By Katie Marsico
Pet guardians have traditionally adhered to the adage that dry is better than wet when it comes to cat food, but the latter dietary option is making a comeback. What are the health benefits of wet food, and is variety key to a balanced feline meal plan?
Nutritional experts have recently become more aware of the advantages of wet food, many of which are related to water content. The increased fluid helps dilute urine and makes cats less prone to urinary-tract diseases and kidney stones. According to Dr. Craig Ruaux, DVM, of Louis B. Acheson Teaching Hospital at Oregon State University in Corvallis, wet food can prove especially beneficial to older felines.
“One of the most common medical problems I see with older cats is the development of chronic renal failure,” Ruaux says. “A big part of managing this disease is increasing water intake, and using wet food is one way to accomplish this.” Dr. Claudia Kirk, DVM, an associate professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, agrees that wet food contributes to improved hydration.
“Cats don’t typically have an intense thirst drive,” Kirk says, “so feeding canned wet food helps them maintain a more balanced fluid intake.”
While many veterinarians are anxious for more conclusive research to demonstrate the relationship between wet food and feline diabetes, some believe the high protein content and often reduced carbohydrates may positively affect insulin levels. On the other hand, it is also known that wet food contains a higher fat content than dry food. Linda Case, MS, who teaches at the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine in Champaign, believes that a particular food’s fat content should be evaluated in conjunction with a cat’s individual lifestyle. “While there may not be a direct link between diabetes and wet food, we do know that increased obesity can ultimately contribute to feline diabetes,” Case says. “To that end, a wet-food diet may not be the answer for cats that are more sedentary.”
Alternately, the variance between how long wet and dry food stays fresh may occasionally link dry food to increased obesity. “Leaving large amounts of dry food out for cats over an extended period of time can prove problematic,” Ruaux says. “Wet foods aren’t typically left out in this manner due to the shorter amount of time they stay fresh. Cats often tend to snack more on excess amounts of dry food that are made consistently available to them.”
Ironically, some experts feel combining wet and dry food may not be the most healthful solution. “A combined meal plan sometimes leads cats to fill up on wet food,” Ruaux says, “and then return periodically to feed off of dry food throughout the day. This type of snacking can greatly increase caloric intake.” Kirk says the reverse pattern can prove true, as well, resulting in cats eating mainly dry food and then being fed wet food once or twice every day as a treat.
“I actually find that combination feeders who get both wet and dry are probably at the greatest risk for obesity. Overall, cats put on this type of diet tend to consume more on a daily basis.” Kirk also acknowledges, however, that cats tend to acclimate to a certain food type early on and develop definite dietary preferences based on familiarity. She therefore advocates that kittens initially be exposed to both wet and dry food so that they go through an easier transition period if they’re forced to switch to either meal plan for health reasons.
Regardless of whether cat guardians ultimately opt for a wet or dry diet, it’s important to consider an animal’s individual health needs and lifestyle and to consult with a healthcare provider before making any immediate changes.