I’m bummed out after reading a study that looked at whether exposing kittens to canned cat food at a young age increased their acceptance of it as adults after a period of eating dry food.
This is an important question. Many owners elect to feed their cats dry food because it is cheaper and more convenient. There may come a time, however, when feeding canned food becomes imperative. For example, canned cat foods are generally better for weight loss and the management of diabetes mellitus, but making the switch is not always easy. I would love tell my clients, "Look, I understand you want to feed dry, but make the effort to feed some canned when your cat is young so you can keep all your options open in the future." Unfortunately, it appears that early exposure to canned cat food alone may not be sufficient to prevent a preference for dry food.
Eighteen cats were involved in this small study. Thirteen ate either commercial canned, commercial raw, or homemade raw foods between 9 and 20 weeks of age, while during the same time period, five ate only dry food. Then they all ate dry food for a period of 7 to 23 months. As adults, they were offered either commercial canned, commercial raw, or homemade raw diets.
After analyzing their results, the researchers found the following:
Moist food acceptance was generally poor when offered to adult cats accustomed to eating an expanded dry diet for >7 months. There was no difference (P = 0.61) in weight maintenance between those cats fed a moist food or expanded dry food as kittens and the later acceptance of a commercial canned or raw-type moist food as an adult. Similarly, adequacy of food intake measured as a proportion of estimated resting energy expenditure was not different between groups. The shorter the duration of dry food feeding, the greater was the likelihood of weight maintenance on reintroduction of moist foods. Kittens fed canned foods showed greater adaptability and acceptance of both raw and canned foods than those pre-exposed to either of the raw foods.
In conclusion, prefeeding kittens a raw or canned food during the postweaning period between 9 and 20 weeks of age, followed by a period of dry foods for >7 months, did not increase later acceptance of the foods as an adult as compared with feeding expanded dry foods alone. Further studies with larger numbers of cats are needed to verify these observations and determine statistical significance.
Darn. As the authors say, further research needs to be done to verify the results of this preliminary study, but for now it looks like if you want to feed dry but leave the option of canned open for the future, you need to repeatedly expose your cat to canned food throughout her life.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Effects of early experience on food acceptance in a colony of adult research cats: A preliminary study. Hamper BA, Rohrbach B, Kirk CA, et al. J VET BEHAV 7:27-32, 2012.