Dry Cat Food (Kibble) - Cat Info Detective

Dry Cat Food (Kibble)

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Welcome curious cats! Skye Blake here, following the kibble trail to find what your cat wants you to know about dry cat food.

Before we venture into the world of kibble, let’s discover who to consult when making decisions about your cat’s food.

paw prints coming in from a distance

Who Should You Believe About Nutrition?

vet writing and curious grey tabby coming out of carrier

The first question you need to answer is “Who can I believe about nutrition and cat food?”

That’s a good question considering how many “experts” are out there on the internet.

Anyone can call themselves a pet nutritionist and even become certified.

But how do we know if their knowledge is complete and there aren’t dangerous gaps that can lead to nutritional deficiencies?

black cat & woman by computer

After snooping around a long time, I finally discovered that the most reliable starting point is with veterinarians, especially board-certified veterinary nutritionists.

Board-certified veterinary nutritionists are specialists who are the most educated, qualified nutrition experts available.

They have the most complete, well-rounded understanding of nutrition.

You can find them at American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Scientist pouring liquid into a test tube - vet

There are also qualified vet nutritionists who haven’t taken the board tests but have the knowledge to help with your cat’s dietary needs.

Your veterinarian can recommend nutritionists for specific medical situations or if you want more help with your cat’s diet.

Discover more at “What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

What is Dry Kibble?

kibble (dry) cat food

Dry food (a.k.a., “kibble”) is popular because it’s economical, easy to measure and feed, and can sit out all day.

But there are claims that dry food causes health problems and is generally bad for cats.

So, what’s true?

Let’s start with what dry cat food is…

kibble (dry) cat food in bowl

Dry cat food, a.k.a. “kibble”, started in the 1960’s as cereal-based food mixed with meat or dairy.

It consists of grains rather than meat since they’re a cheaper protein source.

Meats also don’t have the texture or structure to make into dry food.

dry cat food in red bowl

Soy, rice, corn, wheat, and barley are some of the grains you’ll find in these foods.

Some dry food is “grain-free” and includes vegetables instead like carrots, peas, and potatoes for the starch.

How Is Kibble Made?

dry cat food in cat shaped bowl

Kibble goes through a heating process to create hard pellets coated with fat that appeals to dogs and cats.

Manufacturers formulate their dry food to replace any nutrients destroyed during processing with either natural or synthetic vitamins and minerals.

Reputable companies make sure their kibble products are nutritionally complete and balanced, so your cat gets what he needs.

heads of wheat - close up - litter

Words like “grain-free” and “organic” appeal to people but don’t necessarily mean anything helpful about the nutrition in the food.

Some people question using synthetics like taurine because they come from China and other places outside the U.S. where purity and quality are sometimes a problem.

See “How Is Cat Food Made?” to learn details about the process.

How to Evaluate Ingredients
gold, white potatoes

Pet food companies, like others, use marketing words that are trendy and sound healthy, but have no scientific backing.

Learn how to interpret what’s on the label of dry cat food bags… it’ll save you some grey hairs!

The nutrients in the ingredients are more important than the ingredients themselves.

The most important thing is that the food meets or exceeds AAFCO or WSAVA recommendations for a complete and balanced diet.

Discover more at “What Nutrients Do Cats Need?

Buying the Right Amount

cat sitting between bags of cat food

Dry cat food has a stable shelf life of about 10-12 months.

Manufacturers use preservatives to accomplish this, often using natural preservatives like vitamins E and C.

“One common mistake cat owners make…is buying too big a bag of kibble, thinking they are getting a bargain.

Until the bag of kibble is opened, the nutrient profile is stable.” 1 dry-canned-or-semi-moist-food-choices-for-cats, VCA Animal Hospital

Dark tabby cat eating kibble off ground

“But once the bag is opened, the food is subjected to oxidative stress – meaning that exposure to the air degrades some of the nutrients and contributes to the food becoming stale.

It is best to purchase just enough kibble to last 4 to 6 weeks – 8 weeks maximum.

Once you and your veterinarian have determined the correct daily portion to feed, it should be easy to calculate how many pounds of kibble you need for that time period.” 2 dry-canned-or-semi-moist-food-choices-for-cats, VCA Animal Hospital (vcahospitals.com)

Hygiene

man washing hands at sink

Most people know to wash their hands, dishes, and disinfect counters when making their own food.

Yet people don’t typically think to use the same care when dealing with kibble.

It’s dry, not messy, and can easily be poured into a bowl… set it and forget it.

soapy hands, washing

Often the bowls aren’t cleaned much, if at all, especially when used outside.

The lack of good cleaning habits when using kibble contributes to illnesses that are sometimes blamed on the food.

Good hygiene is always the best way to prevent the spread of contamination, no matter what kind of food you feed your cat.

What Are the Claims About Dry Cat Food?

word balloons

There are various claims about dry cat food that are confusing… some are true, but others are flat out wrong.

Many of these claims are about the ingredients in kibble and whether they cause disease in cats.

The facts greatly affect how you view these products and whether they help or harm your cat.

This excellent video explains more…

“Is Canned Better than Kibble for Cats? A Veterinarian Explains…, Dr. Em, Vet Med Corner, May 2022

1 – Dry Food is Bad for Cats

sick cat vomiting the food

This claim is very broad and general (a.k.a. “sweeping generalization”) which should make you suspicious.

Sweeping generalizations like this are typically wrong because they’re too broad and don’t account for individual situations… or facts!

The basis for this claim is a misunderstanding about cats being “obligate carnivores”.

sliced beef liver, offal

Many people believe “obligate carnivore” means cats can only eat meat, when it actually means they need nutrients found only in meat as part of their diet.

Food at its most basic is a vehicle for the body to get nutrients it can absorb and convert to energy.

The ingredients themselves aren’t as important as the nutrients in them.

eating from dish outdoors

Dry food doesn’t contain meat but does have meat nutrients added (like taurine) so it’s complete and balanced.

The ingredients that make nutrients available most easily (“bioavailability”) are best no matter what form they take.

meat displayed in store

Some components, like fiber, pass through the digestive system without being absorbed.

They’re still “bioavailable” because they do a necessary job.

The look and taste of it must appeal to your cat but are secondary to the nutritional value.

2 – Certain Ingredients Like Grain Are Bad

grass blades, seeds

There are various claims about kibble ingredients being unhealthy, particularly grains and carbohydrates.

This comes from the belief that a cat’s digestive system can’t digest carbohydrates or plant matter, but is this belief accurate?

The simple answer is no, it’s not accurate… studies show that cats can digest carbohydrates, just not too many.

High carb meals can cause digestive upsets like diarrhea, bloating and gas, just like when humans eat too much!

The Scientific Answer
Cassava (yuca) root - litter, dry cat food, carbohydrates

Here’s the scientific explanation about cats and carbs…

“Cats can utilize carbohydrates as an energy source, and they can adapt metabolically to different macronutrient ratios in the diet, so the simplistic notion of carbohydrates as “toxic” to cats isn’t supported.”3 Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?”, skeptvet.com

chia seeds, carbohydrates, fiber, cat food

“Early studies by Morris et al. observed that adult cats could efficiently digest all carbohydrates added to a meat-based diet, despite the described evolutionary adaptations along the feline gastrointestinal tract…

The total apparent digestibility of starch is reported to be 40–100%, depending on source and treatment… which proves that cats can digest and absorb carbohydrates.”4 Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy? – PMC (nih.gov)

heads of wheat - close up - litter

“As in other mammals, proper processing and cooking is necessary.

Carbohydrate sources are not provided to cats as raw ingredients.

Typically, carbohydrate sources are ground and cooked during the extrusion or canning process, which improves digestibility.”5 Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy? – PMC (nih.gov)

stomach, digestive pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, vomiting

“Poorly digestible carbohydrates or excessive amounts of highly digestible carbohydrates that are not digested in the small intestine provide substrate for microbial fermentation in the colon.

High carbohydrate intake in cats therefore increases colonic and [fecal] organic acid concentrations and reduces [fecal] pH…

Also, adverse digestive effects, such as [diarrhea], flatulence and bloating, may be induced…”6 Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy? – PMC (nih.gov)

Discover more at “What Nutrients Do Cats Need?“.

3 – Highly Processed Food Is Unhealthy

kibble (dry) cat food in bowl

This claim is an extension of the idea that highly processed food is bad for people.

Whether or not food processing is bad for people is a topic for human nutritionists to determine.

In the feline world there are no studies yet that prove any issues with processing.

Cooking with high heat can destroy some nutrients but they’re added back in later in the process.

4 – Kibble Causes Obesity

fat cat on floor

Obesity is when too much fat builds up in the body, affecting both the appearance and health of your cat.

It happens when the owner feeds their cat too many calories per day, not because the food is dry or contains grains.

Obesity is linked to a number of diseases and chronic conditions, including diabetes mellitus and arthritis, so it’s important not to overfeed.

kitten sniffing coffee in mug

Discuss your cat’s specific dietary needs with your vet to be sure you’re giving the correct number of calories and nutrients for her stage of life, activity level, and medical condition.

Whatever diet you use, measure the amount for each day and spread it out among many small meals.

Food puzzles are a good way to satisfy your cat’s need to hunt, slow down a gulper, and get her exercising.

5 – Kibble Causes Diabetes Mellitus

cat eating kibble from food bowl

The claim that kibble causes diabetes mellitus (“DM”) in cats is based on two beliefs…

  • kibble contains high amounts of carbohydrates
  • carbohydrates cause diabetes

The problem with this claim is that carbohydrates don’t cause diabetes.

white cat washing back

When claiming that food causes diseases, it’s important to understand the disease under discussion.

This video gives a good explanation of Diabetes Mellitus, symptoms, and the fact that food does not cause it in cats.

Diabetes Mellitus – Do You Know What to Watch Out For? Dr. Em, Pet Vet Corner, August 5, 2022
Control Calories
tuxedo kitten showing tummy, napping

The real issue is feeding too many calories which causes obesity, contributing to the development of diabetes.

Genetics play a part in the development of diabetes as well, so even though you keep your cat at a healthy weight, diabetes can still occur.

Whether the food is wet or dry has nothing to do with what causes disease.

Dry Food & Managing Diabetes
cat eating meat

Neither carbohydrates nor dry food are causes of diabetes, but they can be helpful when managing this disease.

Discuss your cat’s needs with your vet and/or consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.

“[T]he amount of carbohydrates does NOT cause DM.

tabby Maine Coon cat stretching front legs

However, it should be noted that we can use the amounts/ratios of carbs (especially when thinking about soluble/insoluble fiber) to help treat diabetes and maintain a more stable blood sugar level.” 7 Dr. Em, Vet Med Corner

“Though there is some inconsistency among studies, most research has failed to find that dietary carbohydrates [are] a significant risk factor for DM in cats.

siberian cat meowing

One study even found cats who developed diabetes were less likely to be fed dry foods than cats without DM.

There is evidence that reduced-carbohydrate diets may be useful in management of feline DM, though such diets can be counterproductive and promote obesity if they are very high in fat.” 8 Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?”, skeptvet.com

Discover more at “Feeding the Diabetic Cat“.

High Protein, Low Carb Diets
cat sitting between bags of cat food

Feeding a high protein, low carb diet does NOT prevent diabetes.

This is a myth that won’t go away and can actually be harmful.

Some high protein, low carb diets are not complete and balanced which can lead to dangerous nutritional deficiencies.

fat, obese ginger cat lounging in sink

They can also be higher in fat, which has more calories than carbohydrates, making your cat gain weight quickly.

High protein, low carb diets can be helpful when managing diabetes, but only under the direction of your vet or vet nutritionist.

You can find board-certified vet nutritionists at American College of Veterinary Nutrition | ACVN.

6 – Cats Don’t Get Enough Moisture from Dry Food

black, white photo of cat drinking water, dry cat food

This is a legitimate claim because dry food has the water removed.

Kibble has about 10-15% water and wet canned foods have about 70-80% water.

Domestic cats descend from “desert dwellers” and don’t instinctively search out water sources as other animals do.

Dark tabby drinking water from a pipe

Instead, they get moisture from prey like mice (about 70% water).

If your cat eats kibble this problem is easily fixed by having sources of water available in bowls and fountains.

The important thing is to keep it fresh by cleaning bowls and replacing with fresh water daily.

Follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning fountains.

kitten curious about stream of water from faucet, dry cat food

“There are many factors that affect water intake in cats other than the form of the food, including the protein and mineral content and the energy density, so simply feeding a canned diet is not guaranteed to increase water intake or reduce urine specific gravity.” 9 Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?”, skeptvet.com

Find more at “How to Feed a Cat” and “Cat Food & Water Bowls“.

7 – Dry Food Causes Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseases

ginger cat lounging in cardboard box

We’ve established that dry food doesn’t provide all the water cats need to flush the urinary system properly.

As with Diabetes Mellitus, it’s important to understand urinary and kidney diseases to be able to answer this question.

There are a number of different kidney and urinary tract diseases.

medical containers of urine

If you’d like more information about them, start here… Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

Our question is “Does dry food cause urinary tract diseases?”

Some scientific studies have been done with mixed results.

Scientists have found that the concentration of cat urine is about the same for both dry and wet canned food.

tabby, white cat washing back

Water is the important factor in kidney and urinary health and that’s easily provided in bowls or fountains.

Food is important for general health as a complete and balanced diet but there are no confirmed links to urinary diseases.

“Some studies have identified consumption of dry diets as a risk factor for FIC and urolithiasis while others have not confirmed this link.

tabby, white curious cat looking in bowl

Other research has even found that cats who develop FIC are more likely to be fed canned food than control cats, suggesting canned foods could increase FIC risk in some cases.

Similarly, while dry diets are often cited as a risk factor for the development of CKD, research has consistently failed to support this purported association.” [emphasis added]10 Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?”, skeptvet.com

Managing Urinary Diseases
cat sitting between bags of dry cat food

Even though diet doesn’t cause the problems, certain foods are helpful in managing them.

Prescription diets are specially formulated for these conditions with low mineral content, etc.

Some urinary foods are available in both dry and wet formulas so you can choose which your cat will eat.

tabby cat licking nose, dry cat food

“…while canned diets certainly have a role in the management of CKD and urolithiasis, moisture content is not the only relevant variable, and dry diets can have benefits in patients with these conditions as well.” 11 Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?”, skeptvet.com

If you suspect a problem with your cat, have him examined by a vet right away and discuss what maintenance diet is appropriate for your cat.

You might also work with a veterinary nutritionist to determine the best diet, since it’s a complicated situation.

You can find board-certified vet nutritionists at American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

8 – Dry Food Cleans Feline Teeth

side view of white cat's teeth; dental disease, dry cat food

This claim has been around a long time and many vets believe it, but there’s no evidence that dry food is any better at cleaning teeth than any other type of food.

Discover more at “Dental Care for Cats“.

9 – Kibble Isn’t a “Species-Appropriate” Diet

tabby, white cat winking with mouth open, teeth

What is “species-appropriate”?

It means a diet consisting of the type of food an animal would eat in the wild.

In other words, a horse eats grains and grass, and a wolf eats meat.

Feral cats eat birds, rodents and bugs, so the claim is that housecats should eat these as well (or something similar) to be at their healthiest.

white cat washing back; kibble

This claim certainly seems logical but there’s no evidence that it makes any difference as long as the diet is nutritionally complete and balanced.

Humans like to romanticize nature, including us fabulous felines!

cat with mouse in mouth

This is part of why this claim appeals to people and some use it when arguing that raw food is better than dry.

Again, there’s no scientific evidence to back this claim.

Discover more at “What Nutrients Do Cats Need?“, “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks“, and “What’s the Best Cat Food?

10 – Dry Food Has More Recalls Than Other Foods

tabby, siamese licking nose

There are claims that dry food is bad because it has more recalls than other foods.

When a recall happens in any industry it makes people worried that a company’s products are dangerous.

But what do recalls really mean? Are you unable to trust a company that has recalls?

Let’s discover more at “Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?

11 – Dry Food Can Be Contaminated

fly on piece of kibble in bowl

This claim is true… dry food can be contaminated and go bad.

This is one reason why inspections happen at each stage of the production process.

There’s a long road between the farms where the ingredients begin and your cat’s food bowl.

tractor-farming

Kibble is cooked at high temperatures that kill bacteria, but packaging and storage are important too.

Kibble doesn’t need refrigeration and can last a while when unopened but also attracts bugs and rodents if not properly stored.

It contains fats, though, that can turn rancid in warm places like warehouses, store shelves, and your pantry.

corn kernels used in cat litter, dry cat food, carbohydrates

Heat and humidity create environments where molds, bacteria and fungi thrive.

One concern with mold is aflatoxin, a poison given off by mold as a defense mechanism.

People, pets and livestock can get very sick by eating or inhaling it.

Aflatoxin grows in moist, warm conditions.

cat looking stern

Agricultural inspectors test crops at various stages of growth, storage and production, but it’s impossible to completely prevent it.

Corn, peanuts and cottonseed are the most susceptible crops.12“AFLATOXINS : Occurrence and Health Risks”, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Animal Science – Plants Poisonous to Livestock, 2018, Updated February 28, 2019

Deciding if Dry Cat Food is Best for Your Cat

dry cat food in cat shaped bowl

When deciding what type of food is best for both you and your cat consider your lifestyle and expenses.

For many people dry food works best because it’s convenient and easy to use.

Look for any product that say it’s complete and balanced nutrition.

These also should have a statement that it meets or exceeds AAFCO and/or WSAVA recommendations.

black cat sitting in grass

Kibble is typically cheaper than other types of food, but higher quality costs more, as with any food.

Prescription dry food is probably the most expensive, simply because it’s specialty food.

Check out these related pages for info about other types of cat food…


Cat Food!How Is Cat Food Made?
Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?
Meat By Products In Cat FoodPet Food Regulations & Oversight
Reading Cat Food LabelsHow to Feed a Cat
Cat Food & Water BowlsCat Food Puzzles
What Nutrients Do Cats Need?Are Carbs Bad for Cat?
Can Cats Drink Milk?Food for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition
What Vitamins Do Cats Need?What’s the Best Cat Food?
Big Cat Food Paying Off Vets & Other MythsHomemade Cat Food
Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks
The Best Cat Food BrandsThe Best Kitten Food
Wet Cat FoodCat Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Dental Care for CatsFat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?
What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

AFLATOXINS : Occurrence and Health Risks“, Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Animal Science – Plants Poisonous to Livestock, 2018, Updated February 28, 2019

Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?” by Dr. Brennen McKenzie, skeptvet.com

Carb Confusion Part 1: The Role of Carbohydrate in Pet Foods” – Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School (tufts.edu)

Carb Confusion: Part 2 – Measuring and Comparing Carbohydrate in Pet Foods” – Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School (tufts.edu)

Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy?” – PMC (nih.gov)

Cat Food Recalls (Updated on Daily Basis)” – All About Cats

The Chronic Kidney Disease” – Catwatch Newsletter

Commercial vs Homemade Cat Diets: What you need to know” – PubMed (nih.gov)

Difference Between Simple and Complex Carbohydrates | Definition, Digestion, Absorption” (pediaa.com)

Dry-canned-or-semi-moist-food-choices-for-cats“, VCA Animal Hospital (vcahospitals.com)

Feeding the Diabetic Cat” – Catwatch Newsletter

How Pet Food Is Made” – Pet Food Institute

Is Dry Food Bad for Cats?“, noahsarkvet.com

Latest Pet Food Recall Information:” PetfoodIndustry.com

Mycotoxins in Pet Food:  A Review on Worldwide Prevalence and Preventative Strategies” by Maxwell C. K. Leung, Gabriel Díaz-Llano, Trevor K. Smith, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (acs.org), December 5, 2006

Pet Food Recalls – post on Facebook

Recalls & Withdrawals“, FDA

Urinary Tract Disorders in Cats” – Veterinary Medicine at Illinois

What’s a carnivore?” – nutrition rvn

WSAVA-Nutrition-Assessment-Guidelines-2011

Updated January 13, 2023

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