Humans inherently know and understand that consuming fresh food in their diet is better than processed food. Many pet parents are switching their dog from a dry kibble diet to a fresh food diet because of the many health benefits fresh food provides. However, switching over to a home-prepared diet does come with many inconveniences where it is not a practical option for all households.
There are many methods to improve kibble diets that are budget-friendly and convenient. Small changes to provide a major nutritional impact does not need to break the bank, nor does it need to take a lot of time to accomplish.
Select a kibble that does not use any added low-quality ingredients. (e.g. Plant protein, colorants, added flavors, etc.)
A kibble diet lacks a lot of moisture, which is why many dogs seem to drink a lot! Adding in liquids to kibble meals helps improve hydration.
Add Fresh Foods
Adding fresh foods - such as raw or cooked meats, fish, or vegetables - is a great option to provide some fresh food when a home-prepared diet is not possible.
Alternate Home Prepared Meals
The diet a dog eats does not need to be the exact same every day. A home-prepared meal can be fed once a week, or more, in rotation with a kibble diet.
Adopting these four methods will provide a major impact to enhance dry dog food for households that cannot provide a home-prepared diet every day.
The kibble fed to a dog should be selected to be suitable for the dog’s activity and life stages. In a market with a wide range of brands to choose from, navigating through the options can become overwhelming to many pet parents. There are a few variables to consider when selecting a kibble to use as the foundation diet if a home-prepared diet is not sustainable long-term.
Check for Nutritional Adequacy
The dry dog food which a dog consumes every day should meet a nutritional standard to ensure the minimum requirements for essential nutrients are met. In the United States, AAFCO is the guideline for commercial pet food products, while FIEDAF is the European version. The dog food bag should state “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages or adult dog maintenance” on the product packaging.
Dog food is often recalled because of pathogens, such as Salmonella is found in the food. However, other times the food is recalled due to harmful ingredients. Avoid selecting dog food brands with an extensive history of food recalls. Brands with an extensive, including recent, recalls on their products raises red flags on the quality of the product as well as manufacturing practices.
Avoid Artificial Dyes
There is a lot of evidence to show that food coloring causes a wide variety of health issues ranging from hyperactivity and depression. It is important to be aware that there are many dog food manufacturers that add in food dyes to their dog food products. Pet parents should avoid dog food with color additives, such as red, yellow, and blue dyes.
Avoid Flavor Additives
Similar to artificial dyes, many pet food manufacturers add in flavorings to help increase the palatability of their dog food. These are often listed as chicken flavor or in other proteins, such as beef flavor, duck flavor. However, there are others to be aware of, such as smoke flavor, cheese flavor, and others.
Select Animal Protein Over Plant Protein
Dog’s protein requirements should be met through animal protein sources and not plant protein sources. Plant proteins are insufficient in providing all essential amino acids ideal for optimal health, and plant proteins provide high levels of anti-nutrients which can inhibit the absorption of nutrients in digestion. Pet parents should select a dog food with the first 2 ingredients listed as an animal protein, such as chicken, chicken meal. Avoid dog food options that list plant ingredients as the first 2 ingredients.
Avoid Questionable Ingredients
On further inspection of dog food ingredients, it is best to avoid dog foods that do not list the protein type of the meal and fat ingredients. This is often listed as animal meal, animal fat, blood meal, or by-product meal on the ingredients panel. It is ideal that the type of protein be listed.
Beware of Dangerous Ingredients
Chemical additives and preservatives have been proven to cause health issues in both humans and dogs. Examples to avoid are ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and butylated hydroxytoluene. (BHT) Ethoxyquin is a poison that has been banned from human food, but somehow is fair game in some commercial pet foods! Additionally, BHA and BHT have been linked to cancer.
The guidelines above help narrow down the options of kibble brands to select. Once the options have been reduced, selecting a dry dog food will come down to cost. Additionally, it is now recommended to rotate between different animal proteins in a dry dog food diet – so having a selection of brands to choose from is ideal.
Dry dog food’s guaranteed analysis provides the amount of water the food provides, which is labeled as moisture. A dry dog food diet lacks moisture and the first step to improving a kibble diet is to increase the moisture content within each meal. Pet parents often comment on the amount of water their dog drinks and this is directly attributed to 3 main factors:
Low Moisture Content in Food
Dry dog food’s low moisture content increases a dog’s need to ingest water because dogs are not receiving water from a kibble diet. Kibble contains between 6% to 10% moisture content which is very low in comparison to home-cooked and raw diets. Home-cooked diets have around 40% to 50% moisture and raw diets provide 60% to 80% water.
Environmental Temperature & Humidity
Locations with high outdoor temperatures, as well as high humidity, increases a dog’s need to ingest water because these environmental factors increase panting in dogs. Higher temperatures and high humidity increases a dog’s need for panting to decrease body temperature. The act of panting is a mechanism to decrease body temperature and this is accomplished through water evaporation from the mouth and tongue. This increases a dog’s need for more water to prevent dehydration.
Dog’s who participate in daily activity or sports have an increased need to ingest water to prevent dehydration. Similar to environmental factors, an increase in activity increases a dog’s need for panting to decrease body temperature. Panting is increased with daily activity and moisture intake increases as a result.
Imagine eating cereal every day, for every meal, without any milk. It would not be very enjoyable because the milk provides a liquid to keep the mouth and throat dry (and also provides moisture)! Dogs who consume a dry dog food diet benefit greatly from increasing the moisture content within each meal. Increasing the moisture content within kibble meals is simple and can be accomplished by floating the dry dog food with liquids.
The term “floating kibble” is very similar to adding milk into a bowl of cereal. The idea is to add a liquid ingredient into the dry dog food meal to increase the moisture intake in the diet. Floating dry dog food also provides some additional benefits outside of increasing moisture intake.
There are some liquid options that can be used which add more flavors that are palatable to the dog. However, the addition of water helps stimulate appetite because moist kibble has a more favorable texture if allowed time to soak and become soft.
Slows Down Fast Eaters
Dry dog food floating in liquid is not as easy for the dog to quickly grab and swallow. Floating kibble is a great way to increase moisture intake as well as slow down a dog who eats their food very fast.
There are a few options to select from when adding in liquids to dry dog food. One ingredient can be selected to use as the liquid or a rotation between ingredient options can be used.
The most convenient and easiest liquid option to increase moisture in dry dog food is water.
The addition of coconut water not only increases the moisture in dry dog food, but it provides beneficial electrolytes.
Homemade bone broth is a great and palatable way to increase moisture in dry dog food. Additionally, bone broth provides beneficial proteins and minerals.
The amount of liquid added into each meal can vary but a good guideline to follow is to add half or equal parts liquid to dry dog food.
Add in ½ cup to 1 cup of liquid to 1 cup of kibble.
Add Fresh Food
Humans inherently know that fresh food is superior over processed food. However, not all pet parents are able or willing to provide a home-prepared diet. In these instances, dogs still benefit from the addition of fresh food into their dry dog food.
Dry dog food allows for a small variance without negatively impacting the diet’s balance. This variance is 20% of the overall diet can be additional foods. The addition of fresh food provides food in their natural state that is not highly processed. These ingredients provide beneficial nutrients such as fresh protein, fatty acids, antioxidants, and probiotics.
Remove 20% of the dry dog food from the bowl to account for the fresh food additions. If a dog eats 1 cup of dry dog food, remove ⅕ cup of the dog food to allow for the fresh food additions. Fresh food is higher in moisture compared to dry dog food and this means double the amount of fresh food needs to be added back into the meal. If ⅕ cup of dry dog food is removed from the meal, add in ⅖ cup of fresh food back into the meal.
Fresh Lean Protein
Including fresh lean protein from animal sources into dry dog food diets provides natural protein sources. These animal proteins provide a wide range of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Lean Muscle Meat
Common lean muscle meat protein options include chicken, pork, and beef. Lean muscle meat provides fresh protein and essential B vitamins. These muscle meats can be cooked or fed raw.
Common heart options include chicken heart and beef heart. Many local markets and butcher shops carry these ingredients which provide fresh protein and essential minerals such as selenium and iron. Heart can be fed cooked or raw.
Common liver options include chicken liver and beef liver. Many local markets and butcher shops carry these ingredients which provide fresh protein and essential vitamins such as vitamin A and B vitamins. Liver can be fed cooked or raw.
Beneficial Fats & Fatty Acids
The fats within dry dog food quickly become rancid which makes it ideal to only purchase enough kibble to last 2 to 3 weeks. However, the addition of beneficial fats and fatty acids helps increase the nutritional profile of a dry dog food diet.
Chicken eggs are the most common egg option in local markets. However, duck and quail eggs can also be used, if available. Eggs provide fresh protein and amino acids but also include essential omega 3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D. Eggs can be fed cooked or raw.
There are many options to adding fatty fish to a dry dog food diet. Options include, but are not limited to sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, and trout. These fatty fish options provide fresh protein, essential omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. Fatty fish can be fed raw, cooked, or from canned options (select canned fish in water).
Adding in coconut oil helps provide beneficial fats and fatty acids to a dry dog food diet. The beneficial and essential fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA), is provided in coconut oil. It is best to select a cold-pressed coconut oil over other varieties.
Flaxseed & Hemp Seed Oil
Similar to coconut oil, flaxseed oil and hemp seed oil provide beneficial fats and fatty acids. The most prominent fatty acid in these oils is alpha-linolenic acid. (ALA) It is recommended to add flaxseed oil to poultry based diets (e.g. Chicken, turkey, duck) and hemp seed oil to red meat diets. (e.g. Beef, lamb, goat, venison, etc.) It is best to select a cold-pressed oil over other varieties.
Color Rich Vegetables
Highly pigmented vegetables provide a wide range of antioxidants which help fight against free radicals that may cause disease. Additionally, fresh vegetables provide beneficial fiber to support fiber fermentation within the colon which promotes colon health.
Options such as butternut squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, are all highly pigmented in yellow-orange antioxidants. Many of these vegetable options are starchy and should be thoroughly cooked before feeding.
Options such as broccoli, green beans, spinach, and kale are all highly pigmented in green antioxidants and chlorophyll. Many of these vegetable options are high in fiber and do not have any starches; therefore they can be fed chopped and raw. However, some dogs find these ingredients more palatable when lightly cooked.
Options such as red cabbage, eggplant, beets, and purple sweet potato are all highly pigmented in blue-purple antioxidants. Many of these vegetable options are starchy and should be thoroughly cooked before feeding.
An estimated 60 to 70% of the immune system lives within the gut and providing probiotics is a great way to establish a healthy gut flora. These beneficial probiotics can be included in kibble diets by feeding fermented foods.
An old world food - sauerkraut is fermented cabbage and is a natural way to provide soil-based probiotics in addition to providing vegetables. Sauerkraut can be home fermented as well as purchased at local markets. Be sure to select a kraut that only includes dog safe ingredients – plain sauerkraut is the best option to select when purchasing it ready made.
Yogurt or Kefir
Fermented dairy products such as yogurt or kefir are ways to provide dairy based probiotics. Yogurt and kefir differ slightly due to the fermenting method. Yogurt undergoes a low heat process, while kefir does not. Both options can be home fermented or purchased at local markets. It is best to select plain without any added flavors, full fat, fermented yogurt or kefir when purchasing it ready made.
Alternate With Homemade Meals
In addition to adding fresh food to dry dog food, pet parents can alternate between diet types to provide more variety in the foods they feed to their dog. Alternating in a DIY dog food diet with kibble helps provide more fresh food to the overall diet. Adding in a home-prepared diet once a week (or more) will dramatically improve a dry dog food diet.
Home Cooked or Raw
Do it yourself (DIY) dog food can be prepared at home to feed a complete and balanced meal with cooked or raw ingredients. These types of meals include animal meats, organs, produce, and supplements where necessary.
Commercial Cooked or Raw
Instead of preparing a home cooked or raw diet meal, there are many brands that are beginning to offer fresh food diets. These options can be used to alternate into a dry dog food diet to provide variety and fresh foods if a DIY approach is not ideal.
Enhance Dry Dog Food with Fresh Food
Pet parents who are unable to provide a homemade diet every day to their dog can still feed their dog fresh foods in the kibble diet. Dry dog food allows for a small variance of food additions without negatively impacting the diet’s balance. All dogs gain the benefits of fresh food when selecting a kibble with quality ingredients, increasing the hydration, adding fresh foods, and alternating with homemade dog food. These additions can account for 20% of the overall diet without any other special calculations; but can make major impact!