Dry Cat Food

dry cat food

This is perhaps the oldest debate among cat owners. Dry food vs. wet food. But there doesn’t have to be a debate, because both kinds of cat food can be good (provided you buy high quality).

Why is dry cat food good for cats? It’s better for their teeth and stays fresh for a long time. It keeps your cat’s jaw muscles strong, makes for better treats, and is food safe (doesn’t go off if left all day). But it’s high in carbohydrates, can be difficult to digest, and means your cat has to drink lots of water alongside their food.

Whichever food you feed your cats, be aware of its positives and negatives. You will then be able to adjust your cat’s diet in any way necessary to keep them fit and healthy.

Dry Cat Food: the Ultimate Guide

When it comes to meal time for our cats, we’re faced with a few questions. Which brand of food are we using today? Is one better than the other? Does your cat look like it’s in the mood for chicken or fish today? Is it secretly hoping you’ll ignore its own food altogether because it’s got its eyes on the real chicken you have hidden away in the fridge? There’s another question to consider as well: is dry or wet food better for cats?

For some people it’s not even a choice; we’ve gotten into the habit of putting wet can food in the bowl, with a sprinkling of dry cat food on top of it. We think we’re giving our cats the best of both worlds. We’re really not – putting dry food on top of wet can actually be a major health risk for our cats! We’ve done our reading on this, and the advice we give you in this article is consistent with the views of leading experts in the field, as you can see on this research paper about dry cat food and the risk of disease in cats.

How many of us really know what goes into the two types of food? Has it ever crossed your mind that one type may have health benefits and health risks that the other type doesn’t? In this article, we’re going to be weighing up the pros and cons of dry cat food. This is one of two companion pieces, and you should also read our similar article on the pros and cons of wet cat food. Also, while we’re talking about meal times for cats, could they do with a new bowl or feeder? We’ve got a cat feeder guide for you, too!

Dry Cat Food – All That’s Good

Depending on where you are in the world, you may know dry cat food better as ‘cat kibble’, and if you do, that’s fine. We’re talking kibbles here! Some people call them ‘cat biscuits’ too. We wouldn’t subscribe to that description, although we can see why people use it. It’s a common belief that dry cat food is better for your cat’s teeth, and that’s mostly correct, but there are other benefits that come along with it, too. The best quality dry cat food does a number of great things for both you and your cat. Here are the headlines.

1. It Stays Fresh For Longer

dry cat food
“Don’t watch me while I’m eating!” Dry cat food image courtesy of Flickr

If you have both wet and dry cat food on your shelves right now, go and look at the “best before” dates on the packaging. You’ll notice that the best dry cat food has a much longer shelf life. This is down to the ingredients, and the lack of active moisture in the product. This means that you can benefit from buying in bulk when there’s a special offer on, knowing that it won’t spoil before you get the chance to feed it to your cat. That means it’s kinder to your wallet, too!

2. It’s Better For Your Cat’s Teeth

We touched on this earlier, but here’s the detail. High quality dry cat food is understood to be better for your cat’s oral hygiene. You might think that’s obvious, because the food is harder and therefore it scrapes plaque and tartar straight off the surface of the teeth. That’s actually not all that’s going on. Because there’s no moisture in the food, your cat gets a very dry mouth when it tries to eat it. In turn, your cat will generate excess saliva in order to help break the food down. The saliva also helps in keeping your cat’s teeth clean and healthy! (There are other ways to help your cat with its oral hygiene, by the way. Check out our essential cat health aids page for more information).

3. It Strengthens Your Cat’s Jaw

Cats are hunters. It’s a theme we come across a lot when putting these articles together, but we can’t stress it enough. Your cat, regardless of how pampered its lifestyle is, will always believe that if it was left to its own devices it could hunt and kill its own food. It’s very important to your cat’s own self image that it’s allowed to continue this fantasy! Just as your cat values its claws, and strong teeth, it also needs a powerful jaw in order to bite into its prey. Wet cat food doesn’t really allow for the building or maintenance of strong jaw muscles; it’s digested far too easily. Cat kibble takes effort and perseverance to break down, so your cat feels like it’s working for its meal, and it likes it.

Your cat is an instinctive chewer (some of your furniture can probably attest to that!), and all of a cat’s primary instincts should be indulged where possible.

4. It Makes For Better Treats

If you’re giving your cat a treat, you’re probably going to use dry cat food. Cat kibble is just a more practical thing to have in your hand than chunks of wet food, and they’re less messy too. So if you’re training your cat or kitten to use a cat flap or a litter tray and you’re using a few treats as bribes – or should that be “training aids?” – you’ll want plenty of dry cat food at hand. Just try to make sure it’s healthy dry cat food.

5. Food Safety

You can pour dry cat food into your pet’s bowl (or other container) and leave it all day. If you’re someone who is out all day, it’s a better practical choice for feeding your cat. Wet cat food is only safe for around four hours after you serve it. After that time, bacterial infestation can occur. If your cat likes to come and go from its food throughout the day, dry cat food probably serves their needs better. We will, however, add a caveat with this. It’s very important that you don’t allow dry cat food to mix with water. Doing so opens up the risk of bacterial contamination occurring.

Dry Cat Food – All That’s Bad

dry cat food
Is anyone else getting hungry, or just us? It’s just us, isn’t it. Dry cat food image courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

If we cover the positive, we must also cover the negative. Please don’t construe this as us telling you that dry cat food is bad. One of the most popular search terms used on Google in relation to dry cat food is “Is dry cat food bad?”. It really isn’t. So long as your cat is healthy, there are few dangers of dry cat food so long as it’s supplied as part of a balanced diet. Read on for more information.

1. It’s High In Carbohydrates

We’re putting this one first because it’s the most important thing you should know about dry cat food. It bears very little in common with the food types a cat would eat out in nature. Cats are carnivores. They will naturally seek out and consume foods that are high in protein. Dry cat food is not high in protein. Instead, it’s largely made up of carbohydrates. In some cases, the carbohydrate – which usually comes in the form of starch or corn – can make up as much as 50% of the content of the food.  There is a connection between high carbohydrate intake and diabetes in cats, and that’s backed up extensively by scientific research like this “Cats and Carbohydrates” paper.

2. It’s Not Always Easy To Digest

This is doubly true if you’re trying to introduce it to a cat that’s never eaten it before. A cat that’s been raised on a wet-food-only diet may reject the idea of dry cat food completely. If their digestion system is fully developed, and hasn’t encountered dry food before, it might just not process it. That’s OK – although dry cat food does have benefits, it’s not a dietary requirement, and cats can survive without it.

3. It Contains Grain And Other By-Products

This is only really an issue if you have a cat with allergies. Cat allergies work to the same principle as human allergies. You may be someone who has a peanut allergy, and are forever having to check the packaging of food to make sure it isn’t dangerous to you. If your cat is intolerant of grain, or any derivative of grain, then dry cat food just isn’t going to be a good idea for it. You may be able to obtain specialist dry cat food for cats who have allergies, but even then you should always check the label. If unsure, check with your vet before trying to serve your cat with new types of food. As a rule of thumb, cheap dry cat food is worse in this respect than the more expensive brands, as you’d expect. Healthy dry cat food will have a better balance of ingredients.

4. It Can Lead To Weight Gain

This is sort of a hand-in-hand fact with the carbohydrate issue, but we felt it needed to be made a point of separately. Foods that are high in carbohydrates are generally also high in sugar. Sugar creates fat. Excess fat leads to obesity. Cats who take on too much cat kibble will put on weight. That’s great if you have an underweight cat and you’re feeding it up, but less so if you have a cat that’s already a healthy size.

So Should I Feed My Cat Dry Cat Food At All?

The answer to the question “is dry cat food good for cats?” is yes. The positive points speak for themselves, and the cons are manageable. You should only hold back from dry cat food if your cat has a medical reason to avoid it. It isn’t a case of wet food vs dry food for cats; it’s a case of feeding them a good combination of both. You just need to be sensible about how and when you do it, and follow a few basic rules.

  • dry cat food
    Dry cat food on top of wet cat food. Everyone does it. Nobody should! Dry cat food image courtesy of GoodFreePhotos

    Do not mix wet and dry food together. The wet food makes the dry food moist, and the moisture can lead to bacteria generation.

  • Do not feed your cat with dry food alone. It contains too much carbohydrate and not enough protein. Your cat won’t get the protein intake it needs from dry food, and it will have altogether too much carbohydrate, which can lead to diabetes.
  • Be conscious of portion sizes. This is especially true if you’ve already fed your cat a few treat kibbles over the course of the day! A little dry food in moderation is a fine thing. Too much, and it’s not good for your pet.
  • Be aware of allergies. If your cat has allergies, standard dry food might irritate them. There may be specialist varieties available which negate this, but it’s wise to seek professional advice first.

Other Forms Of Dry Cat Food

The advice we give on this page is general. Despite that, we’re very aware that there will be readers who are specifically looking for dry cat food that’s suitable for their specific pet; perhaps because of your cat’s age, or health. If you want information on gluten free dry cat food, dry cat food for sensitive stomachs, dry cat food for urinary health or any other specialist variant, please see our specialist cat food pages for more information.

Now you’ve read all about dry food, why not check out our article on wet food if you haven’t already? The link is at the top of this page! Thanks for stopping by and reading our information today. We hope you found it useful. Do please share it among your friends if you think they’d find it interesting, too!