When you wander down the pet food aisle — or aisles, in the case of some large stores — do you feel overwhelmed by the dizzying number of options available from pet food companies? If you do, you’re not alone. Many pet parents find choosing a food for their dog to be a daunting task, and it starts with deciding between wet and dry dog food. A common question pet parents often ask is, “Is canned dog food good for dogs?”
To help answer your wet food vs. dry food questions, here are several things to consider when choosing between dry and wet food. A quick note before we dive in: dog and cat food isn’t the same, so stick with the dog food section if you’re a dog owner. Leave the cat food for the kitties.
Nutritional Content of Wet vs. Dry Dog Food
Whether you feed a dry or wet dog food doesn’t matter for most dogs, as long as the food is nutritionally complete and balanced for your dog’s age and life stage. Commercial dog food — either wet or dry — that includes a nutritional adequacy statement on the label from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) will deliver the nutrients your dog needs. That dog food has been formulated with ingredients that meet the nutritional needs of the dog that food is intended for and contains all the nutrients required and in the correct ratios for the life stage of that animal (i.e., gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance or all life stages).
This means that unless your dog has specific health concerns, you can choose the commercial dog food type (wet or dry) that you feel your dog prefers. You can also feed both wet and dry food products by feeding wet dog food for one meal and dry dog food for the other or by using wet dog food as a topper!
Choosing the Best Wet Food for Dogs
Wet food (also called canned food) has a higher moisture content than dry dog food, so wet food may be better for dogs with health issues such as urinary tract conditions or chronic kidney disease where hydration or increased water consumption is helpful. Dogs who have trouble chewing due to loss of teeth, misaligned jaws or a uniquely small mouth can find wet food easier to eat.
Wet food is often higher in protein and fat than most dry foods. If your dog doesn’t tolerate high-fat diets well, you’ll need to either find a low-fat wet food or feed a dry dog food.
Choosing the Best Dry Food for Dogs
In terms of feeding and storage, the most convenient type of dog food is dry kibble. In fact, most dog owners feed predominantly dry kibble, especially to larger dogs, for logistical and financial reasons. Measured portions of dry kibble can be left out all day without fear of spoiling for your dog to free feed. Dry food is also easier to use in a puzzle feeder, which provides both mental and physical stimulation. Because dry dog food contains less water than wet dog food (about 10 percent compared with 70 to 85 percent), dry diets can be less expensive to feed on a per-serving basis.
Some dog owners believe dry dog food provides dental health benefits. That may or may not be true — it depends on the specific food. Some dry dog food has an anti-tartar coating applied to the kibble that may help reduce tartar buildup. Other kibbles are formulated with interlocking fibers or at sizes that promote chewing to reduce plaque and tartar. Unless you’re feeding a dry dog food specifically made for dental health, you may see few if any oral health benefits from dry food. That’s especially true if your dog tends to gulp down their kibble without chewing. You should still brush your dog’s teeth regularly regardless of the food that’s fed to prevent dental disease.
Wet or Dry Food for Puppies?
Growing puppies generally need more calories, protein and fat, and higher levels of key minerals (calcium and phosphorus) than adult dogs. Additionally, large and giant breed puppies have different nutritional needs to smaller breeds. Therefore, the most important decision when choosing puppy food isn’t “wet food or dry food?” It’s choosing a food that is complete, balanced and formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of growing dogs. This could either be a puppy-specific formula or an “all life stages” diet.
It’s a good idea to feed your puppy both wet dog food and dry dog food so that they can experience the texture of both types. That way if there is a reason you need to feed them just wet food or dry food as an adult (e.g., a medical issue), they won’t turn their nose up at it. Once they’re accustomed to the texture of wet and dry foods, you can decide which food to feed them, or continue to feed both wet food and dry food.
What About Dog Food for Senior Dogs?
If your dog is a senior, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to eat senior dog food. If your dog is healthy, in good body condition and eating a high-quality complete and balanced diet, you may not need to change foods. Many adult or all-life-stages dog foods are as beneficial — and potentially more appropriate for a particular senior dog as some senior dog diets. However, if your dog has some health issues, your veterinarian may recommend a senior diet. Wet foods are a good option for senior dogs who have lost some of their sense of smell or who have poor appetites.
Transition to a New Dog Food Slowly
Whether it’s changing from a dry food to a wet food (or vice versa), or another reason for changing your dog’s food, you should always consult your veterinarian first. A sudden change in diet can upset your dog’s digestive tract, so if you do decide to change your pet’s diet, make the switch to the new diet gradually, over 10 to 14 days. Start by feeding three parts of the current diet mixed with one part of the new diet in their bowl. Over the next few days, gradually mix in more of the new diet and less of the current diet until your dog is eating only the new diet.
Dry Dog Food or Wet Dog Food: Making the “Right” Choice
So should you feed your dog dry or wet pet food — or maybe both? Commercial dog food with nutritional adequacy statements offer complete and balanced food that meet the same nutritional standards, so both types will provide adequate nutrition. But for some dogs and situations, one form may be more appropriate than the other — or maybe they just prefer wet food.
In the end, there’s no single right or wrong choice when deciding to feed dry food or wet food. What matters is that you make the decision based on your dog’s preference and needs, including any medical issues, and your lifestyle and budget. If you would like further help deciding on which food is right for your dog, take our interactive dog food quiz to learn what we recommend based on your dog’s preferences and needs.