud. "This is also preferred for enrichment, because it is more manageable with slow feeders."

Cons of Dry Food

Dry food has one main con—and it revolves around nutrition.

Less Nutritious

Dry food is less nutritious than wet food. "The heat during extrusion also causes undesirable effects on nutrient bioavailability and digestibility," says Dr. Gaffud.The higher carbohydrate content and less-rationed feeding (wet food is usually packaged by single-serving portions) can also cause weight gain in cats.

Which Type of Food Should You Feed Your Cat?

There isn't a straightforward answer to whether you should feed your cat wet or dry food. "Given the choice, the health and needs of cats should be the top most consideration when choosing what to give them," says Dr. Gaffud. Keep your lifestyle in mind, as well. "As mentioned, wet food is more expensive and should be properly stored in a refrigerator," says Dr. Gaffud. "Dry food is more affordable and easier to store and use, especially if cats are free-fed."

You can also feed your cat a mix of these two types of food. "Wet food, dry food, or a combination of both are all viable options for your cat, as long as they are happily eating and maintaining a lean body condition," says Dr. Fox. And if you have concerns about what your cat is currently eating? Be sure to call your veterinarian.

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