Do Cats Need to Eat Wet Food? 10 Important Things You Should Know

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There’s a great debate in the cat care world and it’s all about what diet to feed your feline.

Some feed only dry, others only canned, or a combination of the two. Then there are those who advocate for raw-food-only, grain-free or only home-cooked meals. So many voices are in the mix that it’s enough to make your head swim!

Today, we’re going to simplify things by answering the question, “Do cats need to eat wet food? Is it really important for their health?” As my dear friend Kammie of Kammie Savidge Photography and I discussed this topic, it seemed like a perfect blog post.

This article is not intended to pick a fight or stir up anger. I realize this is a sensitive subject for many. In this post, I’ll simply be sharing the science and letting the opinions fall where they may!

Fun reading:

Kammie’s cats were featured in our post, “Funny Cat New Year’s Resolutions in 2023 from our Purrfect Companions.” It was a lot of fun – take a look!

Is wet food important for cats?

is wet food important for cats? do cats need to eat wet food?

Truthfully, if we all asked our vets this very question, we would get as many different answers as there are flavors of canned cat food. There really isn’t one agreed-upon answer.

In my humble opinion, to get an accurate answer about this topic, we need a better understanding of how cats eat when given free rein in the wild.

A fascinating study conducted by Cambridge University of free-roaming cats revealed, “…insight into the nutritive, as well as possible non-nutritive aspects of a natural diet of whole prey for cats and provides novel ways to further improve feline diets to increase health and longevity.”

Based on these studies, they found a cat’s preferred diet broke down to roughly 52% protein, 46% fat, and only 2% carbohydrates. A cat’s total body weight is 60-70% water. In the wild, eating birds, small animals, or even insects, provide them with all the moisture & nutrients they need.

A mouse for example, is around 70-75% water. This makes it easy to understand how cats survived when other water sources were unavailable.

Now…let’s compare that to the nutrient profile of wet vs dry food.

Dry cat food is called dry for a reason; it’s only about 10% water. Wet food on the other hand contains around 75% moisture levels, matching closely to what wild cats would get naturally.

Because cats evolved into getting water from their live catch of the day, their thirst drive is very low. Clean, safe water was not always available in the wild so they adapted without it.

This means your cat can be dehydrated but not ‘feel thirsty.’

Our job is to protect their health by making sure they stay hydrated with food and water by providing what they don’t know they need but desperately do.

cat drinking water from faucet

chronic dehydration consequences

So, do cats need to eat wet food? Ideally, yes. Without enough water intake, cats are more at risk for preventable health issues.

In fact, research has proven a wet food diet can reduce inflammation of the bladder in cats, called cystitis. Dehydrated kitties are also more at risk for stones in the urinary tract, which is a miserable condition for your beloved feline to suffer from.

Kidney disease is another common issue we see with cats, especially in later years. Chronic dehydration is a leading cause because, without enough water intake, the kidneys struggle to filter waste material from their little bodies.

Feeding your cat high quality wet food is a simple way to make sure their hydration stays at healthy levels, while also providing critical minerals, vitamins, fats, amino acids, and proteins.

Take a look at the FAQ drop-down below for more information like pros and cons of wet food, how much to feed, and other helpful tips & tricks.

Do Cats Need to Eat Wet Food? FAQs

It’s good to feed your cat canned food daily. Wet food might taste like a treat for them but it’s actually a complete, balanced meal.

It’s not an absolute requirement and there are plenty of healthy cats who don’t eat canned food at all.

However, keep in mind that wet food provides balanced macronutrients and hydration kibble does not.

The amount of wet food you feed your cat will depend on a few things:

  1. Is your cat under 1 year of age? (still a kitten)
  2. Does your cat also eat dry food during the day?
  3. Is your cat content to nap in a cozy spot all day or are they active?
  4. Has your vet said your cat is too thin or too chonky?

Your answer to these questions helps determine a good portion size for your cat. If your furbaby is still a kitten, please see our answer in the FAQ below titled, “Is wet cat food good for kittens?”

When your cat also eats dry during the day, less can is required. Here in our home, we typically feed wet food twice daily; once in the morning and once in the evening. We make small amounts of dry food available at all times.

Unless you are dealing with an obese cat, this system seems to work well for most cat pawrents.

Questions 3 and 4 are fairly self-explanatory. Like us, our activity levels determine how many calories we burn and how many we need to thrive. Consider the same with your cat by adjusting food portions to match their individual activity levels. Your vet’s recommendation for their current health status is the most important guideline to follow when in doubt.

In general, it is safe to follow the feeding directions printed on the label of your can. For example, this grain-free all-natural wet food from Reveal keeps it simple: Up to 5 pounds – 1 can daily, 5 to 10 pounds – 2 cans, 10+ pounds – 3 cans daily. Other brands might recommend a certain number of ounces per pound of body weight.

Also check the label for a “stamp of approval” by the “Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).” Virginia LaMon, DVM, explains, “AAFCO establishes standard ingredient definitions and nutritional requirements for pet foods.”

This “guarantee” means the food you’re feeding meets the current guidelines for nutritionally complete, and balanced food for your cat.

Yes, there are a few.

  1. Canned/wet cat food is pricier than dry, especially for multi-cat homes.
  2. There are so many options available today that it can feel overwhelming for cat parents to choose the best one
  3. Picky kitties may turn their nose up at many flavors or brands, making it difficult to find the right match.
  4. Many canned cat foods still contain meat by-products, cheap fillers, low protein content, and other unhealthy additives.
  5. Some (not all) kitties fed a wet food only diet are more prone to developing dental disease. This can often be prevented in several ways: feeding dental treats to help clean their teeth, brushing their teeth, or feeding both kibble and can — especially dry food designed for dental health.
  6. Canned cat food spoils quickly once opened. Uneaten portions of wet food (in the cat’s bowl or still in the can) should be refrigerated within 1 to 2 hours of sitting out. Wet food left out grows bacteria fast enough to be a science experiment! The result? A very upset kitty tummy.

Yes. In fact, for many cat parents, including us in our home, this is the preferred method.

As mentioned in this post, both dry and wet cat food have their drawbacks. When feeding both, you get a better balance between the pros and cons of each choice.

For example, when feeding dry, your cat can hunt for their food as they would in the wild using a slow feeder toy mouse. This helps prevent overeating, “scarf and barf” tendencies, and bad behavior boredom by increasing activity while engaging their brilliant brains. We highly recommend these.

Dry food can also be left out without the concern of quick spoiling, making it more convenient than wet food. Portion control can easily be maintained by using a wifi-enabled automatic feeder as well. (See our review of the PetLibro auto feeder as an example of how that works)

On the other hand, feeding canned food or some tuna water helps prevent chronic dehydration.

Canned food is also lower in carbs, and higher in protein and fat than kibble. Since dry food tends to be higher in harder-to-digest carbs for cats, high sugar/low-quality kibble can lead to obesity and even feline diabetes. Feeding more wet food than dry can help prevent unnecessary disease.

Feeding both wet and dry food is also an excellent option in multi-cat homes because each cat may have different tastebud preferences.

In our home, for instance, we currently have 5 cuties; 4 permanent residents and 1 foster. 2 of our girls love their dry food, while the other 3 prefer canned food, especially if it has Yummy Chik’n Doodle freeze-dried meat from Dinovite sprinkled on top. They’re kind of addicted!

When it comes down to it, the best advice is to do what works in your home for your budget and the health of your cats. Proper hydration is critical for your cat’s health but if you choose to feed dry too for practical reasons, that’s perfectly understandable!

Absolutely! In fact, it is highly recommended. Your growing kitten needs lots of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to keep their little bundle of energy bodies healthy. A specially formulated kitten food is a must until around the age of one. Then you can transition to adult cat food.

How often should you feed kittens can? Most feline nutrition experts recommend feeding kittens at least 4 cans daily. If you are also feeding kibble throughout the day, you may be able to reduce the wet food down to 2 or 3 cans each day without sacrificing your kittens’ health.

Just remember; hydration is critical for cats or kittens. Wet food helps fill the hydration requirements, but we strongly recommend having multiple fresh water sources as well, like the cat water fountain we mentioned earlier.

Are there alternatives to canned cat food?

Do you have a finicky feline who turns their nose up at the sight or smell of can food? Or, maybe you’re just looking for ways to keep your cat healthy without feeding commercial canned food?

Here are some ideas that might help:

Encourage your cat to drink more with a water fountain

Hydration is still the #1 goal if you choose not to feed can. Getting water from their food is the most natural way for a cat to stay hydrated, but water fountains can be a huge help.

Why do cats like water fountains? There are a few reasons. Cats have really strong senses (especially smell and sound) and they rely on these senses to make wise decisions, much like we do.

In the wild, still water sources are likely loaded with bacteria that not only smell bad to a cat’s nose but could also make them very sick. Their survival instincts say, “stay away!”

On the other hand, the cool, filtered, clean-smelling, and gentle bubbling or trickling sound of a cat fountain entices the kitty to come closer. Cats and curiosity, you know…

There’s also the issue of whisker fatigue. Your cat’s whiskers are extremely sensitive and when they keep touching the side of a water or food bowl, it can cause them stress or pain.

Wide bowled cat fountains like the one below help prevent this and still draw attention to the captivating sight, sound, and smell of fresh water.

catit pixi water fountain -- alternatives to canned cat food
Click photo to learn more

We have had 5 or 6 fountains for cats in our home. I’ve even gifted them to family members for their cats. Every single cat has loved them (pretty much immediately after a little investigation) and their health has noticeably improved because of it.

Related Reading: How To Choose A Cat Water Fountain: 5 Important Features for Happy Healthy Kitties

Try Inaba Churu treats instead

If you’re a cat lover, you might have seen the ridiculously adorable videos of pawrents hand-feeding their felines a ‘tube treat.’ Cats go wild over this stuff!

What’s all the hype about? It’s not just adorable; it’s healthy. Each tube of creamy goodness gives your cat 91% moisture! They’re also only 6 calories and loaded with beneficial vitamins like taurine, vitamin E and green tea for antioxidants.

What’s not in them is just as important. Inaba Churu is made without grains, artificial colors, preservatives, or carrageenan.

Best of all, these tube treats were designed to be used as a bonding moment between you and your cat. They’ll be extra glad to see you when your hand holds one of these! πŸ˜‰

inaba churu treats: do cats need to eat wet food?
Click photo to learn more

Photo takes you to Chewy (our favorite) but these are also available on Amazon.

Cat hack for dry food addicts

These treats are amazing for adding on top of kibble for added moisture and flavor. It’s an easy way to give extra hydration while still serving a food they prefer.

Or, you can just use plain filtered water. Add about 1/4 cup water to your cat’s dry bowl. Let it soak in for about 10 minutes or so. Drain any extra water, then serve!

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    Conclusion

    Call me crazy, but I think when it comes to the question, “Do cats need to eat wet food?” the science points to a clear “yes.”

    So what are the key takeaways?

    • Without enough water intake, your cat is more likely to develop urinary tract issues, kidney disease, and general lethargy from feeling unwell
    • Is wet food important for cats? Yes! You don’t have to feed can but it is critical to add hydration in other ways if you don’t. (see examples above) Feeding canned food is however one of the simplest ways to ensure high levels of moisture.
    • When you are feeding can, keep in mind that it spoils quickly. Uneaten portions should be refrigerated within 1-2 hours of sitting out. To serve later, warm food in the microwave for 10-20 seconds in a microwave-safe dish.
    • Since cats get their water from their food in the wild, they have a very low thirst drive. They can be dehydrated and not feel thirsty. It’s up to us to keep them well-hydrated.
    • You can also help meet your cat’s water needs by adding a little feline-safe tuna water or cooking them some of these delicious human foods (unseasoned, of course…)

    So… what do you think? Do you feed your cat canned food, raw food, a specialty diet, or a combination of any of these?

    I love hearing your thoughts. Helpful, respectful discussion, is always welcomed here in the Cat Care Solutions family! As always, I hope you’ve found this post helpful.

    Until we meet again…

    Love & Healing Purrs,

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    Resources:

    PetMD: Wet Cat Food vs. Dry Cat Food: Which Is Better?

    Cathealth.com: Wet Food vs. Dry Food For Cats

    Cats.com: The Complete Guide to Feline Nutrition


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    4 Comments

    1. I couldn’t find a type of canned cat food that our kitties could keep down. I tried all types. They have a fountain, bowls of water we change often, and a water jug on the table that I top off for them that they love drinking from. When they drink from the jug we call it “jugging.” I think they like the attention of me topping it off for them. If you search for Timmy and the cats on my blog, the parody video has clips of some of the kitties jugging.

      1. I hear you, Tim! I think this is one of the reasons this issue of canned food is hotly debated. It’s quite possible you’ve already tried this but it’s worth mentioning because we had the same issue in our home.

        Did you try giving really tiny portions? When I say tiny, I’m thinking of a teaspoon – tablespoon to start. We have 2 girls that are prone to the “scarf and barf” syndrome, making them throw up anything they just got down. I switched to elevated bowls (because this helps with reflux, also making cats throw up canned food), and gave them only tiny scoops of food. 95% of the time, they now keep it down. If you haven’t already tried this, it might be worth a shot? We found that the type of can didn’t matter as much; only the portion and the kind of bowl they ate from. (elevated)

        Gotta say, though…you always make me laugh! Your stories of you and the kitties are hilarious. I chuckled reading about the “jugging.” It’s pretty much a guarantee they do get their thrills out of you serving them so diligently, topping off their chalice. πŸ˜‚ I’ll have to go look up the parody video you mentioned; it sounds cute.

        Always appreciate you sharing your thoughts! Hope you and the family are well.

        1. I figured you probably had tried that method, knowing how much the two of you love cats. Dang, that’s interesting. You also tried elevated/tilted bowls?

          Thank you for sharing the video link. I’ll definitely be heading over soon.

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