We all want the best for our dogs, whether it is health care, exercise, or a loving, stress-free environment. But what about diet? What we feed our pets is as important as the aforementioned. When we go to the store to buy food for our furry friends, do we grab the first thing we see, the current special offer, or the best value for money? Sometimes we perceive the most popular brand to be the best. Or do we read the label and go with the manufacturer’s advice for the premium choice?
The pet-food aisle in supermarkets can be a minefield. There is wet food (in cans or packets), dry food (kibble), treats, and now raw food – fresh and frozen. But which is the best, most nutritious, value-for-money option, and should we always accept the advice from the so-called experts?
As arguments rumble on whether raw or kibble is king, let us look at some of the science, pros, and cons surrounding the debate.
Unfit For Consumption?
The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) (USA) stipulate that pet foods, as with human food, are safe to consume, processed under sanitary conditions, do not contain hazardous ingredients, and are genuinely labeled. The same rule applies to raw or kibble.
But does this mean that shop-bought pet food is safe or even healthy for pets?
Meat and bone meal deemed unfit for human consumption such as bone, digestive system, brain, udders, and hide are used in pet foods. Parts of the animal we would not dream of eating are classed as feed-grade and made into pet food.
The Raw And The Cooked. What Is Dog Food?
There are three main types of processed (cooked) dog food.
- Kibble: Comprises meat, grains, vegetables, and other ingredients ground into pellets. Kibble is the most popular type of dog food, which manufacturers claim to be the best nutritional source of food for your dog.
- Canned or packaged wet food: Contains a high water content for easy consumption. Usually contains fewer preservatives and can be mixed with dry kibble or other ingredients to help soften or boost flavor in those products.
- Dehydrated dog food is technically cooked food due to being prepared at low temperatures. Some nutritionists argue that dehydrated dog food is raw as the process only involves blowing warm air around the product to remove moisture. An estimated 40-50% of nutrients remain after dehydration. It is, however, easy to store and will stay fresh for several months.
Kibble and canned wet food are processed at extremely high temperatures, leaving the result virtually free from nutrients and will not provide optimal nourishment over long periods of use.
Storage Issues And Other Problems Related To Processed Food
- Purchase no more than 30 days’ worth of kibble. Once opened, content fats may go rancid very quickly. More alarmingly, many other health conditions, including malnutrition, hair loss, diarrhea, kidney and liver disease, have been linked to rancid fats.
- Storage mites can multiply rapidly in dry food. Pets can develop a hypersensitivity to storage mites, resulting in itchy inflamed skin, hair loss, and ear infections.
- Try not to purchase close to use-by dates and store the original bag in an air-tight container.
- Low moisture: Due to high temperatures in processing, kibble contains very little water content and may put a dog into a state of constant dehydration. Symptoms can include loss of appetite, lethargy, panting, sunken eyes, dry nose, and gums.
- Shorter lifespan: One study has shown that dogs fed homemade food (a similar diet to their owners) lived almost three years longer than when fed solely canned processed food. Similarly, when fed a mixed diet of homemade food and canned dog food, they lived one year longer than canned food alone.
- Aflatoxins: Grains such as corn, wheat, and rice, as well as nuts and pulses/beans, are often mold-contaminated due to poor growing conditions such as drought, inadequate, or prolonged storage. When this type of contamination occurs, they will be unfit for human consumption. However, in many cases will still be used in pet food. These molds, called aflatoxins, multiply rapidly and may create a carcinogen that is very potent and potentially dangerous to dogs. Other health issues can include kidney and liver damage and may potentially suppress the immune system.
A raw food diet consists of meats, bones, and other animal components such as organs & muscle. Dairy products (yogurt), eggs, dog-safe fruits, vegetables, and grains can also be introduced to a raw food diet.
There are also three main classifications of what constitutes raw (uncooked) food.
- Purchased in-store or online – pre-packaged – either fresh or frozen. In many cases, additives and preservatives maintain freshness and extend shelf life.
- Fresh foods you prepare at home from buying ingredients. Time-consuming, but you know exactly what you are feeding your dog, what they like, and what is safe to eat.
- Freeze-dried is a process of freezing food at low temperatures (-50) over a long period. Only the moisture is removed, leaving nearly all the flavor and nutrients behind. Freeze-dried is categorized as raw food.
Raw Food Pros And Cons
Raw food diets have been stirring up a little controversy and have been the subject of some debate. Diets, which emphasize raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables, are growing in popularity. But what are the advantages and risks of feeding your dog a raw food diet?
Feeding your dog a more natural diet is one reason people use when switching to raw. Benefits may include:
- Fight Disease: Although there is limited scientific data available, a healthy-balanced, raw foods diet for your dog will potentially contain all the nutrients they need to thrive and potentially fight off diseases and health issues.
- Healthier skin
- A thicker, shinier coat
- Cleaner teeth: Raw meat contains enzymes that can break down food material. Bones may also act as an effective abrasive to keep tartar from building up on your pet’s teeth. Uncooked carrots or broccoli can also help to scrape away food deposits.
- Higher energy
- Happiness: A healthy dog full of vitality is a happier dog.
- Threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat: Studies have suggested a higher risk from e-coli, listeria, and salmonella. Always follow food hygiene advice for food storage, personal hygiene (handwashing), and cleanliness of worktops and kitchen utensils.
- A new study suggests that commercial, brand-name raw foods are fuelling antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which researchers say poses an international public health risk.
- An unbalanced diet may damage the health of dogs if given over long periods. If switching to raw, balance the diet by mixing meat content with vegetables, fruits, eggs, and dairy.
- Potential for whole bones to choke an animal, break teeth, or splinter in the intestinal tract. Always grind smaller bones, especially poultry, usually with water to prevent the risk of choking or intestinal damage.
- Obesity: Feeding a high protein diet to dogs was once thought to be dangerous to kidney health, especially in older dogs. A claim that has been disproven. However, too much protein can lead to weight gain and various health issues.
The following agencies have all discouraged the use of a raw pet food diet for various reasons:
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM)
But does that mean that raw food is the Devil? Or is the pet food industry, worth an estimated $90 billion USD in 2020, applying pressure through lobbyists? Accusations made and denied.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
Dogs like humans thrive on variety, and the new dog-diet currently being hailed by veterinarians and animal nutritionists is Rotational Feeding.
Rotational feeding promotes variation and provides your dog with a combination of raw and cooked, wet and dry foods, sometimes on the same day, sometimes on different days.
- Monday – Kibble
- Tuesday – Wet food
- Wednesday – Raw (meat)
- Thursday – Homemade cooked (chicken, fish)
- Friday – Kibble
- Saturday – Wet food
- Sunday – Raw (meat, vegetables, dairy, etc)
Alternatively, this could be switched to a different meal type throughout the day.
- Breakfast meal – Raw
- Afternoon/evening meal – Homemade cooked
- Snack/treat – Kibble/dental-stick/carrot etc
What Are The Benefits Of Rotational Feeding?
Feeding your dog the same food over and over for the rest of its life? Does this sound good to you? Would you eat Cornflakes for every meal forever, until the day you die? Then why would your dog be happy with the same mundane grub day in, day out? The benefits of Rotational Feeding are becoming more evident. Let’s look:
- It keeps mealtimes captivating and exciting for your dog.
- Robust immunity is encouraged by eating a variety of different foods.
- Healthy digestive system: Keeps allergies at bay and prevents intolerance to certain foods.
- A balanced diet promotes a range of nutrients and minerals, keeping your dog healthy and disease-free.
Conclusion Or Confusion?
With such a bombardment of information, consumers are bewildered about what is best to feed their animals. Dogs are born in all different shapes and sizes, from the very small to the very large. A one-diet-fits-all is almost impossible to gauge, so individual pet owners have to decide what is best for their trusted companions, whether it’s raw, kibble, rotational, or somewhere in between. But equally, we have to be observant. If they are not thriving and healthy, we must look at their diet and lifestyle, and If our furry loved ones turn up their nose or refuse to eat what we give them, then perhaps we should pay attention and take note of what they are trying to tell us and change what they eat.