Wet vs Dry Cat Food: Which is Better?

Neither wet nor dry food is definitely better. Each type of food has benefits and drawbacks.

cat food

As a cat owner, I often ask this question a lot, particularly when I was new.

It’s a hot topic in the pet community and can sometimes be a minefield to navigate if you look online. There are so many different opinions out there, and unfortunately, many of them lack scientific studies or evidence.

I’ve researched for several days and obtained professional opinions from a qualified vet. I’ll explain the different things you need to consider when choosing between wet and dry cat food and which type of food is best for which scenario. 

A registered vet has proofread this article to ensure the information I have given you is truthful and accurate.

Wet vs Dry Cat Food

What is the difference between wet cat food and dry?

Primarily, there are three differences between wet and dry cat food.

The first difference is the moisture contained in the foods. Wet cat food contains more moisture than dry food. It is argued that dry diets can cause less overall water intake, leading to dehydration in cats and increase the risk of CKD and other urinary tract diseases.  [1]

Generally, extensive research has found that dry cat food consists of approximately 10% water, with the other 90% consisting of carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins. In stark contrast, wet cat food contains approximately 70% more water when compared to dry cat food. [2]

In addition, dry food and wet food are manufactured differently. For example, dry cat food is made to suppress the water so it will prevent fungal and microbial life from propagating.

According to the FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines, there are 3 categories of pet food depending on how much moisture is in them. [3]

In summary, these are:

  • Dry pet food has 14% or less moisture.
  • Semi-moist pet food has 14% to 60% moisture.
  • Wet pet food has more than 60% moisture.

I thought I’d take a closer look at some of the nutritional ingredients of wet and dry cat food by a particular major brand and compare them.

NutrientExample 1
(Wet)
Dry Matter %
Example 2
(Dry)
Dry Matter %
Example 3
(Wet)
Dry Matter %
Example 4
(Dry)
Dry Matter %
Example 5
(Wet)
Dry Matter %
Protein50.037.3655.5635.1655.56
Fat22.2219.7822.2216.4811.11
Carbohydrate19.4438.4613.8941.7625.0
Crude Fiber8.334.48.336.598.33
Moisture82.09.082.09.082.0
NutrientExample 6
(Wet)
Dry Matter %
Example 7
(Dry)
Dry Matter %
Example 8
(Wet)
Dry Matter %
Example 9
(Dry)
Dry Matter %
Example 10
(Wet)
Dry Matter %
Protein45.4543.9650.041.7650.0
Fat27.2719.7825.017.5822.22
Carbohydrate18.1831.8716.6734.0719.44
Crude Fiber9.094.48.336.598.33
Moisture78.09.082.09.082.0

The contents in these tables are calculated based on the information given by the manufacturer. The name of the manufacturer will not be disclosed.

As you can see in the above table, dry food typically contains more carbohydrates and less protein than wet food.

Cats require more protein than dogs because they use the protein for energy. As a result, they need more amino acids for building their muscles and fuel their bodily processes.

Some studies discovered the average crude protein in wet food (on a dry matter basis) to be approximately 40.8% compared to 31.4% in dry pet food. [4,5]

Cats are obligate carnivores; they cannot flourish on carbohydrates. They don’t require them at all in their diet. If a cat is on a dry diet, they are more likely to develop diabetes mellitus (DM) and obesity. [1,6,7,8,9]

Both dry food and wet food have their pros and cons. However, provided you follow the feeding instructions closely and choose certified, complete diets, both options can fulfill your cat’s nutritional requirements. 

Which is better out of wet or dry cat food?

So if wet cat food contains fewer carbohydrates and more protein, why should I still consider feeding my cat dry cat food?

Firstly, it’s easier to determine portions with dry cat food than with wet food. Not only this, it’s more cost-effective too. 

A lot of websites claim dry food is more economical in comparison to wet food. However, many of them fail to provide any evidence to support this.

I thought I would compare some of the prices from major cat food manufacturers to find out whether this was true.

Example 1
(Wet)
Example 2
(Dry)
Example 3
(Wet)
Example 4
(Dry)
Example 5
(Wet)
Size3-5.5 oz
(Pack of 24)
3-10 lbs
(1 bag)
3-5.5 oz
(Pack of 24)
2-15 lbs
(1 bag)
3-5.5 oz
(Pack of 24)
Price per oz/ lb$0.27$2.40$0.22$2.40$0.20
Price per day$0.55$0.08$0.43$0.09$0.46
Example 6
(Wet)
Example 7
(Dry)
Example 8
(Wet)
Example 9
(Dry)
Example 10
(Wet)
Size3-5.5 oz
(Pack of 24)
5-11 lbs
(1 bag)
3-5.5 oz
(Pack of 24)
2-11 lbs
(1 bag)
3-12.5 oz
(Pack of 24)
Price per oz/ lb$0.18$3.36$0.25$3.36$0.21
Price per day$0.30$0.12$0.54$0.12$0.28

These figures are based on the same products in the previous table. Prices were calculated and compared against market average prices for dry and wet cat food.

As you can see from the table above, dry cat food is more economical than wet cat food. Therefore, feeding your cat dry cat food may be suitable for cats that tend to ‘graze’ throughout the day.

Because of how dry food is manufactured, it does not need to be stored in a refrigerator and can be exposed to ‘open air’ for longer without being spoilt. This means less wastage and more convenience for the cat owner. [10]

Cats that eat dry food tend to have better dental hygiene by reducing tartar formation and slowing plaque accumulation. However, this does not absolve you from taking responsibility for your cat’s oral hygiene. [11,12]

If dry food is convenient, economical, and better for my cat’s oral hygiene, why should I consider wet cat food?

The domestic cat has developed specific physical characteristics as time has developed. Specifically, the way that they process carbohydrates.

The domestic cat’s ancestors (Felis silvestris) are obligate carnivores; they would consume small prey like rodents or birds, which are typically high in protein and low in carbohydrates (approximately 8-10%). [8]

Cats carboyhydrates graph
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5753635/

Compared to dogs, who can use carbohydrates as a source of energy due to the glycogen synthetase levels in their livers, cats cannot use digestible carbohydrates as an energy source. [13]

Cats typically require high protein and low carbohydrates. However, speak to a vet to establish a suitable diet for your cat.

In addition, cats have developed the ability to tolerate acute fluid losses of up to 20% of their body weight due to their evolution from the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica). They can produce highly concentrated urine to conserve body fluid. [14,15]

Essentially, cats can survive off less water.

Typical recommendations are that a cat requires about 50 mL of water per kg of bodyweight daily – so this translates into 200-250 mL per day for a cat weighing 4-5 kg.

Royal Canin

Most studies have found that cats on wet food will likely consume less water physically due to the high moisture content. Whereas, in a dry diet (which typically contains approximately 10% moisture), cats consume less water in total. [15,16,17

Wet vs Dry Cat Food: Which is Best?
https://vetfocus.royalcanin.com/en/scientific/the-water-requirements-and-drinking-habits-of-cats

As you can see in the graph above, fluid intake from cats on a wet food diet was greater than being fed on dry food. As a result, this will lead to severe dehydration, affecting blood circulation, digestion, and potentially death.

If you suspect your cat is suffering from dehydration, contact a vet immediately.

Wet food does have its disadvantages too. For example, wet food perishes quicker than dry cat food once open due to its lack of preservatives and high water content.

To combat this, freshly opened unused wet food can be stored in an airtight container (e.g., reusable silicone lids) and kept in the fridge for 5 to 7 days. Its also worth considering that due to the high water content found in wet food, a larger amount is needed to satisfy your cat’s nutritional needs.

Which one should I choose?

You should choose dry cat food if:

• You want an economical diet for your cat.

• You need or want to monitor the amount of food consumed.

• Your cat is a grazer that likes to pick throughout the day.

• You want to purchase enough food for a few weeks and plan meals accordingly.

You should choose wet cat food if:

• Your cat is a picky eater.

• Your cat suffers from obesity and you want to help them lose weight.

• Your cat doesn’t drink water out of a bowl or doesn’t drink enough.

• Your cat has difficulty chewing or suffers from oral disease.

I can’t choose, can I mix both?

Yes, you can mix both and have the best of both worlds! This is particularly useful for cats that require a higher intake of water but enjoy eating dry cat food more than wet.

If your cat is already on a veterinary prescription diet, we advise you to speak to your vet before switching them. However, please do this with caution.

Ask your veterinarian how you can approach mixing wet and dry cat foods without compromising their diet’s health benefits.

What do veterinarians recommend?

Hill’s Science Diet and Royal Canin are reputable, well-established brands of cat food that are specifically formulated to ensure that a cat meets their minimum nutritional requirements. Speak to your vet for specific recommendations based on your cat’s age, health, history, and breed.

Here are some other things to consider when choosing whether to feed your cat dry or wet food.

AAFCO Approval

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establish the basic minimum nutritional requirements for cats. When purchasing your cat’s food, any foods that have an “AAFCO statement” or “AAFCO-approved nutritional guarantee” are considered nutritionally complete. These will ensure a balanced diet for your cat.

Ingredients and your cat’s health

It’s important to check and read the label when purchasing your cat food so that you know what ingredients are being digested. Cats are carnivores, so they require specific nutrients such as:

  • Protein
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Amino Acids

Also, consider your cat’s health and lifestyle when choosing your cat’s diet. For example, if your cat is slightly overweight, choose a low-fat diet or wet food (due to the lack of carbohydrates).

If they’re a fairly active cat breed, factor this in as well. Active breeds may be able to burn off more calories compared to others. 

Final Thoughts

I hope you have found this information helpful and have a clearer picture of each diet’s different pros and cons.

Choosing the right food for your feline friend should be a decision based on practical information and your cat’s health needs and preferences.

Speak to your vet if you are unsure of the best way to feed your cat.

James Fuller

James Fuller

Founder of Honest Whiskers

Hey! I’ve owned a pet pretty much all my life, in fact, I currently have both a cat and a dog! My mission is to deliver a reliable, trusted website that only uses evidence-based information

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