Canned food vs. Kibble: The Great Debate

What to feed your cat shouldn’t be so stressful

Won’t canned food make my cat fat?”
“Isn’t dry food higher in protein?”
“My cat drinks plenty of water so why should I give canned food?
“Isn’t kibble the best for keeping my cat’s teeth clean?”


These are just some of the questions that cat owners ask when trying to decide what to feed their beloved feline. These questions come from both novice adopters as well as experienced cat owners. There are many misconceptions about canned food and its importance in a cat’s everyday diet. Let’s look at some of the myths about canned food.

Myth: Canned food will make my cat fat.

Reality: Canned food has high moisture content, around 78% is water. This not only helps keep your cat hydrated but as we all know, water does not contain calories. Therefore canned cat food is lower in calories than kibble. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, dry cat food contains between six and ten percent of water.

Of course, not all canned foods are created equal and those with gravies have more carbohydrates, upping the calorie count.


Myth: Canned food has less protein than kibble.

Reality: Because cats are obligate carnivores, it is important for them to have a high meat-based diet. By looking at the cat food labels, you would think that kibble has a higher protein level than canned food and would be the best source of protein. However, labels are complicated and the actual amount of protein in canned food can be higher. Typically kibble will contain 30-40% carbohydrates and some of their protein is plant-based instead of meat-based. Even the grain-free dry foods use starchy vegetables such as peas and corn which adds carbohydrates but no additional meat-based protein.

According to the Feline Nutrition Awareness Effort, the amount of true protein is assessed by something called a Dry Matter Basis (please see for more information and link to a DMB calculator to determine protein).


Myth: My cat drinks plenty of water so there is no need for canned food

Reality: Cats originated in desert locations and have been designed to adapt to this environment. Therefore cats have a naturally low thirst drive and rely on their food source for the majority of their moisture content. Out in the wild, their prey would provide them with a perfect package of nutrients “… rodents, rabbits, lizards, insects, and birds… consist primarily of water, protein and fat, with less than 10% carbohydrate (starch, sugar and fiber) content… Their ultra-efficient kidneys are able to extract most of their moisture needs from their prey.” ( With kibble providing between only six and ten percent moisture, this is not enough to keep your kitty fully hydrated. Canned food helps keep your cat healthy with higher water content. According to Dr. Lisa A. Pierson, a California veterinarian and creator of, “When cats present with urinary tract problems, the recommendation is to get them on a water-rich diet…Why not practice preventive nutrition by feeding them [moisture-rich] canned food before they end up with urinary tract problems?” ( Good hydration also reducing the possibility of kidney disease and helps with diabetic cats and those with IBD.


Myth: Kibble is the best for keeping my cat’s teeth clean

Reality: Cats’ teeth are designed to tear and shred their prey. Small kibble pieces are often just swallowed and therefore do nothing to help with dental hygiene. Out in the wild, cats of all sizes and subspecies rip and gnaw on the bones and flesh of their prey which keeps their teeth ‘brushed’. Unfortunately a diet of high carbohydrate kibble can interact with a cat’s saliva and create plaque which can cause dental disease. Canned food has much lower carbohydrate levels and does not adhere to the teeth to create the plaque.

Canned versus Kibble

Let’s face the reality of the situation. Kibble is less expensive and easier to feed and store. It is not going to disappear from our cats’ diets. There are advocates for kibble diets, raw diets, and canned food diets. As author of this article, I just want to suggest that canned food has an important role in your cat’s diet and I want to offer you some tools to do your own research into feline nutrition.


Author: Patti Altridge