If you have a look online, there's usually some lively debate about which is better - dry vs wet dog food.
So which is best? The answer is : it depends on your dog.
In this article, we hope to help shed some light on each of these categories, and when either is suitable to give to your dog in which situations.
Wet vs Dry dog food
What's the difference?
Probably at a glance, as you can tell by the name, wet dog food has more water content than dry dog food.
Dry dog food (kibble) in general has nearly no water content so that bacteria will not grow when exposed to the air, even after hours at a time.
Kibble in general can also be kept for quite a while because of this, even after you've opened the bag.
Wet dog food, usually canned, is airtight and sealed, so it can be kept for an even longer period of time than kibble if unopened.
However, once opened, due to the water content, it shouldn't be left in the open for too long, or else bacteria and other nasties can start growing on them.
According to the FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines, pet food generally falls into 3 categories depending on water content. [src]
- Dry dog food with a water content of 14% or less.
- Wet dog food with a water content of 60% or more.
- Semi-moist dog food with a water content of between 14% and 60% (more on semi moist dog food below)
Dry Matter %
Dry Matter %
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Note: The values on this table are taken from the wet and dry food variants of a specific diet produced by a major manufacturer (equal comparison). In the interests of fairness, the manufacturer's name is not disclosed.
How to read a dog food label
The table above is all nice, but what do the values and numbers all mean?
In general, all major dog food manufacturers follow the AAFCO's guidelines (American Association of Feed Control Officials) in the United States.
There might be similar organizations in other countries as well, but they all serve the same purpose - to ensure that the food product meets the minimum nutritional requirements for dogs, set by the organization.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the product is high-quality; it simply means that it meets the nutritional requirements. We'll still need to have a look at the ingredients list and guaranteed analysis to determine quality.
If a product qualifies for the requirements, you'll usually see this on the label:
"[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles” or “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that [Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs"
Or similar in other countries with similar organizations that set the nutritional standards for dogs.
Product name labelling
Other than the AAFCO label, you should also have a look at the name of the product and other information given on the label.
AAFCO requires that pet food manufacturers follow the 95% rule - if the product contains at least 95% of an ingredient, then they can use the product name.
For example, if the product contains 95% chicken (excluding any water weight) it can be called "chicken dog food".
If there are 2 ingredients on the label, for example "Chicken Liver dog food", then chicken and liver should contain 95% of all the ingredients. The ingredient listed first must have a higher quantity (i.e. Chicken > Liver)
Most organizations in the world require that in pet foods, the ingredients are listed in order of quantity by weight.
This basically means that any ingredient listed first on the label has the highest quantity by volume, which includes the water weight.
This is an important consideration if they use fresh meat, like poultry or fish.
After cooking, fresh meat tends to reduce significantly (due to less than 10% water content in them) - but not to worry, this just means that the meat becomes a significant, high concentration source of protein for your dog.
In general, the best way to evaluate a good dog food label would be to focus on the top five ingredients - this will mean a big difference in whether your dog gets the recommended protein, carbohydrates and fat necessary for healthy living.
Guaranteed Analysis vs Dry Matter
In the table above, you'll see that the table header lists "dry matter %".
In most labels, you'll see either the "Guaranteed Analysis" or "Dry Matter", with the former being more common.
The difference between these two terms is that guaranteed analysis has not removed the water content in the food, so the values seem very small.
The more accurate values that are important for your dog's nutrition would be the dry matter percentage - it more easily conveys the percentage minus the water weight of the food.
Let's take an example of a wet dog food label.
Converting Guaranteed Analysis to Dry Matter
Based on the values above, we can use them to calculate what the dry matter (and thus the actual value) of the protein inside the dog food.
You basically take the protein percentage divided by the total amount of dry matter om the product.
To find the dry matter, you simply minus the moisture from the total (100% - 78% = 22%).
Then you divide the crude protein by the total dry matter (9.00 / 22.00 = approx. 0.41)
Using this number of 0.41, you multiply by 100% to get about 41%. That's the total amount of crude protein present in the wet dog food.
Crude Protein vs Protein
The next thing to note would be the use of the words "crude" in front of the ingredients noted.
The crude protein is a chemical analysis of the food, using the nitrogen inside the food to estimate the amount of protein in the food.
The problem is that nitrogen also comes from proteins like grains, which can create a difference in the actual amount of protein your dog receives from actual meat sources.
This is why it's important to buy quality dog food from reputable sources, rather than just any brand off the shelf.
This is also why there are some companies that created grain free dog food - to ensure that the protein in the dog food is actually from a legitimate meat source rather than a fancy estimate from meat and other sources!
Benefits of wet dog food
Now that we've established the basics of dog food nutrition, we can now have a look at the benefits of wet dog food.
Greater water content
Wet dog food is great for hydration. If your dog doesn't drink enough water or you live in a dry, hot climate, wet dog food can keep your dog hydrated!
The water content can also help overweight dogs lose a bit of weight - the extra water will help them feel full faster.
There are some specialty wet dog food diets that focus on helping a dog lose weight, so this can definitely be a tool to help your dog lose weight.
Soft and easy to eat
Typically older dogs benefit from wet dog food because it's far easier to swallow and eat - they don't really need to chew or bite into the food.
This also helps dogs who have some dental issues like missing teeth, injured jaws, or is recovering from any operation or surgery and requires easy to digest, nutritious food.
Smells and tastes wonderful
if you've ever heated up a can of wet dog food, you'll know that they can sometimes smell amazing and makes your mouth water.
In the same way, some dogs can smell that food and instantly become hungry - perfect for hardheaded dogs who refuse to eat kibbles!
For older dogs, they sometimes may lose their sense of smell, and might not even want to eat their dry food. The smell of wet dog food, combined with the richer taste can coax them to eat once again.
Sometimes when you move around a lot and take your dog with you, they can get quite stressed and refuse to eat anything at all.
The smell and taste can help them to ease back into their diets and lower the worry that you have about your dog refusing to eat.
Cons of wet dog food
There are a few cons to having wet dog food around, such as
Heavier and bulkier
Being mostly comprised of water, wet dog food is far harder to bring around in bulk.
Plus, it typically comes in a canned format, which will take up quite a bit of space and adds additional weight to the dog food.
Typically more expensive
Since the manufacturing process for making wet dog food is a little more complex than making kibbles, be prepared to pay a little more for wet dog food compared to the dry dog food on the market.
They spoil easily if left out in the open
Probably the most concerning problem, the water content in the food allows for some pretty vicious bacteria and mold to grow on the food if left out for too long. This can cause your dog to develop some serious stomach upsets or worse.
It will also start to smell rancid if left out in a humid climate for too long, which means if your dog doesn't eat it by a set time, you'll have to throw the food away, which further adds to the price of buying wet dog food.
Plus, once you open a can of wet dog food, you'll most likely need to refrigerate it - which will also eventually spoil even if you leave it in the chiller for a week or so.
Benefits of dry dog food
Now, on to the benefits of dry dog food!
Easy to feed and manage portion sizes
Kibble is the easiest to feed and to manage portion sizes - all you need to do is remove if you've put in too much!
Plus, no mess incurred, unlike wet dog food, where pouring back into the can, might result in spills, or cross contamination from the outside air.
Dry dog foods are excellent food choices for dogs that like to graze (free feeding) - total daily portions can be measured in the bowl in the morning, and then topped up at any time during the day. Excellent for working dogs!
Kibbles also come in a great many shapes and sizes, so you get to choose which your dog likes. you can also break them down into even smaller chunks if your dog prefers that!
Kibble also works great as food toys or treats - they work well in interactive feeders that can dispense food, or as treat training tools for your dog to work for it.
Affordable and long shelf life
Dry dog food can be less expensive to buy in bulk and store than wet dog food.
Plus, once the package is opened, they can remain unrefrigerated because they contain very little moisture - they won't go bad as quickly as wet dog food!
They can also be easily kept - they aren't stored in rigid cans, so you can save some space by compacting them somewhere else without worrying about puncturing the seal on the packages.
Cons of Dry Dog Food
They don't smell appetizing
Kibble in general doesn't posses a very strong smell - it's rather mild and can be a little more bland tasting compared to wet dog food.
Some dogs prefer the taste and smell of wet dog food, and sometimes this is enough for dogs to completely ignore kibble.
Low water content
While this isn't a big deal, but some dogs really don't drink a lot of water - and kibble is an extremely dry food, which can further take water away from their bodies to digest.
Be sure to leave a big bowl of water out for your dog at all times when feeding kibble (Actually, it's better to leave water out for them at all times)
Note on Kibble and dental cleaning
There has been a popular belief that certain shapes and brands of kibble were better at maintaining your dog's dental health. This has since been debunked by the AAFCO (src)
Unless specifically approved by the AAFCO, kibbles do not improve your dog's dental health, either by tartar removal, or by preventing dental diseases in any way, shape of form!
What about Semi-moist dog food?
Semi-moist dog food is simply a mix between dry and wet dog food.
While not an official category per-se, you can also make your own semi-moist dog food simply by mixing both wet and dry dog food into your dog's bowl.
Doing this typically greatly enhances the palatability of the food, and your dog will love that the kibbles taste far better than alone!
However, if your dog is on a prescription diet by the vet, it's advised against mixing - typically prescription diets were given for a reason, and it would be recommended to follow your vet's instructions instead.
There are also commercial semi-moist dog food on the market, but these products are typically more expensive than either dry or wet dog food, and due to their mixture, they contain extra sugar and salt as preservatives.
This means that it'll be less healthy than most mixed dry and wet dog food.
That said, semi-moist dog food is great as occasional treats for the dog, since it also tastes pretty nice,
We hope that the information provided above helps draw a clearer picture on dog nutrition and how to give the best to your dogs.
Remember that regardless of which choice you make, you know your dog's tastes best, and you can adjust accordingly to what they want to eat (dry, wet, or a healthy mix of both!)
However, we also suggest you consult your dog's vet to determine what is best for your dog, if you're still unsure about it's feeding habits.