Best Wet Dog Food v. Best Dry Dog Food for your Pup?

By Gabriela Elizondo / March 16, 2017
Wet vs Dry Dog Food

A Match Between The Best Wet Dog Food or The Best Dry Dog Food?

By Dr. Lee R. Harris

Best wet dog food vs best dry dog food

“What’s for dinner?” is an intimidating question when a dog owner is stuck in the food aisle at the grocery store, or worse yet, in the endless rows of bags and cans in the pet supply superstore. There are so many questions that come to mind: “Which dog food brand offers the best wet dog food?”, “What do these ingredients mean?”, “How do I know which is high-quality dog food?”


What’s worse is, these questions are made even more confusing by the cleverly worded marketing claims that promise a glossier coat, a stronger immune system, a lean dog body, or even a smarter dog with every product.


This article will examine how we can best feed our dogs high-quality protein, but the most basic question is: “Should I feed my pup canned dog food or dry food?”


The simple answer to this question is that wet or raw food that come in a can are generally richer, tastier, and a lot more expensive. Your dog will like it…your pocketbook, not so much. But there is a lot more to consider.


I have been a practicing veterinarian for more than 40 years, and during every one of my 100,000 patient visits I have asked: “What do you feed your dog?” I’m happy to report that the majority of dog owners go to great efforts to get their dogs the nutrients they need.


What is the difference between the best dry pet food that comes from a bag and best wet dog food which is usually canned? The first is palatability.

Wet Dog Food

wet dog food vs dry dog food

Who doesn’t want to see their dog dive into their dinner with gusto? Wet dog food dog food has more attractive ingredients like real chicken, brown rice, and sweet potato. This is nice because your dog can actually enjoy the feeling and the texture of the pet food as it’s swallowed. They may not take much time to savor the flavor, but the pleasure of chomping a mouthful of delicious ingredients fresh out of a can is obvious. But if the dog doesn’t eat it all immediately, the food will become spoiled, so it doesn’t suit dogs that graze.


When I wander thru the pet food aisle, I like to compare the different foods and ingredients. When I pick up a bag of dry kibble or the latest and greatest, best wet dog food, I ignore the cute picture of an adorable pooch and flip the bag or can over to look at the “Guaranteed Analysis.” The most important thing to know about any food is the relative amounts of nutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates – that the product contains. Here, the important difference between dry and canned dog food is found.


Fat provides about 25% of the calories in the average good quality dry food…

…but more than 40% of the calories in a typical can of pet food. That can be a good thing (or a health hazard) but fat certainly tastes good (the current recommendation for humans is to limit fat to less than 30% of calories consumed). The best wet dog food will also have higher protein and lower carbohydrate percentages than their dry counterparts. You won’t find carbohydrates listed on the label but, if you add up protein, fat, fiber, and moisture, the remaining percentage is carbohydrates.


Considerable controversy has formed around the proper ratio of ingredients in puppy food. It’s a common debate whether dogs should get more protein and vegetables with fewer carbs. Due to this debate, a number of alternative diets have popped up in recent years like grain-free dog food or even vegan dog food.


Sometimes household finances get the deciding vote when it comes to what goes in the dog dish…

…I recently surveyed a number of pet food brand and found that the best wet dog food typically cost three to four times as much per calorie as kibble. This is a valid concern, even for the person who would do anything to please their best friend.


Calculating the caloric needs for a 20-pound, neutered dog, the cost of canned dog food would be $1.50 to $2.50 a day. An 80-pound dog would eat up 4 cans a day, costing $6 to $10 to maintain their caloric needs. You might notice that the larger the dog, the less food they need per pound of body weight. Kibble can certainly be more economical, especially for the bigger pets. Most of the dogs that I see who eat only canned dog food are small breed dogs where it is more affordable.


There are a number of other things we could talk about when considering the best wet dog food: obesity, pancreatitis/fat intolerance (particularly in Schnauzers and Shih Tzu), digestive issues, kidney problems, dental disease, aggression, and allergies, but those may be best discussed with your veterinarian.


Feeding Your Dog The Best Wet Dog Food

what is the best dog food

    • With a growing puppy…

      • I like to give some canned dog food along with the chosen kibble.  We don’t have to worry about the puppy getting overweight and the extra protein can be helpful.  In small breed dogs, they simply may not be able to eat enough bites of kibble (even the tiny toy breed crunchies) to keep their blood sugar up without some easy-to-swallow moist food.  Bigger puppies should get a scoop of canned dog food on their dry at feeding time.
    • With adults…

      • I often have dog owners give a little scoop of can dog food with the meals, not for its nutritional value, but as a “condiment” that induces the dog to eat better.  However, since more than half of the adult dogs in this country are overweight or obese, we really don’t need to encourage those dogs to overeat any more than they already are!
    • With sick dogs…

      • When dogs need to take chronic medications (for arthritis, for example) it is nice to hide the pill in a little “meatball” of canned food. Again, this is more a treat and not a major source of nutrition.
    • With picky dogs…

      • Most dogs eat more than they need, but there are some canines that are too finicky and feeding mostly canned food can be a good way to get more calories into the body. This most often occurs with very small breed dogs, which deserve their picky reputation.
    • With geriatric dogs…

      • They sometimes do better on canned food, as the smell wakes up the desire to eat that sometimes deteriorates with the senility of advanced age. In these dogs it is critical to consult your veterinarian about the best food: Dogs with aging kidneys may not tolerate the extra protein in canned food.
    • With small breeds…

      • Many small breed dogs develop serious fat intolerance problems after 5 years of age (Schnauzers are notorious for this), and serious (sometimes fatal) pancreatitis can be the result. I recommend NO canned food—or human table food—for my Schnauzer patients, or for other dogs who get a sensitive stomach after eating high-fat foods.
    • For all dogs…

      • High-quality protein is important so check the ingredients! If your dog prefers chicken, try to find dog food made with actual chicken meat instead of chicken by-product meal or other meat by-product.
      • While added vitamin and mineral sounds great in theory, these brands are not boasting, they’re warning you. Vitamins and minerals are only added back in to dog food when the food is so highly processed that it is void of nutrients.


There you have it. Add some canned food if you want to give your dog an extra treat at mealtime, but not if they have a weight problem or fat intolerance. Some dogs do fine on strictly canned food diets, most do great on dry food only, but eating should be a pleasure.


Also, don’t forget to check the label and compare dog food brands to ensure they are getting the best nutrients they can! Helpful hint: you should be able to pronounce the ingredients in your pet’s food. Whole foods like chicken, sweet potato, brown rice, and vegetables are preferable to things you’ve never even heard of like d-calcium pantothenate (a synthetic vitamin).


Lee R. Harris, DVM


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Wet vs Dry Dog Food

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Turns out there are quite a few benefits to switching to grain free dog food! If you want to learn more about grain free dog food and its ingredients, click here!


Dr. Lee Harris

Lee R. Harris graduated from the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine and spent more than four decades caring for pets in his own multi-doctor veterinary hospital near Seattle and at other clinics in San Diego, Phoenix, and Seattle. A lifelong interest in animal behavior, neuroscience, human medicine, and psychology has given him a broad view of subjects relevant to the understanding of the canine patients that he loves. Dr. Harris has spoken and written extensively about dogs and cats, including articles in the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and the Houston Chronicle. His books include The Good Life For Dogs and The Good Life For Cats.

About the author

Gabriela Elizondo