Feeding wet food to cats has many benefits, but it does have it’s drawbacks. Wet diets are both palatable, full of moisture and lower in calories than a dry food, however given how expensive it is to feed an entirely wet food, and it’s impact on dental health and can make it difficult to reconcile these pro and cons when deciding how to feet your cat.
I had a look back at some benefits of wet food based on the current available research, aswell as how to choose a food for your cat if you want to feed them a wet diet.
Feeding wet food helps increase the moisture in the diet. Cats are generally more adapted to getting their water from food, and some cats aren’t as good drinkers as others so may benefit from a moist food. The benefit to urinary health is often overstated with many studies not showing results that could be replicated or there was no significant differences between cats fed a dry or wet diet to determine any increased risk of cystitis in cats fed a dry diet. However, some recent studies have shown that feeding a wet diet does increase urine volume which is beneficial for cats with feline idiopathic cystitis, and it can help dilute urine. Feeding a dry food that is moistened can also provide the same benefit, so as long as your cat is drinking well and has some dietary moisture, you will get the same benefit. While feeding a wet diet can help some urinary issues, it’s not a treatment or prevention alone – if your cat has a diagnosed urinary issue, I’d strongly recommend feeding a therapeutic urinary food as these diets are designed to alter the urine pH, dissolve crystals and prevent the formation of stones, while also encouraging drinking.
Given the increased protein and fat levels in wet food, these diets are usually very palatable and can be used to help encourage pets to eat when they are recovering from illness or would like abit of variety in their diet. They work well as a topper or flavour enhancer on a dry diet, or as a meal on its own. Cats (and dogs) have less tastebuds than humans, and rely more on smell and texture to experience their food; wet food provides both of these things, strong smell and a variety of textures, that pets love.
Age related conditions:
As above with palatability, certain age-related conditions may benefit from a wet diet. Pets that have oral pain or are recovering from dental surgery that are unable to chew hard foods can still get their necessary nutrition without pain through a wet food. Kidney disease is another common condition that senior pets suffer from; when the kidneys begin to decline, the balance of water in the body can become disrupted and pets can become rapidly dehydrated. Increasing water intake through the diet can both help reduce dehydration from occuring and replace the water lost through urine. Pets with kidney disease also tend to become inappetant and have altered taste perception, so wet food helps encourage them to keep eating despite their condition.
Because wet foods are 60-80% water, the caloric density is actually less than a dry diet. Therefore the pet can actually eat more, while actually losing weight. It also contains very little carbohydrates and increased protein, which can help induce weight loss. A study by Beynen (2015) showed that cats who ate wet food or a dry diet with water added, consumed 15% less calories than they did on dry food alone.
Recent studies show that cats eating a wet only diet had higher plaque and tartar scores than cats eating a dry only diet. Traditionally, it’s been thought that dry food “scrubs the tooth surface” during chewing. However, it’s important to point out that not all dry food actually improves dental health or has this abrasive action – only VOHC approved dental diets are clinically proven to reduce plaque and calculus, generally through the addition of certain ingredients. However, Mata (2015) theorised that dry food actually stimulates saliva production far more than wet food which actively protects the teeth from plaque formation. It was also suggested that adding some form of VOHC approved dental chew into the wet diet helped mitigate the risks and reduce the damage to dental health from feeding a wet only diet.
Wet food unfortunately isn’t as convenient as dry food in that if it’s left out for longer than an hour, it rapidly spoils. As most wet foods in this day and age don’t contain preservatives, they rapidly oxidise and dry out when exposed to air. So, it may not be suitable for owners who are out during the day or for pets who are slower eaters (or grazers).
A pure wet only diet is very expensive to feed, as a typical cat will need at least 2-3 cans or pouches per day, which on average cost between $2-$5 per pouch or can. That’s $4-$10 a day, compared to feeding a dry food that is both more energy dense (so you don’t need to feed as much) and is cheaper to feed per day.
Less suitable for specific lifestages and diseases states:
Due to the very low carbohydrate content, wet foods are less suited to demanding lifestages such as pregnancy or lactation, where higher carb is preferred as an energy source. As for pets with diabetes, sometimes a higher carb diet can be helpful in reducing spikes of glucose due to its higher fibre content. In overweight diabetic pets, however, lower carb is preferred. Always check with your vet or nutritionist if this diet is suitable for their situation. In addition to the reduced carb load, these foods contain less fibre so may not be ideal for pets with diarrhea or some fibre-responsive forms of constipation.
How to choose a wet diet
Ensure it is complete & balanced
Some wet foods may be labelled “for supplemental or intermittent feeding only” – this means, the diet is not balanced and is only designed to be fed as a treat or topper. This diet should never be used as a sole diet as it places the pet at risk of nutritional deficiencies. Always ensure your wet food is labelled for complete and balanced feeding for your pet’s lifestage and needs. You can also use the WSAVA guidelines that I’ve covered in previous posts to help you choose a brand or diet that is suitable for your pet’s needs.
Select based on texture not flavour
Pets have less tastebuds than humans, and experience taste differently to humans; they rely on scent and texture far more than the actual flavour of their diet. When selecting an appropriate wet food diet for your pet, consider first getting a few different textures – most wet foods come in many varieties such as loaf, mousse, gravy, chunks, or jellies. When you’ve determined which is your pet’s preference, you can then offer a smaller selection or just that one texture with differing flavours. In my experience, older cats and dogs with less teeth or oral pain have a preference for mousse style wet foods, whereas young adults like loaf or gravy!
When choosing the food, cost should still form part of your decision. Feeding a diet that’s a combination of wet and dry will still provide the same benefit as an entirely wet diet, and will not cost anywhere near as much as a wet only diet. If you still want or need to feed wet only, consider buying in bulk and calculate how much you will need to feed (and how much this will cost you per day) when choosing your food.
Wet food has so many benefits, and can be a great way to improve your pet’s hydration and the palatability of food without adding too many extra calories. However it’s still important to put as much thought into the type of wet food you’ll feed, as with any pet food.
Do you feed your pets wet food? How did you choose the diet? Let us know in the comments below!
Beynen, Anton. (2018). Beynen AC, 2018. Wet food and calorie intake by cats. 10.13140/RG.2.2.22452.14727.
Harley R., Gruffydd-Jones T., Day M. Salivary and serum immunoglobulin levels in cats with chronic gingivostomatitis. Vet. Rec. 2003;152:125–129. doi: 10.1136/vr.152.5.125.
Peter J. Markwell, C. Tony Buffington, Brigitte H. E. Smith, The Effect of Diet on Lower Urinary Tract Diseases in Cats, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 128, Issue 12, December 1998, Pages 2753S–2757S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/128.12.2753S