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canned response: benefits of feeding cats canned food

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

When it comes to feeding our feline friends, many veterinarians are now recommending a diet consisting wholly of canned food, as opposed to dry kibble. As carnivores, cats aren’t built to handle a carbohydrate-heavy diet; wild cats tend to eat eight to ten small, high protein/low carbohydrate meals a day, usually in the form of small prey like mice and birds. 

The dry kibble we feed our cats seems to be in direct opposition to the food wild cats eat (and thrive on). For one, dry kibble is high in carbohydrates. While they help the food stay in pellet form, these excess carbohydrates contribute to feline obesity. A low-carbohydrate diet is ideal, particularly for diabetic patients, whose daily caloric intake should be only 7-10% carbohydrates.

Another difference is that the water content of dry kibble is just too low for our cats.  Patients with kidney disease or those with chronic cystitis need as much water as they can get, and dry food just doesn’t cut it for these guys.  But even healthy cats could stand to be better hydrated.

A canned food diet is appropriate for all cats, but it might take some getting used to at first. Cats develop strong food preferences as kittens, sometimes even rejecting food for being the “wrong” kibble shape. Cats who have been fed dry kibble their whole lives may balk at the notion of eating canned food, because they may not even perceive it as food at all.  If you’re one of the lucky ones with a cat who will eat anything, gradually phase in wet food over a week while decreasing the dry kibble concurrently.  If you are one of the unlucky people with a finicky cat, read on.

Transitioning a picky eater to a canned food diet is a lesson in patience. The switch may take weeks, or even months, so buckle up. If you’re free feeding your cat (or leaving food down all day), pick it up; it’s best to establish meal times to make the switch to wet food.  Feeding two to three times a day is best, and many people feel that every 12 hours suits their schedules.  Offer your cat half of his daily ration of food every 12 hours.  If he’s been free fed, you might not know what his normal ration actually is.  In general, cats need 150-250 calories a day, so preparing a 100 calorie meal twice a day is probably sufficient.  However, if your cat is unusually large or unusually small, talk to your veterinarian about what his daily caloric intake should be. 

Establishing meal times lets your cat develop hunger, which will work to our advantage.  Leave the food down for twenty to thirty minutes and then pick it up.  Meal time is now over.  If your cat pesters you for food in between meals, resist the temptation to feed him!  He can wait until the next meal is served. 

Once meal times are established, try offering canned food instead of dry. By the time meal time comes, your cat may be hungry enough to try it. If not, try mixing kibble and wet food to see if he’ll bite. If not, pick up the food and offer it again in a couple of hours.  Maybe he’ll be hungry enough then. 

It is important to note here that it is never appropriate to starve a cat or allow him to go without food for 24 hours.  We’ve talked about the condition called hepatic lipidosis before--starvation can quickly lead to this condition, which can be life threatening.  If your cat has refused canned food for 18 hours, feed him his dry ration and try again the next day with wet food.

Some other tips of the trade:

  • Try petting your cat prior to feeding him.  In some cats, petting will stimulate the appetite.
  • Exercise your pet prior to feeding him to stimulate his appetite.
  • Sprinkle canned tuna over the wet food to entice your cat to eat it initially. Slowly phase the tuna out once the wet food is accepted.
  • Try feeding meat flavored baby foods initially. For some cats, it is the texture of canned food that throws them off.  The pureed form of baby food can help with this.

Above all else, have patience.  Know that the transition to wet food will be worth it in the long run, paying off in your pet’s shrinking waistline and lengthening lifespan.

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Posted by s. shipley
on February 23 2014 18:20

I made the switch to canned food for my kibble a preferring cats by sprinkling Fortiflora (a probiotic) on the canned. It worked like a charm. The down side is the expense. It costs about $2.75 a day each to feed my two cats. (I feed Tiki Cat.). The upside was a pretty marked improvement in their appearance, and I was feeding Orijen grain free before. And they are drinking significantly less water.

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth
on April 10 2013 16:32

Hi Carol. Thanks for your questions! Cats can be quite picky about their foods, can't they? Feeding canned food is good for your cats as long as the fat and carbohydrate contents aren't too high. The goal is to find a high protein/low carbohydrate food, and Friskies has a few flavors that fit the bill. Aim to feed less than 7% of total daily calories as carbohydrates. Sadly, canned food companies don't usually list carbohydrate content, so check with your veterinarian for resources that can help you find those numbers. Homemade diets are tricky--you have to be very careful to include proper vitamins and nutrients. While the diet you describe is not complete or balanced, there are plenty of homemade diets that are. Check with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist for more advice on a healthy homemade diet. Thanks, Kim

Posted by Carol conklin
on April 10 2013 06:51

My cats have always been on canned food, but they like friskier an I have done research that says there are better grain free foods that are better, I have tried science diet, wellness, blue, an petco, they still eat the friskier better an they won't eat anything with fish in it, can you name a few good canned foods? An also would boiling chicken thighs an deboning an adding brown rice peas an broth be healthy for them?

Posted by Joan L. Richardson
on March 28 2013 15:37

Your suggestions regarding the transition from dry to wet food gave me motivation to try again. My male cate has been on CD dry for about 2 years although he is only 4. He hasn't had any reoccuring uninary problem, however I worry about the dry food diet and have tried the wet prescription diet (CD and Royal Canin) However I am going to try once again, this time with Purina UR St and I am not going to give up.

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