Wet foods are generally accepted as containing 60-80% water, and we often call them tins, cans, pouches (most often for cats) and sometimes trays (small-serve aluminium containers). They’re a big part of the pet food industry, consisting of about 30% of dog and a massive 65% of cat total pet food sales* and often a preferred food for pets and their guardians. In this article, we’ll answer the question of why you may or may not choose wet foods for your cat or dog.
*(Nielson & Aztec market data)
YES, FEED WET! Reasons why
- One of the main motivators is palatability. Watching your dog or cat truly enjoy mealtimes is a joy, and providing the valuable resource of a balanced, healthy diet is a big part of being a good owner. Some pets simply like wet products more. Here are a few reasons why this might be:
- Pet health and age: various illness’ and advanced years change and often reduce our pet’s sensory functions. The truth is that older pets simply don’t ‘smell’ as well as younger ones. Also, just as with us, preferences can naturally shift over time and with the experience of new foods.
- The textures that a pet feels when they’re eating wet food is unique to each food. Depending in ingredients and the manufacturing process, they will distinguish and show a preference for one over another; a button-shaped kibble with a 13mm diameter will, of course, feel completely different to a meaty chunks-in-gravy-type food. Whether it be in gravy, jelly, loaf or casserole, stew-like, mousse or pate consistency, a wet product often gives a ‘mouth feel’ which is preferred by your dog or cat. On this point, if your pet is experiencing some form of oral pain, wet food may be a better idea to ensure food intakes and reduce discomfort.
- Wet foods give distinct and different aromas and flavours to dry foods. Ingredients and production process’ again influence this, with wet food manufacture using different components which create varied ‘aromatic compounds’, which deliver a distinct smell to the pet, influencing food choices and palatability. A further point to remember is to try feeding wet foods at room temperature to maximise their smell and appeal to your cat or dog.
- The proportion of nutrients delivered in wet foods are different from those in dry foods. Wet foods are higher in protein and fat, and lower in carbohydrate (and fibre) than dry foods. Studies have shown that cats prefer about 50% of their energy from protein and dogs prefer approximately 30%1,2, meaning that wet products often ‘fit the bill’ for this preference more than dry. Fat also drives palatability, so a greater proportion may mean wet foods are chosen over dry.
- Increased moisture in wet food means ‘more water going in’. There are a few reasons why this might be beneficial for your pet:
- Improved hydration – Particularly when they’re ‘not a good drinker’, wet foods can be a good way to be sure you are supporting their body’s natural and everyday need for water, which is essential for many metabolic processes, as well as temperature control.
- With better hydration comes a greater volume of water moving through the body. That is, when more is going in (to the mouth), more is coming out (via the urine). Increasing urine volume may mean more toileting and going outside or litterbox changes for you, but particularly if your pet has problems with their urinary tract (diagnosed by your vet), ‘flushing’ their bladder can be a very positive step in maintaining their health.
- Low-calorie feeding – Water doesn’t contain calories. Its presence in wet food dilutes the energy contained within it. If you have a pet who is carrying an unhealthy excess of weight, wet foods can be a good way to assist them in trimming down. The smaller serving size of wet foods (eg pouches or trays) often makes it easier to monitor and restrict rations, when a reduction of overall calories is an aim when dieting.
- Feeding wet food, or a mix of wet and dry, can be an advantage in training your pet to accept a diverse offering of food. This might be an advantage in the circumstances mentioned above; when they grow old or should they, unfortunately, become ill. If they have been exposed to dry kibbles and wet foods, particularly at a young age when food preferences are being formed, they are more likely to take on a switch of formats (dry-to-wet and back again) if there is a need in the future.
NO, KEEP TO DRY! Reasons why
- A counterpoint to the palatability notes above, some pets (dogs more than cats) find kibbles more appealing. Some find dry formats easier to pick up and enjoy the crunching sensation that comes with eating a kibble. Pet preference and palatability is driven by several factors (animal, dietary and environmental) which are unique to every individual. Best is to allow them to choose unless there is an overriding medical reason to select one format over another.
- On the subject of crunching, some choose to feed dry food with the intention of improving dental health. To be clear on this point however, while dry foods will exercise the mouth and the surrounding tissues (by stimulating different chewing patterns or ‘mastication’), it’s not always safe to assume that all kibble helps clean the teeth. Look for specific and proven claims on the packaging for this and be sure to question the manufacturer on dental-cleaning features. Regardless of claimed features and benefits, no kibble has been proven to do a better job than daily tooth brushing, which can be done for your pets just the same as you.
- We’ve mentioned the proportion and delivery of different nutrients in dry food vs wet food above, and in some circumstances, it may be beneficial to feed your pet higher levels of carbohydrate, which is easier to deliver in kibble format. Just as it is with humans, cats and dogs have no defined need for carbohydrates, but when they’re in a state of high energy demand (eg pregnancy, lactation and when puppies and kittens are growing), carbohydrates can be a very effective way of delivering digestible calories.
Dry foods are also able to deliver much more fibre than wet foods. Like water, fibre has a very low energy content, meaning it can help in weight management, but it also has an impact on nutrient digestibility, absorption and gut function, including how long it takes for the pet to ‘process’ its food, ‘regularity’ and stool quality. Fibre can also influence the number and mix of healthy bacteria that grow in your pet’s intestines. All in all, dry food behaves differently to wet food throughout the digestive process, and sometimes this means one is more appropriate than the other.
- Convenience is a major driver for our purchase of one product or another, and the same is true for pet food. While shelf-stacking and portion control can be easier with wet food formats, handling and storing dry kibble is often preferred by pet owners, who don’t mind measuring with a cup and find cleaning up potentially messy gravies etc unappealing.
- Cost is also a factor for many owners, or at least ‘value for money’ is something we’re all striving for. At around 10% moisture, dry foods contain less energy-diluting water, and the carbohydrate fraction, alongside proteins and energy-rich fats, means that kilo-for-kilo, dry foods deliver calories more efficiently. That is, because total feeding volumes are lower, a kilogram of dry kibble will last longer than a kilogram of wet food. This means that feeding your pet dry food will cost you less in the long-run.
All things considered, you can see that there are pros and cons to feeding wet and dry foods, and this might be why mixed feeding is so popular, with wet foods being used as a ‘tasty topper’ or flavour enhancer, used by almost half of all dog and cat owners.
Pet owner preferences have a place in the decision-making process of course, but we should always consider the needs of our pets first. Food and feeding has a big influence on health and wellbeing. Not only is the delivery of essential nutrients critical to survival, but the behavioural impacts of what and how we feed should be considered. Decisions in feeding wet or dry foods weave their way into this conversation, and we should consider all of the options available to us. We should pick-and-choose products as a reflection of how much we love and care for our pets.
- Hewson-Hughes, A. K., V. L. Hewson-Hughes, A. T. Miller, S. R. Hall, S. J. Simpson, and D. Raubenheimer. 2011. Geometric analysis of macronutrient selection in the adult domestic cat, Felis catus. J Exp Biol 214: 1039-1051.
- Hewson-Hughes, A. K., V. L. Hewson-Hughes, A. Colyer, A. T. Miller, S. J. McGrane, S. R. Hall, R. F. Butterwick, S. J. Simpson, and D. Raubenheimer. 2013. Geometric analysis of macronutrient selection in breeds of the domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris. Behav Ecol 24: 293-304.