Most cat owners have wondered at one time or another whether to choose dry food or wet food for their beloved pet – even more so once their cat reaches the golden years. There is unfortunately no easy answer, as each cat is unique, with her own taste and preference. Both wet and dry food have advantages and shortcomings, but should remain excellent sources of nutrients for senior cats if prescribed in the correct quantities by a veterinarian.
Advantages of wet food
Many cat owners decide to transition their cats over to wet food as they get older. This can be beneficial, since it is easier to chew and swallow for cats with gum and dental disease, which become more common as they get older. Cats who suffer from chronic kidney disease and cats prone to developing urinary crystals need sufficient fluids to prevent dehydration, and to ensure that toxins and possible crystals are efficiently flushed from their system. Wet food can supply the necessary moisture to help with these issues. Kidney diseases are particularly common among senior cats.
Wet food also often comes in pre-measured packaging, making it easier to supply the right amount of nutrients to senior cats. Quite often, cats with poor appetites prefer wet food, with its softer texture and increased scent, over solid, dry kibble. Most wet food can also easily be heated to enhance its scent and flavour.
Shortcomings of wet food
Wet food is often more expensive per volume when compared to kibble, and can affect the owner’s pocket in the long run. Moreover, once you open a tin of wet food, it is difficult to store the rest to prevent it from drying out or spoiling. The wet food will need to be temporarily stored in a sealed container to keep it fresh and safe for consumption. Dry kibble, on the other hand, is much easier to re-seal and store for longer periods of time.
Wet food should also not be left in your cat’s bowl for too long, as it might spoil, or even attract ants. This is problematic for cats who tend to eat small quantities at a time and leave the rest for later.
Owners have also found that wet food tends to get onto their cat’s nose and whiskers, but this should not be a problem, since cats are meticulous groomers. Some veterinarians also suspect that cats who are on a predominantly wet food-based diet are more prone to dental disease and tartar build-up on their teeth. Dry kibble might help to prevent this tartar and plaque build-up by ‘scratching’ it off the surface of the teeth.
Mixing wet and dry food
If possible, a good alternative for your senior cat is to mix wet and dry food. Please keep in mind that both the wet and dry food should be veterinarian prescribed and ideally from the same brand. This provides the benefits and convenience of dry kibble, while providing the extra moisture and flavour of wet food. Ask your veterinarian to help you calculate the quantity of each type of food needed to ensure that your cat’s nutritional requirements are met without over-feeding her.
Many owners have also found it convenient to add water to their cat’s dry kibble to soften it. This ensures that the recommended amount of dry kibble is fed, while providing extra moisture and making it easier for cats with gum and dental disease to chew their food.
Do not pour boiling water over the food, as this could burn your cat, but lukewarm water is safe. Remember, if it is too hot for you, it is too hot for your cat. Also, do not add milk to dry kibble, as most cats are unable to digest lactose. In fact, by about 12 weeks of age, most kittens lose the ability to digest lactose. While small amounts of milk may be tolerated, too much milk can lead to intestinal upset and diarrhoea.
Finding the balance
There are many benefits to feeding both dry and wet food, as long as both are of high quality and fed in the correct quantities. It is impossible to say that one is superior to the other – it all depends on the age, health and preference of each individual cat. Try different brands of both wet and dry food to see what your cat prefers and what works for her, without disregarding the quality. Remember, your veterinarian is a trained professional and will be able to assist. Ask your vet to help you choose the most suitable diet and determine the recommended daily allowance for your senior cat.
By Dr Johan Jordaan