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Is a diet of canned food healthy for cats? Janet's vet said it isn't, but she wants the Paws and Effect Gang's take on that.

Our vet says cats are obligate carnivores, so they do better on canned food than dry. Photo via Pixabay

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I saw your website and I love it, very interesting and a good source of information. My question is in regards to my 8-month-old female kitten, Snickers. She is a tortie and is very picky about food; I had a hard time getting her to eat kibble and I added a little warm water to the kibble and she now eats about 1/3 a cup twice a day. She weighs 6 pounds. I was feeding her wet kitten food as she loves that, but my vet told me that cats that have a diet of canned food solely, usually end up with pancreatitis. I just wondered what your take is on this. I would have a much happier kitty if she could eat canned all the time. The only diet restriction she is supposed to have is that she not gain too much weight–she had an FHO due to a car accident–I adopted her from a shelter after they did the surgery. Thanks in advance!

~ Janet

Thomas: Thank you so much for the compliment, Janet! We hope we can help you with your question, too.

Bella: This is the first time we’ve heard of a vet saying that a diet of canned food could cause a cat to develop pancreatitis!

Tara: In fact, our vet, who works at a cat-only clinic, says that because cats are obligate carnivores, they do better on canned food than on dry.

Thomas: For those of you asking “what is an obligate carnivore?” here’s the answer: A carnivore is a creature that eats meat, and obligate means they need something. Thus, an obligate carnivore is a creature that relies on meat to provide the proper nutrition to be healthy.

Bella: While dry food does have some meat and meat by-products in it, canned food is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than dry food.

Tara: Cats also have a very low thirst drive because their bodies are designed to get the water they need from eating their prey. So canned food not only gives them the protein they need, but it also gives them the moisture they need.

Thomas: But don’t just take our word for it. The Cornell Feline Health Center says, “In their natural habitat, cats are hunters that consume prey high in protein with moderate amounts of fat and minimal amounts of carbohydrates.”

Bella: And Tree House Humane Society says, “Cats usually rely on their diet for moisture and don’t drink as much water as they might need. Canned foods have significantly more moisture than dry or ‘semi-moist’ foods. Canned foods also are lower in carbohydrates and can be especially beneficial for cats with urinary issues, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as in the prevention and treatment of feline obesity.”

Tara: Both of these sources recommend feeding meals instead of free feeding, because when you feed meals, you can control the amount of food Snickers is eating.

Thomas: We’re in the “feed meals, don’t let them graze” camp, too. Mama feeds us a diet of commercially prepared, nutritionally complete raw food–with our vet’s blessing, mind you–and she gives it to us in two meals a day.

Bella: Vets used to say that dry food was better for dental health because chewing would help dislodge tartar. But that advice is going by the wayside, too. After all, most cats swallow kibbles whole and don’t chew them.

Tara: Keep in mind here that we’re not veterinarians! We have a dedicated slave who does her best to research the latest and greatest information about cats, and provide links to reliable sources for that information, but we are not medical professionals.

Thomas: Regardless, we can tell you that lots and lots of cats stay healthy on a diet of canned cat food only, and we’ve never heard of a vet telling someone that a cat fed exclusively canned food would develop pancreatitis!

Bella: We would recommend that after she’s about a year old, you stop feeding her kitten food. The reason for this is that kitten food has more calories and fat to help kittens grow big and strong. But when they reach adulthood, cats can start putting on too much weight if they eat kitten food.

Tara: And if you do make the switch to canned food, we recommend that you follow the feeding guidelines on the can. Sometimes people feed too much, but most cats can get by on a third to half of a 5.5-ounce can of cat food, twice a day.

Thomas: We’d recommend that the next time you see your vet, you have a conversation with him or her about canned versus dry food. Don’t be snooty about it, but let your vet know that you’ve seen information from reliable sources like the Cornell Feline Health Center that lead you to believe that canned food is a healthy diet for cats.

Bella: A lot of vets can’t stand “I read it on the internet,” and for good reason. There’s a lot of bad and misleading information out there, and vets get to hear all kinds of it from their clients. But if you can point out that you’ve used reputable sources, your vet might be more willing to hear you out.

Tara: So, Janet, we hope this helps a bit. We’d recommend trying Snickers out on canned food–and watching her weight while you do so. As Mama’s vets have said before, “You can’t argue with good health.”

Thomas: What about you other readers? Have you ever heard of a vet saying cats can get pancreatitis from living on canned food only? This is a first for us!

Bella: We know that people get very passionate about food and nutrition, so we request that when you do comment, you be courteous and respectful, not just to our reader but to her vet (even if you disagree with that vet’s recommendations). If you can provide links to other reliable and reputable sources that Janet can read, please share those in the comments, too.