Welcome curious cat lovers! Skye Blake here diving into the world of wet cat food. What’s in it? Is it nutritious enough? How does it compare to dry and raw food?
What brands are best?
Let’s discover more…
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- Who Should You Believe About Nutrition?
- What Is Wet Cat Food?
- How Is Wet Food Made?
- Types of Wet Cat Food
- #1 Wet Food Has More Water Than Dry Food
- #2 Wet Cat Food Can't Sit Out Very Long
- #3 Wet Food Is Expensive
- #4 Wet Cat Food is Better Than Dry
- #5 Meat By-Products are Bad
- #6 Wet Cat Food Causes Dental Disease
- #7 Wet Cat Food Is Too Rich
- #8 Wet Cat Food Is Messy
- #9 Wet Cat Food Contains Diseased & Euthanized Animals
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
Who Should You Believe About Nutrition?
Let’s start with considering who you can trust for guidance with cat nutrition and 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?
The most reliable starting point is with veterinarians, especially board-certified veterinary nutritionists.
These nutritionists are the most educated, best qualified experts available.
They have the most complete, well-rounded understanding of nutrition.
You can find them at American College of Veterinary Nutrition | ACVN.
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.
Read more at “What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?“
What Is Wet Cat Food?
So, what is it anyway?
Basically, canned wet cat food is meat or fish in water with vegetables, vitamins, minerals and other ingredients added to make a complete and balanced meal.
Wet cat food is messy and requires more care and cleanup than dry food.
It’s perishable and cannot be out of the refrigerator very long before bacteria begin to build up.
It’s important to measure the amount your cat needs and will eat per meal, both to limit waste and to control the number of calories.
It should also have a statement that it meets or exceeds AAFCO and/or WSAVA nutritional recommendations.
Be sure to look for food that says “complete and balanced” on the label.
Here’s how to calculate the amount of wet food to give your cat… How to Calculate How Much Wet Food to Feed a Cat | PetMD
Treats, toppers and supplements aren’t full meals, so they don’t have all the nutrients your cat needs.
Discover more about AAFCO and WSAVA at “Pet Food Regulations & Oversight“.
How Is Wet Food Made?
Wet or semi-moist cat food is made using specific processes and procedures that are actually quite interesting.
This is similar to how dry food is made, the main difference being removal of water from dry food.
Learn about this fascinating process at “How Is Cat Food Made?“
Types of Wet Cat Food
There’s quite a selection of wet cat food for your picky pal! Let’s take a look at them…
Traditional Pâté Loaf
Did you know commercial canned wet food has been around longer than kibble?
Traditional wet food has been around since the 1930’s in pâté form.
Pâté is simply puréed finely ground meat pressed into a round loaf shape.
It can be fed as a whole loaf, chopped up or mashed, depending on how your finicky feline prefers it.
Chunks with Gravy
Wet food is also available as chunks of meat in gravy (a popular choice with us felines!)
This can be higher in calories than pâté, so you’ll have to factor that into your cat’s total daily diet.
Chunks with Broth
Similar to meat in gravy, is meat in broth… chunks of meat in a lighter sauce, sometimes including vegetables.
Shredded is a popular style of wet cat food that’s in long thin pieces, similar to what people use when making barbeque sandwiches.
Flaked food is similar to shredded but the meat is separated into small flat pieces, not torn apart or chunked, similar to what you find in a can of tuna.
It comes in broth or gravy and can have extra pieces like bacon or cheese.
Some canned wet food is in mince form instead of chunks. Minced meat is similar but leaner and finer than ground meat.
Minced and pâté are both good for cats with few or no teeth.
Pouched Wet Cat Food
Pouches of cat food come as full meals, supplements, toppers, or treats and can be more convenient than cans.
The only real difference between the two types is the packaging.
Pouched wet food meals should say “complete and balanced” and/or that they meet or exceed AAFCO and/or WSAVA nutritional recommendations.
These often come in flakes or chunks either in gravy or broth and can contain vegetables as well.
They can also come as pâté, stew, mousse, or broth.
Commercial Fresh (Refrigerated)
Fresh cat food is considered wet cat food because the water hasn’t been removed.
It’s marketed differently from canned food… similar to what you might have for your own dinner.
Fresh cat food has whole protein sources like chicken, lamb, or beef, with added vegetables and whole grains, cooked at a lower temperature than dry and canned wet food.
It can sometimes have freeze-dried raw bits mixed in.
Keep in mind that fresh cat food will not be cooked enough, if at all, to kill bacteria and parasites.
It has no preservatives, so must be kept refrigerated or frozen.
Some fresh products are available in stores or through subscription services (like Smalls) that create customized meals specifically for your cat’s needs.
Compare prices because these can be expensive, and be sure they’re 100% complete and balanced, meeting or exceeding AAFCO and/or WSAVA nutritional recommendations.
Do You Need Supplements With Wet Food?
Supplements are vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other micronutrients that usually come in pill, liquid, or powder form.
If you’re feeding a complete and balanced diet in any form, your healthy cat should have everything in the food already and not need supplements.
Supplements should only be used under a vet’s supervision for cats with specific nutritional deficiencies or medical conditions.
Toppers are bits of food or broth you can add to your cat’s food to make it more enticing, especially for finicky or sick cats.
Inaba makes a gelée topper using bits of meat in gelatin.
Tiki Cat makes a mousse form that you can smear on your cat’s paw to be licked.
Freeze-dried seasoning topper is ground raw fish or other meat you can use on any type of food.
Even though some toppers are freeze-dried raw meats, you can use them on kibble or cooked canned foods.
If any person or animal in your household has immune problems or chronic diseases, you should not feed raw in any form because of the danger from bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli.
You don’t want to risk transmission of these dangerous bacteria to people from animal waste and saliva.
Treats can be any type of food that you break into small, easily handled pieces.
They’re usually bits of meat or fish, whatever your cat prefers, and are primarily for training to keep your cat’s attention and as a reward.
Treats are NOT complete and balanced, so they aren’t substitutes for a regular diet.
Don’t forget to count any treat calories as part of your cat’s daily allowance.
They should total no more than 10% of the total number of calories your cat gets each day.
Some treats are high in calories, so experts usually recommend low-calorie treats like cooked chicken or liver bits.
Discover more expert advice about treats at “The Biggest Mistake in Giving Treats“.
Freeze-dried treats are typically raw fish or other meats (see “Toppers” above).
Freezing does NOT kill bacteria so it’s important to wash your hands when handling any foods, especially raw meat.
Learn more about dealing with raw food at “Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?” and “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks“.
Usually when we think of semi-moist treats, we think of Tender Vittles, the original semi-moist pouched treats.
People and cats loved it for 31 years, but concerns about some ingredients being unhealthy led to declining sales and removal from the market in 2007.
Pounce® treats are the modern version of Tender Vittles.
Semi-moist cat treats come in small bags as soft-chew pellet treats.
They consist of various protein sources, like organ meats, fish, seafood, cheese, and poultry, along with grains and other ingredients.
Claims About Wet Cat Food
There are a number of claims people make about wet cat food that may or may not be true.
Let’s find out…
#1 Wet Food Has More Water Than Dry Food
This claim is true. Dry food has about 10-15% water and wet canned foods have about 70-80% water.
In cases of kidney or urinary problems, getting enough water into your cat is extremely important to flush out toxins.
Domestic cats are descendants of “desert dwellers” and don’t instinctively search out water sources as other animals do.
This isn’t a reason to stop using dry food (unless your cat prefers wet) since you can easily provide water for your cat.
Just have at least one bowl of water available that you wash and refresh daily.
Some cats prefer running water so if yours is one, a fountain might be a good possibility.
#2 Wet Cat Food Can’t Sit Out Very Long
True… wet food is perishable so you can’t leave it out more than 20-30 minutes.
After that it begins to spoil, and bacteria grow that can make your cat sick, so pick up and wash the bowl after a half hour.
Since we felines prefer many small meals per day instead of 2 or 3 big ones, this can be a problem if you’re not home all day.
You can use wet food for morning and evening meals and dry kibble in food puzzles to entertain and satisfy your cat during the day.
Just be sure you keep the total amount within the daily calorie limit your vet has recommended.
Carefully warm leftovers before serving because cats prefer warm (not hot) food.
Once you open a can anything leftover should be refrigerated and used within 24 hours.
#3 Wet Food Is Expensive
Wet cat food can be expensive, especially specialty foods because you’ll probably be feeding 2-3 cans a day.
The best way to compare costs is determine how much your cat needs each day.
Then, just as with human food, compare unit prices to find the most economical complete and balanced food you can.
When comparing to dry food, remember that it usually takes more wet to make your cat full because it has less carbohydrates and fiber that give the feeling of fullness.
Here’s how to calculate the amount of wet food to give your cat… How to Calculate How Much Wet Food to Feed a Cat | PetMD
#4 Wet Cat Food is Better Than Dry
A popular misunderstanding is that wet cat food is better than dry kibble.
This is too broad and simplistic an idea… there’s a lot more to nutrition than whether food is wet or dry.
“Macronutrient content can vary dramatically between diets, and while dry foods are typically higher in carbohydrates than canned diets, they can be higher or lower than canned foods in fat or protein.
The micronutrient content of a diet is also critical, as the consequences of feeding taurine deficient diets to cats illustrates.
Other variables, such as calorie density, the amount of food fed, and the feeding pattern (e.g., number of meals per day) can have as much or more impact on health than the general form of the diet.”1 Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?, (skeptvet.com), September 3, 2019
Beyond nutrition, genetics and stress affect whether your cat stays healthy.
Discover more at “What Nutrients Do Cats Need?“
#5 Meat By-Products are Bad
Since canned cat food usually contains some meat by-products it’s important to understand what by-products are and whether this is true.
Discover more at “Meat By Products In Cat Food“.
#6 Wet Cat Food Causes Dental Disease
“Unless you are feeding a prescription veterinary dental diet, the type of food you provide for your cat has little to no impact on his or her teeth.
The propensity to develop dental disease is influenced far more by factors such as genetics, conformation, and your home dental care routine.
The best way to prevent dental disease for your cat is by brushing his or her teeth daily.
This practice removes food particles and prevents plaque buildup.
If you are unable to brush your cat’s teeth daily, doing so at least a few times a week is still beneficial.”2 Is wet food bad for cats? A vet’s view | PetsRadar
So, whether you feed wet or dry food, you should be brushing or wiping your cat’s teeth at least a few times a week.
Discover more about dealing with feline fangs at “Dental Care for Cats“.
#7 Wet Cat Food Is Too Rich
There’s a rumor going around that wet food is “too rich” for your cat’s digestive system to handle.
The phrase “too rich” isn’t very clear but seems to indicate that there’s something in wet food that causes vomiting, diarrhea or other digestive upset.
However, clinical evidence has shown that the majority of healthy cats can easily digest the ingredients in wet food.
If your vet has diagnosed gastrointestinal issues, like inflammatory bowel disease or actual food allergies, your cat will need a special diet.
You can also consult with a vet nutritionist, who will work with you and your vet to help develop a complete and balanced diet to fit your cat’s needs.
If you’re worried about your cat’s ability to digest wet food, introduce it a little at a time with her usual food.
Then increase the amount after seeing there’s no change in her poop or appetite and has the usual amount of energy for her stage of life.
Keep increasing until you get to the appropriate portion amount and consult your vet with any questions.
#8 Wet Cat Food Is Messy
Yes, wet cat food is messy, but isn’t a problem for cats who eat normally.
But, as with all things “cat”, there are exceptions… such as a white longhaired cat who’s a messy eater, or cat who loves to use her paw to eat.
We are good groomers though, so unless your cat has trouble self-grooming, we can handle any mess!
If your cat can’t get all the food off during grooming or won’t let you wipe it, the food can dry and become a nuisance for you both.
In that case, dry food might be better… if your cat decides to accept it.
If you don’t like food getting on the floor, there are ways to deal with this.
See “How to Feed a Cat” for more ideas.
#9 Wet Cat Food Contains Diseased & Euthanized Animals
Under the FD&C Act any food that is made from a diseased animal or an animal that died other than by slaughter is adulterated (inferior).
These cannot be used in pet foods.
In 2018 there was a recall of a few brands of dog food because low levels of the euthanasia drug pentobarbital were found in some of their products.
The FDA determined that the levels were low enough to not likely cause problems but said no levels are acceptable.
“Pentobarbital residues are not affected by rendering or canning temperatures and pressures (such as heat treatments capable of killing pathogenic organisms), and therefore we do not allow the use of animals euthanized with a chemical substance such as pentobarbital in the manufacture of pet foods.”3 Questions & Answers: Contaminants in Pet Food, FDA
Discover more about the highly regulated pet food industry at “Pet Food Regulations & Oversight“.
Deciding What Wet Food is Best for Your Cat
If you decide wet cat food is best for your buddy, there are some important things to consider when choosing brands…
- Your cat’s stage of life (adult cat, senior, kitten)
- The number of calories per serving and total calories needed per day
- Your cat’s health needs (special needs like kidney problems or diabetes)
- It must say “complete and balanced” and/or that it’s meets or exceeds AAFCO and/or WSAVA nutritional recommendations
- Reputable, established companies that have vet nutritionists formulating the recipes to be sure they’re complete and balanced nutrition
You’ll probably have to read the label’s fine print to discover this information but it’s important to do so.
Learn more at “Reading Cat Food Labels“.
You can find out how to decide which companies are reputable at “Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?“
Check out these related pages for more on the many aspects of kitty nutrition and food…
Related Pages of Interest
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
“6 Things Your Vet Wants You to Know About Cat Food “, by Amanda MacMillan, Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM, April 01, 2018, webmd.com
“18 Different Types of Cat Food: What’s Best for Your Cat?“, Excited Cats
“The People behind Animal Feed and Pet Food“, aafco.org, 2019”
“AAFCO-Approved Pet Food: Everything You Need to Know“, PetMD
“About AMS | Agricultural Marketing Service” (usda.gov)
“The Association of American Feed Control Officials” (aafco.org)
“The Biggest Mistake in Giving Treats” – Catwatch Newsletter, Published: May 9, 2013, Updated: May 13, 2020
“Canned or Dry Food: Which is Better for Cats?“, Skeptvet (skeptvet.com)
“Do Cats Need Wet Food? – How to Choose a Wet Cat Food” by Emily Drew, PetMag.com, February 12, 2021
Facebook Nutrition Groups: “Feed Cats Like Cats – Feline Nutrition“, “Feline Nutrition & Cat Food Discussion“
“FDA’s Regulation of Pet Food“, FDA.gov
“Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Definition” (investopedia.com)
“How-Pet-Food-is-Made“, Pet Food Institute (petfoodinstitute.org)
“How pet food is made – making, used, processing, parts, components, product, industry, machine“, How Products Are Made (madehow.com)
“How to Calculate How Much Wet Food to Feed a Cat”, by Jennifer Coates, DVM, PetMD, November 2, 2018
“Is wet food bad for cats? A vet’s view“, PetsRadar
“Pet Food“, FDA
“Questions & Answers: Contaminants in Pet Food“, FDA, July 29, 2021
“Raw, Refrigerated, and Dry Pet Foods“, Anasazi Animal Clinic (anasazivet.com), January 25, 2022
“Wet vs. Dry Cat Food, or Both?”, by Cathy Meeks, MS, DVM, DACVIM, PetMD.com, January 19, 2021
“What Happened To Tender Vittles Cat Food”, Find Out Here, All Animals Faq, February 5, 2022
Updated January 17, 2023