A Guide to
Choosing Your Pet's Food
The three types of dog and cat foods that we will review are raw, canned (wet), and kibble (dry). They are in order from most to least recommended based on percentage of moisture, quality of ingredients, and the amount of processing those ingredients go through before arriving in your dog's food bowl.
We believe in adhering to a natural diet which attempts to mimic the diet of dogs' carnivorous ancestors. This biologically appropriate diet can improve the health of your pet, but also leave them feeling more satisfied and energetic after each meal.
This is a basic overview of what factors you should consider when deciding what diet is right for your pet and your budget.
A raw diet has the least amount of processing among commercially available dog foods. Instead of going through a heat treated process, most raw foods are frozen or freeze dried and require no additional preservatives to be kept fresh. Due to this, raw food still contains the necessary enzymes that help your dog digest its food.
This bioavailability allows for greater amounts of nutrients to be absorbed into your dog’s system, as well as helping to maintain better dental hygiene by breaking down food that gets stuck in their teeth and gums. These nutrients are not in cooked food due to going through a heated process that breaks, or denatures, the long chains of amino acids that make up the proteins in meat. This process can not only kill beneficial enzymes and bacteria necessary to digesting meat but reduce the amount of natural vitamins and antioxidants found in raw food.
Another important attribute found in raw food is moisture. In nature, a carnivore’s meal contains two-thirds moisture. So in this way raw diets are able to replicate how predators attain moisture through their prey, and may contain blood alongside the meat and organs in order to provide this moisture naturally.
Before the raw food is packaged and shipped, it may go through one of several different processes with which raw diets are made for your pet’s consumption. We will give a small description of each type of process and how it may affect your pet’s food.
This type of raw food does not go through any processes and contains all the natural bacteria and enzymes raw meat has naturally. Some manufacturers will add blood back into the ground meat to ensure all original nutrients included in the meat are transferred to your pet’s food.
One argument in favor of straight raw food is that the bacteria that may be harmful to your pet will be broken down by the acids in a dog’s stomach. Some owners believe that all of the bacteria in raw meat is beneficial for pets, or may feel as though other sterilization processes remove not only harmful but beneficial bacterias as well. Others find that these unsterilized raw foods are more palatable to their dogs, or may find it attractive due to the lower prices when in comparison to HPP brands.
The use of fermentation is unique to Answers Pet Food, which we carry in our store. This process works to remove harmful bacteria while adding beneficial probiotics to the meat that help with digestion. Supplemental products unique to Answers include raw fermented goats milk, fish stock, and kefir, which can be added to either cooked or raw diets to help promote good digestion and health.
These fermented products are similar to how humans may eat yogurt or kombucha for their probiotic benefits. The bacteria included in fermented food will not hurt your pet, but its many claimed benefits are not yet confirmed or denied by the FDA. Fermentation also makes the food more bioavailable so you actually have to feed less than you would with unfermented foods.
Some raw diets are put through HPP, or high pressure pasteurization. Unlike regular pasteurization, this process does not use heat and instead uses pressure to eliminate all bacteria. However this process also removes some of the beneficial bacterias that many pet owners turn to raw food for in the first place. Eliminating these bacteria can also cause foreign bacteria to grow on the meat. Some believe that this pressure can also alter the makeup of the ingredients. However, many believe this is a safer alternative to traditional raw meat diets. This expensive process does however raise the price of the products and may alter the taste.
Frozen vs Freeze-dried
The main difference between frozen and freeze-dried foods is cost and convenience. Frozen diets are less expensive when compared to freeze-dried, as freeze-drying not only requires more time to produce but requires specialized machinery to complete the process. Despite its higher cost, freeze-dried food is highly convenient as it does not need to be stored frozen and as a result does not need to be thawed hours before feeding. Freeze-dried food does require water to be added to not only make the food as more appealing texture but provide the ever-necessary moisture in your dog’s diet. Many people may use a frozen diet regularly but opt to use freeze-dried foods during travel for its convenience.
Some finicky pets may take to freeze-dried better than frozen. Almost all pets that come to our store, regardless of their picky nature, have eaten a treat from one of our freeze-dried manufacturers. Freeze-dried foods can also be used as a “meal topper” on your pet’s kibble or wet food, adding a boost of vitamins and providing a digestive aid.
So Why or Why Not Raw?
Some households with small infants may be hesitant to use a raw diet because of its unpasteurized nature. It is important to remember to follow the rules of handling raw meats when handling your pet’s food, and to thoroughly wash yours hands before and after feedings. Some dogs, especially older ones, may have a compromised immune system that cannot properly digest raw foods.
Please note: It is equally as important to wash your hands after handling any pet food, whether it be raw or cooked!
Your pet may need to to get used to consuming raw or fermented foods, and there is a chance that they may not eat it at all. It is important to start with a small sample of these foods to gauge your pet’s interest. Despite its benefits, your dog may prefer a canned or kibble diet.
We at Brookdale Pet Center promote a raw diet above all else due to its health benefits, which include a healthier skin and coat, smaller and easy to clean up stools, less smelly breath and improved teeth, as well as avoiding future visits to the vet because of any digestion related problems that may be caused by an inappropriate diet. Overall, a raw diet will make a visible difference in your pet’s health and energy.
Canned food is less processed than kibble, but still goes through a heated cooking process. This high temperature cooking process kills all harmful bacteria, but also removes any bacteria that would help in the digestion process and often leaves the food with less taste. Similar to boiling or steaming a piece of broccoli until it is limp and colorless, the ingredients put in canned food lose a large portion of their beneficial nutrients through cooking.
Canned foods, like raw foods, have a much higher percentage of moisture that kibble. Canned food generally has a moisture content of about 60-70%, while kibble only has 8%-10%. Water is crucial to your pet’s diets, the same way it is to humans. Carnivorous animals have historically obtained their water through the prey they hunt, eliminating the need to live near a constant water source. Raw and canned diets effectively try to mimic this through moisture content.
There are many health issues related to dehydration that can be avoided by providing enough moisture in your pet’s diet, which is very simple when choosing to feed raw or canned. Animals eating dry food often require a large amount of water on the side, and owners may observe their pet drinking a bowl or two of water a day. While it is still important to provide a source of fresh water for your pet, a way to ensure your pet is getting enough moisture is by adding an extra can of water to canned food to create a chili consistency. This not only guarantees that your pet is getting the water it needs, but can help the digestion process without your pet needing to gulp down bowls of water afterwards.
Canned foods do not use the preservatives that kibble requires. Similar to how raw foods use freezing or freeze-drying as a means of preservation, the canning process kills harmful bacteria and then seals the food to prevent any new bacterias from growing. While better than kibbles which requires many preservatives to be kept fresh in a bag for over a year or more, canned food still does go through a level of processing that raw food does not. However, because canned food is not as processed as kibble, it still retains its “food-like” qualities.
So Why or Why Not Canned?
Canned food is most certainly a step above over-processed dry foods, and its cooking process allows it to retain many more nutrients than high temperature baked kibbles. They not only contain more nutrients than kibble but the moisture content is comparable to that of raw foods and can improve your pet’s digestion.
It is often convenient to store canned foods as they can be left in a cupboard until opened, and then can be covered and refrigerated. They are highly portable and an easy travel meal.
However, canned foods are still a far cry from raw, and depending on the brand can have a higher or lower amount of unnecessary filler ingredients, and lack the beneficial bacteria and enzymes that carnivorous animals require to help them digest meat. Overall, canned foods are a good middle ground if you wish to feed your pets a better diet than dry, but are unable to afford the costs of a raw diet. We at Brookdale Pet Center always recommend canned foods over dry foods!
Dry food has only two main benefits; it’s economical and convenient. Many dogs will still thrive on a high quality kibble diet and will end up leading long, healthy lives. Many people cannot afford raw or canned diets, especially if they have larger dogs or multiple pets. Choosing the highest quality diet within your budget is the best you can do for your pet.
High protein does not necessarily equal high quality. It is important to consider both the amount of protein a specific diet provides as well as what ingredients are providing that protein. Most, if not all the protein in your pet’s diet should be animal protein, as that is what is easiest for carnivorous animals to process.
When deciding on a high protein or lower protein diet, activity level, age, weight, and whether or not the dog has been neutered or spayed should be taken into account. Active dogs require more protein as they are burning more calories, puppies may require larger portions compared to older dogs because they are growing, and fixed animals may require less food than an unaltered one.
It is arguable how well dogs can digest grains, or if there are any beneficial nutrients in grains that are worth including in your dog’s diet. However, carnivores do not eat grains in the wild other than those that may be in the stomach of their prey. Grains are used as an inexpensive filler in kibbles to lower the cost of production. Carbs are not a necessary part of carnivores’ diets, but dogs have evolved to be able to process grains. Many argue that grains are not necessary to dogs’ nutrition and provide a false burst of energy via a sugar high. Grain-free foods, on the other hand, tend to be higher in protein and lower in carbs.
All kibbles, even of the highest quality, must contain starches as a binder to retain its shape. Many companies use sweet potatoes, brown rice, or peas. So even if a kibble is grain-free, you cannot avoid the starches and carbohydrates that are used to bind the ingredients into a small bite.
Dry Food Myths
The only benefit to feeding your pet a kibble diet is cost and convenience. Kibbles were not created out of a researched diet for your pets, but rather for the ease of storage, shelf-life, and the ability to stock them with many fillers to make them a cheaper food option. Some supposed benefits of feeding dry food is the need for grain and vegetables in the diet, dental health, and firmer stools, all of which have been proven incorrect.
Myth: Dry Food Provides Dental Care
Many studies show that the sugars in dry food (which come from the starches and carbohydrates used to bind the ingredients together) feed oral bacteria, which causes dental issues such as inflamed or bleeding gums. This bacteria may also feed into other issues such as stomach and liver diseases, because the bacteria is constantly being flushed into your dog’s system as they swallow.
The lack of moisture in dry food also causes it to stick to your dog’s teeth, and makes it more difficult to swallow, similar to how eating a handful of crackers without water feels to humans.
Crunching on kibble can irritate a dog’s soft palate, and often times a dog will choose to swallow mouthfuls of kibble instead of chew it. Swallowed kibble is even harder to digest than properly chewed kibble, and may result in vomiting. Dogs’ teeth are not designed to grind food into small bits; they are instead made to tear and slice, making eating kibble difficult and further encouraging them to swallow mouthfuls. Providing a bone or chew toy for your dog is far more effective.
Myth: Dry Food Helps To Create Firmer Stool
Loose stool can indicate digestive problems that need to be addressed. Many owners who feed their pets kibble tend to notice that their dogs will produce loose stools that are difficult and unpleasant to clean up, as well as excrete a strong smell. This is due to kibble’s difficult to digest nature, resulting in less nutrients being absorbed by the dog and may indicate other stomach problems. High protein diets can help to firm up stool, and raw diets especially make the stool firm, dry, and easier to clean up, not to mention create smaller stools in general.
Some foods may include fiber in their ingredients, which has not been definitively proven to improve digestion and may or may not result in loose stools. Another additive kibbles may include is beet pulp, which many argue just works to cover up digestive issues rather than solve them.
If you choose to feed your pet a kibble diet, there are several ways in which to help solve this problem. Probiotics, either in the form of digestive enzymes or raw goat’s milk, can help to settle your dog’s stomach. Canned pumpkin has also been shown to soothe an upset stomach. Lastly, feeding them canned food at least a few times a week can also benefit their digestive tract.
So Why or Why Not Kibble?
Kibble can cause many health problems not only related to digestion but to other areas of the body. Even so, with proper care and attention dogs can easily live a long, healthy life on quality kibble. Many people appreciate kibble for its convenience and price. Things to look out for when shopping for kibble are fillers such as cornmeal and other plant-based products, and attempt to find that with the highest quality and highest percentage of protein.
No matter the type of diet you can afford for your pet, the ingredients that go into the food can determine its overall quality and should be what helps you to determine what brand of dog food you should get once you’ve decided type. Try to avoid by-products as they are most often an indicator of low quality ingredients. Some companies may use high quality by-products such as a mixture of organs that can be beneficial to your pet. However, this is rare, and by-products usually refers to ingredients that are unfit for human consumption and are therefore used in pet foods. America currently has very loose regulations regarding manufacture of pet foods, which is why they can put in low quality ingredients that have been outlawed for human consumption by the FDA. Try to avoid simple carbs like wheat, corn, and white rice. Look for products that have proteins as the first listed ingredient.
It is also important to look into where the ingredients are sourced and how they are manufactured and by whom, just as you might for your own food. We try our best to provide our customers with high quality products so that this research process is shorter and more convenient. Please make sure to ask our employees for their recommendations for your pets!