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Zoom Recap: Dry vs Canned Food for Cats—Call #4

Dry vs Canned Food

What type of food is really better for your cat, dry or canned? Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to this question.

During this My Lovely Feline Zoom call, Indiana small animal veterinarian Dr. Leslie Brooks talks about the benefits and drawbacks of each, along with health reasons supporting a diet of exclusively dry, canned, or a combo of both. My Lovely Feline content contributor Liz Italia also joined the call and shared her advice and experiences.

Recorded: July 6th, 2020.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this call are those of the guest(s) and/or host(s) and may or may not reflect the views or opinions of My Lovely Feline.

The Great Cat Food Debate: Dry vs. Canned

What type of food is really better for your cat, dry or canned? Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to this question.

During this My Lovely Feline Zoom call, Indiana small animal veterinarian Dr. Leslie Brooks talks about the benefits and drawbacks of each, along with health reasons supporting a diet of exclusively dry, canned, or a combo of both.

My Lovely Feline content contributor Liz Italia also joined the call and shared her advice and experiences.

Dry Food

Dry food is super easy to feed and clean up after, plus it tends to be more affordable. As long as cats are fed inside, pet owners can leave food out for cats to graze throughout the day, and there isn’t really a risk of it going bad if it isn’t eaten right away. Some cats chew dry food, which additionally helps keep teeth cleaner.

Don’t leave out dry food for stray cats because it could attract raccoons and other wildlife that could carry rabies. Try to feed feral cats at certain times of the day and remove it when they’re done to prevent other animals from showing up.

As far as drawbacks, the water is murky, and studies seem to contradict each other. Because most dry food is higher in carbs than canned, some studies show dry could lead to obesity and diabetes. Other studies show the opposite, so the jury is still out.

Canned Food

Canned food has greater than 60% moisture, which is fantastic because most cats don’t drink enough water, and since a lot of cats also suffer from urinary disease, the moisture helps flush their bladder.

Because it’s lower in carbs, some studies show it decreases the chances of a cat becoming obese or developing diabetes (but that’s controversial). However, after a cat is diagnosed with diabetes, if they don’t eat the required food, canned food is suggested because it can help halt the progression of diabetes.

Because it’s high in moisture, canned food can’t sit out more than 30-60 minutes or it will grow bacteria. A cat only eating a canned food diet could be at higher risk for dental disease because there isn’t a lot of chewing involved.

Canned food is ideal for cats with medical or painful conditions in their mouth. This includes:

  • Feline resorptive oral lesions
  • Oral ulcers
  • Oral tumors
  • Cancer in the mouth

Additionally, canned food is recommended for sick cats because the aroma can entice a cat to eat. This is very important for cats with congestion, upper respiratory infections, and obese cats. Obese cats can develop a fatty liver if they go from eating a lot to barely eating at all.

Some cans may include BPA in the liner, which is suspected to cause hyperthyroidism in cats. If you are concerned, research and even read out to the manufacturer of your cat’s food to find out if the can is BPA-free.


Most nutritionists recommend a combination of dry and canned food. Work with your vet on the proper amounts so your cat doesn’t gain too much weight.

When you buy pet food, look for the nutritional adequacy statement by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They monitor pet food manufacturers to make sure pet food is formulated to meet all the minimum nutrient and mineral requirements that cats need.

The package should say what life stage the food is formulated for: growth (kittens), maintenance (adults), gestation and lactation (procreation or mothers), or all life stages. 

Be Careful When Changing Foods

Changing diets is really hard for cats, so do it slowly, and keep in mind, even if you’re changing to a better quality food, it might not agree with your cat’s GI tract. High protein diets, for example, can be very difficult to digest, especially for an older cat that’s had a different diet most of its life.

For cats with inflammatory bowel disease, changing foods is even harder. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye on the litter box and if stools are not overly hard or overly soft, keep your cat on the same food they’ve been eating.

Lastly, cats are finicky eaters, and they can get grouchy if they don’t like their food. Cat food manufacturers sometimes change something very small in their ingredients, and your cat may notice. If your cat stops eating food they normally like, it’s possible an ingredient was changed.


Do not feed cats a fish-only diet  (ex. cans of tuna) or they will develop a vitamin A defiicency, which leads to musculoskeletal issues. Cat food that comes in fish flavors is fine – just avoid giving your cat only cans of seafood designed for humans.

Do Not Make Your Cat a Vegetarian or Vegan

Cats are obligate carnivores, and they require meat from animals to get all of their nutrients. They can’t go on a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Grain-Free Foods

Grain-free diets are potentially causing heart disease. There are reports of cats eating grain-free boutique cat food developing heart disease, like cardiomyopathy. It’s usually diets with unique proteins or legumes. Although this seems to be affecting more dogs than cats, while the FDA is trying to get to the bottom of it, vets recommend avoiding grain-free food for your cat or dog.

Hypoallergenic Food

There is a new over-the-counter Purina food that’s supposed to decrease the amount of dander in a cat’s saliva, ultimately helping owners with their allergies. It was just released, so Dr. Brooks doesn’t have experience with it yet, but you should talk to your vet to learn more.


My 3-year-old cat is aggressive and has been prescribed Prozac (fluoxetine). How long will it take to work and what will it do?

Dr. Brooks: It can take up to a month to build up in a cat’s system, and you also don’t want to stop it cold turkey. If you decide to take your cat off of it, you’ll need to wean them off.

There is a variety of different behavior modifying behavior medications, and some work better than others. It all depends on the cat. So if it doesn’t work, he may need to be on a different medicine. As far as what you might notice, it could mellow him out or it could make him more lethargic. Ideally, you would want blood work done once a year if your cat is on Prozac just to make sure his liver levels are normal.

Liz: I highly recommend asking your vet to try gabapentin first. Gabapentin has less side effects and it works right away. You don’t have to wean, and if you don’t like it, you can try something else. It also doesn’t mean your cat has to be on gabapentin forever. Sometimes, using it as a tool can reset the cat.

Prozac is classified as an SSRI, a class of drugs that increases serotonin in the brain. Some cats are highly sensitive, and get what’s called serotonin syndrome from SSRis, which is the body reacting negatively to the boost in serotonin. Symptoms include increased heart rate, dilated pupils, and behaviorally, the cat may hide and appear agitated. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try Prozac, but just be aware to look out for this side effect.

What’s going on with his aggression?

He only attacks me and it seems to be if I’m moving too slow, he’ll go for my ankles. He’s a sweetheart to everyone else, and there doesn’t seem to be a pattern. He can go a few days and be fine.

Liz: Going for the ankles is typically for attention – likely he wants your attention or playtime. If you’re already playing with him, trying gabapentin could be a good next step. They always attack for a reason, even if the reason is small. Talk to the vet about gabapentin or Prozac and see if that improves the behavior. Also, keep an eye out for him to be relaxed, but not be too lethargic. If you see that, then the meds are too strong and you should try something else.

Try to catch the behavior on video, because that’s the best way to spot what’s happening with the cat. Also, do your best not to run away from the cat. Don’t stand there and get bit, but if you see the cat getting ready to pounce, try to distract with a toy or something. If you run, you’re acting like prey and I guarantee he’ll chase you and probably enjoy it because he’s an energetic 3-year-old.

I feed my cat a combo of wet and dry food, but about once a week, my cat will vomit after it eats the dry food. What should I adjust?

Dr. Brooks: With dry food, sometimes cats eat it too fast. Try to put dry food in a puzzle ball to slow them down, or little bowls where they have to work to get the kibble out.

If it’s only with the dry food, they could have some allergy or be sensitive to your particular food. You can try a food that’s designed for sensitive stomachs.

Liz: If you have to feed more frequent but smaller meals, that’s okay. That’s how they eat in the wild.

I have an older cat with renal disease who is mostly on wet food but gets constipated if she has any dry food. I want her to have dry food for her teeth and she likes it. I already have her on a probiotic. Any suggestions?

Dr. Brooks: Mix her wet food with some water to help keep her hydration up. You can also talk to your vet about doing subcutaneous fluids weekly, which could help with the constipation because it’s likely tied to hydration in cats with renal disease. And ask your vet about trying Miralax, which is a safe laxative to use in cats.

Liz: My super senior has renal disease and I give him subQ fluids every other day. You can incorporate treats or mealtime with administering fluids to make it a more positive experience. It sounds scary, but I promise, once you know how to do it, it’s not.

First, my 21 year-old-cat has diabetes, and there’s an informative feline diabetes message forum online that contains details on constipation, supplements, and lots of other topics.

Even if your cat doesn’t have diabetes, it’s a great place to learn. I’m a huge fan of gabapentin. Is there any chance they’re turning gabapentin into a transdermal?

Dr. Brooks: If you work with a compounding pharmacy, you should be able to get it made. It might be a little expensive.

I’ve seen benefits from flower essences in calming cats. What are your experiences?

Dr. Brooks: Some essential oils are toxic to cats because they don’t have the correct enzyme to break them down, but as long as you are working with a holistic vet or a company that formulates specifically for cats, you should be fine.

Liz: I’ve also seen benefits from flower essences, along with calming collars, pheromones, and a supplement called Solliquin. They’re all great things to try, and nice alternatives to common medications. Acupuncture is also another option.

What are your thoughts on raw diets?

Dr. Brooks: Raw food is another controversial topic. Make sure you work with your vet to make sure the meals you’re making are balanced. You’ll have to add in a multivitamin specific for cats and a calcium supplement because they might be missing out on micronutrients if they’re only being fed raw food.

Do not include bones or bone fragments because it could cause an obstruction or other issues when it passes through the gut. 

Finally, make sure you’re cleaning it appropriately. Keep your raw food prep area separate from your human food prep area. As soon as your cat is done, washbowls. Don’t let it sit for a while because there is a risk of E. coli, salmonella, or campylobacter, different foodborne pathogens that cause humans to get sick (even if your pet doesn’t get sick).

When does a kitty become a senior?

Dr. Brooks: 10-12 years.


The Jury Is Still Out

Talk to your vet about an appropriate diet for your cat, whether dry, canned, or a combo, and monitor your cat’s mood and bathroom habits to keep an eye on their GI health.

Vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation can be tied to diet, but they can also indicate another problem. For now, the debate between dry and canned food will likely continue until more definitive studies provide clear answers.

Zoom Call Hosts:

Dr. Leslie Brooks 👩‍⚕️

Elizabeth Italia 🙋‍♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist