Which is better for your pet - wet or dry food?

Should you feed your pet wet or dry food? And what about mixing? We have the answers - plus the pros, cons, do's and don'ts - for you here. From the PetPeople magazine features archive.

Are you a wet or dry owner? After this morning's dog walk in torrential rain, I am definitely wet! But not so when it comes to feeding our Labrador Retriever Pippin. Why? Let me explain, while also looking into the relative merits of wet and dry.

Many owners regularly prepare specific food for their cat or dog, mix leftovers with commercial pet foods, or even serve up a portion of the family's meal. But can they be sure that their pet is receiving the correctly balanced diet needed for optimum health? We have very different dietary requirements from dogs, and especially from cats, who are carnivores.

Water content and freshness
It's often said of wet food that you're paying for water. This can, however, be an advantage for male cats, who may find it hard to drink enough when fed on exclusively dried food and subsequently develop bladder problems.

Wet food is fresh as soon as the can, tray or pouch is opened, or after cooking in the home. After that, though, palatability problems can arise. Cats in particular are notorious for eating the first portion, but then turning up their noses at subsequent meals because the food has gone slightly stale. Warming it a little can help - cats are hunters and used to eating their meals at body temperature. You can also freeze surplus or batch-cook home-cooked food.

Dried food is, in theory, the same for every meal. But it is important to avoid taking too long to work through a bag; once open, the food can go mouldy or be contaminated with forage mites.

Bulk buying may cut costs but is not always ideal. Dry food is often more economical than wet on a price-per-meal basis. But it is important to bear in mind the quality of ingredients when comparing prices. This is also a factor when assessing home-cooked foods, as well as the hidden costs of preparation (for example: cooker, washing up, specific utensils).

I find it easier to store a 15kg bag of dried food, which will feed Pippin for six weeks, than the equivalent number of meals in tins. Dried food can also be bought in smaller bags, which is ideal for the owner with a small dog.

Environmental concerns
I have recently been feeding two feral cats for a neighbour while she was away: a pouch and a scoop of dried food a day. But the empty pouches were not suitable for recycling so they ended up in the rubbish. Cans can be recycled, but you'll be recycling hundreds. Dried food lasting a month or so, however, can yield just one bag, which can be recycled. Home-cooked food may also involve less packaging, depending on what is cooked and where the ingredients are sourced.

Out and about
If we go out for the day, we'll take a portion of food in a bag in case we are going to be late home. More thought would be needed with home-cooked food, which should be kept refrigerated, and you might need a can opener for commercial wet food. You may not actually choose between wet and dried food, instead mixing types. Ultimately, a major influence will be your pet's digestive system: if a particular food or a varied diet results in stomach upsets then you will change accordingly to ensure good health.

Simple guidelines

By Alison Logan, vet and writer

Originally published in issue 3 of PetPeople, the Petplan customer magazine