No matter if they come in a can, pouch or tray, wet foods not only come in many different
flavors and ingredient combinations, there are also several different types of wet foods.
“Complete and balanced” vs. “For supplemental feeding only”
Products labeled as “complete and balanced”, either for a specific life stage (“growth” for puppies,
adult “maintenance” foods), or those suitable for “all life stages” must meet the same
standards of AAFCO nutrient profiles as dry foods. You can feed these foods exclusively or
mix them with dry food if desired, without disrupting any nutritional balances.
If a food is labeled as “for supplemental feeding only”, it is not “complete” with added vitamins
and minerals and not suitable to be fed “stand-alone” for any extended period of time. Use it
as an occasional “special” meal, or serve mixed with dry food, but do not replace more than
about a quarter of the dry portion with a supplemental addition.
Oddly enough, the types of wet food labeled “for supplemental feeding only” can be one of the
most valuable things you can add to your dog’s diet if you are feeding mostly dry food. Products
that contain nothing but meat and enough water to facilitate the manufacturing process
belong into this group. It can just be a single type of meat (such as tripe, chicken, salmon), or
a combination (e.g. beef and liver). These are best suited to be added to the diet of animals
who otherwise only eat dry food, since they provide the most important aspect: less processed
The next tier are products labeled “95% meat”, and these can either be “complete” (necessary
vitamins and minerals added), or “supplemental only”. Small amounts of fruits and vegetables,
various vegetable-based gums or other processing aids and natural flavors make up the remaining
five percent. 95% meat complete diets are one of the best feeding choices among
commercial foods, since they provide a species appropriate dietary composition. Both of
these high-meat products are also excellent to be mixed with dry food, especially if they already
contain a large amount of carbohydrates.
Last but not least we have standard formulas of wet foods that contain meats as well as
grains, potatoes/sweet potatoes, pasta, fruit, vegetables and supplements. The meat content
can vary quite a bit, so make sure it’s the first listed ingredient. Broth, stock or water is often
named second, since it is needed for processing the food. This product type is generally labeled
“complete and balanced” and can be fed exclusively. Of course you can still add this
type of wet food to dry food as well.
As you now already know, canned food is much less concentrated than dry food, which also
has the advantage that feeding a variety of different flavors and formulas is less likely to
cause digestive upset.
With all these positive aspects, please don’t forget that the foods are still commercial products
and the ingredient quality can vary drastically between manufacturers. Have a look at the
articles “Label Information 101” and “Ingredients to avoid” at www.dogfoodproject.com
read the information about artificial vitamin K at www.dogfoodproject.com/menadione
4. Debunking the myths
Incorrect information about wet food ranges from simple misinformation to outrageous old
wives tales. Let’s have a look at the facts!
"Kibble keeps the teeth clean and exercises the jaws"
First things first—cats and dogs are not “chewers”, they do not have the type of teeth with flat
“grinding” surfaces required for significantly reducing the particle size of their food like for
example humans and cows. They also have no lateral (sideways) movement in their jaws to
help the process. The natural way of eating for dogs and cats is to rip at their prey and tear
out chunks which are then mostly swallowed whole. Bones are gnawed and crushed, again
without any lateral movement of the jaws.
What truly exercises the jaws and keeps teeth clean is the friction from gnawing on tendons
and bones (or, as the case may be, a good chew toy, regardless whether it’s edible). The
much touted “scraping action” of dry foods only happens if the dog actually “crunches down”
on the pieces of food, and only around the top of the molars, but not the canine teeth or incisors,
and not where cleaning is most needed: at and below the gum line.
The “cleaning action” of special dental kibble comes from its larger size (the pet is forced to
“chew”), higher fiber content, and often also a specific coating that changes the chemical
composition of the saliva. Sadly the ingredient quality of these products and their nutritional
composition leave a lot to be desired.
How easily your dog’s teeth stay clean is also very dependent on genetics. Just like people,
some dogs just accumulate plaque and tartar more quickly than others and need extra help—
no matter what they eat. Unfortunately my own dog is one of the more unlucky individuals,
despite eating a raw diet with plenty of bones to gnaw on his teeth need frequent attention
and were even worse to keep clean when he was still eating kibble five years ago.
I always tell my clients to pay close attention to their dogs’ teeth no matter what they are
feeding, and to start my recommended maintenance program for dental and gum health if
they aren’t doing it already. Keeping your dog’s mouth healthy is one of the best things you
can do to extend his life, since chronic inflammation and infections spread toxins to all vital
organs through the blood stream.
"Wet food does not provide the same adequate nutrition as dry food"
Nothing could be further from the truth. If a wet food formulation is labeled as “complete and
balanced”, it must conform to the same AAFCO nutrient profiles as dry food and other products.
"Feeding canned food only will make a pet overweight"
While it is true that most canned foods are comparatively higher in fat content, no type of food
“makes a pet overweight”, feeding inappropriate amounts does. Don’t “eyeball” portions or
rely on the manufacturer’s feeding recommendations, but calculate how many calories the
usual dry food portion contains and feed accordingly if you are replacing dry with wet food. If
you are adding wet food as a “topping”, don’t forget to reduce the amount of kibble you feed.
"Wet food makes the pet's stool soft or gives them diarrhea"
The most common cause for soft stools or diarrhea is overfeeding—regardless whether you
feed dry or wet food. Start with smaller amounts and increase slowly.
Pets with a sensitive stomach may also react to the higher fat content, so when you begin
transitioning to feeding wet food, switch slowly, start with lower fat varieties and reduce the
portion size a bit.
Adding a few teaspoons of canned pumpkin (plain without salt added, not the spiced pie filling
mix!) to each meal will help to normalize stools quickly.
“You can’t leave out wet food for free-feeding animals”
This is correct—canned food should not be left out for extended periods of time. Free-feeding
is not a particularly healthy thing to do though, dogs and cats both are better off eating at set
mealtimes and giving the digestive system time to work in between
If your pet needs to eat more frequent small meals due to medical reasons and you are not
home during the day, I recommend feeding two meals consisting of wet food for breakfast and
dinner, and putting a small amount of dry food into an electronic feeder or a treat-dispensing
toy like a Buster Cube or Tricky Treat Ball, so that the pet has to work for it instead of just
eating it from a bowl.
“Wet food is more expensive to feed”
This is one is also true—due to the inclusion of more meat and less carbohydrates, and the
more expensive packaging, wet food is generally not as economical to feed as kibble.
After all you have learned today about the benefits of less processed food, if you do not
switch completely, I hope that I have convinced you to at least choose to enrich and enhance
your dog’s diet by adding some wet food and feed a smaller amount of kibble.
5. Tips on feeding wet foods
• If a can is dented, misshapen, or leaking, don’t buy it or feed its content to your pet.
• Bulging cans are an indication of spoilage and should not be used - exchange them for
• Likewise, if you hear a distinct hissing when opening (other than the normal noise when
air enters the can and releases the existing vacuum), do not feed the food and report the
problem to the manufacturer.
• Keeping remaining food in an opened can (sealing it with a reusable plastic or rubber lid,
or cling wrap) in the refrigerator for a day or two isn't a problem, but it's better to transfer
the leftovers to a glass or plastic container for storage to prevent oxidation.
• Since the price per weight unit is generally lower for larger cans, owners of small dogs or
cats can take advantage of larger containers and freeze smaller portions in suitable containers
for later use.
• Freeze canned food in a Kong toy for a wonderful treat that relieves boredom. You don’t
have to feed wet food out of a bowl!
• When combining dry and canned food, this is a simple way to do it:
First add some (warm, not hot) water to your pet’s bowl, about 1/4 cup per half cup of
kibble. Then add the amount of canned food you want to use and stir to make a “gravy”.
Mix in the dry food portion and coat well