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This blog post about making kibble healthier for your dog was originally published in 2014 and it has been updated with new information and republished for your enjoyment. Thanks for stopping by!
I write about raw feeding because I love sharing my experience as a raw feeder. I switched to raw in an effort to cure my dogs' health issues (allergies, food sensitivities, gut issues, and more) and it worked. Today, eight years after I transitioned to raw, I'm just as passionate about the raw food diet and my amazing dogs.
But raw feeding isn't for everyone.
- raw feeding is intimidating and complicated for some
- raw feeding is expensive for some
- raw feeding is time consuming for some
And I get it. I resolved the hurdles of raw feeding by connecting with other raw feeders online and in my community. Their advice saved me from returning to kibble. But just because that was my experience doesn't mean that it's someone else's experience.
If you've come to this blog post because you're feeding kibble or find yourself returning to kibble, please know that you are doing the best you can and no one should judge you for your choices. I think it's more important that dog owners seek to do their best and sometimes, a good quality kibble is best for some dogs.
3 Ways to Making Kibble Healthier
The following are three things you can start today to improve your dog's diet:
1 – Start with a Healthy Kibble
I know that there are people who don't believe that a healthy kibble exists, but I don't agree. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was concerned that I might have to return to kibble and went to my local, independent pet store and the manager helped me choose a brand for my dogs. The following are kibble brands that I would consider feeding my dogs.
- Carna-4 – this brand doesn't use synthetic ingredients.
- Open Farm – this brand prioritizes working with ethical, sustainable farms.
- Nulo – this is the brand that the store manager recommended and I trust the store.
If you are looking for a quality kibble brand, please invest (donation) in The List that is produced annually by Susan Thixton of The Truth About Pet Food.
From The Truth About Pet Food…
The ‘List’ is a list of pet foods compiled by an experienced (since 2006) pet food consumer advocate (Susan Thixton), pet foods she trusts to give to her own pets. All of these pet foods use human-grade food ingredients, all of these pet foods properly test their products for safety and nutrients, many of them use organic ingredients and meats sourced from humanely raised animals. These are actual pet ‘foods’ (not pet feeds).
Proceeds of the List supports pet food consumer advocacy. Susan Thixton, TruthaboutPetFood.com, and AssociationforTruthinPetFood.com have been battling with the FDA, AAFCO, and State pet food regulatory authorities on behalf of pet food consumers for more than 10 years.
2 – Bone Broth for Dogs
Kibble is hard and can be difficult for dogs to digest, so it's okay to soak it in bone broth. I believe that the bone broth will make the kibble easier to digest. Plus the bone broth is great for your dog's gut along with other benefits. And it's easy to make. Here's my recipe: Easy Bone Broth Recipe
When I make bone broth, I prefer to leave the meat in the broth and I always skim off the fat (cooked fat isn't good for dogs). The dogs love it and I can only imagine that mixing meat and broth into your dog's kibble will be a hit at your house.
3 – Fresh Food and Omega 3 Fatty Acids
So, this may look like it should be a 3 and a 4, but the reason I'm breaking it out is that (1) I try to feed whole foods to my dogs, limiting supplementation, and (2) I wanted to break out Omega-3 fatty acids because if you're reading this and can't find a food source, you should look for a fish or salmon oil.
Several years ago, a group of content creators was spreading the message that we should replace 20% of the kibble we feed with fresh food. Whenever I would see one of their posts, I wondered how many pet parents add fresh food to the bowl without being told – we do it to give our dogs a treat, to show our dogs we love them, and to avoid wasting food.
We just didn't know that it was improving our dogs' diet beyond taste.
If I were feeding my dogs' kibble, I would add the following fresh foods to their diet. My goal would be to make at least a quarter of the bowl (25%) fresh food; this is a personal preference, not a rule.
- cooked ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, bison) – I don't believe in mixing raw meat with kibble because dogs with a sensitive gut might have trouble digesting the blend.
- canned sardines in olive oil – olive oil is not harmful to dogs, however, these are extra calories so if you have a dog that needs to lose weight, keep the additional calories into consideration
- canned sardines in water, no salt added – there is sodium in the food and this isn't bad – we need sodium in our diet and so do our dogs
- canned oysters – I feed canned oysters because they're a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, and manganese. I like adding variety to my dogs' diet and I split a can of canned oysters between four dogs. I don't feed raw oysters. However, I have baked raw oysters for my dogs.
- fermented fish bone broth – this is a great for skin and coat health, cognitive health, heart health, joint health, gut health, kidney health, and more. I used to buy this from Answers Pet Food and now order it by the case from Kure Pet Food. There is also a DIY fish stock recipe.
- fresh vegetables – vegetables add fiber to the diet, helping your dog digest their food. Vegetables are also food for the gut bacteria, helping our dogs build a stronger microbiome. 70-80% of the immune system lives in the gut, so keeping the gut healthy will help to keep your dog healthy.
- fermented vegetables – when we ferment vegetables, our dogs get the benefits of the vegetables PLUS natural probiotics that support a healthy gut.
- raw, boiled, or poached eggs – did you know that the nutrient breakdown of eggs doesn't change much when you cook them? Google it. It's pretty fascinating. I feed three of my dogs raw eggs and one of my dogs eats them cooked. At the moment, I'm lighty scrambling his eggs and I'm going to order a poaching pan to cook them. I can poach up a batch and freeze the eggs until needed.
- raw goats milk or kefir – I add both to my dogs' diet, alternating between the two. This is another food that adds additional nutrients to the diet while supporting gut health and the immune system. I love feeding raw goat's milk and kefir so much that I feed raw goat's milk (or kefir) as my dogs' entire meal one day a week.
There is also canned salmon and mackerel in my town, but it's expensive and the salt content is higher than the canned sardines.
Fish and Salmon Oil for Dogs
If feeding fish isn't an option, then you can try fish or salmon oil. The following are brands that I trust:
- Icelandic Pure Pet Products Salmon Oil
- Icelandic Pure Pet Products Sardine & Anchovy Oil
- Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Pet Liquid – with sardine and anchovy oil
- Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil
I prefer not to give my dogs Omega 3 fatty acid capsules or chews because of the additional ingredients in these products, including what the capsules are made of – personal preference.
Feeding Your Dog a Hybrid Diet
When I started feeding raw, I experienced sticker shock because I started with a commercial raw food brand. Darwin's Pet, a local raw food company that ships nationwide, was kind enough to help me get started – they were amazing. And with the cost, they suggest that I feed raw in the morning and kibble in the evening. Years later, I learned that folks call this a hybrid diet.
I was able to continue meeting my dogs' nutritional needs while transitioning to a better diet for them. And I was able to do this on my timeline without blowing my budget.
Figuring out how much to feed was easy. I already fed my dogs twice a day, so I replaced the morning meal with raw dog food and continued with the evening meal as normal. With the raw, I found the serving amounts on the Darwin's Pet packages (or you can feed a percentage of your dog's body weight) and made sure to feed the correct amount for 1 meal in a day.
Feeding Raw by Body Weight
I've always started adult dogs off by feeding them 3% of their body weight. I then adjust up or down based on if they are gaining or losing weight. My goal is to find the right percentage for an individual dog. But if you're starting with a puppy, you might need more detailed feeding guidelines:
- 2 – 4 months: feed 8-10% of their body weight
- 4 – 6 months: feed 6-8% of their body weight
- 6 – 8 months: feed 4-6% of their body weight
- 8 – 12 months: feed 3-4% of their body weight
Final Thoughts on Making Kibble Healthier
What we feed our dogs is a personal and private choice no matter how many of us are taking pictures and sharing them on social media. There's a lot of judgment when it comes to raising dogs and diet is a big one for many people. We all love our dogs and are doing the best we can. For some, adding fresh food to the bowl will put them on the journey to raw feeding – it did for me. For others, adding fresh food will help improve your dog's health or help you continue to feed a healthy diet despite not being able to feed raw (or homecooked pet food).
This blog post offers the tip of the iceberg when it comes to recommending foods that you can add to your dog's kibble to make it healthier, so I'd love to hear from you on what you'd add (or have added) to a dog's kibble. To learn more, check out the book The Forever Dog by Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Becker. It's a book that explores why some dogs live longer (20-30 years and more) while we're seeing a decline in longevity in so many dogs.