Nutrition is the most important thing to keep your dog healthy. By introducing some fresh foods to their diet, your dog can live a longer, happier life.
Here at the Raw Feeding Community, we want dog owners to discover all the benefits of raw diets firsthand. But sometimes it isn’t that easy. Raw requires more time, more freezer space, and many times, more money than kibble. Homemade raw requires a lot more research and commitment than feeding kibble does.
This means that, unfortunately, not everyone has the means to switch to a completely raw diet. Yet many owners still want to improve their dog’s health and longevity, and nutrition is the best way to do that.
But you don’t have to completely switch to raw for your dog to experience some of the benefits of a fresh food diet! Here is a list of the best things you can add to kibble and how they can benefit your dog.
Oily fish or fish oil
In my opinion, this is one of the best things you can add to your dog’s diet! It is also one of the easiest things to do, and it comes with so many benefits.
A ratio of around 4:1 to 2:1 omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids has been shown to be the most beneficial [source, source]. Too much omega 6 fatty acids in the diet can be detrimental [source], so balancing out that ratio with more omega 3s is best. However, your dog’s kibble typically contains a ratio of 7:1 to 10:1! This is partly because adding fish oils to a dry food diet is difficult due to their oxidizing nature – in other words, they spoil quickly, which isn’t practical with a product like dry dog food that needs a long shelf life.
When choosing fish, find something that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury [click here for an infographic]. Sardines, anchovies, and mackerel are fantastic choices. If you want to use canned sardines, only use the ones canned in water. You can feed fish a couple times a week, or even every day in smaller amounts.
As for fish oil: salmon, sardine, or herring oil are all good choices. Note: cod liver oil should not be added to kibble because it contains extra vitamins, including fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, that can cause health issues if overdosed.
Omega 3 fatty acids oxidize rapidly, increasing the body’s need for antioxidants [source]. For this reason, you want to make sure the supplement you use already has an antioxidant, like vitamin E, or supplement it separately yourself. Be aware that many oils might list vitamin E on the ingredient list, but they only provide enough for preservation of the oil, not for use by your dog as an antioxidant. Bonnie and Clyde is my personal favorite brand of fish oil because they also include enough vitamin E in their supplement.
It is best to keep fish oil refrigerated, since it spoils quickly. Whole fish can be kept in the fridge too, but should be frozen if you aren’t going to use them all within a couple days.
Not only are eggs widely available and cheap, they are one of the easiest most nutritious things you can add to your dog’s meals!
Eggs are very nutrient dense and easy to digest. They contain fatty acids that benefit your dog’s skin and coat health. They are a great source of B vitamins, phosphorus, and selenium. They are also a great source of protein, and they have a fantastic amino acid profile. This is beneficial because some of the amino acids in kibble get denatured when cooked and processed. Eggs can provide some of those beneficial amino acids like glycine that may be lacking in kibble.
Eggs should be fed whole – both yolk and whites – and in moderation. They are rich, so too many can cause diarrhea and gas, especially if your dog isn’t used to new things in his diet. Egg whites contain a protein called avidin, a biotin inhibitor, so feeding a diet consisting of mostly raw eggs could contribute to a biotin deficiency. However, this shouldn’t be an issue if you only feed eggs a couple times a week.
Feeding raw (or lightly cooked) meat is a great way to provide fresh, unprocessed food for your dog, and this comes with many benefits. As mentioned previously, the protein quality of raw meat or eggs is much better than kibble. Protein quality can be measured by the amino acid profile and the bioavailability of nutrients. The high heat processing of kibble damages many of these amino acids, preventing your dog from utilizing them completely [source]. These amino acids are used in virtually every metabolic process in the body. By supplementing your dog’s kibble diet with raw, you can provide the benefits of improved protein quality, which can greatly improve your dog’s overall health.
There are some myths surrounding whether or not you can feed your dog raw meat and kibble together in the same meal. One of these myths claims that they shouldn’t be fed together because they each digest at different rates, which could cause the raw meat to get “stuck” behind the slower digesting kibble, putting your dog at risk of bacterial overgrowth. Another myth makes a similar claim that raw and kibble can’t be digested together due to each type of food needing a different stomach pH to digest. However, these myths are perpetrated by people that don’t have a complete understanding of how the digestive system works. A dog’s digestive system isn’t like a traffic jam – it is perfectly capable of handling things that require differing rates of digestion or different gastric pH levels. There are even pet food companies that offer kibble and freeze dried raw bits together in one product. If the risk of adverse effects from feeding raw and kibble together were that great, a company wouldn’t put themselves at risk of a lawsuit. The fact is, there is no reason not to add some raw to your dog’s kibble. Some raw is better than none at all! [You can read more about the digestion rate of raw and kibble, and whether or not it matters, here.]
Of course, if you are still worried, there is nothing wrong with feeding them separately: kibble for breakfast and raw for dinner, for example.
When introducing raw meat to your dog, take care not to cause digestive upset by feeding something too rich or in too large of an amount for your dog to handle. Some dogs have more sensitive stomachs than others, and may require digestive enzymes or probiotics during the introduction.
If you are replacing a significant amount of your dog’s kibble with raw meat, you need to make sure the raw has a balanced nutritional content in order to prevent any deficiencies or excesses in the diet. Since boneless meat, raw meaty bones, and organ meat all have such different nutrient profiles, it is important to consider what you’re feeding and how much in order to prevent nutrient excesses. For example, if you fed a raw meaty bone with kibble every day, your dog would be getting too much calcium. This can offset the calcium phosphorus ratio, cause nutrient absorption issues, and even cause skeletal deformities in the long run.
The easiest way to introduce raw meat without having to worry about balance would be to buy from a raw company that offers balanced products. Some companies offer products that are not technically balanced by themselves, but follow the “prey model” 80/10/10 ratio of meat, bone, and organ. This type of product would also be great to add to kibble. Red meat like beef or lamb is the most nutrient dense.
Fruits and veggies
Kibble typically already has plant matter included, so focusing on adding meat would usually be more beneficial. However, there is evidence that providing fresh fruits and veggies in moderation may also be beneficial.
Fruits and veggies can be a great source of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber for your dog. One study determined that adding fresh veggies to a kibble diet can decrease the risk of cancer in some dogs [source].
Fruits and veggies are more easily digested and utilized by your dog after being put through a food processor, pureed, or steamed. Leafy green veggies like kale, spinach, parsley, and broccoli should be the main focus. Some other great choices include zucchini, green beans, carrots, and dandelion greens. Fruits should be limited, since they are high in sugar; focus on berries or maybe some banana. Starchy veggies, like potatoes, and veggies in the cabbage family should also be limited or excluded. Never feed onions or grapes.
You can make your own fruit and veggie mix for your dog in the food processor, then freeze it in a mini muffin tin or ice cube molds for easy feeding. There are also companies that offer veggie supplements, such as Green Juju Kitchen.
There are a lot of myths surrounding bone broth: it actually isn’t a good source of essential amino acids, and it isn’t packed with nutrients like many articles claim. [You can read more about bone broth here.] However, it is a great source of some “conditionally essential” amino acids, like glycine.
During the high heat processing of kibble, a significant amount of amino acids are lost due to denaturation [source]. Essential amino acids will be supplemented in order to meet minimum nutrient requirements if necessary, but non-essential amino acids typically will not be, since there is not a minimum requirement that pet food companies must meet. But since obtaining non-essential amino acids in the diet has been shown to be beneficial, I would recommend feeding kibble fed dogs bone broth to help make up for the amino acids that their diet is lacking.
These “conditionally essential” amino acids are involved in collagen synthesis and healing processes [source], so dogs with joint issues or skeletal injuries can benefit from having bone broth gelatin added to their diet.
Bone broth is also said to be very palatable, so adding it to the diet may encourage a picky or sick dog to eat. It also adds a source of moisture to kibble, which is greatly beneficial to general health and can help prevent issues such as urinary stones or UTIs [source].
Goat milk is another great way to increase the moisture of your dog’s diet, while also providing another source of great nutrition and probiotics at the same time!
Goat milk has a good calcium phosphorus ratio and is a great source of vitamins, fatty acids, enzymes, antioxidants, protein, and electrolytes. Compared to cow milk, goat milk has 13% more calcium, 25% more vitamin B6, 47% more vitamin A, 134% more potassium, 3 times more niacin, and 27% more of the antioxidant selenium.
Since goat milk has a smaller fat molecule size and a less lactose than cow milk, it is much easier for your dog to digest – even dogs with digestive issues or sensitive stomachs. It is also a good source of probiotics, which further benefits the digestive system and allows your dog to better absorb nutrients. It is also a great way to encourage picky or sick dogs to eat.
If you can’t find goat milk locally, try your nearest specialty pet store! Answers and Primal are two great brands that offer goat milk products for dogs. The Honest Kitchen also offers a dehydrated goat milk product – just add water and serve.