Ask Smalls: The Dry Cat Food Debate
The debate is over — cats who eat wet food are generally healthier than those who eat dry kibble. While vets have recommended the latter for its affordability and convenience, here are the top three problems with dry food:
1. Dry food has much lower water content —
While wet foods are around 78% water, dry foods are around 5–10%. Considering the fact that the prey in a wild cat’s diet has around 70% water, cats who eat dry food have a higher chance of being chronically dehydrated. As a result of their naturally low thirst drive, most cats don’t drink water on its own until they are about 3% dehydrated. This means that cats will come very near to complete dehydration before seeking out water, and is the reason it is so crucial that cats consume water through their food. Consuming food with high water content also helps to flush out a cat’s urinary tract system, which reduces the risk of developing Chronic Renal Failure (CRF), urinary crystals, bladder infections, Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), constipation, and other kidney diseases.
2. Dry food is not fresh —
Dry foods are cooked extensively to remove moisture, which involves much harsher processing than used with wet foods. The high temperatures destroy essential nutrients and alters the value of the protein sources being used. These proteins are not only less digestible, but also may contribute to the development of food allergies in cats.
Since dry food is not refrigerated, it can sit in warm warehouses or in transportation for months before it is fed to your cat. In these kinds of environments, fats can easily go rancid and bacteria can flourish. Dry foods contain many preservatives, both synthetic or natural to ensure its long shelf life. The shelf life of dry food (as long as 25 years!) also increases its risk of contamination with bacteria, fungal mycotoxins, storage mites or cockroaches and their feces.
3. Dry food doesn’t have the same nutritional value —
While the overall protein quantities in both dry and wet food seem to be the same, the type of protein found in each isn’t. Animal-based protein in dry food is typically made from rendered ingredients like chicken meal or other poultry by-products from meat or bone. The purity of these rendered ingredients can vary and be hard to tell apart in kibble form.
Rendered meat product is often too costly for dry food manufacturers, so plant proteins are used. These can create problems for a cat’s blood sugar and insulin balance. Though many dry foods use the term “grain-free”, dry food still contains many by-products, which can be animal-based or be made from potatoes, grains, corn, wheat, or soy.
However, not all wet cat foods are the same. A wet food made from many artificial ingredients and preservatives will not have the same nutrients as a high quality food. While wet food is a better option than kibble, it’s still not as fresh as a food like Smalls.
TLDR: Wet food is generally healthier than dry kibble because of its higher moisture content, higher quality proteins, and lower amounts of artificial ingredients used during processing (which also occurs less). Dry food uses rendered meat products as the main source of protein, but these nutrients can’t compare with those found in real meats. The high quantities of carbohydrates or starches used to bind dry food can also be detrimental to your cat’s health.