Should You Add Water to Dry Cat Food? The Pros and Cons


Many cat owners wonder if it’s a good idea to add water to dry cat food. This controversial practice, known as “wetting” dry food, has sparked debate among veterinarians and cat owners alike. Some tout it as an easy way to increase hydration, while others argue it can diminish nutrients and spoil quickly. So should you wet your cat’s food or not? We’ll examine the pros and cons, vet recommendations, alternatives, and tips to ensure proper hydration either way.

Wetting dry food involves adding a small amount of water prior to feeding it to your cat. Some owners use warm water or broth in hopes of making it more enticing. The idea is that the added moisture will help cats, especially seniors and those prone to urinary problems, get more fluids. But wetting may also cause dry food to lose crunchy texture and spoil faster.

Pros of Wetting Dry Food

One of the main benefits of wetting dry food is that it increases your cat’s moisture intake ( Cats have a low thirst drive and often don’t drink enough water on their own. Adding water to dry food can help cats stay hydrated. Dry food only contains around 10% moisture, whereas wet food typically contains around 75% moisture ( Adding water to dry food brings the moisture content closer to wet food levels.

Wetting dry food also helps make it more aromatic and appetizing for finicky cats. The water releases the smell and flavor of the food. This can entice cats to eat foods they previously turned their nose up at. Making the food more palatable and irresistible can help prevent cats from skipping meals.

Cons of Wetting Dry Food

Wetting dry cat food can come with some downsides. One main concern is that adding water to dry kibble can cause bacterial growth if left out for too long. Dry food is formulated to be shelf-stable, while wet food contains moisture that allows microbes to multiply more rapidly (Martha Stewart, 2023). Bacteria multiply fastest between 40°F and 140°F, so if moistened kibble sits out within this temperature range, harmful pathogens could grow and cause gastrointestinal upset or illness if consumed.

Another potential downside is that wetting dry food can alter the texture, which some cats may dislike. Dry kibble is crunchy, while wetting it turns it soft or soggy. Some felines are very particular about food textures and may reject kibble that has been moistened. Additionally, softened kibble may stick to the teeth and mouth, leading to poor dental health over time.

Vet Recommendations

Most vets caution against regularly wetting dry cat food before feeding it to cats. As noted by Dr. Gary Richter writing for Laursen Veterinary Clinic, wetting dry food can lead to bacterial growth if left out too long before your cat eats it. The moisture creates a prime environment for bacteria to multiply.

However, occasionally wetting dry food may be acceptable for picky eaters who need extra encouragement to eat. Adding a bit of warm water to dry kibble can enhance the smell and taste. Vets may also recommend wetting dry food for cats who need extra fluids or are not drinking enough water on their own. But the wet food should be consumed right away rather than left out.

Overall, vets typically recommend feeding cats a balanced combination of wet and dry foods rather than trying to make dry food into wet food. Wet cat food naturally contains more moisture content. If your cat needs more fluids, gradually transitioning to scheduled wet food feedings can help provide hydration.

Alternatives to Wetting Dry Food

While wetting dry food can help increase moisture intake for some cats, there are other options cat owners can try that don’t involve compromising the integrity of the kibble:

Feed wet cat food separately from dry food. Wet or canned cat foods contain much higher moisture levels than dry kibble, so feeding it separately can help increase your cat’s hydration. Focus on high protein, grain-free wet foods. Offer wet food at different times than dry food. According to PetCareRx, alternating wet and dry foods is an optimal mixed diet for cats.

Use cat milk or broths between meals. Cat milk and broth products are available that provide moisture and nutrients. Give your cat a small amount between meals to help with hydration. Look for products designed specifically for cats, as conventional dairy milk can cause digestive upset.

With a combination of wet food, dry food, and moisture-rich supplements, cat owners can find alternatives to wetting down kibble that keep their cats hydrated.

Signs Your Cat Needs More Fluids

Dehydration in cats can be life-threatening if left untreated. There are some key signs to look out for that may indicate your cat needs more fluids:

Decreased urine output is one of the most telltale signs of dehydration in cats. Healthy cats will urinate several times per day in the litter box. If you notice decreased urine clumps or your cat not visiting the litter box as frequently, it could mean they are not getting enough fluids. A dramatic drop in urine production is a red flag for dehydration.

Another sign is loss of skin elasticity. Gently pinch the skin on the back of your cat’s neck and see how quickly it bounces back. With mild dehydration, the skin will be slower to return to normal. With moderate or severe dehydration, the skin will “tent” and take several seconds to flatten back down. This tenting effect indicates a loss of skin elasticity due to insufficient fluids in the body tissues.

Other symptoms like lethargy, sunken eyes, dry gums, weakness, and extreme thirst can also indicate dehydration. If your cat is showing any of these signs, contact your veterinarian, as they may need intravenous or subcutaneous fluids to recover. The earlier dehydration is treated, the better the outcome for your cat.[1]

Tips for Transitioning Foods

When transitioning your cat to a new food, it’s important to do so gradually over the course of several days or weeks. This gives your cat’s digestive system time to adjust to the new ingredients and nutrients. Here are some tips for a smooth food transition:

Mix wet and dry food together: Start by mixing a small amount of the new food in with your cat’s current food. Over time, increase the ratio of new to old food. For example, on days 1-2, do a 25%/75% mix. On days 3-4, do 50%/50%. Then on days 5-7, do 75%/25%.

Take it slow: Sudden food changes can upset your cat’s stomach. Transition over 5-7 days when switching foods, or even 2-3 weeks for a more gradual shift. Go slow and watch for signs of digestive issues like vomiting or diarrhea, in which case you may need to slow the transition even more.

Keep an eye on portions: When mixing foods, adjust portions so your cat eats the same amount at each meal. Cats can get overwhelmed by new textures and flavors and may not finish all their food during the switch.

Stick to a schedule: Feed meals at the same consistent times each day. This helps your cat’s digestion stay regular.

Make wet food tempting: If switching to wet food, try warming it up a bit to bring out the aroma. You can also mix in a bit of tuna juice or broth. Place it in a shallow dish so it’s easy to lick up.

Have patience: Some cats are pickier than others. It may take time and coaxing for your cat to accept the new food. Be patient and keep transitioning gradually until your cat adjusts.

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Ensuring Adequate Hydration

Cats need an ample supply of clean, fresh water in order to stay hydrated. Water should be changed frequently, ideally every day. Allowing water to sit for too long can cause it to become stale and unappetizing to cats. Stagnant water may also accumulate bacteria, which can make cats sick if ingested. Providing a regular supply of clean, fresh water encourages cats to drink more. According to PetMD, “Don’t just add water to a bowl in which the level has dropped. Dump out the whole bowl, wash it thoroughly, and refill it with fresh water.”

Using a pet fountain or circulating water dish can help keep water fresh and encourage drinking. The sound and movement of flowing water fascinates cats and draws them to drink more often. As PetMD explains, “Cats often like fresh water, so fountains can help keep cats hydrated.” Fountains continually cycle and filter water to reduce bacteria. The constant circulation helps prevent water from becoming stagnant. Position the fountain in an easily accessible location to make it convenient for your cat to use. Clean and refill fountains regularly per the manufacturer’s directions.

Consider Your Cat’s Needs

Some cats may require more hydration than others. According to Understanding Your Cat’s Drinking Habits, kittens and senior cats often need to take in more fluids. Kittens have higher metabolic rates and are still growing, while older cats can have declining kidney function.

It’s important to monitor your cat’s hydration status closely, especially if they are a kitten or senior cat. Look for signs of dehydration like lethargy, dry gums, and loss of skin elasticity. If your cat is not getting enough fluids, talk to your veterinarian about options to increase their fluid intake.

While wet food or adding water to dry food can help, some cats may need supplemental fluids under the skin (subcutaneous fluids) recommended by a vet. Providing ample fresh water, cat fountains, broths, or wet treats can also encourage drinking.

Pay attention to any changes in your cat’s drinking habits along with the rest of their health. This can help spot potential issues early before they become more serious.


To recap, there are pros and cons to wetting dry cat food. The main pros are that it can increase your cat’s fluid intake, which is important for urinary tract health. It can also make dry food more palatable if your cat is a picky eater. However, the main cons are that wet food can spoil quickly and lead to bacterial growth if left out. It can also diminish the beneficial dental effects of dry food in helping clean teeth.

Ultimately, wetting dry food isn’t inherently good or bad. Consider your veterinarian’s advice and your individual cat’s needs. Does your cat drink enough water on their own? Do they have any urinary tract issues that warrant increased fluid intake? Or do they have dental issues where keeping food dry would be better for their teeth? Every cat is different, so make sure to monitor their health and adjust their food and water as needed. The goal is keeping your cat hydrated and healthy, whether that’s through wet food, dry food, added water, or other fresh water sources.

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