The Benefits of Canned Food

Many cat owners perceive canned food as ‘junk food’ for their cats. It is a myth I have been working to dispel with cat owners. Most cats do best on a portion-controlled balance of high-quality canned food and kibble. There are many types of canned food of various qualities, and just like dry kibble, some are more nutritious than others. I’m not going to go into specific brands of food. However, I will say that generally, I prefer pate-style canned foods over morsels and gravy – many cats eat the higher carbohydrate gravy and leave the more nutritious morsels behind.

Feeding canned food has the following benefits:

Weight control – canned food tends to be less energy-dense than dry kibble because of its high moisture content. Your cat can eat more and feel fuller without taking in so many calories. Feeding a canned diet will not necessarily have this benefit. However, if the cat can still graze on dry kibble whenever he/she likes. The majority of our indoor cats are overweight, mainly due to free choice feeding of dry kibble along with little physical activity.

Moisture content – cats evolved in arid environments where they obtained most of their water from their prey. Most cats, therefore, have quite a low thirst drive and if on a solely dry diet are eating a food with a moisture content of less than 5%. This can lead to an array of health issues, including lower urinary tract disease and a tendency towards dehydration. As cats age, their thirst drives even lower, while their kidney function tends to decline. Kidney disease causes cats to urinate more but they cannot maintain their hydration just by drinking more, resulting in a cat that feels chronically ‘hung over’ from dehydration.

Specific health conditions – as mentioned above, canned food is an important component of treatment for conditions such as chronic kidney disease. Other health problems that may benefit from canned food include diabetes, lower urinary tract disease (including urinary crystals/stones and idiopathic cystitis), and constipation/chronic intestinal disease.
We all know that cats can be very finicky eaters. Cats learn to prefer certain textures when they are young. If they are never exposed to canned food as kittens, they may refuse it later on. Therefore, I always recommend feeding some canned food as part of your cat’s daily diet right from the day you bring them home. Kittens tend to drink water quite well, but this declines as they reach adulthood and even more so in their senior years.

For cats that are picky with canned food, you may try the following tricks –

  • Try different flavours and textures
  • Feed the canned food first- they don’t get any dry kibble until they have eaten their canned food, and when they do it is in a limited, measured amount
  • Mix a small amount of canned food in with the kibble
  • Dip each kibble in a little bit of canned food

Written by: Dr. Megan Edwards, DVM