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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

The Eternal Debate: Canned versus Dry

May 25, 2012 / (2) comments

Do you feed your cat dry food, canned food, or a little bit of both? I know there are other options as well (homemade diets, pouches, freeze-dried, etc.), but most owners focus on canned versus dry food since they are the most convenient and readily-accessible choices available.

Both canned and dry foods can be excellent sources of balanced nutrition for cats, so the decision basically boils down to pet and owner preference.

Dry food is generally cheaper than canned food of a similar quality. Quality matters, so if finances are tight, feed a dry food that offers balanced nutrition derived from wholesome ingredients versus a low quality canned food. Feeding dry food is also less labor intensive. Leftover canned food should be picked up and discarded after four hours at room temperature; and bowls, spoons, etc. need to be washed every day. From a food-contamination point of view, dry food can be left out 24-7, but I do not recommend doing so since this feeding style has been linked to obesity and all of its related health concerns. However, it’s nice to have the option of leaving food out when the occasional need strikes. Feeding canned food also generates a lot more packaging waste than does dry.

The main ingredient found in canned foods that is missing in large part from dry foods is water. Canned foods also tend to have higher protein and lower carbohydrate levels than do dry. Some of these characteristics can be beneficial under certain circumstances. For example, cats with kidney disease and lower urinary tract disorders might benefit from the added water in canned food. On the other hand, if you find it impossible to brush your cat’s teeth, some types of dry food have been specially designed to help promote oral health.

I recommend to my clients that they get their cats used to eating both canned and dry foods to prevent problems switching between the two should future events demand that you do so. Switching between canned and dry food can easily be handled when a cat is young and has not yet developed strong food preferences. Depending on your needs, you can feed primarily your cat dry food with just a meal or two of canned food per week. Another option is to feed canned food every day with a few dry kibbles sprinkled on top.

Whichever type of food you choose, make sure it provides balanced nutrition. You can use the MyBowl tool to evaluate both canned and dry foods, but first you need to compensate for their varying amounts of water if the manufacturer hasn’t already done the math for you. Here’s how to convert nutrient percentages from an "as fed" to a "dry matter" basis:

Find the percent moisture that is reported on the label’s guaranteed analysis and subtract that number from 100. This is the percent dry matter for the food. Next divide the nutrient percentage on the label that you are interested in by the percent dry matter for the food and multiply by 100. The resulting number is the nutrient percentage on a dry matter basis.

For example, a canned food label might list its moisture content at 80% and its crude fat at 3%. To calculate the food’s fat level on a dry matter basis, your calculations in this case would be 100 – 80 = 20 and then (3 ÷ 20) x 100 = 15%. This is significantly lower than the MyBowl recommendation of 20-25% fat for healthy, adult cats.

Canned or dry … you need to make sure the food you pick provides your cat with the balanced nutrition they deserve.

Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: Madlen / via Shutterstock


Comments  2

Leave Comment
  • Canned vs Dry
    05/26/2012 02:16am

    This site will NEVER put down dry as Hill's is a sponsor on the page...totally biased opinion.

  • Brushing!
    07/11/2012 08:15am

    "On the other hand, if you find it impossible to brush your cat’s teeth,"


    I'd be curious to know if there's anyone out there whose cat allows its teeth to be brushed. I'd also be curious to know if brushing was started in kittenhood or if the cat was adopted as an adult.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.