Dry Food Only. Can Cats Survive Without Wet Food?


Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat animal-sourced proteins and fats to thrive. While canned and raw diets contain meat ingredients, many cat owners wonder if dry kibble alone can provide complete and balanced nutrition for their feline companions. This article explores whether cats can live healthily on dry food alone or if a mix of wet and dry is best. We’ll examine the key considerations around hydration, urinary tract health, dental health, and more when feeding an exclusive dry diet. Understanding the pros and cons will help cat owners make the right choice for their pets’ needs.

Dry vs. Wet Cat Food

Cats can be fed either dry kibble or wet canned food. There are pros and cons to both types:

Dry Food:


  • Typically less expensive than wet food
  • Can be left out all day for free-feeding
  • Promotes dental health by scraping plaque off teeth


  • Lower moisture content than wet food
  • Can lead to dehydration
  • Higher carbohydrate content

Wet Food:


  • Higher moisture content keeps cats hydrated
  • Typically higher protein and lower carb content
  • Many cats prefer the taste and texture


  • More expensive than dry food
  • Must be refrigerated after opening
  • Poor dental benefits compared to dry food

Both wet and dry cat foods have a role in a cat’s diet. Many cat owners choose to feed a combination of wet and dry food to balance out the pros and cons of each. However, wet food contains more moisture and can be an important source of hydration for cats prone to urinary issues.

Nutritional Needs

Cats have specific nutritional requirements that must be met in order to maintain good health. Their diet should contain adequate levels of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Protein is essential for building muscles, organs and other tissues. Cats require a higher protein level in their diet compared to other mammals due to their strict carnivorous nature. Most experts recommend that cat diets contain at least 25-35% high-quality protein from animal sources like chicken, turkey, fish and eggs [1].

Fats provide energy and essential fatty acids that help maintain healthy skin and coat. The Association of American Feed Control Officials recommends adult cat diets contain a minimum of 9% fat [2]. Most cat foods contain 10-15% fat from animal sources.

Cats also require vitamins like A, D, E, K, B vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine and selenium. Deficiencies in any of these can lead to health issues over time.


Cats are notorious for having a low thirst drive compared to other animals like dogs. This means cats don’t tend to recognize the signs of thirst until they are already dehydrated (source). Cats who only eat dry food are especially at risk of becoming chronically dehydrated over time because they don’t get much moisture from their diet.

Dehydration can lead to serious health issues in cats including urinary tract problems, kidney disease, and constipation. Some signs of dehydration in cats include lethargy, loss of appetite, dry or tacky gums, and reduced skin elasticity. Providing cats with a wet food diet is one of the best ways to increase their moisture intake and prevent dehydration.

For cats on an all dry diet, it’s essential that fresh water is always available and changed frequently. Cat owners can encourage drinking by using flavored waters, cat fountains, adding water to dry food, or feeding wet food as a treat. Getting plenty of moisture is crucial for cats’ health.

Dental Health

There’s a common perception that dry food helps keep cats’ teeth clean, while wet food can lead to more dental problems. But recent research challenges this belief. According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, there was no significant difference in dental health between cats fed wet or dry diets over a two-year period. In fact, exclusive dry food diets may actually lead to more dental issues down the line.

When cats eat dry food, the kibble briefly contacts the teeth before being swallowed whole. This does not provide enough abrasive chewing action to effectively control plaque buildup. So despite the crunchy texture, dry food does not clean cats’ teeth or prevent dental disease. The starch content can also feed bacteria growth and lead to more tartar accumulation over time.

One study from the National Library of Medicine found that adult cats fed an exclusive dry food diet had significantly more dental issues than those fed wet food or a mix of wet and dry. The findings challenge the idea that dry kibble promotes better dental health.

Urinary Tract Health

Feeding wet cat food can help promote urinary tract health in cats. Wet foods have high moisture content, which helps cats stay hydrated. Increased hydration leads to increased urine volume and flow, which helps flush out crystals and debris that could otherwise build up in the urinary tract and bladder [1].

Wet foods designed for urinary tract health, such as Purina Pro Plan Focus and Tiki Cat Puka Puka Luau, contain nutrients like antioxidants to support a healthy urinary tract. They also often have reduced magnesium and phosphorus, which can help prevent the formation of crystals and stones [2].

Compared to dry food, wet food provides an extra source of water to dilute and acidify urine, which makes the environment less hospitable for crystal formation. Cats with a history of urinary tract issues are often encouraged by vets to eat primarily or exclusively wet cat food [3].

Weight Management

When it comes to managing your cat’s weight, wet food tends to be better than dry food. Dry food is very calorie-dense and contains more carbohydrates than wet food. According to CareCredit, compared to wet food, dry food has around 10 times more calories per gram. This means cats need to eat much less wet food to get the same number of calories as dry food. For cats that need help losing weight, switching to wet food or a mix of wet and dry can help reduce calorie intake.

In addition, wet food has a high moisture content which helps cats feel fuller compared to dry food. The extra water in wet food allows cats to get hydrated while they eat. This combination of lower calories and higher moisture can help overweight cats slim down when transitioned to a wet or mixed wet and dry diet.


When considering cost, dry cat food is generally the more affordable option compared to wet food. According to the Tufts University Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, the daily cost for the same amount of calories can range from $0.23 to $5.77 when feeding only wet food, whereas even premium dry foods cost under $1 per day to feed the average 10 lb cat (Tufts). The reason dry food costs less is because the process to make kibble is simpler and involves fewer steps than canning wet food. Dry food also has a longer shelf life, allowing it to be bought in bulk and stored easily. While some higher protein or specialty diet wet foods can be priced similarly to dry, most wet foods will be significantly more expensive per day than kibble. However, some pet owners find the cost savings of dry food worth it for the convenience and dental health benefits.


In summary, cats can technically survive on a diet of only dry food, but an all-dry diet is not ideal for most cats. Dry food lacks moisture and cats have a low thirst drive, so feeding only dry puts them at risk of chronic dehydration. This can lead to urinary tract problems like infections, crystals, and blockages. Wet food provides more hydration and helps promote urinary tract health. Dry food also does little to help with dental health despite marketing claims. Some chewing from dry kibble helps, but does not replace dental cleanings. Overall, the best diet for cats combines wet and dry food to ensure adequate hydration and provide complete and balanced nutrition. Just dry food fails to meet many of a cat’s health needs. While possible for survival, an all-dry diet should be avoided if owners want their cats to truly thrive.


[1] Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. “Cat Obesity Facts.” https://petobesityprevention.org/cat-obesity-facts

[2] Blue Buffalo Company. “Wet Cat Food vs. Dry Cat Food.” https://bluebuffalo.com/health/wet-food-vs-dry-food/

[3] Cat Nutrition and Health Institute. “The Truth About Dry Cat Food.” https://www.catnutritioninstitute.org/dry-cat-food/

[4] Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “Dry vs. Wet Cat Food – Which is Better?” https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/nutrition-feeding/dry-vs-wet-food

[5] PetMD. “Is an All Dry Food Diet Safe for Your Cat?” https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/lhuston/2012/june/is-all-dry-food-diet-safe-your-cat-26765

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