Since hunting for wild prey probably isn’t an option in your household, you’re going to have to supply your cat with proper food. But there are options: chicken vs. fish, fancy vs. value buy, but most importantly: Wet vs. Dry.
While they seem quite opposite (quite literally the opposite if you just go by the name), they’re actually quite similar with a few key differences.
Surprisingly, dry food isn’t just oats and grains like your favorite cereal. It’s made up mostly of meat, which is necessary for your vicious, adorable carnivore.
Dry food’s best feature is its longevity. You can leave dry food out for days before worrying about its freshness, and after opening a bag it’s as easy as throwing it all in a plastic container. If you’re planning on departing your apartment for the weekend and leaving your cat behind, you can simply put out the appropriate amount of servings and know your cat should be fine (also remember to leave out plenty of water). The only issue here is hoping that your cat has the self-control to not go nuts and gorge himself in the first few hours. If it’s going to be longer than a few days, make sure to have someone look after your cat and provide him with more food and water.
You can also use dry food as rewards for training purposes. While treats are typically more effective, a simple kibble can entice your hungry companion. An overlooked benefit can be its positive effect on your cat’s dental health. Some dry foods are specifically made to bolster your cat’s dental health and keep sharp teeth. A weird positive you might not think of is that its crunchy texture can help mimic what chewing prey in the wild feels like. What a savage beast.
(Source: Flickr user jenadkison)
Dry food has one real drawback. As you might have guessed, dry food lacks moisture. And that’s not a problem if your cat drinks enough water, but if he’s not getting hydrated, you might want to look into wet food. At least with water you don’t have to worry about portion control because your cat will drink only as much as he needs. Just be sure to provide fresh water every 24-36 hours.
On that note, wet food’s biggest selling point is the fact that it’s, well, wet. As natural predators, cats in the wild acquire most of their moisture through their prey so they don’t typically need to worry about finding fresh water. Cats on a wet-food diet shouldn’t require any extra water, which is great if your cat has a difficult time staying hydrated or has kidney problems. Wet food can also be beneficial to portion control since it’s denser than dry food due to the liquid content.
A sneaky benefit that you might not think of is its strong scent. Cats with a deteriorated sense of smell should still be able to find the food, but cats with a weak appetite may not eat unless it appeals to their nose. A powerful scent can trigger cats who aren’t enough, typically older cats, and encourage them to eat. And while dry food can help maintain healthy teeth, wet food is easier to chew for those cats with damaged teeth or weaker jaws.
The biggest drawback of wet food is its poor shelf life. Like that chicken salad you had for lunch, wet food can only be left out for a short period before it needs to be refrigerated, and even then it won’t last too much longer. If your cat doesn’t eat the whole can in one sitting, try putting half of it in a bowl, refrigerating the other half, and putting the rest out later.
Another pretty solid drawback is the higher cost. Wet food can be 2-to-3 times as pricey as dry. And not that it’s a big deal, but wet food can be messy and a pain to deal with (washing bowls, storing uneaten food, etc.) Another minor con to consider is how it smells to you, since the scent of mashed animal bits in a can might be nauseating.
Are wet and dry food the only option? While “wet” and “dry” seem to be general terms that cover all the bases, there are some alternatives, though be sure to take precautions and know exactly what you’re doing.
You can actually make your own cat food. Like cooking for people, there are several recipes out there. There’s obviously a lot of risk here, including botching the recipe, failing to store it properly, or feeding your cat something not good for him.
There’s also an all raw-meat diet. I won’t get into detail here, because if you want to go that route, you really should do the necessary research. But as a general rule, don’t feed your cat raw meat unless it’s nearly 100% of his diet (so don’t mix in a raw piece of chicken with his dry food).
Some cats are like dogs and will eat almost anything. My cat, Donut, loves raw spinach, because he’s weird. While you can feed them fun things like lettuce, deli meat, and cheese, make sure it’s always a very small portion. There’s also a list of things your cat shouldn’t eat, such as milk (despite the common depictions of cats lapping at milk), so don’t just let them eat anything that falls on the floor.
For the most part, it shouldn’t make a difference. Overall, wet and dry foods have very similar, if not identical nutritional values. Dry food packs more punch per weight because it lacks water, but that means less hydration. Some might say that wet food has more fat and protein and less carbs, but it varies.
Just be sure to purchase quality products. Check the ingredients – if the first listed isn’t meat, whether it’s chicken, turkey, or fish, then there’s probably a lot of filler that won’t offer your cat enough nutritional value. Remember, cats are carnivores and have a difficult time digesting anything other than meat.
If hydration is an issue, wet food is probably the better option, but otherwise dry food should be fine. If you’re unsure, consult your vet, which is good advice for anything pet-related, really.