A reader recently asked if she should feed her cat an exclusively dry food diet. She had recently adopted her first cat and a friend who owns several cats told her that she should feed her cat Nutromax dry food daily with one can of Fancy Feast per week because it’s better for their teeth.
As anyone involved in cat health care knows, the controversy about wet versus dry food for cats is a hot topic between vets and cat owners – and everyone has a different opinion. Throw in raw food and home-made food and the arguments get even more intense.
The theory behind feeding dry food suggests that –
- The kibble’s abrasive surfaces come in contact with the cat’s teeth, in effect polishing them and getting plaque off.
- The pieces of dry food get swallowed dry, so there is less food debris that sticks to the teeth to later form plaque (compared to wet food).
More and more studies are showing that this is not the case. A cat’s teeth are designed to rip and tear meat from bones, not crush kibble. Most cats don’t consistently chew dry food; they swallow it whole. Obviously, without contacting the teeth, there is zero effect on tartar accumulation. For cats who do chew dry food, whether consistently or occasionally, there is still little or no benefit. The kibbles shatter, so contact between the kibble and the teeth occurs only at the tips of the teeth. This is certainly not enough to make a difference in the formation of tartar and plaque, which most commonly builds up along (and underneath) the gum line at the base of the teeth.
Also, if they do chew it, pieces can get pushed up into the gum line and in between the teeth, thus causing plaque buildup at the gum line.
A big problem with a solely dry food diet is that the cat doesn’t get enough water in their diet – cats need a certain amount of water in their diet to stay healthy. Although a cat consuming a predominantly dry food diet does drink more water than a cat consuming a canned food diet, in the end, when water from all sources is added together (what’s in their diet plus what they drink), the cat on dry food consumes approximately half the amount of water compared with a cat eating canned food.
Lack of a sufficient amount of water can and often does lead to health issues. They can become chronically dehydrated which contributes to health problems like Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) and urinary crystals. Cats on dry food-only diets are also more prone to obesity and diabetes than cats who eat wet food.
There is also the element of what is best nutritionally. Cats are obligate carnivores which means they are designed to get their protein from meat – not from the high level of grains/peas/potatoes found in dry food. On the whole, wet food, with the primary ingredient being meat or fish, provides a meal that’s better suited to a cat’s dietary needs. Plus they like it!
Whatever food you choose, check the ingredients. It should list an animal protein source as its number one ingredient. Ideally it should not contain meat by-products or fillers like wheat, corn and rice. These fillers are only good for bulking out the food (and your cat), have no health benefit and cats are not designed to properly metabolize carbohydrates.
Studies indicate that tartar and gum disease seemed to be more attributable to genetics or concurrent disease (such as FeLV or FIV) than to any particular diet. Some cats tend to develop plaque and tartar and related diseases more than others. Other cats will have healthy teeth and gums throughout their lives. Having been involved with cat rescue for so many years, we have also seen a cat’s oral health be compromised from previous living situations.
The bottom line is you cannot rely on any one kind of diet to “fix” your cat’s dental problems. You should work with your vet on a long-term dental health care strategy, which is likely to include regular brushing of your cat’s teeth and cleanings when and if necessary. For our cats we also add a dental rinse supplement to their drinking water.
So, what do you feed your cat?