Is Dry Food Bad For Cats?

Is dry food bad for cats? As one of the longest-running debates in feline diets, this innocent question is one that’s dogged the cat community (including cat lovers like you) for as long as pet food companies have been selling dry cat food.

The answer is no, dry food alone is not bad for cats.

The right amount of kibble can give your cat the calories it needs. The key to feeding dry is portion control, buying high-quality cat food, and making sure your cat is getting enough water to stay healthy. Hydration is vital for cats.

Today we’re taking a closer look at the crunchy kibble our cats love so much.

Is dry food really bad for cats?

First things first, let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in dry cat food.

One thing all cat dry food products have in common is that they have a lot of starchy ingredients.

These ingredients range from fillers like corn gluten meal and brewers rice, to plant proteins like lentil fiber, pea starch, and pinto beans. These help the kibble to maintain its round shape and irresistible crunch.

But, veterinarians argue that feeding dry food in large amounts could spell trouble for cat health.

Why? Because cats are obligate carnivores.

Why is kibble bad for cats?

The best foods to meet your cat’s nutritional needs come from a high protein diet packed with meat and animal fats like chicken fat, turkey liver, and duck.

The ideal way to get essential fatty acids and nutrients is through feeding wet cat food or canned food without vegetable starches or fillers.

Cats don’t need the garbanzo beans, lentils, or pea protein found in many dry cat foods to eat a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.

Kibble’s biggest negative is its nonexistent moisture content.

Most cats, whose ancestors dwelled in environments with limited access to water, have a low thirst drive.

This means unless they’re eating wet food, a canned diet, or drink from cat fountains, they’re prone to chronic dehydration. This can lead to serious complications.

Dry vs. wet cat food

The other big difference between dry and canned foods in commercial pet foods is the manufacturing process.

Pet food manufacturers put dry cat food through a different cooking process than wet food: high heat cooking.

Some studies have found high temperatures and the kibble “drying” process have a big impact. It can eliminate essential nutrients and reduce the availability of amino acids and vitamins your cat needs to thrive.

For a more in-depth breakdown of how dry and wet cat food differ, you can read our comprehensive “Wet vs. Dry Cat Food” article.

Animal vs plant-based protein

Meats, tissue, and animal fat are the ideal sources of protein to fuel your feline.

As obligate carnivores, cats need animal products. Everything from the shortness of their digestive tract to the enzymes in their saliva that break down foods support this.

Plant-based proteins in a dry food commercial diet are more challenging for cats to digest. They aren’t able to properly absorb nutrients from them. These diets may cause health problems as with the problem of peas and lectins.

Health risks associated with dry cat food

Studies have shown that there is not a direct correlation between health issues and feeding your cat dry food. However, there are distinct benefits to feeding wet cat food in certain situations.

Urinary problems

Inadequate water intake, or chronic dehydration, may result when cats eat dry food only. These conditions are linked to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease.

Also known as FLUTD, this painful condition includes highly concentrated urine, urinary stones, urethral obstruction, and bladder inflammation. If untreated FLUTD can be fatal.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

Chronic kidney disease CKD is a leading cause of death in cats. Switching to water-dense, canned wet foods over dry foods and placing automatic fountains around the house can help to treat CKD in cats.

Will dry food make my cat fat?

Not quite! Although overweight cats and obese cats make up 30 to 35% of all cats in the United States, food isn’t solely to blame. Food is just one factor in weight gain.

Genetics, pre-existing conditions, exercise, and the availability of food can also determine your cat’s body type and how large they are.

Cats with hyperthyroidism who take steroids or diabetic cats on insulin are more likely going to be carrying more pounds than the average cat despite what foods they eat. These medications often directly influence your cat’s appetite and can cause weight gain.

Is feeding both dry and wet cat food okay?

Yes, feeding your cat both wet and dry food is perfectly ok. The main thing to be aware of is your cat’s appetite and portion control.

If your cat gobbles up every morsel of food you put in front of them, avoid free-choice feeding. With these cats, stick to lower carb and less calorie-dense foods for portion control.

Also, talk to your vet about the right portion for your cat given its age, activity level, and feeding behavior.

If your cat is a kibble-lover, you can still feed them measured amounts of dry food at mealtimes.  You can also try a slow feeder cat bowl to help your cat eat less quickly.

How to transition your cat to a new type of food

Before making any big dietary changes it’s best to consult your veterinarian. They’ll walk you through this process and will often have specific food recommendations.

Keep in mind transitioning your cat to a new brand and type of food often requires patience and a willingness to experiment.

Take it slow, start by reducing the amount of dry kibble a little bit every day and adding half a can of wet food every other day until you’ve made the switch to replacing your cat’s kibble portion with canned food.

The bottom line

Dry food is not the enemy.

While there’s a lot to take into consideration when looking at potential health risks from kibble, dry food is not inherently bad.

It’s better to take what we know as fact (that dry cat food contains many starchy ingredients and is low in moisture) and apply them to your cat’s individual preferences, health needs, and lifestyle.

Kibble can be part of a balanced and complete diet. Especially if it’s used in feline enrichment activities like food puzzles. Or to supplement a predominantly wet canned cat food diet.

Tell us what you think! Are you team kibble? Do you champion an all-wet, canned cat food diet? Or are you somewhere in between?

Victoria Tomis