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If you have a cat, you know they can be very picky about their food.  That’s why cat food comes in so many different flavors and textures. When you enter a pet store, the brands and types to choose from can be overwhelming. Generally, cat food can be broken into 3 categories: Dry, Wet and Raw. But what does it all mean and which type of food is best for your feline friend?

Dry Food

The main benefits of dry food are its convenience and low cost.  Dry food is relatively inexpensive, allows for free feeding (although we don’t recommend this) and can be left out for prolonged lengths of time.  Dry can be used in automatic feeders and is easier to use with food dispensing toys and puzzles which bring mental stimulation and enrichment to your cat.  Plus, some dry foods with adequate kibble texture claim to help reduce plaque and tarter buildup, but there is little to support any difference in overall oral health between wet and dry diets.

However, dry food diets are known to lead to obesity due to containing large amounts of carbs and their higher energy density. Cats do not self-regulate their energy intake and often overeat, especially when food is left out for them at all times. 

If you decide to go with a dry food only diet, try feeding specific amounts at specific times and make sure your cat drinks plenty of water. Dry foods are <14% water, so your pet will need an additional source of hydration.  Dehydration in cats is a serious health concern.  Reference 7 Easy Ways To Prevent Dehydration In Cats to learn more.  

Wet Food

The main benefit of wet food is its higher water content.  It is commonly known that many cats do not drink enough water daily.  This is because their body’s natural response to low moisture foods is to concentrate their urine, rather than to drink more water.  Wet food has a water content over 60%, mimicking the moisture content of typical prey, making this type of food very popular.  Dehydration in cats is very serious and is a risk factor for several diseases, including kidney disease.  Giving your cat wet food is a great way to ensure they are hydrated without relying on them drinking water.

Wet food is also recognized for its use in weight management. Since water does not provide calories, wet food has a lower energy density than dry. 

Wet food is highly palatable. With a variety of flavors and textures available, it is often preferred, particularly if they are picky eaters.  Plus, it is soft, making it a perfect meal for cats with dental issues. But the soft texture can pose risk of periodontal disease if additional tooth care is not occurring (we recommend monthly brushings!).

Some people just find wet food to be too much work. Once opened, wet food only has a shelf life of 24 hours and should be stored in the refrigerator.  If your cat does not finish their wet food in a few hours, it should be stored properly in the refrigerator or discarded.  Because of this, it is common for cats on wet food diets to be served several small meals throughout the day, so the food is not wasted. You also must thoroughly clean your cats bowl between feedings since it can be a harboring ground for bacteria which can make your cat sick.

It is important to note that wet food is more expensive than dry.

Raw Food

Cats are obligate carnivores.  This means they must eat animal products to survive.  They don’t need vegetables and carbohydrates in their diets.  In fact, they can only tolerate carbs in small amounts.  They thrive on high protein, high moisture diets that are rich in substances on found in meat like amino acids, fatty acids and other essential vitamins and minerals.  Supporters of raw food diets believe that cooking meat can alter or decrease these vital substances.  A raw diet consists of uncooked, unprocessed food typically, formulated to mirrors a cat’s ancestral diet with 98% meat, organs and bone.  In addition, raw food also has a high moisture content that helps keep your cat hydrated. 

There is much controversy revolving around raw food diets for pets. Those who support raw food diets have much to say about the health benefits: coats are shinier, teeth stay cleaner, obesity is prevented, and overall health is better. While these claims tend to ring true, the opposition has valid concerns about the safety of raw food diets.

It is important to know that feeding raw food to your cat does come with some risks. Raw food may contain pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli that can lead to serious life-threatening infections. Cooking food removes most of these pathogens, which is why we humans tend to cook our food.

Cats often digest raw foods better than humans because they have shorter, more acidic digestive tracts. Many pathogens will pass through a cat without causing any issues. Most cats will tolerate raw food, but those with health concerns (such as immune-mediated disease) may need cooked food.

Bones are another safety concern when it comes to raw food diets. Some small whole bones or pieces of bones can cause complications such as gastrointestinal obstructions, oral injuries, and airway obstructions. If animal bones are included in your cat’s raw food diet, they should be ground up well.

While some find it best (and cheaper) to prepare their own raw food at home, it can be difficult to ensure and stick to a complete and balanced recipe. It can also be easy to cross contaminate pathogens in the space.  If you choose to prepare your own, be sure to consult a veterinarian, wear gloves when handling raw meats and disinfect appropriately.  Purchasing commercially made frozen or freeze-dried raw food can mitigate the spread of pathogens and is easier than preparing the food yourself, but is more expensive than making it yourself.

Whatever type of food you choose, here’s some additional tips to help weed through the many brands on shelves today:

  • Ignore Gimicky Labels: Key words and fancy graphics are marketing ploys.  It’s more important to know what it is inside the can or bag.  Talk to your vet and find out what specific nutrition your cat needs and check the labels for that. Make sure you select a food high in moisture and animal based protein and relatively low in carbohydrates. 
  • Seek Life Stage Nutrition: Kittens, adult and senior cats all have different activity levels and nourishment needs. Also speak to your vet to consider any potential ailments or sensitivities your pet may have acquired over time.
  • Avoid Fillers: Fillers are ingredients that serve no nutritional purpose and should be avoided as much as possible
  • Size Matters, Among Other Things: The reality is that when cats don’t like the texture, shape or size of their food, they simply won’t eat it.Some breeds have a shorter jaw, needing softer, smaller kibble while others can chew very hard, bigger kibble with no problem.  Some cats don’t like tiny round pieces and won’t eat them.  Others have preferences for shredded, pate, mousse, gravy, jelly etc…You’ll have to experiment to see what your cat prefers.
  • Feed On a Schedule: Letting your cat graze all day long may seem appealing, but it often leads to obesity, which can cause more severe health problems like diabetes and joint disease.  Feed a set amount at set times daily. 
  • Treat Sparingly:  Too many treats can disrupt your cat’s nutritional balance, impede their appetite for the food they really need and even cause them to be picky eaters. Cat treats are generally higher in calories and therefore should only be given sparingly when training, curbing behaviors or bonding with your cat.

There is no one specific food that is best for all cats.  In fact, you may decide to feed your cat a combination of wet and dry, or any of the above.  You have to find what works best for you and your feline friend.  And of course, provide plenty of clean, fresh water they are actually willing to drink.

Swear by a specific food that your cat just loves?  Share in the Comments!

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