Wet, Dry or Raw – What is the best food choice for your dog or cat?
It can be incredibly confusing to choose a food for your pet. There are so many brands, all making different claims, and there is constant debate between veterinary professionals as to what types of food are most beneficial. Also, every cat or dog is different, so what works for one dog may not work so well for another. We are going to take a look at the pros and cons of the three main diet types; wet, dry and raw, and try and clear up some of that confusion for you.
As wet food contains approximately 75% water, it is better at keeping your dog hydrated and can help make your dog feel fuller faster, which can be useful if your pet is on a diet. Also, the moisture content means that wet food does not swell in your dog’s stomach, reducing the chances of bloat (a life-threatening condition most common in deep-chested breeds). Wet food often appeals to picky eaters as it tends to have more smell, but it is also great for pets with a sore mouth (usually due to dental problems) or pets that are not feeling well or have gone off their food. This is because the richer, meatier smell and softer feel make wet food easy for older and poorly pets to consume.
Some cats do not drink enough (naturally cats in the wild get most of their water from consuming small animals in their entirety), so the 75-80% moisture content helps keep your cat hydrated, which is especially important in cats with a history of cystitis or kidney problems. Also, unless you go for a high quality dry food, wet foods often contain less carbohydrates and more animal protein, so it can be more nutritious and easier for your pet to digest.
It was always thought that wet food caused plaque build-up and tooth decay, but it has recently been found that there is little difference between dental issues with wet and dry fed pets. It must be covered, refrigerated and used a few days after the first serving. Wet food is more expensive than dry food, and since wet foods contain a large amount of water, the feeding amounts are much higher than those of dry foods which often makes them even more expensive to feed. For example, 250g of dry dog food contains nearly four times as many calories as 250g of wet food.
Wet food may produce mess during feeding and may slightly increase tartar build-up, which may require more attentive dental care. You cannot leave it out for more than an hour or two as it starts to dry out and spoil, and it can attract flies and other bugs, especially in warmer weather. Additionally, once opened, canned wet cat food must be carefully stored. It must be covered, refrigerated, and immediately consumed as it spoils quickly.
High quality dry food will contain grains, vegetables, fruits, starches and meats. It tends to be less expensive than other types of foods, which often means you may be able to feed food of a higher quality. Dry food is readily available in shops and online, and even supermarkets now carry a lot of ranges of dry food. It stores very easily, keeps for a long time and can be left out for your pet all day. In recent years, many dry food manufacturers have come out with recipes that are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates (and/or grain-free) to meet the demand of consumers but these are usually a little more expensive.
When it comes to weight control, it is easier to measure out a day or portion of dry food and know you are not overfeeding your pet. All you have to do is follow the feeding guidelines on the back of the food packet based on your dog or cat’s weight or consult your veterinary surgeon or practice nurse. Dry food is concentrated, so you do not need to feed as much, making your money go further. Some studies have also found that dry food helps to keep teeth clean, however this effect has recently been found to be very small indeed and selecting a dental care diet would be significantly more effective. Due to the popularity of dry food, there are more varieties, which is important if your dog or cat has any special requirements such as needing a hypoallergenic food or a food specifically for small or large breeds, or a food to reduce hairballs.
Dry dog or cat food is far and away the most common type of pet food. However, within the category there is a wide range of quality, cost, and type. But many dry foods, particularly the less expensive ones, tend to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein which is not ideal for dogs and worse for cats. Dry diets are very concentrated – a little goes a long way, so you need to be careful not to feed too much to prevent excess weight gain. Often the cheaper dry foods (especially dry cat foods) have biscuits of different colours, which means they have colourings in them which can be harmful, or your pet can be allergic to them. Also, due to its very low moisture content, animals on dry food must drink a lot more in order to stay hydrated, and this can be an issue, especially for cats who often do not drink enough.
Raw feeding is regarded by many as the most natural way to feed a dog and over the past few years it has become the fastest growing feeding trend in the UK. Raw food is virtually unprocessed and usually contains a higher protein and lower carbohydrate content. Many users of raw food claim it produces a shinier coat, better breath, cleaner teeth and gas reduction (however there is little to no scientific evidence of this).
You can either prepare your own raw diet or you can choose a pre-prepared complete raw diet which has some of the convenience of either wet or dry food. Preparing your own allows you to have full control over the ingredients, so you can offer meals that you know will not trigger any known allergies. Raw food has the same higher water content as wet food, and so has all of the associated benefits (reduced chance of bloat, increased feeling of fullness, helps pets (especially cats) stay hydrated etc.). Many dogs love chewing on raw meaty bones, which can help to keep dental tartar at bay however, small chicken bones can fragment and cause damage to the mouth or gastrointestinal tract.
The biggest issue with the raw food diet is balance - it can be difficult to meet all of your dog or cat’s dietary needs so that they receive a well-rounded diet every day, and there are the same health/safety concerns about eating raw meat for dogs as there is for humans. An unbalanced diet being fed over a long period of time can lead to serious health issues. This is especially true in puppies and kittens, who also have an increased risk of raw food related illnesses like salmonella or campylobacter. The raw diet also includes giving your dog bones, so you must be careful they do not choke, break a tooth or sustain an internal puncture.
Pre-prepared raw food is generally more expensive, is difficult to transport, and generally has a shorter shelf life than other food options. Claims regarding the benefits of raw food diets have not been scientifically proven, with most studies being too small to yield significant results, and often have a biased approach as all current studies have sought to prove its efficacy. It is also important that dogs are wormed regularly if fed a raw meat diet as they are more prone to getting worms and other parasites, and owners should maintain good hand hygiene to avoid contracting infections such as toxoplasmosis and salmonellosis from their pets’ faeces.
All food types have their pros and cons, so what you choose is very much down to your pet, your household, your budget and your free time. However, here are some general rules I would suggest sticking to.
- Always choose a diet that has “complete” on the label. This means it has all the necessary nutrition to keep your pet healthy (although this is based on a minimum requirement rather than an optimum). Any non-complete diets could lead to malnutrition or serious health problems (for example, cats need taurine in their diet and if you are feeding an incomplete food without any taurine your cat could lose their sight and develop heart problems)
- Steer clear of buying pet food at the supermarket – pet food shops and online specialists will have a wider range of products and will stock the more high-end foods that your supermarket generally will not.
- Stay away from dry food with biscuits of different colours – these contain colourant additives which can upset the tummy or trigger an allergy.
- If you are preparing your pet’s diet at home (like with raw feeding) make sure you do lots of research to ensure you are giving a fully balanced, nutritionally complete diet.
- Buy the highest quality food you can afford. You get what you pay for – the higher the quality the costlier the food but they are worth it.
- Discuss diet changes with your vet or vet nurse (especially if your pet has any medical problems whatsoever) and make sure to change over to a new food gradually to avoid upsetting their tummy.