What is Better for Your Cat’s Dental Health: Wet or Dry Food?

cat eating - wet vs dry cat food

What is Better for Your Cat’s Dental Health: Wet or Dry Food?


When I first brought my cat, Wilbur the Wildcat, home five years ago, I had very little knowledge about the daily ins and outs of caring for a cat. I had been a vet for about three years at that point, so I had a broad knowledge base about feline diseases, cat behavioral problems, cat surgeries, etc.

What I did not know were basic things cat owners definitely do. For example, how do I keep him off the kitchen counter?—You don’t. Is it normal that he meows randomly and sprints about like he’s on fire in the middle of the night?—Yes. Will I ever be able to have a Christmas tree that’s not fastened to the wall again?—Definitely not.

Among these many questions, I also wondered what type of food I should feed him? Should I feed wet, canned food or dry kibble? Should I feed him on a schedule, with an automated feeder, or free feed?

I was supposed to feed the small creature. I’ve always owned dogs who eat particular amounts of kibble to maintain their sporty waistlines—feeding a cat was a whole new ballgame to me. As it turns out, “what and how much do I feed my cat” is a highly complex question that, you guessed it, doesn’t have a wholly right or wrong answer. 


The Cat’s Achilles Heel


Let’s face it, cats could be running the world if they wanted to. (Did you know that there have been studies done showing that cats meow on similar frequencies that human babies cry so that they are more likely to get attention from their human owners?!)

But it’s not just their favor for luxury over lawmaking that’s keeping cats from taking the reins from our elected officials. Cats have one actual built-in downfall: their kidneys. I remember one of my vet school professors saying, “every cat, if it lives long enough, will outlive its kidneys.”

Kidney disease is one of the most common diagnoses in cats—particularly in older cats—and it can be challenging to treat, in part because they don’t respond well to, ” Wilbur, be sure you’re focusing on your water intake today.”

Another unfortunate truth is that we often diagnose cats with kidney disease later in the disease course because they are so good at hiding their discomfort. Additionally, by the time we see elevated kidney values on lab work, 75% of the cat’s kidney tissue is no longer functional! So we start by playing catchup from the very beginning. 


How Do We Help Our Cats?


Knowing that kidney disease is so common and often missed in the early stages makes veterinarians think about how to possibly prevent this and to get our feline friends’ kidneys to last even a bit longer.

The first step to treating renal disease is to place cats on renal-specific food that is typically lower in protein, sodium and phosphorus, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

We also know that, in a nutshell, the treatment for kidney disease is “add water.” But how do we get these little dudes to drink?! For this reason, your vet will frequently recommend a water fountain or a running water feature in hopes of getting your cat to drink as an activity. They may also recommend adding a little of the water from a can of tuna to the food.

Perhaps you are wondering what wet vs. dry food has to do with this article and feline dental health? Attempting to increase the amount of water your cat is drinking is also where the wet food recommendation comes in. It has been studied and theorized that feeding your cat canned food—not just when it develops kidney disease, but for its whole life—may lengthen the lifespan of those fickle little organs. 


The Pros and Cons of Kibble for Dental Health


Kibble contains more carbohydrates than canned food does, and cats are carnivores, which means cats are not quite as good at breaking these nutrients down. Nutritionists speculate that the carbohydrate content of dry food contributes to obesity which can lead to the development of diabetes in cats.

That said, there are definitely other contributing factors to feline obesity, such as genetics, lifestyle, etc. that play significant roles. But is the kibble itself better for their teeth? Well, technically the answer is “yes.” And the answer is a resounding “yes” if we are talking about kibble diets specifically formulated for oral health.

There are several studies showing that cats fed kibble diets—and in particular dental formulations—have significantly less tartar and gingivitis than their canned-food-eating counterparts.

Still, the question remains, what types of food are cat teeth designed for? The reality is they are made for eating mice and shearing meat. These diets, however, are not particularly suitable for our modern house cats. 


Kibble or Wet Food: What’s the Right Answer?


Like we’ve already alluded to, the answer is definitely not black and white here. Speaking solely from a dentistry perspective, kibble is absolutely better—particularly a feline dental health formulation diet. 

However, I think our job as veterinarians is to make the best recommendation for the patient as a whole. My personal opinion is that we have many more available treatment options for periodontal disease than we do for renal failure in feline patients.

If you’re going for a cut-and-dry recommendation based on what will help your cat stay healthy the longest, it’s probably canned food. The diet probably doesn’t have to be 100% canned, but the more of the cat’s diet that is canned food, the higher the cat’s water intake will be, and the better it will be for the kidneys. In addition, your furry companion should also have lots of exciting water sources like fountains available around the house. 


Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


Here comes the part you’re not going to like. We know cats who eat only canned food aren’t getting any of that tartar removed from the teeth by crunching. In my perfect scenario, your cat eats solely canned food and gets its teeth brushed daily along with the occasional cat dental treat.

I know, I know—some cats won’t tolerate that. I have attempted to brush Wilbur’s teeth a few times, and while I don’t speak cat, I am pretty sure he was shouting expletives as he was running down the hall.

If they absolutely refuse to allow you to brush their teeth, routine visits to the veterinary dentist—which should be happening regardless of whether or not you brush the teeth—are in order.

Ideally, brushing (every day or at LEAST every other day) keeps the plaque and calculus at bay in between cleanings, and then cleanings can be just that—short anesthetic procedures where the teeth are scaled, imaged, and polished with no extractions. 


Board Certified Veterinary Dentists in Colorado


So, as with most questions in veterinary medicine, “what is better for your cat’s dental health, wet or dry food?” doesn’t have a straightforward answer. But hopefully, this helps you make an informed decision about how you can best keep your feline friend happy and healthy for as long as possible.

If you have any questions regarding your cat’s diet as it relates to their teeth, please do not hesitate to reach out to the doctors and staff at Animal Dental Care and Oral Surgery in Colorado Springs for more information. You can call (719) 536-9949 or email info@wellpets.com


Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash (3/16/2022)