Wondering what to feed your new feline or thinking about switching foods to better support your kitty’s overall health and wellness? One of the first things you’ll need to figure out is whether to feed them kibble or canned wet food. While the right answer really depends on your pet’s specific needs and preferences, we rounded up a few experts to dish on the pros (and cons), as well as their picks for the overall best wet foods for cats that are available now.
What To Know Before Buying Wet Cat Food
When it comes to planning out your pet’s diet, a lot of factors—including age, breed, and their overall health—can play a significant role in terms of figuring which foods are best, which is why you should always consult with a veterinarian before making any big changes. While kibble certainly has its advantages—namely, it’s convenient, affordable, and may be beneficial for feline teeth—most experts say that wet food is equally crucial because it can help cats stay hydrated, plus it may be closer to the natural diet they’d have in the wild.
“The domestic cat is a desert animal, so they naturally don’t drink much water,” Dr. John P. Loftus, Ph.D., DVM, assistant professor at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, tells Mental Floss. It’s a point echoed by Dr. Gary Richter, DVM, medical director of Holistic Veterinary Care, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, and author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide: Breakthrough Nutrition and Integrative Care for Dogs and Cats, who notes that because cats “don’t naturally drink a lot of water, [it is] important for them to get a lot of water in their food.”
According to Dr. Loftus and Dr. Richter, the higher moisture content found in canned wet food gives it a distinct advantage over kibble; Dr. Richter even claims that although dry food is often seen as better for feline dental health, an all-kibble diet isn’t recommended, as cats are carnivores and “high carbohydrate diets such as dry food are not the best for them.” Dr. Cori Blair, DVM, veterinarian and owner of Feline Health in New York City, takes it one step further, likening kibble to the bread you might find at a restaurant, whereas protein-rich canned wet food is more like the salad: The bread might taste great, but if you have too much of it, you probably won’t have room to eat all the rest, and the same is true for cats. “Canned food is healthier for them overall and [helps cats] maintain better hydration and better lean body mass, in addition to being better for their kidneys,” Dr. Blair says.
Another reason to integrate canned wet food into your feline’s everyday diet is that it could help them better manage certain health conditions. “Diabetic cats benefit from wet food’s higher protein and lower carb formulation,” Dr. Katy Nelson, a senior veterinarian at Chewy, tells Mental Floss. Additionally, Dr. Nelson points out that the caloric content and nutrient density of wet food can be great for kittens and nursing mothers, and the higher moisture content may help felines with urinary issues. “Wet food can also be useful for cats on a weight-loss plan, as cats process protein much more efficiently than carbohydrates (which they tend to store) and can also be measured easily to ensure your kitty is staying within their daily caloric recommendations,” she adds.
That said, there are some things to keep in mind if you plan on serving a platter of pate to your kitty anytime soon. “Wet food does not have as long of a ‘shelf life’ in the bowl as dry food,” Dr. Nelson says. She recommends discarding any leftovers after a couple of hours, as it can all go bad. Another major factor to consider is where your pet is at, development-wise. “Pet owners should be careful to ensure that they choose a canned food formulated to meet the nutrition requirements of the cat’s life stage,” Dr. Loftus says. If you’re unsure, he recommends looking for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement, which should be on the can’s label.
According to Dr. Blair, a canned-food-only diet may also lead to constipation for some cats, who may then need fiber supplementation to balance things out. As such, pet parents may want to consider a blended diet, meaning one that incorporates fresh, whole foods or both kibble and canned wet food as part of a pet’s daily menu. “If people are going to feed [cats] canned foods, they should look for premium foods with all-natural ingredients,” Dr. Richter adds. “No grains, no artificial preservatives.”
The Best Wet Cat Foods to Shop Now
1. Best for Indoor Cats: Iams Perfect Portions Indoor Adult Grain-Free Wet Cat Food; From $13
With so many options to choose from (and pet-specific factors to keep in mind like age and health), it can be hard to pinpoint a best overall pick for canned wet food. However, Dr. Nelson thinks this variety pack from Iams is an excellent choice if you want to support your indoor cat’s overall well-being: It’s soft, easy to chew, and made without any grains or artificial preservatives. Each easy-peel tray also comes in convenient portions, so you can give your pet a balanced meal without worrying that you might be serving them too much food.
Buy it: Chewy
2. Great If Your Cats Don’t Like Fish: Purina Fancy Feast Gravy Wet Cat Food; From $24
Purina is one of the top brands that Dr. Blair recommends (along with Iams, Hill’s Science Diet, and Royal Canin) to Mental Floss readers because “these companies all do continuous studies on their products to ensure they are top quality.” If your four-legged pal generally prefers chicken, turkey, and/or beef over fishy entreés, you may want to consider grabbing this 30-pack from Fancy Feast.
Buy it: Amazon
3. Best for Cats with Sensitive Systems: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Urinary Hairball Control Wet Cat Food; From $45
While urinary tract infections aren’t super common for cats (PetMD claims that only 1 percent to 3 percent of cats with urinary tract disease will develop them), problems in that area can still happen, so prevention is key in order to maintain your cat’s health. If your cat has a sensitive system, Dr. Nelson says that this variety pack from Hill’s Science Diet could support their overall wellness and add more magnesium into their daily diet. “This functional food helps prevent the occurrence of urinary tract problems in cats, and also contains natural fiber to reduce hairballs, ensuring your cat stays comfortable and calm,” she says.
Buy it: Chewy
4. Great For Active Cats: Tiny Tiger Grain-Free Canned Wet Cat Food; From $20
As brands go, Tiny Tiger provides high-quality animal protein for the amino acids needed to maintain cats’ lean, active muscles, according to Dr. Nelson. One of the most popular varieties is this grain-free paté variety pack, which includes beef, chicken, and turkey and giblets—a.k.a., all land animals. “The recipe features a complete and balanced meal in every bowl, with vitamins, minerals and essential taurine plus real broth that provides necessary moisture levels to help keep [cats] hydrated,” Dr. Nelson says.
Buy it: Chewy
5. Best for Weight Management: Hill’s Science Diet Perfect Weight Canned Wet Cat Food; $49
According to the brand, this wet cat food is made from chicken broth, pork liver, carrots, spinach, and other ingredients that support a balanced diet. But also, it’s specially formulated with overweight cats in mind; in product testing, over 70 percent of felines chomping down on these morsels reportedly lost weight within 10 weeks. But to be on the safe side, be sure to double-check with your veterinarian before adding this to your pet’s diet, especially if your cat has any other preexisting health conditions.
Buy it: Chewy
6. Great for Nursing Cats and Kittens: Royal Canin Feline Health Nutrition Mother & Babycat Canned Wet Cat Food; From $24
Both mother cats and baby kittens need food formulated with their special needs in mind. This wet cat food is made with chicken and a blend of vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids like Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the latter of which is naturally found in breast milk and could boost your kitten’s cognitive development. Each can also contains a mix of highly digestible proteins and prebiotics that will be gentle on their changing (and developing) systems. The texture itself is a bit softer than typical paté, too; Royal Canin compares it to a fluffy mousse and claims it can help newborn kittens transition from milk to solid food with greater ease.
Buy it: Chewy