The Shocking Truth About Canned Dog Food

I have a special assignment for you.
Pour your self a big bowl of cereal- the crunchier the better.
Now examine your teeth. Do they look clean to you?
Tomorrow I want you to serve yourself a nice slice of meatloaf.
Then examine your teeth. Do they look cleaner to you than when you ate the cereal?

The answer is most likely going to be “no” in both situations.

So why would we assume that dry dog food cleans our dogs teeth as they eat or that canned dog food causes any more plaque to form that dry food would?

One of the biggest misconceptions about canned dog food is that it will cause dental concerns. I know I spent years avoiding canned food for that very reason. I believed the notion that kibble, being harder, would clean my dogs teeth. “Don’t feed you dog canned! It will rot their teeth! Dry food cleans the teeth better!”
If you participated in the above assignment, you would understand just how ridiculous this belief really is. And I admit, I fell for it to.

The shocking truth about canned dog food is that really isn’t as bad as people think and that it could be considered superior to dry dog food for many reasons.

There are three types of dental debris- food particles, plaque, and calculus (tartar). Food particles are easy to remove. Plaque is the sticky film that coats the entire tooth that requires physical scrubbing or brushing to remove. Calculus, or tartar, is the hard, barnacle crust that forms along the gum line that is very difficult to remove without dentistry tools. All three types of dental debris can be found in dogs on dry kibble only diets as well as those who are fed canned.

Dry food can remove some plaque on some parts of the tooth surface but is just as ineffective as canned food to remove plaque that develops along the gum line where the most harm is done, causing periodontal (gum) disease in dogs.

Only dry foods that have received the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal (product meets standards for effectiveness in retarding plaque and tartar when used as directed) have scientific evidence behind them to back up their claims that their dry food helps prevent plaque or tartar buildup. However, at the time of this post, there is only 7 brands of dry dog food listed, after going back all the way to 1998 (and are from manufacturers such as Hills, Iams Company, and Nestle Purina Company which have all had their fair share of complaints regarding the quality of their products- but that’s a post for another time, LOL!).

Still not convinced that canned foods are actually really good for your dog over dry food?

Here are even more reasons why canned dog food beats dry:

  • Typically contain more actual meat content and is subject to less processing that can destroy valuable nutrients
  • Higher in meat protein which is recommended for active and younger dogs who require this extra boost in protein to help them build muscle. It is thought that higher-protein diets may reduce seizures in epileptic dogs.  Some pet advocates argue that a dog food too high in protein can overtax the kidneys and liver and feel that dry, with lower protein content, provides a better balance. It is thought that a low protein diet is best, which can be achieved easily with a dry kibble diet but studies are showing that high QUALITY protein is not a contributing factor to kidney disease in senior pets. Dogs that have already developed kidney issues or liver disease should speak with their vet for their recommendations on which food is optimal for their dog.
  • Fewer carbohydrates which is said to be beneficial to dogs with diabetes. Carbohydrates, specifically the refined carbohydrates which contain sugar and glucose, are a leading contributor to tooth decay in dogs- not necessarily the hard or softness of the food itself. =Its usually the “people food” we sneak to our dogs that contain those refined carbs that cause this concern!
  • No synthetic (chemical) preservatives; fats and oils don’t become rancid as easily or quickly and more natural fats are used. According to Animal Protection Institute, some dry foods are sprayed with animal fat, lard, and other oils deemed inedible for humans to increase palatable.
  • No artificial flavors or colors. Meat ingredients are closer to natural state making them more palatable and appetizing.
  • Canned contains less grains than dry kibbles which is better suited for dogs on grain-free diets or those who suffer from allergies to grains such as wheat. Grains are necessary for binding the dry kibble formula into pellets and to improve texture. However, grains such as corn, wheat, and soy also partially replace meat as a protein source thereby trimming cost.
  • Dry is also higher in gluten which are less nutritionally complete than meat based proteins. Glutens, such as wheat, rye, and barley, are low in some of the ten essential amino acids dogs need. They also contribute to the increase of protein reported on the food label, making the product appear better than it really is. Canned food is most often gluten-free.
  • Older dogs can lose their olfactory senses making canned food more enticing with its richer scent and flavor. Dogs that are ill or have decreased appetites eat better when offered can over dry for this same reason. For this same reason, many owners would prefer to feed dry as wet food can be quite smelly and look very unpleasant!
  • Moisture content occupies more volume than the same amount of nutrients in dry, making dogs feel fuller, faster. Perfect for overweight dogs on a diet. This higher moisture content is also better for dogs in hot climates or those who don’t drink as much as they should. Canned is also better for dogs with urinary tract conditions.
  • Canned food can quickly become contaminated- it can not be left out any longer than 1-2 hours without refrigeration of unused portion. Unused portions that are refrigerated must be discarded after 2-3 days, therefore it is easily wasted. Dry dog food can be left out for hours, even days. However, even dry food can quickly become stale, oils and fats can go rancid, decreasing palatability and therefore resulting in waste as well. Plus, with food that can be left out all day to free-feed, dogs are more prone to overeating and can lead to obesity.
  • Easier to eat for dogs with chronic dental problems such as missing teeth, periodontal disease, misaligned or deformed jaws, and smaller mouths
  • Most canned food falls into one of the two Association of American Feed Control Officials’ dog food nutrient profiles- adult maintenance or growth/reproduction. This means most canned food that is for “adult dogs” can feed large breeds to toy breeds. Many kibbles are formulated for large breeds, small breeds, and toy breeds and often have a puppy, adult, and senior variety which would mean purchasing a different bag of food for each in those situations. (Wanna know a secret? Having special life stage diets are more often just marketing tools- the more formulas a manufacturer has developed, the more shelf space they command and more attention they receive from consumers, FYI!) However, dry kibble is more economical than canned, especially for homes with many mouths to feed.
  • With canned food coming in already portioned cans, rather than large bags, you can provide more of a variety of flavors for your dog, something not easily achievable when purchasing bagged dry food. Many will agree that dry food is easier to measure out and food can be accurately and easily portioned to keep diets consistent but the same can be done just as easily with canned.

Whichever form of dog food you choose should satisfy your dogs nutritional requirements as long as they are well balanced and made with high quality ingredients. Many will find a happy medium and choose to feed both dry and canned, often mixed. Talk to your vet if you have any concerns as there may be particular considerations for your individual dog based on breed, age, and current health condition.
The bottom line regarding good dental health for your dog can be obtained by feeding a healthy diet whether it is dry or canned, providing routine home care (brushing your dog’s teeth) and scheduling periodic professional dental cleanings and examinations performed by your veterinarian.