In case you haven’t noticed, every pet site, shop or even veterinary clinic you go to, you’re always presented with two fundamental types of dog food: dry kibbles and canned food. They are clearly distinguishable from their packaging alone. Dry kibbles typically come in bags or even sacks. Canned doggie foods, on the other hand, come in, well, cans. However, there is actually more to it than just their packaging would suggest. In fact, it has become one of the hottest talking points in dog owner circles. The divide is clearly getting wider with those in favor of dry dog food on one end and those who espouse canned canine delicacies on the other. So what gives? Here, we’ll take a look at the ongoing battle between dry dog food and canned food.
Understanding the Ideal Food for Dogs
Even before we can start answering the question which between dry kibbles and wet dog food is better for our pooches, it is important to gain understanding of the fundamental nutritional requirements of these pets. Only then can we craft a more sensible answer to the nagging question.
There was a point in man’s history when dogs are believed to be carnivorous creatures, having descended from a lineage that includes wolves, jackals, coyotes, and dingoes, just to name a few. Because of this, many thought that by giving domesticated canids meat-based diets on an exclusive basis, we are essentially catering to their innate needs. Sadly, this was not the case as many dogs that have been fed exclusive meat eventually suffered in the long run. Since then, our view of dogs as carnivores changed and we now consider them as omnivores.
Regrettably, many of the dog foods currently available in the market simply don’t get the ideal nutrient composition required by domesticated canids. To illustrate our point, let us compare the nutrient composition of dogs in the wild and commercially available dry dog food.
- Wild dog diet – 56% protein, 25 to 30% fat, and 14% carbohydrates
- Dry dog food – 18 to 32% protein, 8 to 22% fat, and 46 to 74% carbohydrates
As you can see, the ‘natural’ nutrient composition of dog food should be proteins and fats, making up almost 86 percent of their diet. Now, compare this to what many dry dog food contain and you can easily see that we are mostly feeding our dogs carbohydrates, filling up almost three-quarters of their diet. It is no wonder then that many of our dogs today suffer from obesity and obesity-related health conditions primarily because of too much carbohydrate in their diet.
Do take note that canine diet in the wild still includes carbs, making them omnivores. But, the proportion of carbs to proteins and fats is generally lower. What we have today is the direct opposite. You have a greater proportion of carbs than proteins and fats combined.
The Question of Digestibility
The reason why dogs need more protein is that their digestive system is not primarily designed for roughage. They are not cows or other grass-feeding animals. Dogs require proteins and fats because their digestive system is more efficient in processing these nutrients.
For example, egg whites are often used as the benchmark for assessing the digestibility of food items. Egg white proteins are easily digested by the canine stomach. As such, it is given a score of 1.0. Let us take a look at the digestibility of some of the common food items that some of us would give to our pets.
- Lean meats – 92%
- Organ meats – 90%
- Milk and cheese – 89%
- Rice – 72%
- Wheat – 60%
- Corn – 54%
As you can see, meats are a lot easier digested by the canine stomach. Fibrous food materials take time to digest if not fully digested at all. For instance, compare corn which has a digestibility of only 54% with lean meats with 92%. This means that the gastrointestinal system of our dogs is inherently designed to process proteins and fats. It can still digest carbohydrates but only to a lesser degree.
Check out our guide on the Best Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs for more info.
Are Canned Dog Foods Better?
Based on the foregoing discussion, you will be inclined to think that canned dog foods are better than dry kibbles primarily because they resemble a mixture that contains more protein and fat. Sadly, this is not always the case.
It is important to understand that, while canned dog foods essentially have fewer carbohydrates per weight compared to dry dog food, a greater proportion of a canned food’s weight is composed of water or moisture. A typical canine wet diet is composed of 75% moisture or water. This simply means that the remaining 25% is what comprises its nutrient content. Let us take this into perspective.
Let us say you have a 300 gram can of wet canine diet.
- 225 grams (75%) is mostly water
- 75 grams (25%) is proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
Now, let us break the 75 grams some more.
- Proteins at 55% – 41.25 grams
- Fats at 30% – 22.5 grams
- Carbohydrates at 15% – 11.25 grams
This is just hypothetical, of course. But, as you can see, just because wet dog food contains less carbohydrate doesn’t necessarily mean it is already great for your pet. You will really need to read carefully the nutritional information printed on the label of these cans. Otherwise, you are essentially giving your pet something that you can also provide through other means.
So, does this mean wet dog food is bad? Not necessarily. Wet dog foods are exceptionally beneficial in the following situations:
- If your pet is sick that it refuses to eat because of changes in its appetite,
- If your pet is not drinking at all or drinks relatively poorly,
- If you have a senior pooch whose olfactory sense is already diminished, and
- If your pet has poorly aligned jaw, missing teeth, or even small mouth.
Sadly, wet canine diets have a few drawbacks.
- These are messier.
- Once opened, it easily spoils.
- More expensive.
Take a look at our review of the Best Senior Dog Food for more options.
Is Dry Dog Food Better, Then?
If wet canine diets are mostly filled with moisture and fewer nutrient content that you’d essentially need to feed more of it to your dog to provide the nutrients it needs, dry dog food is essentially filled with a lot of fillers. One other thing, a review of the nutritional information of some leading brands show that they have minimum and maximum content levels which do not give you any idea on the actual amount that you’re getting.
To give you an example, you may see a product containing the following:
- Crude protein – minimum 21%
- Crude fat – minimum 10%
- Crude fiber – maximum 4%
The labeling doesn’t tell you how much of a particular nutrient is actually getting. Sure, you may be getting a maximum of 4% fiber which is their way of saying that it contains 4% carbohydrates, max. But the question now is the actual percentage composition for protein and fat. It simply means at least 21% for protein. Does it mean 50%? How about 70% or maybe 25%? No one knows.
Reading the label again and you’ll see in their ingredient list ground whole corn, beet pulp, ground whole wheat, brewers rice, and corn and gluten meal. And then they include vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids into the ingredient list.
The foregoing simply underscores the pervasive lack of transparency among many dog food manufacturers. We said ‘many’ because clearly, there are brands that go out of their way to disclose the full nutrient content of their products. The question that most people have then is that, if the nutritional composition of dry kibbles is less than 100%, then what comprises the rest?
Nevertheless, dry dog food is highly regarded for the following benefits:
- Very economical
- Has a long shelf life even when already opened
- May be helpful in promoting healthier canine teeth and gums
- Easy to store in dog food containers
- Very convenient to bring along in travels
- Less messy
Weighing Your Options
From the foregoing presentation, it is clear that neither dry dog food nor canned canine diets can provide the kind of nutrition that ancestral canids have enjoyed through many centuries. Choosing one over the other will often require taking some actions to help supplement deficiencies.
If you choose dry dog foods, know that you have to increase your pet’s water intake through other means such as giving it plenty of fresh drinking water in its bowl or water dispenser. It also means you have to be very careful about the high carbohydrate content of such canine diets. And if it has low carbohydrate content, you need to ascertain that its remaining ingredients are not mere fillers. Dry food is great if your primary considerations are cost, ease of storage and feeding, and oral care for your pet.
If you choose canine canned foods, know that you need to give them more of the preparation since it is mostly composed of moisture. You may also have to take note of the actual composition of the nutrients contained in the product. Canned dog foods are ideal for sick and senior dogs, canines that don’t drink too much, obese or overweight pooches, and highly active canines.
Choosing between dry and canned dog foods should take into consideration the long term needs of your pet. Then, you can factor your own preferences as your pooch’s pet parent.
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- Niki Parker, DVM, What Is the Best Dog Food?, PetMD