Ask most dogs what kind of food they would prefer and they would likely indicate canned food (also known as tinned or “wet” food). It would probably be preferred even over raw food by most dogs. In general, canned food is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Some foods are very high in protein. Even canned foods that are of modest quality usually have quite a bit of protein compared to average dog foods. And, since canned foods go through the canning process, they don’t need the same kind of preservatives that dry foods usually require.
You can read about the canning process here.
Once the ingredients are mixed, the mixture is placed into the cans and the lids are sealed on the cans with a partial vacuum. The sealed cans are placed in the “retorting” machine. This is where the canned foods are cooked and sterilized using steam. After the sealed cans are cooled in water and dried, they are labeled and readied for shipment.
You can see, this is quite different from the way kibbles are cooked and prepared.
Is canned the best choice for your dog?
There are some good reasons to feed a canned dog food. As mentioned previously, canned foods do not have as many chemicals added to them as kibbles. Most of them do not contain artificial colors or flavors and they don’t need preservatives because of the canning process.
Canned foods also have far fewer carbohydrates than kibbles. Many of them are grain free – and were grain free before it became popular. While kibbles require starches for the extrusion process, canned foods have no such requirement for their manufacture. This means that canned foods have room for more protein and fat – the reasons dogs love them. These ingredients also happen to be beneficial for most dogs. With some canned foods you can literally open the can and see the meat and other ingredients. It often looks like your Sunday dinner. Canned foods generally come as stews, in gravy, as loafs or pates.
As already mentioned, most dogs enjoy canned foods better than kibbles. Canned foods have more flavor than kibble. They have a better smell (for dogs) than kibble. If you have a dog that won’t eat, then choosing a canned food may be a good way to get your dog eating again. This is especially true if you have a senior dog or a dog that is convalescing after surgery or an illness. Many times feeding canned food can tempt a dog with a poor appetite. Senior dogs can start to have their sense of smell and taste fade as they age so kibble may not appeal to them. A wet dog food may be just the thing to get an older dog to eat.
If you need to slip your dog some medication – either liquid or a pill – you may be able to hide it in his canned food, too. This approach can take a little practice, depending on the kind of wet food your dog likes and how willing (or suspicious) he is when he eats his food. If he’s the kind of dog that wolfs down his food, you may be able to get him to take his medicine several times before he notices there is something different about his meals. But, if he is a cautious eater, he might notice right away that something is different which could ruin your efforts. Still, it works with many dogs.
If you have a dog that has dental problems such as missing teeth or a wry mouth (poorly-aligned jaw), which makes it difficult to eat harder foods, then softer canned foods may help your dog eat.
Some dogs may not get enough water in their diet. If your dog needs more moisture in his diet – perhaps for a health problem – canned foods could be the answer. While most kibbles have a moisture percentage of around 9-12 percent, canned foods usually have a moisture content of 75-82 percent. More moisture in a dog’s diet is usually better for the kidneys and makes the food easier to digest.
Drawbacks to feeding wet foods
As usual, there are some possible drawbacks to these foods. For one thing, if you have a medium-sized or larger dog, feeding a canned food diet can be virtually cost-prohibitive, especially if you try to feed a premium quality canned food. Some of the top quality canned dog foods can cost $3-4 for a 13 to 14 ounce large can, with two cans per day recommended for a dog weighing 30 pounds; and three cans per day recommended for a dog weighing 50 pounds. (Some feeding recommendations provided by pet food companies would make a dog obese so we always recommend that you figure for yourself how many calories per day your dog needs.) Many people with large dogs only buy canned foods occasionally and use them as a topper or special treat because of the cost.
In terms of ingredients, many canned foods use the thickening agent carrageenan, made from seaweed. Concerns have been raised about carrageenan in connection with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), intestinal ulcers, and other stomach problems. Other concerns have been raised regarding guar gum, xanthum gum, agar agar, and other thickening agents used in canned foods and whether they are associated with digestive problems in some dogs.
Pet food cans today are also (mostly) lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA), though there do not seem to be any good alternatives at this time.
Other drawbacks include the fact that feeding wet foods can be messy. Some dogs tend to get the wet food on their faces and bodies when they eat. They can also spread the food around the floor and elsewhere.
There are mixed feelings about whether wet foods lead to more dental problems for dogs. While it’s true that dry foods probably don’t keep a dog’s teeth cleaner as people used to claim (unless you are feeding one of the dog foods with a special dental supplement), some people do believe that wet foods can lead to more dental problems for dogs. However, this could be due to the fact that canned foods are more often fed to Toy breeds and some of these breeds are known for having some genetic dental issues. We think the jury is out on whether canned foods lead to more dental problems for dogs.
Canned foods cannot be left sitting out, the way kibbles can. Once you open a can of dog food, it needs to be used within a short time or thrown away. You can cover it and store it in your refrigerator but even then, it should be used fairly soon or it will spoil.
Canned foods are typically harder to purchase in large quantities and their storage is more of a problem than bags of kibble. If you are trekking to the grocery store or Costco, you can bring home a 40-pound bag of dog food for one dog and expect it to last a while. But if you have to carry multiple heavy cases of canned food and find a place to store it at home, it can be a problem. Of course, with online sources like Chewy.com and easy delivery, this is less of a problem today.
Best canned dog foods:
If you decide to try some canned dog foods, there are quite a few brands that we like.
- Lotus Just Juicy
- ZiwiPeak Daily Dog Cuisine
- Nature’s Recipe Grain Free
- Nature’s Logic
- Hound & Gatos
- Wellness CORE Grain Free
- Tiki Dog
These are a few of the foods we like. There are others. In some cases a food may not be on the list because we haven’t had a chance to look closely at it yet. In other cases, a food may actually be a supplement and not have AAFCO approval as a diet for an adult dog (maintenance, all life stages). These foods will usually have this AAFCO statement on the label: “This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.” Some dog food mixes fall into this category. Some canned foods that are all-meat or specialty diets also fall into this category such as PetKind Tripett.
In some cases you will find dog foods (canned and otherwise) that have no AAFCO statement. When this occurs, you should contact the company to try to ascertain the AAFCO status of the food. Otherwise, you should assume that the food is not complete and balanced. Your dog’s health is too important to feed him a diet on a long-term basis that could be unbalanced.
Is a canned food right for your dog?
Ultimately, you have to make this decision. Certainly there are some excellent wet foods being made today. If you have a senior dog that needs to be tempted to eat or a Toy/small breed, a wet food diet can be a very good choice. If you have a large dog, you may need to consider your budget. Feed canned foods on special occasions or as toppers. As always, read the label, check the ingredients, and look at the calories. Many canned foods have very high fat percentages and they are high in calories so you may not need to feed as much as is suggested in the feeding guidelines. If you decide to try canned foods for your dog, he will probably like them very much.