The right choice for your cat depends on a few factors.
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man giving bowl of food to cat; dry food vs wet food for cats
Credit: Chalabala / Getty

Should your cat eat crunchy kibbles or succulent shreds? As with so many cat diet dilemmas, it depends. The first person to chat with is your vet, who can help decide the best nutrient profile and caloric intake based on your cat's age, lifestyle, and any medical issues that require a special meal. Then, it's all about learning what your cat likes and doesn't like. After all, your cat's food preferences are about as unique as she is.

To help solve this feline food puzzle, we asked a team of veterinarians to serve up the pros and cons of wet vs. dry cat food.

Differences Between Wet and Dry Cat Food

Let's discuss what makes dry and wet cat food so different. But first, all cat foods should have one thing in common: animal-based protein as the main ingredient. Your hungry carnivore will thank you.

Processing

"Dry cat foods are made through a process known as extrusion and canned cat foods are made through retort processing," explains Victoria Carmella, DVM, Director of Veterinary Scientific Affairs at Blue Buffalo. Basically, dry foods are made by forcing food materials through a small opening and cooking it under high pressure. Wet foods are blended, cooked, and sealed in a can with water.

Hydration

According to Carmella, dry food contains about six- to 10-percent water. Canned wet cat food contains a whopping 75- to 78-percent water. This means that like a natural diet, cats who eat a wet diet get most of their hydration from their food.

Nutrients

"Dry cat food usually contains more carbohydrates than wet food," says Sheena Haney, DVM at Koala Health. "Many formulations of wet food contain higher levels of protein, fat, sodium, and phosphorus than dry food."

Texture

Some cats prefer the crunchy texture of kibble, and others prefer the lickable likings of canned food. Get acquainted with your cat's eating habits, Haney says. Her dinnertime enthusiasm (or lack thereof) should clue you into her preferences.

Is It Better for Cats to Eat Wet or Dry Food? Or Both?

When you can't decide between wet or dry cat food, consider these pros and cons.

Pros of Wet Food

  • Low carbohydrates. "Wet food usually has a lower calorie density and fewer carbohydrates than dry food, making it a common recommendation for overweight kitties," Haney says.
  • High moisture. Higher water content means they're getting most of their daily hydration through their food. This is a huge plus for cats who forget to visit their water bowl, are prone to constipation, have been diagnosed with kidney disease, or have certain urinary tract diseases, like urinary crystals or stones. Plus, Haney adds, more water means a cat will feel fuller without all the calories.  
  • Enticing scents. "Cats with upper respiratory infections and sinus congestion may prefer wet food because it has a stronger, more enticing odor," Haney says.

Cons of Wet Food

  • Short shelf life once opened. According to Haney, once a can of wet food is cracked open, it shouldn't be left out for more than 24 hours. This doesn't always jive for cats who prefer to graze and can make using automatic cat feeders challenging.

Pros of Dry Food

  • Convenience. For busy families on the go, cats who graze, and when using an automatic cat feeder—it's easy to reach for and serve dry cat food. Unlike wet cat food, dry cat food will retain its freshness for more than 24 hours after being served.
  • Energy density. If your cat is underweight or losing muscle mass (which occurs in senior years) ask your vet if an energy-dense dry food is recommended.

Cons of Dry Food

  • Nutrient profile. "Compared to wet cat foods, dry cat foods are typically more calorie dense and might not be appropriate for cats who overweight or obese," Jo Myers, DVM at Vetster, says. This combination, while energy dense, could lead to weight gain and obesity-associated diseases, such as feline diabetes.

Should You Feed Both Wet Cat Food and Dry Cat Food?

It depends!

"Nutritionists will often recommend feeding your cat both wet and dry recipes to ensure variety and learn their natural preferences," Carmella says. Plus, fighting boredom in cats starts with what your cat is eating and how they eat it. "High-quality wet cat food can treat cats to delicious cuts and flavorful varieties that help fight bowl boredom," she explains. Dry foods are preferred in food puzzles, toys, and as rewards for training exercises.

Does Dry Food Clean Cats' Teeth?

Shanna Landy, DVM, a dentistry and oral surgery resident at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals notes that some Veterinary Oral Health Council-approved kibbles are formulated for cleaning a cat's teeth. They can work, when recommended or prescribed by your vet and stamped with the VOHC seal. But, Landy adds, nothing beats the benefits of brushing your cat's teeth with feline-formulated toothpaste and a toothbrush.

"Think of it this way," Myers adds. "Even if you were eating a special kind of treat [or food], would you feel okay if you never brushed your teeth? Ew!" Dental disease decreases a cat's life expectancy by as much as four to six years, Myers says. So, brush those chompers no matter which cat food type you choose.  

What's the Cost of Wet vs. Dry Cat Food?

Ounce for ounce, dry cat food is typically more budget-friendly than wet cat food. Plus, the long shelf life of kibble means less waste. However, more expensive than any food are the veterinary visits following an inappropriate diet that disregards a cat's age, lifestyle, or medical history. So, talk to your vet about the best diet for your cat that also fits your budget.

How to Switch from Dry Cat Food to Wet Cat Food—Or Vice Versa

Switching to a new food recipe or type should be done slowly—over about five to seven days. "Each day, try mixing in more of the new food and less of the old food," Haney says. Too quickly and your cat could experience gastrointestinal upset or finicky eaters may turn up their noses. "If your cat needs to be on a new, special diet but is refusing to cooperate, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to win over your picky eater," she adds.