Two important things to keep in mind are your own cat’s health and your budget.
The Scoop on Kibbles
Dry cat food, also known as kibble, is often the least expensive option for feeding your cat. As long as it meets the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO—look for a label on the bag) for your cat’s life stage, it should meet their nutritional needs.
Kibble is shelf-stable, which means it can stay in your cupboard for a long time. There is a “use by” date on the bag you can check to make sure it doesn’t expire. Dry food is best kept in its original bag to maintain freshness. You can put the food bag into a container with a sturdy lid so your cat can’t steal more food than is healthy for them. Just don’t pour the kibble directly into the container.
If your cat is a grazer who doesn’t overeat, you can safely keep a bowl of kibble out all day, as opposed to wet food, which can spoil after cans are open.
This visual comparison shows that dry food is affordable, convenient, and energy-dense—all positives. But it also has lower water content, generally has less protein and more carbs, and is not great if your cat has dental issues or tends to overeat.
Contrary to popular belief, dry food doesn’t keep your cat’s teeth any cleaner than wet food. Cats sometimes swallow their kibble rather than chew their dry food. But there are special treats and dental health foods that have been created to help stop tartar buildup. Ask your veterinarian what they recommend.
On the other hand, wet cat food has its own sets of pros and cons.
What about Wet Cat Food?
With the price of pet food going up, wet food is not always an option for some pet parents. Picky eaters and older cats often prefer the taste of canned food, and feeding your cat some or all of their diet in wet cat food has some benefits.
Wet food has a higher water content, and some cats don’t drink enough water. Generally, it has more protein and fewer carbohydrates. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat animal protein or they risk a life-threatening disease and death.
Wet food spoils much quicker than dry kibble, so you should always refrigerate cans after opening them and pick up uneaten food after a couple of hours.
Older cats and cats with missing teeth often need wet food, but many can do just fine on dry food.
The Combination Diet
You can also feed your cat a combination of wet and dry food. Adding a spoonful of wet food to some kibble can boost the flavor, add moisture, and add protein. Or you can feed a dry breakfast and a wet dinner.
Keep in mind that kittens have different nutritional needs than adult cats — and that cats sometimes develop strong food preferences.
Switching Cat Foods
If you’re switching foods, be patient and introduce new foods slowly so their tummies don’t get upset. Many cat food packages give helpful hints on how to transition from one diet to another. The method that I think is easiest for most people to follow is illustrated here, showing how long it takes to make the transition and how much of the old food and the new food should be mixed together.
Cats with Special Dietary Needs
Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s diet so they can help you decide what type of food is best for their age and body weight. It’s estimated that 60% of cats in the US are overweight or obese, and it’s much easier to prevent a cat from getting fat than to have them go on a diet to lose weight.
Your vet will weigh your kitty and also feel for their ribs. Most vets are not recommending freeze-dried, raw, or fresh food for cats — and those are the most expensive kinds of foods anyway.
Feeding your cat a popular brand of food is often just fine for most cats. Commercial pet food companies work with veterinary nutritionists to make high-quality pet food that won’t break your budget.
Wet vs. Dry: The Jury Is Still Out
This article inVeterinary Practice Newslooks at the science behind claims on behalf of wet and dry food and finds conflicting evidence. There isn’t much proof that the higher carbohydrate content of dry food is unhealthy for cats. But it seems that wet food may help control obesity because of the higher moisture content.
There is no clear answer to whether you should feed your cat dry or wet food. Like many things, it depends on your specific cat and your ability to provide the food. We know that the cost of pet food is an issue for too many pet parents. Pet food assistance is available for low-income families in Northeast Ohio, such as through pet food pantries or even human food pantries.
Whether your cat is a binger or a fussy eater, your veterinarian is a great resource for helping you, a pet parent, choose a nutritious diet that won’t break the bank.