Canned Dog Food Vs. Dry Dog Food: Which is Better For Your Dog?

Dry Dog Food and Canned Dog Food

You’ve always fed your best bud crunchy kibbles from a bag, but those tubs of doggy stew look pretty tasty in commercials. So you wonder, canned or dry– which to choose?

In fact, both canned (or “wet”) and dry or kibbled dog food can be excellent feeding options for your dog and can provide the complete and balanced nutrition your dog needs. And both of these forms of food have unique advantages that may make them more appropriate choices for some dogs and their pet parents.

It’s kind of like choosing black bean soup vs a black bean burger for lunch If you compare the labels of a bag of salmon-and-rice dry dog food and a pouch of salmon-and-rice wet food, you will likely find many of the same ingredients (for example, salmon, rice, vegetables, vitamins and minerals). The method of preparation is one major factor that that makes wet vs dry dog foods different.

dog who is shopping for dog food

The Process

To make dry kibbles, the ingredients are mixed to form a dough, which is then baked or cooked under pressure and cut into kibbles in a process similar to that used to make some of your favorite breakfast cereals. For wet foods, similar ingredients are mixed with water and the mixture is used to fill containers (cans, pouches, trays), then cooked under high pressure in a process that resembles home canning.

The Difference

A big, obvious difference between wet and dry foods is that wet foods contain, on average, about 75% water, compared with no more than 10% water for dry foods. So if you feed your dog a cup of wet food, he is getting about ¾ cup of water and ¼ cup of the other nutrients in the food (such as calories and protein). When you feed a cup of dry food, your dog gets much less water and much more of the other nutrients. Because of this, you would need to feed more volume (cups) of wet food than dry food to provide all the nutrition your dog needs in a day. This may not be a budgetary issue if you have a Chihuahua, but may be a consideration if you are feeding a Great Dane.

patient great dane getting ready to eat

So, what’s better?

Wet dog food does have some advantages, including

  • Palatability or acceptability. Most dogs find wet foods to be highly tasty, which can be beneficial when they need extra nutrition or have reduced appetite (for example, during an illness).
  • Long shelf-life. Because the cans, pouches, and trays are sealed and essentially sterilized in processing, they can be kept unopened for long periods (even for years, like the can or pouch of stew in the back of your pantry, but check the “best by” date on the container). After you open the can, though, transfer the leftovers to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days, or you can freeze them for later use. Always discard  wet food that remains uneaten in your dog’s dish within 30 minutes, to reduce the risk of him eating spoiled food.

Of course, dry dog food has advantages as well, including

  • Convenience. Large amounts of dry foods can be purchased and stored for a reasonable period (months), and food can be left in the dog’s bowl without concerns about spoilage. This factor, along with the economic considerations mentioned earlier, is likely the reason that dry foods have remained the most popular type of pet food sold in the US.
  • Dental benefits. The crunchy texture of dry kibble may aid in controlling plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth. In addition, some dry pet foods contain a special mineral coating on the kibble that’s been shown to reduce tartar buildup. Of course, brushing your dog’s teeth every day is an even bigger help for his dental health, but don’t share your toothbrush or toothpaste!

daschund who is ready for dinner

Mixing

Many folks do mix wet and dry dog foods for their dog’s meal, or add a treat of wet food as a “topper” for dry kibbles. If you do so, just make sure you account for the added calories so you aren’t overfeeding. For example, if you normally feed 1 cup of dry food at 400 calories/cup and decide to add ¼ cup wet food, at 50 calories or 200 calories/cup, then you need to feed 50 calories less of the dry food, or only ⅞ cup instead of 1 cup, to get the same number of calories in the meal. You can find information on the calories in your dog’s food on the package label or manufacturer’s website. You may think that adding a little extra wet food to the usual dry meal is not a big deal, but those calories add up, just like for us, and unless you and your pup are spending extra time on the treadmill, weight gain will result.

How to Feed

Whatever type of food that you decide to feed, experts advise that you provide an amount of food that will maintain your dog in lean body condition and appropriate weight.

Simply, lean body condition means you should be able to feel but not see your dog’s ribs. You can start with the feeding amount listed on the dog food package for your dog’s current weight, and adjust the amount up or down if your dog is losing or gaining undesired weight. There are also a number of great online tools that can help you estimate the amount of calories your dog needs.

If your dog seems underweight (for example, you can clearly see his ribs) or overweight (you feel lots of “padding” over his ribs), contact your veterinarian to make sure your dog doesn’t have an underlying health problem and for guidance to help your dog achieve his ideal weight and body condition. Sometimes it is just a matter of feeding a bit more or less of the same food, but more often it is best to change to a diet that is more nutritionally appropriate for the dog’s condition, including veterinary-exclusive dog foods. You can look for a food that contains more calories and nutrients (for example, a “performance” diet or one labeled for active dogs) for underweight dogs. For overweight dogs, you can change to a diet that has fewer calories (labeled “reduced fat” or “less active”, for example).  

pudgy white bulldog sleeping

Conclusion

Just as you (mostly…) pay attention to what you eat and how much you exercise to stay fit, keeping your dog in lean body condition should be an important goal for pet parents. A recent survey of veterinarians estimated that more than 50% of US dogs are overweight or obese, which like overweight people, puts them at high risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and joint problems, to name a few.


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