What started as a simple idea- find a few differences between wet and dry food for cats- has now officially escalated into a self-led crusade to rid the world of dry cat food. Or, more realistically, start a conversation about what we are feeding our cats. Now before I surge onward I want to profess that my kitties, yes all four of them, have been eating premium dry food for years and all are healthy. I might add that my six water stations, including a water fountain, contribute greatly to this. But much of what I learned helped me to round out my knowledge of their dietary needs, understand which part of their diet is lacking and gave me the knowledge to make better, informed choices on what my kitties should be eating.
Cats, I have learned, are obligate carnivores meaning they need muscle based meats in their diet. Specifically, cats require the essential amino acid taurine, exclusively found in animal protein and critical for normal heart function, vision, digestion and maintaining a healthy immune system.
Aside from needing taurine, our kitties rely on food for one other vital component –water. Wild cats get nearly their entire required water intake from prey. This means 70%-80% of prey is water. This means cats that receive 70% of their water from food do not drink much water on their own. This also means that cats eating a diet less than 60% water can become dehydrated if they are not drinking enough additional water.
I will divert off my food expedition and stop for a moment at the waterfront. Cats, unlike dogs, take longer and are much slower to initiate water drinking when dehydrated. Kitties often do not consume enough water when dehydrated to fully restore themselves to a hydrated state. A quick comparison at the watering hole: dogs will replenish six percent of body weight in one hour whereas cats take 24 hours.
Now, as my steady procession propels me forward, let’s peer a little further into water content. Wet food is typically around 78% water. On average most dry foods contain a whomping ten percent. This low water content has one upside- it is cheaper to buy. However, cats on a strictly dry diet are only consuming half the amount of water needed to stay hydrated.
Dry food is less nutritious than wet and not just because of the drastically low water content. Dry food contains many more ‘fillers’ like tough cellulose found in plants and carbohydrates that a cat’s digestive system is not designed to process. A wild cat’s carbohydrate intake hovers around five percent. These ‘fillers’ are much cheaper to produce than meat. Only a small portion of dry food is actual meat, the rest is made up of additives and carbs that cats can’t digest.
Due to the high content of fillers, specifically carbohydrates, cats on a dry food diet are more prone to obesity. Excessive amounts of carbs get processed, poorly, into the cat’s system turning to fat, negatively affecting the sugar and insulin balance, which can really wreak some expensive havoc on your kitty. Dry food is also used commonly for grazers who enjoy “free-feeding,” another contributing factor to obesity.
Before my mission comes to an end, I must confront the dental myth. Some of you other warriors braving your pet food myth shields may already know this one- dry food does not reduce plaque and tartar buildup in your kitty’s mouth. Yes, that is right, normal dry food does nothing to promote good dental health.
There is a misconception among cat pet parents that wet food increases plaque buildup and the hard crunch of dry food helps to scrap off tartar or plaque. Dog owners can also fall to this misconception too. What can happen instead is that the high amount of carbs and low water content leave starchy residue behind clinging to teeth causing plaque buildup.
This myth gets a lot of debate and the Veterinary Oral Health Counsel (VOHC) has done extensive testing on pet foods claiming to reduce plaque and tartar buildup. Their website has a complete list of testing guidelines and recommended products to help reduce plaque or tartar. The VOHC seal is also stamped onto products that made it through testing. However, the only thing the VOHC tests for is plaque and tartar reduction, they do not look at food ingredients or quality. And, a word on dental health from the crusader- the best way to promote good oral health is brushing and regular dental checkups.
Now, as I set aside my wordy weapons and end my marching mission into the land of cat food my summary is this: Consider introducing wet food into your cat’s diet. I know, I know, cats are picky and switching up food is not always easy but as the parent you can start offering both. Never take away what your cat is used to eating, it is possible your kitty will skip meals and this needs to be watched. Read ingredient labels and check for water and protein percent. Watch water intake, especially if they remain on a dry only diet and offer multiple water stations. Lastly- remember that no matter what- the best dry food is still better than the worst wet food.
I have begun the process with my kitties already, strongly encouraging them in the direction of a premium wet food, in the hopes of switching entirely to raw, to improve the quality and longevity of their lives.
Catster HQ, The Wet Cat Food Versus Dry Cat Food Debate, catster.com. Jean Hofve, Why Cats Need Canned Food, Little Big Cat. Kymythy Schultz, Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs: The Basics, Feline Nutrition. Lisa Pierson, Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition, catinfo.org. Melody McKinnon, Natural Sources of Taurine for Cats, All Natural Pet Care Blog. VCA Animal Hospitals, Taurine in Cats, vcahospitals.com