tuxedo cat licking mouth after eating
Facebook Pinterest Twitter

Do Cats Need Wet Food?

Est. read time: 6 min.

Unlike dogs, domesticated cats tend to be picky about what they eat. You’ve probably heard that your cat should have some kind of canned wet food in addition to dry kibble. But do cats need wet food? While wet food is a good source of moisture and nutrients for your cat, there are substitutions to consider if your cat won’t eat it.

Do cats need wet food?

Most veterinarians will tell you that cats don’t need wet food—as long as they are getting enough water as well as the right nutrients from their other food sources. However, there are a lot of reasons to consider incorporating wet food into your cat’s diet.

Moisture content

Did you know that many cats are chronically dehydrated? In the wild, cats consume much of their necessary moisture content through live prey. Domesticated cats have no such luxury (although, comparatively, they live a life of luxury). They must get hydration from their food and water intake. Canned wet food is around 75 percent water, while dry food is only about 10 percent. 

Male cats in particular can benefit from a wet food diet. Lack of hydration in the diet can cause urinary crystals or stones in the urinary tract, which can lead to a life-threatening urethral obstruction. This is more common in male cats, but an important consideration for all felines.

Furthermore, chronic dehydration increases the risk of your cat developing kidney disease, also known as chronic renal failure.  


Wet cat food tends to be higher in protein than dry kibble. Cats are obligate carnivores, requiring a diet that consists of a high intake of animal protein. Dry kibble is more likely to contain carbohydrate fillers, which are generally unnecessary for cats and may cause digestive or obesity issues. According to Dr. Jason Nicholas at Preventive Vet, “the ideal macronutrient composition for cats is about 50-60 percent protein, 30-40 percent fat, and less than 10 percent carbohydrates.” 

Not only is wet food highly digestible, it contains other important vitamins and minerals for your cat such as Vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. 

Choosing the right wet food

Not all wet food is created equal, however. Some canned food for cats contain ingredients such as artificial colors, additives, salt, and preservatives—none of which make for healthy cat food. 

Determining which wet food to buy for your cat can be daunting. A good rule of thumb is to take a look at the ingredients, and make sure that the top ingredient is some source of animal protein. Some cat parents may be uncomfortable at the thought of their cats eating meat byproducts (although these are part of a normal meal for cats in the wild); if that’s the case, keep an eye out for ingredients such as internal organs, blood, fatty tissue, and so on. Even if you do not mind if your cat eats meat byproducts, make sure those ingredients are far down the list (in relatively small amounts).

Finally, you should look for nutritional labels on wet food such as “complete and balanced,” “USDA-certified organic,” or a nutritional statement that mentions AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials). 

Concerned about animal welfare? While cats should not be on vegan or vegetarian diets, you can shop for cat food brands that bear welfare certification labels—these represent more humane and transparent farming practices.

If your cat refuses to eat wet food…

If you’re giving your cat a mix of wet food and dry food but they won’t touch anything but the kibble, what do you do? Before giving up on wet food altogether, try these tips:

  • Warm the wet food to a tepid temperature (check for hot spots before serving)
  • Crumble some cat treats or even a tiny bit of catnip over the food to entice your cat to try it
  • Sprinkle tuna juice over the food
  • Mix their dry food into the wet food
  • Place the wet food in a separate bowl or separate area from their regular food

If all else fails, consider purchasing a pet water fountain to encourage extra hydration in your cat’s diet. Cats tend to prefer drinking fresh, running water to the stale water sitting in their bowls. Make sure they have regular water bowls with frequently refreshed water, as well.

If your cat throws up after eating wet food… 

Does your cat love wet food, but you’ve given up on feeding it to them because they always seem to throw it up? If your cat throws up after eating wet food, it could be for one of these reasons:

  • Eating too fast: Wet food doesn’t require as much time chewing as dry food, so your cat may be consuming too much, too fast—also known as the “scarf and barf.” Try giving them a smaller amount of food at a time, more times a day, or mixing in some dry food to slow down their eating process.
  • Low-quality: The wet food your cat is eating may have low-quality or inappropriate ingredients. Check the label again to make sure that an animal protein is listed first and foremost, and that ingredients such as artificial colors, artificial flavors, additives, salt, and preservatives are not listed at all.
  • It’s cold: Eating cold wet food may also upset your cat’s stomach. Make sure the wet food is at room temperature.
  • Running around: Your cat may also be running around right after they eat wet food, which could lead to an upset stomach. Try to keep them in one room to avoid these zoomies, and pet or hold them to distract them for a few minutes.
  • Sensitive stomach: The wet food may have high-quality ingredients, but one of the ingredients bothers your cat’s stomach. Try a variety of meats (chicken, salmon, etc.) and styles (gravy, paté, broth, etc.) to determine if one of these works for them.

How long can wet cat food sit out?

Wet cat food should sit out a maximum of 1-2 hours at room temperature. If the room is particularly warm, move leftovers to the fridge within 30 minutes. Any longer than these time frames may result in spoiled food, which could lead to upset stomach or even food poisoning in your cat.

Discard wet cat food that’s been sitting in the fridge after 48 hours.

So, do cats need wet food? Now you know why it’s a good idea to feed your cat both wet food and dry food!


Cover photo by Nathalia Ferreira on Unsplash

long-haired black and white and brown cat with yellow eyes licking his mouth - do cats need wet food?