It is sometimes said that cats do not require much looking after, but one area where most cat owners are keen to make the right choice and give their cat the best care is in relation to nutrition. The main decision that needs to be made in this area is the choice between wet and dry cat food. Although wet cat food is a less economical option, some experts suggest it is the healthiest pick, and this can put pressure on owners to splash out.
But do cats actually need wet food every day? The simple answer is ‘no’. While there are plenty of arguments to suggest that wet cat food may be preferable to dry alternatives, it is not necessary for wet cat food to be given every day and some cats actually do better on a combination diet.
With that being said, there are some instances where the wet cat food is the preferable option. For instance, the extra moisture content can be beneficial for cats with certain health conditions. Nevertheless, as I will cover, there are negatives associated with wet cat food too and dry alternatives are usually perfectly sufficient.
Should You Feed Your Cat Wet Food Every Day?
The decision between wet and dry cat food is one of the most important decisions cat owners will make and the truth is that there are advantages to both. Nevertheless, increasingly, experts are suggesting that the optimal diet is to feed your cat wet food every day, or at least the majority of the time. The reasons for this advice are numerous but tend to centre around two main ideas: protein content and moisture content.
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means the consumption of meat is a biological necessity for them. They require protein and fat but do not need much in the way of carbohydrates. In fact, it is generally accepted that cat owners in developed countries feed their cats too many carbohydrates and this is likely to be a contributing factor to feline obesity, which is said to affect around one in five domestic cats.
These nutritional facts form the basis of the argument for wet cat food being preferable. Wet cat food tends to contain significantly more protein and fat, and significantly fewer carbohydrates than dry food.
Moreover, wet cat food will typically boast somewhere in the region of 70 percent moisture content, compared to around 10 percent moisture content found in dry food. This is significant because many cats do not have a strong thirst drive, meaning they might not drink enough water directly from their water bowl. When they are able to gain significant moisture from the food they eat, it reduces issues associated with dehydration.
Nevertheless, while it may be preferable, it is not necessary for cats to eat wet food every single day. In fact, most experts agree that the long-term benefits of wet cat food over dry cat food are fairly negligible in most cases. Furthermore, most of the benefits that do exist can also be gained from feeding your cat wet food a few times a week, and dry food is actually more calorie dense, so it is not without its own merits.
There is also another important thing to stress in relation to the idea of feeding cats wet food every day. In my experience, some cats actually under-eat if they are fed exclusively wet cat food. Insufficient nutrition from under-eating is a much bigger problem than any nutritional issues connected with choosing dry cat food instead.
Ultimately, it is best to come up with a feeding plan that is based around your cat, its specific habits, needs and preferences, and your own individual circumstances. If you can afford to feed your cat wet food every day, it may offer some nutritional advantages, but it is not an essential part of cat ownership. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to raise a healthy cat with only very occasional wet cat food, or even no wet cat food at all.
Does Wet Cat Food Have Any Disadvantages?
Among most nutritional experts, it is generally agreed that if you have a straight choice between wet cat food and dry cat food, the wet food will offer superior nutrition. However, while some experts extend that further and advise cat owners to invest only in wet food, others adopt a more balanced approach and point out some of the drawbacks too. I would broadly divide these disadvantages into the following categories:
- Energy Density
Generally speaking, wet cat food is more expensive than dry alternatives and it is not always a case of getting what you pay for. Many dry foods provide similar nutritional value for a fraction of the price. If you are operating on a tight budget, dry food is likely to be a better option and even if you are determined to provide your cat with the best nutrition, it can be financially beneficial to at least switch to dry food on occasion.
Wet food is also less energy dense than dry food, and while this is unlikely to be a major problem, if your cat is a particularly fussy eater, it could make it harder for him or her to reach the daily calorie requirements.
Finally, wet cat food poses challenges in terms of storage, because it goes off much more quickly than dry cat food and opened cans need to be refrigerated and consumed within a few days. This means it is less than ideal for cat owners who prefer to bulk buy their cat food, rather than buying it more regularly, in smaller quantities.
When Might Wet Cat Food Be Most Beneficial?
The average cat owner is unlikely to run into any major issues if they opt to feed their cat dry food. Yet, there are certain instances where the wet cat food is clearly the preferable option and I would personally recommend that you strongly consider switching to wet cat food in some of these cases.
Firstly, there are certain health conditions that can be helped by the provision of wet cat food. For example, treatment for both kidney disease and diabetes can be aided by wet cat food, and there is some evidence to suggest it can have a preventative effect against the former as well. These benefits are primarily linked to the added moisture content, which helps to flush your cat’s system and ensures it is well hydrated.
The moisture content in wet food has also been shown to help protect against other issues, including urinary tract infections. If your cat has experienced a UTI in the past, it may be sensible to switch to wet food.
For cats that have been diagnosed with any kind of protein deficiency, wet cat food is going to be far preferable to dry cat food, because of its superior protein content. This may seem like a fairly niche issue, but it is important to remember that obligate carnivores require a lot more protein than omnivores and herbivores. Protein deficiencies can also occur in cats that have conditions related to their intestines.
Lastly, if your cat suffers a loss of appetite when eating dry cat food, I would recommend temporarily switching it out for wet food. Not only can this resolve the loss of appetite, it can also ensure your cat is still taking in fluids.
How Much Wet Food Does a Cat Need Every Day?
At this stage, you may also be wondering how much food your cat needs. This is actually a much more important question for wet food, because unlike dry food – which can be left out for your cat to make its own decisions – wet food tends to need to be measured out and given to your cat at a specific time.
It is best to follow the guidelines provided on the food itself because different wet food has different nutritional value. Nonetheless, there are some basic formulas that can be useful here.
As a rough estimate, an indoor-only cat should be fed somewhere in the region of 20 calories per pound of body weight. This means that if your cat weighs 15 pounds, it will need around 300 calories per day. However, outdoor cats require between 25 and 30 calories per pound of weight, so 375 calories per day may be a more realistic target for a 15-pound cat. These calculations assume you are looking to maintain your cat’s current weight.
If your cat is overweight and you are looking to help it to lose body mass, you should aim to feed it around 80 to 90 percent of its recommended calorie intake. Using the previous figures as a guide, this would mean around 270 calories for an indoor-only 15 pound cat, and 335 calories for an outdoor cat of the same weight.
You should speak to a vet before making any decisions about putting your cat on a weight loss diet. They will be able to give you more precise advice, based on your cat’s specific circumstances, lifestyle and body type.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.