I don’t talk about it as much as I should, but nutrition is one of the cornerstones of my training philosophy. Just as people don’t function as they should when they’re eating poor diets, the same is true of our dogs. The reality is that kibble is not healthy for our dogs in the best of circumstances—and in the worst (as we can see from all the product recalls), it’s downright poisonous. The sheer number of chemicals and pesticides that go into that food would shock you. Is it any surprise that cancer is on the rise in dogs? And I’m not even talking about the horrors of what they call meat on the ingredient list.
Every day, I see dogs with allergies and hot spots, dry and flaky skin, and dry, brittle coats. I see dogs that don’t seem to have a lot of energy, dogs that are overweight. I see dogs with joint issues who are in pain. It is a matter of routine for me to recommend to my clients a raw food diet for their dogs because I feel very strongly that to perform well, a dog must eat well—not to mention that it is our ethical responsibility to make sure our canine companions are healthy.
In this article, I want to talk to you about why kibble is NOT good food, and why you should go raw. This is not a comprehensive article on the benefits of raw (that would be a book) or a complete list of all the bad stuff that’s in kibble. Instead, it’s really to show you why kibble, which is what the vast majority of people feed their dogs, is not really something they should be eating.
A little detour into the topic of breakfast cereal
Forgive the digression. I have a point.
Boxed cereal is one of the biggest hoaxes played on the public. There is nothing healthy about cereal; it is a highly processed food that turns cheap products into massive profits for manufacturers. It’s made by mixing a bunch of grains together, cooking them at very high temperatures, and then extruding the resulting paste into shapes or flattening it into flakes. This nutritionally devoid substance is then sprayed with vitamins and minerals (and sugar and various other things) and sold to an unsuspecting public as healthy.
Here’s the question: How would you feel eating cereal morning, noon, and night?
I know, I know—I warn against humanizing the dog. But we are all living creatures that need good nutrition. And how healthy would you be eating highly processed food for every meal? How would your skin look? How much energy would you have? How well would you learn and perform?
As living organisms, we all need biologically appropriate diets. That means a varied and species-appropriate mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrate with abundant vitamins and minerals. And the best way to ensure proper nutrition is to eat a variety of whole foods. That’s true for us, and it’s true for our dogs.
Kibble is cereal for dogs.
(Well, except for the fact that they never get to eat anything else, and they don’t even get to pour milk on it.)
Kibble is made the exact same way as cereal, except that they add protein (of questionable sources) and fat (usually rancid) to the mix.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a kibble with grains or a more expensive grain-free kibble.
It doesn’t matter if the meat is wild-caught salmon (which it actually won’t be) or a diseased cow that died in a field and has been rotting for three days in the sun (yes, the FDA allows this for pet food).
And it don’t let it fool you when they add healthy sounding things like blueberries or Jerusalem artichokes. The expensive stuff is produced using the same nutrient-robbing process as the cheapest stuff you can buy.
And how do we know that it’s a nutrient-robbing process? Take a look at this ingredient list from a well-known, very popular grain-free kibble whose packaging implies that your dog is hunting down and eating the same thing a wolf in the wild does. Then ask yourself one question: would all the stuff at the end be necessary if all the stuff at the beginning were in the form of whole foods?
Beef, peas, garbanzo beans, lamb meal, canola oil, egg product, wild boar, ocean fish meal, brewers yeast, tomato pomace, flaxseed, natural flavor, salt, choline chloride, dried chicory root, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, yucca schidigera extract, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried Bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus reuteri fermentation product, vitamin E supplement, iron proteinate, zinc proteinate, copper proteinate, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, potassium iodide, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, ascorbic acid, vitamin A supplement, biotin, niacin, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin B12 supplement, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D supplement, folic acid.
(Even the manufacturer acknowledges that “It is true that some of the nutrients in the food are diminished by the cooking process” in the FAQ section of their website.)
But aren’t kibbles scientifically formulated?
Commercial dog food manufacturers aren’t stupid. They absolutely do design formulas to provide adequate nutrition. The key word is adequate, meaning dogs aren’t going to drop dead immediately eating it. (Except when they do, hello product recall list.) But is adequate nutrition the same as good nutrition? I could replace all my meals with Ensure and never eat fruits or vegetables. Who thinks that’s healthy?
Keep in mind too that it gets complicated, and what is listed as adequate on paper may not be so in real life. For instance, grain and pea protein are usually counted toward the listed protein content—but these are not complete proteins and are not always bioavailable to the dog. In addition, the phytic acid in soy and grains and peas can interfere with the absorption of various minerals.
So the formulation really becomes about adding more vitamins and minerals to the nutrient-robbing processes above and adding stuff that sounds awesome to the dog owner. Which may or may might actually make a difference. Cancer in dogs is through the roof, and I believe it’s partially because dogs just aren’t getting the good stuff they need for long-term health. And let’s talk about oral health for a second. We know that rotting teeth and periodontal disease cause all sorts of other issues in humans. Why wouldn’t that be true of dogs as well? Teeth ROT on kibble. I see it every day.
Let’s go back to what a species-appropriate diet is for a dog.
Time for a little quiz. How many carbs does your dog need every day?
The answer is zero carbs. Your dog needs ZERO carbs.
Yet the biggest source of calories in most kibbles is … you guessed it … carbs. The grain-free kibble I posted the ingredient list for is 56% carb! (Seriously, talk about misleading packaging.)
Let me be clear: I am not against feeding dogs carbohydrate. I’m a big fan of cooked oatmeal, for instance. A little rice can be great when a dog has an upset stomach. And some breeds of dogs are equipped to deal with more carbs than others because they have more amylase gene copies. (That’s what enables animals, including us, to digest starch.)
What I am against, however, is a diet that provides as many carbs as kibbles do. And more than that, the single biggest thing wrong with kibble is that those carbs are soluble.
You know the dangers of soluble carbs, a.k.a. simple carbs, a.k.a. carbs that your body processes exactly like straight white sugar, right? Diabetes, inflammation, weight gain … the list goes on and on. And that’s for people, who are better equipped than dogs to deal with carbohydrate in our diet.
Think about this a second. Dogs need no carbs in their diet, yet they are routinely fed more than half their daily calories in the form of simple sugars. Meanwhile, the protein they get has been processed so that the amino acids are no longer whole and it doesn’t contain any naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. And then there are the contaminants.
Is it any wonder that there are so many sick, fat dogs? So many dogs with skin issues? That can’t concentrate? That go through every day just not feeling good? That have rotting teeth? That have CANCER?
They’re not being fed an appropriate diet for what they are, which is a canid. Also in the Canidae family: wolves, foxes, jackals, and coyotes.
None of which are out there stalking and killing wild corn stalks.
What can you expect when you switch your dog to raw?
Here’s what I see: Coats start to gleam. Allergies vanish. Hot spots disappear. Excess weight melts off. It doesn’t even take very long to start seeing these changes; the body has an amazing ability to heal itself.
But the big thing is that dogs start to feel better, and it becomes obvious that they’re feeling better in training sessions. I see this routinely. They become more energetic. More engaged. Often, problem behaviors smooth out. (Not going to lie, sometimes they get more rambunctious because they FEEL GREAT.)
Please understand that I am not saying that if you start feeding raw, your dog is going to be magically cured of any and all behavioral issues or will suddenly have perfect obedience. I’m just saying that a dog that doesn’t feel good is going to be distracted. There’s other stuff going on.
But isn’t it expensive?
Raw feeding can be as easy or complicated as you make it. It can also be cheaper than the more expensive kibble or painfully expensive. Generally speaking, there’s an inverse relationship between cost and convenience. If you’re willing to spend the time sourcing your food—and there are some great co-ops around, you can actually do it for not that much more than a “high quality” kibble (and arguably even less). If you’re relying on prepared food, it’s going to be more expensive.
Really though—isn’t it worth it?
The biggest hurdle to feeding raw is getting started. If you want it done for you, Darwin’s and Honest Kitchen are good options.
If you’re ready to take the plunge on your own, I have only one caveat: I really don’t recommend prey model (that’s the whole animal or whole pieces) because bones can splinter and some dogs are gulpers and may choke. For the most part, I recommend that meat and bone be ground up.
Other than that, I can’t say it better than this guide.
(Big thanks to RawDogFood)