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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.

Wet or Dry or Both?

January 04, 2013 / (5) comments

“Should I feed wet or dry food, doc?”

That’s one of the most common questions I get from cat owners. I usually reply, “If possible, both.” I base my recommendation on the fact that cats tend to form early and strong opinions regarding what they will and will not eat, and that by offering both, owners can keep all their options open.


It turns out that my recommendation is essentially right, but for more important reasons than I’ve been citing. Research published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B illustrates why. Here are a few of the highlights. The paper is open access (yeah!), so take a look at the whole thing for all the details.

In order to meet its nutrient requirements, an animal is faced with the seemingly simple task of eating food. But foods are not simply parcels of nutriment; they are complex mixtures of nutrients, water and other chemical components … [A]nimals in their natural environment may be faced with a number of food sources which differ in quality (i.e. nutritional and non-nutritional content) as well as quantity (availability) leaving the animal with the problem of deciding ‘what’ and ‘how much’ to eat.

Domestic cats are often fed manufactured pet foods which are produced in two main formats, dry (i.e. kibbles/biscuits; ~7–10% moisture) and wet (i.e. in cans or pouches; ~75–85% moisture). We previously investigated the ability of cats to regulate macronutrient intake when provided with a choice of dry foods or wet foods and demonstrated that cats have a ‘target’ intake of approximately 52% of total energy as protein, 36% as fat and 12% as carbohydrate (Hewson-Hughes et al. 2011)

This series of experiments examined the ability of cats to regulate macronutrient intake when provided with foods that not only differed in macronutrient composition, but also in moisture content and consequently in texture and energy density … [I]t can be seen that self-selecting cats in all three experiments achieved remarkably similar diet compositions in terms of the proportions of protein, fat and carbohydrate selected when offered very different combinations of wet and dry foods. Whilst not identical, these profiles accord well with the target composition reported previously …. [A]chieving this regulatory outcome involved cats eating different amounts and proportions of foods according to nutrient content, not whether wet or dry. This conclusion is supported by simulations which indicated that had the cats eaten a fixed amount from each bowl of food offered, the macronutrient composition of the resulting diet would have been significantly different to the actual compositions selected and the target macronutrient profile.

Interestingly, the macronutrient profile of the diets composed by domestic cats in the present experiments and previously (Hewson-Hughes et al., 2011) are similar to that reported for free-ranging feral cats (52/46/2; Plantinga et al., 2011), indicating that domestic cats have retained the capacity to regulate macronutrient intake to closely match the ‘natural’ diet of their wild ancestors, even though the manufactured foods provided to domestic cats bear little resemblance to the natural foods (e.g. small vertebrate prey).

So it looks like our cats can handle most of the decision making with regards to what they should eat on their own. From now on, I’m going to recommend that owners feed their cats high quality wet and dry foods at each meal at least twice daily (removing the food in between meals to prevent overeating).

Do any of you feed your cats in this way? What’s your experience?

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Consistent proportional macronutrient intake selected by adult domestic cats (Felis catus) despite variations in macronutrient and moisture content of foods offered. Hewson-Hughes AK, Hewson-Hughes VL, Colyer A, Miller AT, Hall SR, Raubenheimer D, Simpson SJ. J Comp Physiol B. 2012 Dec 12.


Image: 6493866629 / via Shutterstock

Comments  5

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  • Wet and Dry
    01/04/2013 05:41pm

    I've always free-fed my cats since they were kittens and they never over-eat. In the last 2 years one of my cats (now 16) developed kidney disease and is on medication. I've now started supplementing their food with wet food in the evenings (2 of them share 1/2 a small can). I've noticed that they self-regulate how much dry food they eat during the day and night, which is always out for them, in order to wait for the canned food, which they love. They both have very healthy weights, and the one with kidney disease who was underweight has now gained some and maintained.

  • Wet and Dry feeding
    01/04/2013 06:26pm

    We used to free-feed the cats dry food exclusively - threw in a can occasionally. My most tenured cat (8 years at the time) had put on some weight and, at the recommendation of my vet, we started to include wet food in their diet and discontinued free-feeding. In the past two years she has lost some weight and regained her waistline. Actually, all of the cats (3 + a recently tamed and adopted former feral adolescent)are looking sleek and healthy. Best of all, our now 10 year old is much more social and playful. We feed wet in the morning and late afternoon. A small portion of dry in the evening.

  • Cats Can Riot
    01/04/2013 10:34pm

    If I attempted to decrease the free-feeding and ultimately offer two meals a day, there would be a riot at my house. Yes, cats can riot and it can get pretty ugly.

    I have a "trail mix" of high-quality dry food available at all times. They all seem to do well at the water dish and dripping shower faucet. Every evening the herd shares one can of Fancy Feast with warm water (it makes great "gravy").

    This method has worked well - so far anyway.

  • How much to feed your cat
    01/24/2014 07:00pm

    Hi. I've been feeding my two cats both dry and wet food. I leave the dry food out always with their water. I feed them Blue Buffalo dry. Then I feed them wet food twice each day. If I'm giving them food from a 5.5 ounce can, I usually quarter it and give them each 1/4 in the morning and 1/4 in the evening and a few cat cookies a few times during the day. Even with this, whenever I walk into the kitchen, there they are. They appear quite healthy and playful. Am I feeding them enough wet food?

    Thomas is a 8 year old Tabby at 9 lbs. He's just a little guy.
    Murphy is a 7 year old Tabby at 18 lbs. approx. Yeah, he's a big boy.

    Comments/Recommendations welcome. Thanks, Erik.

  • 01/24/2014 08:16pm

    Hi Erik...I feed my two cats exactly the same as you. Dry food is out all day, and wet food twice a day (1/4 can each). Mine are also at very healthy weights. Cats love wet food, it's like a treat - so it's no surprise that they want you to feed them more all the time - they are definitely not going hungry! :)