Gone are the days when canned food was put on the sidelines of your canine’s nutrition. While the convenience of dry food still makes it the most popular feeding choice for pets, dogs (and cats, too) can benefit from including wet food in their diet, on a regular or even occasional basis. Here are some distinct benefits of canned food for your dog.
1. More Meat Protein than Dry Food
Canned diets in general contain more meat than kibble diets, which is why they are typically more expensive. This is great news for dogs, who require few, if any, grain-sourced carbohydrates. However, dog food labels on dry foods are deceiving. They may make you assume that your food has more protein in it than it actually does.
The Dry Matter Basis Protein Difference
Since many dry foods have much less moisture than wet foods (about 10% moisture compared to 70% moisture), protein percentages will seem a lot higher for dry kibble. However, when you convert your wet food to a dry matter basis, you can see how much more protein is in canned foods as compared to dry kibble - even from the same brand.
Dry Matter Basis Protein Calculator
Find these values on your pet food bag's Guaranteed Analysis. Looking for another macronutrient? You can substitute ash, fat, or fibre in this equation to find these other actual values.
Crude Protein (%):
Moisture Content (%):
Actual Protein Content (%):
Comparing Protein Content of Wet Versus Dry Dog Food
To illustrate how different protein content can be for wet versus dry dog foods, even when they are the same flavour and brand, here's an example. This is a high-quality, high-protein brand, but there is still a big difference in the actual protein contents of the wet and dry foods.
Wild Salmon Formula Dry Dog Food
Wild Salmon Formula Wet Dog Food
When compared using Dry Matter Basis, there is a difference of over 10% in protein content between the wet and dry food formulas of a single high-protein brand! THAT's a big difference. If you're concerned about the protein content of your pet's food, always calculate your dog food's guaranteed analysis to a dry matter basis.
To learn more about the different types of dog food, check out Types of Dog food: A Helpful Breakdown.
2. Fewer Carbs
The Role of Gluten
Kibble generally requires more carbohydrates than wet food because carbs act as binders, holding the food together. You've probably heard of gluten. This carbohydrate component is a protein found in wheat and other carbohydrate sources, and it works like a glue to keep foods together and part of what's responsible for creating that bread-like texture that we're familiar with. Food products with gluten in them are more chewy, pliable, and stick together better - they're less crumbly. While kibble may seem to fall into that crumbly category, if you think about it, it stays together quite well. Generally kibble stays formed together as a kibble and it doesn't fall apart in the bag. It's the high gluten, or carbohydrate content, that accounts for that.
Less Protein Means More Carbohydrates
Aside from the binder consideration, something has to fill the void that the lower protein percentage of dry dog food creates. So, there's automatically more carbohydrates in dry dog food because there's less protein. Fat is the only other variable and you generally don't see a lot of difference in fat in pet foods, unless you are comparing diet foods and regular foods. Even so, the difference is not as much as when comparing protein and carbohydrate levels. This is where you can see a real difference in quality of dog foods. Higher quality foods generally will have more protein than carbohydrates, as protein is more expensive.
Always Check the Ingredient List
However, it's always important to check your dog food ingredient list rather than rely on a general assumption about food types. There can be a huge difference in quality between dog food brands and formulas within the dry food or canned food categories alone. The best way to judge a food's quality is to check the ingredient list. Meat should always be a first ingredient. Also, check your dog food label to see how much meat the food actually contains (see above point for converting protein to dry matter basis for actual values).
3. Fewer Preservatives
Canned food is naturally preserved through the canning process, whereas dry food is not. Wet food also ends up being fresher because you will finish the container within a few days at most, compared to a couple weeks to a month or more for most dry food bags. Those factors add up to fewer overall preservatives being added to canned foods.
What's Wrong with Preservatives in Dog Food?
But what's the problem with preservatives? For one thing, many preservatives in cheaper pet foods are not naturally-derived. They're non-foods that would never naturally occur in your pet's diet. Most provide no other nutritional benefit to your pet's food other than making it last a long time on the shelf.
Most of the time, a long shelf-life isn't even a real convenience for you. Generally, you probably buy dog food and use it up within, at most, a few months. This benefit is for the pet food manufacturer and the pet store, instead. They can have the same food stored in their warehouses, back rooms, and shelves for sometimes years before having to check for expiries and refresh their stock. Business-wise, the longer the shelf-life, the less money is lost through expired product that cannot be sold.
Other than providing no real benefit to you or your dog, preservatives may actually harm your pet. Some common preservatives, such as nitrates or nitrites, are known carcinogens. There are other options out there. Choose foods with natural preservatives whenever possible, or go the no-preservative route with canned foods.
BPA in Canned Dog Food
There is one exception when it comes to canned food preservatives - BPA and BPS. These chemicals line most pet food cans, preventing the acidic contents from leaching metals from the can itself into the food over time. In itself, this is a good thing. But BPA and BPS (the replacement that may be just as toxic) are known hormone disruptors, and can have damaging effects on reproductive systems and the brain, also contributing to related side effects such as weight gain, and even major diseases and cancer.
Not all dog food cans contain BPA. Choose smaller cans. Some of these don't require BPA in their lining. Or, choose those canned foods that are BPA-free. Make sure those cans don't include BPS instead.
4. More Palatable
Wet food just tastes better. With a stronger, more natural flavour, canned dog food is better suited for picky eaters, as well as senior dogs who have lost their sense of taste with age. What does this great taste come from? The high meat protein content of canned food. Real meat taste from real meat ingredients that dogs have an instinctive preference for. Also, because canned food is made from more actual meat and less carbohydrates, it generally doesn't contain artificial flavours or colours, either, as many dry dog foods do.
What's Wrong with Additives in Dog Food?
Serving no actual nutritional benefit to dogs, artificial flavours and colours have been linked to distressing effects, including hyperactivity in children, and many have been taken off the shelf because of carcinogenic activity (Red #1, #2, and #4, for example). No conclusive evidence has been found to date for any additives currently on the market, but several scientific studies have shown proof enough for caution. What we have to ask ourselves is: why are we fighting so hard to defend something unecessary, when there are healthful ingredient alternatives?
5. Enhance Variety
Canned dog food, by its packaging alone, lends itself better to feeding your dog a varied diet. Contrary to popular opinion, changing up your dog's food does more good than harm to your dog. Letting your dog sample different flavours and brands of dog food will expose him to more naturally-occurring nutrients and encourage openness to trying new foods.
Are Any Commercial Dog Foods Actually Complete & Balanced?
While dog foods commonly claim to be "complete", commercial dog diets can be lacking in essential nutrients, though you're unlikely to know which ones. Since vitamins and minerals are not completely absorbed by the body, you can never really be sure how many nutrients your pet is actually getting. And, while foods do contain a standard minimum amount of essential vitamins, they don't contain maximums, which means your pet could be getting too many vitamins, which can be just as bad (or worse) as nutritional deficiencies.
Feeding a varied diet to your pet can prevent minor nutritional deficiencies or overload that might take years to surface in symptoms. While it can be impossible to tell whether a food truly is complete in itself, you can rest assured knowing that your dog is getting his nutrients from a variety of sources, so he's less likely to suffer from too much or too little essential nutrients.
6. Promote Weight Loss
The moisture content of canned food is not just beneficial to your dog’s hydration. High moisture content in foods can help pets feel full, which is essential for weight loss and maintenance. We've already mentioned that wet food has more protein. This key ingredient is also helpful for pets who want to maintain muscle, but lose pesky fat. Protein takes longer to digest, so your pet will feel more full for longer. If your dog is overweight, you may want to consider switching to an all wet food diet.
7. Reduce Bloat
Wet food doesn't absorb as much liquid in the stomach, which makes dogs fed canned diets less likely to experience bloat. Also, due to its very nature, canned food is more difficult to gulp, which is a leading cause of bloat. If your dog is prone to bloat – usually large, barrel-chested breeds, such as Great Danes – you may want to incorporate more canned food into your canine's diet.
What are the symptoms of bloat in dogs?
- Distended abdomen
- Dog tries (unsuccessfully) to belch or vomit
- Dry vomiting
- Excessive salivation
- Shortness of breath
- Reduced body temperature
- Pale gums
- Rapid heartbeat
From: ASPCA Bloat
Dog Breeds That Are Prone to Bloat:
- Basset Hound
- German Shepherd
- Irish Setter
- St. Bernard
8. Easy to Digest
Canned dog food is just easier to digest. Since most canned food (particularly pate texture) is smooth, your dog will not have to chew well to break it down, which makes it more suitable for dogs who gulp or frequently get indigestion. The high moisture content and soft texture of wet food makes it ideal for dogs with digestive difficulties or an upset stomach. Feed wet food before dry when your dog is recovering from a stomach virus for an easier transition. Young puppies, too, who have recently been weaned will find wet food (or a wet/dry mix) easier to digest than a dry kibble diet alone. If your dog is recovering from illness or has a sensitive stomach, canned food may be the best choice.
9. Easy to Eat
If your dog or cat has lost teeth, or is a very young puppy, canned food can be easier to eat than kibble. The action of crunching kibble can be difficult for pets with dental problems, very young or old pets, or sick pets. Canned food requires little to no breakdown in the mouth, particularly some varieties, and is therefore easier on your pet's mouth and stomach.
Is canned food bad for your pet's teeth?
Some studies have shown that dry kibble, particularly dental varieties with added calcium carbonate, can reduce surface plaque on dog teeth. However, while dry dog food may be slightly better for your pet's teeth than wet food, no food alone provides enough benefit to adequately prevent plaque build-up, bad breath, or dog dental diseases, such as periodontal disease.
The Importance of Regular Dental Care
Regardless of whether you feed your dog dry or wet food, you will want to make sure that you are diligent with dental care so that plaque does not build up on your dog’s teeth and gums. Regular brushing and routine dental care, including chewing on bones and dental toys and use of other dental care products is still necessary for your pet's best care. Probiotics sprinkled on your dog’s food, such as Evorapet Oral Probiotics, can help to reduce bad bacteria in your pet’s mouth, getting rid of bad dog breath and plaque.
I've mentioned the fact that canned food contains less preservatives than dry food, but it also is generally fresher. Have you ever noticed how interested your pet is in a brand new bag of food? Doesn't the first bowl seem to disappear faster than usual? A new bag is exciting, but it also tastes a lot better, too. Canned food can give your dog or cat that freshness nearly every day. Unlike a bag of dry kibble, which is often opened and used within a few weeks to a month, a can of dog food is used up within days. That makes every bite taste fresh.
Canned Food Safety
However, make sure you never leave wet food out for over 30 minutes, and refrigerate open cans and use them within 5-7 days to prevent spoilage. Plastics can leach bad flavour into foods, particularly acidic ones, like your pet's food. For best taste, store leftovers in a glass container instead of plastic or keep in the can with a good fitting lid or plastic wrap as a cover.
11. Better Ingredients
Other than containing more meat and fewer carbohydrates than dry food, canned dog food generally contains better quality ingredients. That's just one of the reasons that canned pet foods tend to be more expensive per serving than dry foods. Extruded kibble is often sprayed with animal digest and fats to appeal to your dog's tastebuds, but canned food doesn't go through that process. There's less of a need to make food taste good when it contains more of what your dog loves, such as whole meats.
The Difference Quality Nutrition Makes
But good ingredients don't just make your pet's food taste better, they also improve health. Quality ingredients, including organic fruits and vegetables and free-range meats, contain more naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, and other nutrients than their commercialized counterparts. But you can find organic and free-range ingredients in dry foods, too, so what's the difference? Since wet foods undergo less processing, more of these natural nutrients are available to your pet in their raw form, untouched by the extreme-heat processing of kibble extrusion. So, all other things equal, canned is still likely the more nutritious choice for your pet's food.
12. Prevents Kidney Disease and Organ Stress
Dogs, and particuarly cats, just don't like to drink water. For anyone that's tried, it's just not that easy to make them drink it! Feeding canned food increases your pet's water intake easily, putting less stress on vital organs, such as the kidneys. Cats, especially, are prone to urinary tract issues and will benefit from a canned food diet. It may prevent a debiliating disease later in life.
Canned Food Benefits Dogs with Diabetes, Cancer, and other Diseases
Particularly if your dog is already dealing with health issues that tax vital organs such as the kidneys, including cancer and diabetes, you should be doing all you can to reduce the stress your pet's organs are experiencing on a day-to-day basis. Diabetic dogs, which deal with kidney stress, will be healthier eating a moisture-rich diet. Switch to canned from dry food for your diabetic dog, even some of the time, and you can successfully reduce organ stress.
13. You Get To See Them Run When You Turn On the Can Opener
Okay, I'm not being totally serious, but every pet owner loves to see the joy that they can bring to their pet every day. Dogs LOVE wet food, and it's good for them. Do you need any more reasons to feed wet to your pet?
Supplementing Your Dog's Dry Food with Canned Food
If you are currently feeding your pet a straight dry diet, I hope I've already convinced you to include canned at least on a part-time basis. Your dog's diet should include a variety of different foods, so including wet food, even if you continue to feed kibble primarily, will benefit your pet. This way, your canine will have the benefits of both kibble and canned diets and fewer of the cons associated with either feeding method.