At the sound of a can of cat food opening, cats, even those pretending to be busy sleeping, will come running in a stampede. Except your Fluffy. Your cat disdainfully looks at the bowl of freshly opened expensive canned food, puts her nose up in the air and walks away. You happen to have one of those finicky felines who prefer to eat only dry food.
Is A Dry Food Only Diet Healthy?
One of the concerns of cat owners whose cats only eat dry food is whether this diet is healthy. Even within the veterinary community there are different opinions about this. First let us consider that cats are “obligate carnivores”, meaning cats must eat meat as the main source of nutrients. Cats use proteins and fats as energy source over carbohydrates. Wet canned food is closer in approximating fresh meat in terms of amounts of protein and water content of 75%. Dry food is only about 6-10% water, has more carbohydrates and lesser protein than wet canned food.
In one corner, there are those who believe that dry food was invented just for human
convenience and feeding a dry food only diet is unnatural for the cat. Because of its higher carbohydrate content, dry food has been implicated as contributing to a sugar and metabolic imbalance in the cat leading to chronic conditions like obesity, joint disease and diabetes. It is also believed that the starch in dry food contributes to the formation of plaque on the teeth. Because of the low water content of dry food, together with the propensity of cats not to drink much water because in nature they get most of the water they need from meat; dry food has likewise been implicated in the development of chronic dehydration, kidney disease, lower urinary tract disorders like inflammation of the urinary bladder and the formation of urinary crystals and stones.
In the other corner are those who believe that cats can live a perfectly happy and healthy life on dry food alone. Wet food is not necessary as long as there is enough water provided for the cat free choice. They believe that dry food of superior quality, grain-free and having a specific meat in the ingredient, not just animal by-products, is even healthier for cats than low quality wet food. It is also generally believed that dry food is better than wet food for dental health because of the abrasive action of the kibbles.
Dry Food Only Diet, Remember To Hydrate!
Regardless of the differences of opinions, it is the cat who has the final say on what she will eat or not. Adult cats tend to be resistant to changes in the texture of their food. This is the reason why I always advise pet owners to expose their pets while still young to a variety of food, flavors, smells, and textures so that they will be more receptive to different types of food when they grow up.
While I would prefer the cat to have a mixed daily diet of dry and wet food, I do not consider a dry food only diet as unhealthy. Studies have shown that weight gain, obesity and the other conditions that come along with it are more a result of overeating and not due to the type of diet. Dry or wet food, it is the quality of the cat food that causes cats to overeat. Cats tend to eat more when their needs are not met because of low quality food. Eating kibbles do not necessarily result to better dental health either because cats do not chew their food much so the abrasive action of kibbles on teeth is not as effective as regular dental cleaning.
The higher water content of wet food may contribute to a decreased incidence of dehydration, kidney and lower urinary tract problems in cats but if your cat insists on eating only dry food, this can be addressed by making sure your cat has free access to a fresh and clean drinking water supply. Because of the cat’s propensity to not drink a lot of water, their ancestors being desert dwellers, getting a good quality pet water fountain is a good investment. The fountain’s flowing water is interesting and appealing to a curious cat and the constant movement of water together with the filtration system provides good oxygenation and clean water making it more enticing for the cat to drink.