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Canned Versus Dry Food: Which is Best?
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William Draper, DVM posted:
This is one of the most commonly asked questions in my practice. Answering it is not as simple as it may seem. There are several factors to be considered: the type of pet (dog, cat, etc.), age, health status (dental, kidney function, etc.), dietary indications (any food allergies?)...things of that nature.

For a healthy dog or cat, I generally recommend a dry diet. Dry diets not only lend to less build up of dental tartar and calculus (which can lead to tooth and gum disease), but also promote firmer, healthier stools in most cases. We humans just assume that, because of the smell and appearance, canned food "tastes better" and is more enticing to our pets. While there may be some truth to that, most pets enjoy dry foods as well.

Canned food, which we all know has more water content than dry food, can be better for pets that need help with keeping their bodies hydrated, such as those with kidney disease, diabetes, or chronic constipation. Also, pets who have had dental issues in the past and subsequent tooth loss many times find it easier to chew a softer, canned diet.

Smaller dogs and cats are usually a bit more pampered...and are more likely to be fed canned foods than larger dogs. Also, canned food can be more expensive, so feeding a larger dog dry food tends to be more economical.

There are lots of choices and lots of factors to consider. To make the best choice for your pet, be sure to consult your vet.

As for my pets, my dogs have some food allergies, so they're on a strict, hypoallergenic dry food diet. We do reward them with some canned food every once in a while. They get so excited...like my kids and I do when my wife lets us have ice cream .

So what do you feed your pets...and why?
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srstephanie responded:
Hi Dr Draper,

That's interesting that you recommend a dry diet for healthy pets. I thought the trend was more towards canned food diets, particularly for cats (I'm a cat owner). I hang out on a lot of feline health lists and it seems like more and more cats have urinary issues. With their origins as desert animals without a strong thirst instinct, it doesn't seem surprising that most of the cats that owners post about with urinary problems are fed dry food diets. It seems that the first suggestion when a cat is diagnosed with crystalluria, bladder stones, cystitis, kidney disease, etc is to put them on a canned food diet for the added moisture. My philosophy is that it might be easier to start with a canned food diet and maybe avoid the urinary problems in the first place.

Having said that, I got a new kitten last fall and she came to me with a preference for dry food. I'm still trying to convince her of the joys of canned food and have her up to about one small 3 oz can a day ... but still give her a little dry food. Her feces are rock hard, dry pebbles. I know that Dr Margie Scherk (an ABVP Feline specialist) always emphasizes that small, dry hard feces are the first sign of dehydration since the body draws water out of the colon when it doesn't have enough water. I just took my 14 month old kitten for a 6-month wellness checkup and most of her blood chem values are in the high normal range ... which, I'm told, also suggests mild dehydration. Which is all to say, for my kitten, I think the canned food is beneficial to increase her water intake (she also has two water fountains, a water bottle and 3 separate bowls of water around my small one-room apartment, but she just doesn't drink enough).

For cats, which are obligate carnivores and have bodies made for high protein ... do you find any problems with the higher carbohydrate (and lower protein) content of dry food? I've been told that the high carbohydrates in dry food is a factor in weight gain in cats, leading to obesity. And dry food kibbles have a high calorie content compared to the same amount of canned because of the moisture content.

Guess, I'm still not convinced that dry is best for my cat. Do you think I am wrong in my thinking?

Stephanie in Montreal
 
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luvingmypuppies responded:
Hello Dr. Draper, I have a question rather than a relpy. I hope that you may help. I have 2, 9 week old male pitt bull puppies. Is it normal for their testicals to start showing so young? I also have a 9 month old female chiweenie. When we got the puppies the breeder had them outside with the mother, and they were full of fleas along with little scaly sores that have healed. But one of the puppies has had these itty bitty patches (smaller than the little nipples and belly button) and the past few days two spots (the biggest around 1 cm) have been scratched or something and the skin beneath is a little red. He has also had diharrhea ever since last sunday up until today. And the wierd thing is my daughter has had this same looking diharrhea for a week along with multiple cultures and no answers. I was wondering if they had gotten each other sick. We did de worm them because the had some type of hard and long straw looking worms. I don't know if you can help, but I would really appreciate it if you could try. Thanks so much.
 
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Ponyrun2 responded:
I feed my dogs a "premium" (chicken, rice, and oatmeal) dry dog food... I've tried other brands but really like what they're on now... they're healthy and they have beautiful thick shiny healthy coats.... the only time they get canned is if I have to give them medications and then it's just the canned version of their dry....

I feed dry for the cleaner teeth aspect plus, on a dry weight basis, dry kibble is a LOT cheaper than canned... and I have 3 large dogs who could easily put away at least 2 to 3 cans EACH per day.... plus, dry food can be left out longer on those occasional days when my female doesn't finish her breakfast...

I will say that some days I think my dogs eat better than I do... I always go to the pet store first to buy their food before going to the grocery store to buy mine
 
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William Draper, DVM replied to srstephanie's response:
Stephanie: thanks so much for being my first respondent! As I stated, I generally recommend dry food for healthy dogs and cats. In the metro Atlanta area where I practice, 75% of the clientele we see are full-time working dog owners...and the owners of the 25% of cat patients are on-the-go folks as well. We ask clients about their lifestyles, and use that info to help us determine a best dietary (and general health) plan for their pets. Dry food is simply more convenient for most or our clients; and in many cases it's more important to make sure the pet is eating a healthy, high quality diet vs whether its from a bag or can.

Having said that, there are certainly a great deal of clients that we would recommend canned food for...regardless of life style. With the information you've supplied about your kitty- the higher chem/cbc values and your knowledge that she doesn't drink enough water- I certainly would say that in your case canned food might be a better option to help combat the potential dehydration. I have kidney failure patients, etc. that I strongly recommend canned food for.

How great of you to note cats being "obligate carnivores"...which we touched on in our WebMD community pet tv videos (should be up in the next couple of weeks). This means, as you know, that it is imperative that they have meat in their diets, and mainly for the life-essential benefits they get from animal tissues such as taurine. Fortunately, feline food suppliers provide this source in dry food with a synthetic form of this amino acid, so a cat can live their entire life on a high-quality dry diet without suffering from the issues of taurine-deficiency such as heart disease and blindness.

As far as protein/carbohydrate amounts in dry vs. canned food, it certainly must be taken into consideration with each patient. Owners of cats with obesity issues should have a discussion with their vets about dry vs canned- but it is important to note that their are dry foods as well that help control obesity- and with some control of carbs.

I hope I explained this well...please feel free to respond with more questions/comments. Thanks again!
 
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William Draper, DVM replied to Ponyrun2's response:
Excellent, Ponyrun2. Great job...and great to bring up the economics of canned vs dry food, as well as the ability to leave the dry out for longer periods of time. With 3 large dogs, you'd go through a case of food in 2-3 days!! Thanks for sharing that information.
 
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William Draper, DVM replied to luvingmypuppies's response:
luving: it is very normal to see their testicles at 9 weeks- most puppies "drop" theirs at 7-8 weeks.

As for the "chiweenie", sounds like you may be dealing with some sort of bacterial or fungal/yeast infection and should certainly take the pup in for an exam as soon as possible. There may be a need for some prescription meds.

There are parasites and bacteria that are transmissible between dogs and humans- these are called "zoonotic." Even if you dewormed the pups for "long straw looking worms" (which sound like roundworms), I would certainly get the pup checked for other things such as giardia, tapeworms or a bacterial infection. I'm glad your daughter has received medical attention, and hope she's feeling better...but make sure her doctor knows that the pup has been sick as well. It may help them consider other tests that have not been performed.

Hope this helps...best of luck to you.
 
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An_220976 responded:
try to feed my six dogs blue buffalo holistic food whch is expensive(15 dollars for a 6 pound bag). i give a little of alpo in the morning and blue buffalo with life bites they love. however i do switch to purina small bites if i can't afford the blue buffalo. not sure how u come up with dry food cheaper than canned food though. my 2 cats on the other hand get canned food all the time. one cat use to throw up from whatever dry food i bought.
 
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Ponyrun2 replied to An_220976's response:
if you dried out the canned food and compared it to the same amount of dry food the dry food is cheaper by weight.... with canned food you are paying money for a lot of water....
 
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Violets_are_Blue responded:
I have a 13 year old Lab who, back in her golden days, was incredibly food driven. She nearly ate a napkin that fell off our table because she believed it was food. That said, in her elder years, she's become less driven about eating her own food. At first we would add a little water to her dry food and that seemed to perk her up a bit but she caught on. Since she does get medication, she gets a small amount of canned with both meals which makes her exceptionally happy. It is a little more expensive but the medication does not fall apart with just the water and she's back to loving her meals again.

The two cats I have get a small bit of wet food every morning, mostly because one gets a glucosamine capsule every othjer morning. They receive dry food which they love as well. We never have a problem with food being left out longer than it should since they get small meals throughout the day.

As for wet being more expensive, it is. Taking Blue Buffalo for example (since they provide a kcal/kg and kcal/cup to roughly convert to cups/pound), a 6 pound bag for a 10 pound dog being fed 1/2 cup a day would last about 45 days. You would need 2 cases (24 cans) of canned food to feed that same dog 1/2 can a day for the same amount of time. 2 cases would cost around $46 while that one bag would be about $17. That's around 2.71 times more expensive for canned than dry.
 
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William Draper, DVM replied to An_220976's response:
Good point, Anon. I am sure that there are premium diets like Blue Buffalo that can cost more than some canned foods. However, dollar for dollar per actual volume, as Ponyrun2 notes, dry food is typically less expensive. Thanks for the reply and for sharing.
 
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William Draper, DVM replied to Violets_are_Blue's response:
Great info, Violets...thanks!
 
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srstephanie replied to An_220976's response:
Hi Anon_2872,

If you feed your dog Blue Buffalo Wilderness Diet, chicken flavor dry food, particularly if it has a best-used-by date of July 2011 ... you may want to replace it or watch your dogs carefully.

Just yesterday, there was an article on Veterinary Information Network (i.e. VIN News) about what they are calling a seemingly mysterious connection between that food and hypercalcemia (high calcium) secondary to vitamin D toxicosis.

They are calling it "mysterious" because the food has been tested and the amount of vitamin D is well in the middle of the safe range. They can't find anything in the food that would cause the problem. However, there have been a number (not a lot) of dogs with the hypercalcemia and vit D toxicity and all but a couple were eating the Blue Buffalo Wilderness Diet, chicken dry food. And what got the various vets' attention was that when the dogs were switched to a different food, their condition improved dramatically within 24 hours. The connection between the food and disease have not been found and it is only a small number of dogs, so it may be some type of genetic predisposition in those dogs.

Anyway, if you want to read the article on VIN News, here is a link:
http://news.vin.com/vinnews.aspx?articleId=16468

Stephanie in Montreal
 
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srstephanie replied to William Draper, DVM's response:
Hi Dr Draper,

Thanks for your reply and offer to continue our discussion (you may regret that ... I talk a lot).

Your 75% to 25% ratio of dogs to cats sounds typical. With more pet cats than dogs in North America, hopefully the work of the CATalyst Council will gradually help improve the amount of veterinary care cats get. For anyone not familiar with the CATalyst Council, here is a link to their website:
http://www.catalystcouncil.org/

I understand the need to consider lifestyles and people with busy lives do the best they can. I'm home 95% of the time and I made the decision to have just one cat at a time, so that I wouldn't have to base decisions on veterinary care, food, litter, etc on cost, to the extent possible. I'm one of the rare clients that actually requests tests ... e.g. the recent chem/cbc panel on my healthy 14 month old cat. I want to get base values on her and track them over the years, so, hopefully we may catch health issues earlier. I also want wellness checkups for her every 6 months.

My last beloved cat, Macrina, died in Dec 2008 from pancreatic cancer at age 18.5. In the 5 years before her death, she was also diagnosed with many common geriatric conditions: hyperthyroidism, hypertension, CKD (stable at low IRIS stage 3 when she died), heart murmur (i.e. SAM and hypertrophy, most likely secondary to the hyperthyroidism), pancreatitis, IBD, Cholangitis (aka triaditis), arthritis, etc. It sounds like she was a physical wreck but she was doing very well and was a healthy 12.5 - 13 lbs until her final two months. Let's just say, I became good friends with both her regular vet and her Internist. My new kitten, Lisabelle, is named for those two very special vets (Lisa Isabelle = Lisabelle).

One thing that I don't hear many talk about with cats ... maybe because most people's lifestyles make it difficult or impossible ... is feeding multiple small meals throughout the day. I've heard feline specialists say that cats "naturally" eat about ten small meals a day. I don't feed my new kitten that often, I give her ca 4-5 small meals of canned food ... but for Macrina's last 3 years, I fed her small meals of canned food with added water every 2.5 to 3 hours around the clock (I learned the art of "cat-napping"). I found, with her medical issues, that the frequent meals helped control the acid build-up in her stomach. I think they helped her to maintain her weight and muscle mass, as well as help her hydration. I realize most people can't do that, but for those who are home most of the time, I wonder if multiple small meals would be beneficial for other cats as well. Do you agree, or not?

The other thing that I've found really helpful in catching medical issues early, which is easy to do ... is regular weighing. I asked my vet and she helped me get a good veterinary/pediatric scale and I weighted Macrina daily ... though regular people scales can also be used and just hold the cat and subtract one's own weight. My new kitty, Lisabelle, is young and I've been weighing her a couple times a week, though recently have been weighing her daily as well. It also seems to be a help in determining how much to feed her ... allowing adjustments to prevent obesity before it becomes a big issue.

Well, I warned you I talk a lot. I do have one last question for you. I was surprised when my new vet told me that she thought the dry food I was feeding was TOO high in protein. Lisabelle is a healthy 14.5 month old cat and no kidney issues. I've always heard that cats' natural prey is high in protein. The dry food is only a small part of her diet now, but do you agree that young healthy cats should not have a high protein diet? If so, why?

Stephanie in Montreal
 
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William Draper, DVM replied to srstephanie's response:
Stephanie:

Talk away! That's what we are here for. You sound like every veterinarians dream...a conscientious pet owner who WANTS a baseline on their pet and wellness check ups every 6 months. If you ever decide to move to Atlanta, please choose me! Seriously, that is fantastic. Good for you. Thanks for sharing the info on CATalyst Council. I was not familiar with that organization. Readers- if you are a cat lover, I'd check out the link above.

To answer your questions: my opinion is, again, that an owner must consider what works best for their lifestyle while providing the proper dietary and physical considerations for their pets. As someone who is home 95% of the day, smaller portions more frequently may work very well for you and Lisabelle (GREAT name, btw).

Kittens do need a diet higher in protein and fat- to help with proper growth of bones, muscle, etc. While adult cats generally have a recommended protein % of around 25%, kitten food will have protein percentages between 30-40% in most cases (some more popular brands of kitten food have over 42%). I wonder if Lisabelle's diet is closer to the 40%, which may concern your vet? Any excess in protein is generally excreted through the kidneys, so even if it's at the higher end I'd not worry too much about it because you'll eventually move her over to an adult diet, I'm assuming. The high level of protein could be a problem if fed for a longer period of time. At 14.5 months of age, it might be a good idea to start gradually moving her over to an adult diet with a lower protein percentage between 25-30%. In addition, while kittens and younger adult cats benefit from approximately 20% of fat in their diet, older cats tend to keep their waistlines more svelte with a diet consisting of less fat...usually between 15-19%.

BTW, I've never had a cat named after me, but have had the honor of 3 dogs carrying my name. The most recent, a terrier mix named Willie, wants bite every dog, cat or person he comes into contact with. I don't know how I should take that...
All the best, Dr. Will


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