If you could do one simple thing that would improve your cat’s health for the rest of her life, wouldn’t you want to do it? Well, there is. Stop feeding dry food.

Dry food is the equivalent of junk food for cats

Dry cat food, even the high-priced premium and veterinary brands, is the equivalent of junk food for cats. It’s really not all that different from feeding sugared cereals to kids. Cats are obligate carnivores: this means they need meat not just to survive, but to thrive. They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.  They need few or no carbohydrates in their diet. Feeding foods high in carbohydrates can lead to any number of degenerative diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Dry food is the leading cause of most urinary tract problems in cats

Cats need moisture in their diet. While cats who eat only dry food will generally drink more water, they still don’t get enough moisture to support all their bodily functions and essentially live in a constant state of low level dehydration, which can lead to bladder and kidney problems. For more on why this happens, please read Dr. Lisa Pierson’s comprehensive article Feline Urinary Tract Health:  Cystitis, Urethral Obstruction, Urinary Tract Infection.

Studies substantiate that moist is better

When I first started speaking out about the dangers of dry food, I felt like a bit of a lone wolf (or tiger). The major pet food companies certainly don’t support this view, with their seemingly endless array of bags of dry food, all touting the nutritional balance and completeness of their contents. Thankfully, I’m not alone anymore. More and more studies are substantiating that a species-appropriate diet high in meat and moisture with few or no carbohydrates is the right diet for our feline family members.

As far back as 1998, a study conducted by Dr. Tony Buffington at the Ohio State University on the effects of diet on lower urinary tract diseases in cats came to the conclusion that high moisture content of a cat’s diet can reduce the recurrence of idiopathic lower urinary tract disease in cats by more than half.

A more recent study conducted at the University of California-Davis concludes that cats eat less, lose weight and maintain healthy body composition when fed wet diets. The UC-Davis researchers also found that the cats in the study preferred canned food to either freeze-dried or dry food.

Another study, conducted at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University in The Netherlands analyzed the diet of cats living in the wild. Not surprisingly, researchers found that feral cats are obligatory carnivores with a diet high in protein and fat, but low in carbohydrates (only 2% of daily energy). I was particularly delighted at the conclusion the authors of this study arrived at: future research should focus on the value of feeding a natural diet of whole prey as an enhancement of feline health and longevity.

Make the switch to canned or raw

If your cat is still eating dry food, I urge you to consider changing to either an all canned grain-free diet, or to a raw diet.

Photo: istockphoto

154 Comments on More Reasons to Stop Feeding Dry Food to Your Cats

  1. My 9 yr old male Cat does GREAT on Purina pro plan prime plus 7+ Blood test came out perfect for a change!!! Canned food only!

  2. I am new to your website but am interested in your theories on dry food vs wet and/or raw food for cats. My cat is having some vomiting and I am considering changing her diet. A friend of mine had coyote mix dogs and swears by the brand Wysong – I was surprised that I didn’t notice it in any of your comments. Do you have any thoughts or experience with this brand?

    • I’d be happy to evaluate the brand for you, Geri. There is a small fee for this service. Please contact me via email if you’re interested.

  3. My cat Tabitha, my angel who was around for 10 yrs before I started taking care of her. She only ate canned (wet) food & her teeth weren’t the best because she never had dry food or crunched much.. I think “crunching” helps the teeth stay strong or they get weak from just soft food..

    • Actually, the idea that dry food is good for dental health is a myth that just won’t die, Carly. If that were true, dentists would tell their patients to eat crunch pretzels or crackers! Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food actually leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

  4. I am intrigued by this discussion of dry over canned food. I am concerned though, about the protein count in dry versus canned food. Protein is very important in the body and canned cat food has at the most 10%, while dry can have 30 to 40% protein per daily feeding allotment. I have tried switching from dry to cat canned and my cats did lose weight and kept losing weight. I am afraid they will get too skinny. Also I find that they are more hungry and that they’re asking to be fed every two hours. If I try to hold them off so they can be fed just twice a day as recommended, they started crying nonstop and racing and tearing through the house and beating up on each other. I have to separate them to stop the fight but that doesn’t stop the crying for food or the racing and tearing back-and-forth in their rooms. How does a person deal with that? It’s the middle of winter, I can’t just put them outside. Then there is the cost per can verses dry. With having to feed three cats all with different sizes and weights and each needing two to three cans each per day, that’s very expensive. I look forward to receiving answers to the above, as I do you want the best for my babies and would like to not have to deal with very foul smelly bowel movements. Thank you

    • PS: I want to add a positive comment to wet verses dry and that is that two of my cats did have health problems. One had a bladder problem and the other was showing kidney problems. The Vet put them on prescription CD and KD diets. I refused to use the CD diet and switched to a premium wet food he vet approved of and she added an Omega supplement along with a Cosequin supplement. It took almost a year but kitty’s bladder did heal. During this time one of my other kitties showed up as having the early stages of kidney failure so was started on canned KD diet. I was told she couldn’t eat the premium wet and dry food as the protein counts are too high. So I was forced into buying the KD diet which was even more expensive than the premium wet food. After a year on this kitty did something that surprised the vet, and according to him doesn’t usually happen, her kidneys healed. So I have to say there is something to the wet diet over dry. When I asked about returning kitty to the premium wet food I was told I could, just to stay away from the dry. So you can see why I am interested in this dry vs wet feeding.

    • You’re comparing apples and oranges, Linda. What you’re looking at is the “guaranteed analysis” on the can or bag, but what you actually need to use to compare foods is the “as fed” information. A canned food with 10% of protein as per the “guaranteed analysis” on the can actually has 50% total protein on a dry matter basis. Here’s a good explanation:

      If you feed a high protein canned food in the correct amount for your cats, you will find that they’re less hungry. Yes, canned food is more expensive, but even the least expensive canned food is still better for your cat’s health than a premium dry food.

  5. Why is no one addressing the fact that premium diets don’t have that many carbs and do contain protein AND if a cat if only fed wet food how many anaesthetics for dental scale and polishes is he going to need?

    • Dry food, even the premium grain-free brands, is too high in carbs for an obligate carnivore like the cat. The myth that dry food helps keep teeth healthy is one that just won’t die. Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in. What little they do chew shatters into small pieces. Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole. Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

      The only thing that really helps prevent build up of tartar and plaque is regular brushing.

      • I totally agree completely.

        There really is no benefits of having dry food. Dry food, in fact, does not clean the teeth but deteriorates it. See what effects on teeth dry food does:

        Another con of dry food is that it doesn’t have enough moisture. Hey, maybe that’s one of the reasons why our cats get sick so much.

        Canned Food Pros:

        1. More water

        2. More protein

        3. Less carbs

        4. Silkier coat

        Canned Food Cons:

        1. More expensive

        2. No crunchiness

        Dry food Pros:

        1. Less money

        2. Crunchiness

        Dry Food Cons:

        1. Way too many carbs

        2. Not enough moisture

        3. Less protein

        4. Deteriorates teeth

        Lets take a look that. Now if you look at dry food pros and canned food cons, you’ll see dry food is cheaper and has crunchiness that your cat may like. There isn’t really a cheaper food. It all depends on where you get it from. Nature’s Variety Instinct for cats is very expensive in one place I looked for 32 bucks, but then Pet Supermarket, canned food was way less then that. It depends on what brand your getting and where your getting it from. I would rather choose the health of my cat over money, if its an affordable price.

        Then theirs crunchiness. Depending on your cat’s personality, your cat may like that, and if kitty likes that you don’t want to get rid of it, right? Well, making a switch to no dry food will be easy on kitty if you gradually get rid of dry food. Why would you choose dry food over a healthy cat when you can just gradually get rid of it without kitty be too sad about it? And if you really want to, give kitty a crunchy treat every day. (Low calorie treats if overweight, and preferably give them when teaching kitty tricks to lose weight).

    • Common misconception. Dry food actually leaves calcium deposits on the teeth and without the immediate moisture, there’s nothing to wash it away. Plus, some cats are prone to plaque due to additives in food as they react differently (same as humans). My vet brushes both her cat’s teeth twice a week and one of them still needs a scale and polish once in a while; the other is perfectly pristine. Also depends on what they eat outside of the home environment. I never feed my cat on ‘wet OR dry’, she has a mix of both. And good quality, high meat content. No cat food is perfect. What suits one may not suit another. 🙂

  6. Let’s not forget about how the WATER affects our kitties…
    we need to supply them with filtered or quality water.
    My cat only wants Fiji, that speaks volumes.

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