Soaking dry dog and cat food

Ever thought about 'soaking' your dog or cat's dry pet food in water before serving? Here is when and why this may be beneficial.

Many people are surprised to hear about the practice of soaking dry kibble. Unless your vet has specifically advised you one way or another there are no hard and fast rules about whether you should or shouldn’t soak it. Much depends on the individual cat dog – and convenience to the owner! Here are the main circumstances when soaking may be beneficial:

1. During the weaning phase
When kittens and puppies move from their mother’s milk to solids, soaking food and mixing with a fork makes it the perfect consistency to be easily ‘lapped’ up.
2. If your dog or cat has dental problems
This could be in their senior years, but younger animals can be affected too. Puppies and kittens, just like humans, also experience painful teething so during this time soft food may be easier on their sore mouths.
3. If your dog or cat is prone to a sensitive digestion
Soaking can very be beneficial for cats and dogs with sensitive digestion. Some owners are worried that increasing fluid intake will worsen loose stools, but in actual fact the opposite is true. Dry food pulls water back into the digestive tract through the gut wall. Wet food minimizes this, and it has the further benefit of being pre-softened and thus a lighter initial workload for the digestive enzymes in the stomach. It may also reduce the risk of dehydration when an animal suffers from diarrhoea.
4. If your dog or cat has been poorly

Soaking the food softens it, and so eases the initial work-load of the digestive enzymes which may well be struggling during illness or a period of recovery. If a dog or cat suffers from acid reflux or is recovering following episodes of vomiting, soft food is also kinder on the oesophagus which may be inflamed and irritated.

5. If your dog is at risk from bloat'

If a dog is prone to taking a big long drink after a dry meal, a belly full of water on top of a belly full of dry food may increase the risk of bloat. As eating too quickly may also increase the risk of bloat, soaking the food and serving in an anti-gulp bowl (a special design with obstructions inside that the dog has to eat around to get to the food) may help slow the rate of ingestion.

6. If your pet needs to drink more

It is notoriously difficult to make a cat drink, and some are prone to urinary problems because of this, so soaking food will naturally help to increase fluid intake.

7. If your pet is prone to inappetence or generally is not a good eater

Soaking dry kibble with warm water will bring out the smell by warming the meaty fats within the food, an aroma which dogs and cats find appetising. Cats, as natural hunters may also prefer the warmer temperature (similar to body temperature). ). If ‘mouth feel’ is a factor, soaking the food to soften it may negate any issues if the dry kibble’s size, shape, texture or density isn’t appealing to an individual.

8. If changing from one pet food brand to another

By soaking and mixing the kibble together, not only will this help to disguise any difference, but the change in nutrients will also be more ‘gently’ received by the digestive tract. Whether you feed wet, dry or both, it is always recommended to change between dog food and cat food brands or recipes gradually over several days.

Why soak dry food when there is plenty of wet food available on the market?

It really is down to personal choice. Dry food is easy to store  once a pack is opened, less ‘smelly’ to us humans and generally more economical. This is because it is more calorific due to its much lower moisture content. Dry feed portions are subsequently smaller than commercial wet food and nutrients can be packed into kibble without the diluting effects of water. A pet may require several cans or trays a day to provide the same nutrition as the recommended ‘grams per day’ in kibble. Soaked dry food may therefore be a more suitable option for dogs and cats that are unable to tolerate large volumes of food very well.

Some people still do say that crunching on kibble is better for the teeth, but these claims can be rather exaggerated. It is actually the antioxidants in the food that have the greatest benefit to oral hygiene (especially vitamin C), and these are "active" whether the food is served wet or dry. There are plenty of ways to help keep pets’ teeth clean that are more beneficial than simple crunching, including brushing, anti-plaque preparations and dental toys.

Safety first!

If soaking your pet’s food, make sure it isn’t steeped for too long (up to half an hour is generally fine) as fermentation can occur. The food is also attractive to flies (especially in the warmer weather) so keep it covered whilst it’s being prepared. Soaked food is therefore not ideal for dogs and cats who like to ‘free feed’ or go back and forth to their bowl to eat rather than finish a meal soon after it has been given.

And finally, whatever you feed, even if your dog or cat licks their bowl until it looks sparkling clean; do bear in mind that it isn’t! Bowls should be washed after every meal as there are lots of bacteria that inhabit your pet’s mouth and some are invariably transferred to the bowl.

Kibble perfect for soaking