Canned Food vs Dry Food

Welcome to the first of my “Food Series” posts. As we all know, nutrition is a key component of keeping your pet healthy. We want them to live long and happily and therefore we need to provide the right fuel to keep that going. I wanted to begin with a post about cat food. Pets can be a bit picky in regards to what they eat, and cats are certainly no exception. Some of us are well aware of a contrary kitty in our home that will want tuna one day, and then chicken the next, and then it seems no flavor will tempt them to eat. In a way they are like little kids – very particular about their meals or they will refuse to eat (excluding the cases where a cat will not eat due to a medical problem). There are many facets to pet food. Today I want to talk about the debate between canned food vs dry food for cats.

Domesticated cats share similar traits with their much larger, wilder ancestors. One of those traits is their need for meat. Your pet cat is an obligate carnivore; they require animal protein and animal fat as part of their balanced diet. Now this is not a post advocating for raw food – that is another topic entirely and for now, let’s just say raw food does not come highly recommended due to the risk of food-borne illnesses. Protein is the key word here. Cats need protein-based calories vs carbohydrate-based calories, and cats need moisture in their food. Thus, canned food is preferred over dry food. Canned food is predominantly protein and water, whereas dry food typically has no amount of moisture of dietary benefit but it contains a great deal of carbohydrates. Those carbs lead to large build up of unnecessary calories which can lead to weight gain, diabetes, or poor kidney function later on.

Not all calories are the same! The calories a cat gains from the meat/protein in its canned food help fuel its energy and body function. Their bodies are made for this. But calories from carbohydrates are something to be wary of. Dry food may seem preferable because it’s low-maintenance (you can just leave it out rather than continuing to wash and refill the food bowl at several intervals during the day), it may be less expensive depending on what and where you buy, and let’s face it, it tends to smell a lot better than its stinky canned food opposite. And of course, many cats, after eating that first meal of dry kibble, will keep coming back for more. Like with humans and fast food, it creates a craving that needs to be satisfied even though the craving is for a less-than-healthy option. As advocates for our cat’s health and well-being, we need to be the one to push for the healthier option.

For some, I understand it may not be enough for me to just tell you carbs are not the best thing. But perhaps an explanation steeped in a little science will help. Dry kibble contains many carbohydrates due to its production process. It is typically made with ingredients like rice and cornmeal, ingredients that add a lot of carbs to the recipe. Cats lack glucokinase which is a liver enzyme that aids in converting glucose (and carbohydrates are composed of sugars like glucose) into a form that cells in the body can use for energy. Cats also do not have amylase in their saliva. Amylase is an enzyme that kick starts the process of carb digestion. So they have all this glucose in their system that they cannot use, so it just builds up into very high blood glucose levels. Thus, a high carbohydrate diet is one of the main causes of obesity and/or diabetes in cats.

A note on moisture:

Cats may not feel thirsty despite being dehydrated. You may not see your kitty going over to their water bowl often to drink. And you may have heard that cats have a significantly reduced “thirst drive” when compared to dogs. The next option they have to get their daily water intake is through their food. As stated earlier, canned food is predominantly protein and water. Dry kibble does not offer any kind of beneficial moisture content. So canned food is important to keep organ functions normal which rely heavily on water intake, like the kidneys. As cats get older, one of the common diseases I see coming through the clinic is kidney failure. If we want to keep kidney issues at bay, let’s start with the most basic component of wellbeing – their food. Canned food is key.

A note on meals vs free feeding:

In the wild, cats are used to eating up to 5 to 7 meals a day. Following the wet food recommendation, this would mean opening a can or reheating refrigerated wet food leftovers multiple times a day. But this is usually not a viable option for us humans – the cat’s caretaker. Instead, to make it easier, you can try to feed 2 to 3 canned food meals a day.

And if at the end of the day you are still on team dry food (or your cat refuses to go to team wet food, which is the case for some), you can try the following brands of dry food to reduce as many unwanted carbohydrates as possible:
“Zero” cat food by the brand Young Again pet food, or “Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein”

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