What’s the best dog diet?
July 13, 2021 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Looking for hard data on the benefits of raw or homemade vs. kibble diets for my dog.

I have a healthy, happy young dog of about 1 year (I don’t want to share photos to compromise my anonymity, but I promise she is very cute). She is my first dog and a lot of people are telling me how I need to be feeding raw or homemade or whatever. She’s doing just fine on a lamb-based kibble but I obviously want her to live as long as possible and would change up the diet if there was evidence that it led to better health in the long run.

Reading about raw diets there seems to be a lot of confusing information and woo (who knew there were dog anti-vaxxers??). Wondering if anyone has seen any hard data or can just provide any evidence if feeding a particular diet leads to better long term health outcomes. I prefer feeding kibble because it’s cheaper and I’m a vegetarian who hates touching raw meat but y’know, if there was good evidence I’d do it for love.

**I have read the study about certain brands of grain-free pet food causing heart issues, but she doesn’t eat a grain-free food (it’s lamb & oatmeal) or those brands.
posted by vanitas to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Science Vs podcast recently did an episode on this very theme. The first part does focus on grain-free vs not, but the episode goes on to address other presumed markers of diet quality. The showrunners themselves aren't experts but they have some good interviews and list 100+ citations in the show notes, and (with a couple nuances) they conclude there is very little or no evidence to show that hyped or expensive dogfood promotes healthy pets any more than standard kibble. The biggest health problem our pets face by far (according to the show) is being overfed.

If you want to skip listening, you can read a transcript that includes links to all the cited research here.
posted by exutima at 9:50 PM on July 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

Dog Food Advisor

I would suggest looking at "fancy/expensive kibble" as "humane kibble."

A lot of kibble is comprised of corn, and the pet food industry has no FDA.

Dogs are opportunistic carnivores.. they shouldn't really have a high level of grain at all. It really isn't contentious. If you begin feeding your dog raw versus a brand like, say, Ol Roy, the difference in the attention span, scent, and overall happiness of the animal will be flatly visible over the span of a couple months.

You can feed some raw by frequenting grocery overstock or euro markets. It's possible to feed half raw, half kibble. If you're seeking a decent kibble that will save some financing, Taste of the Wild is great. I would stray from science diet or many diets marketed by commercial veterinary offices.

I would be very leary of studies suggesting standard kibble is okay. .. it's essentially backpedaling for more humane treatment of animals that deserve a base quality of humane nutrition.
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:07 PM on July 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you'd like to feed your dog raw, Small Batch is absolutely great, middle range price, and low maintenance.

If you're thrifty, you can go to grocery outlet stores and pick up boxes of jerky over stock or large quantities of very plain meat products to supplement. My foster dog is fed duck fat, tallow, pork fat, pork bars, and turkey jerky on a regular basis and his coat and eyes look super vivid. It's a nice thing to observe!
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:16 PM on July 13, 2021

nomnomnow.com : silly name, great food. Cooked fresh and shipped frozen. Not cheap but very convenient.

Raw foods, no matter, how fancy the label, can carry salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogens.

I'm vegetarian and I cook for my dog. I get the recipes and supplement from BalanceIt.com.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:31 PM on July 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

My 10-lb rescue dog was 6-8 years old when I got them and they basically came with an on/off switch where if they eat any kind of kibble, they can't hold their pee. I have no idea why, but store-bought raw dog food works fine for them.
posted by aniola at 11:33 PM on July 13, 2021

Also, based on a number of behavioral details, I'm pretty confident my rescue dog was fed kibble in the before times, and my dog's teeth are in terrible shape.
posted by aniola at 11:36 PM on July 13, 2021

Veterinary nutritionists don't generally recommend raw or home cooked diets because of the risk of nutrient deficiencies and harmful bacteria, particularly salmonella. (Tufts University - 'Raw Diets: A Healthy Choice or a Raw Deal?' and 'Should you make your own pet food at home?'.)

The same Tufts University blog also has guidance on finding good quality commercial food, as does the World Small Animal Veterinary Assocation:
- WSAVA Global Nutrition Guidelines
- WSAVA Guidelines on Selecting Pet Foods
- 'Pet Food Decisions: How Do You Pick Your Pet’s Food?'
- 'Questions You Should Be Asking About Your Pet’s Food'
posted by aussie_powerlifter at 1:49 AM on July 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

Hill's Science Diet and Purina Pro Plan are the brands that veterinarians tend to prefer. Those companies have veterinary nutritionists on staff, whereas some of the other companies do not. They take animal health quite seriously. The scientific consensus is that kibble is just fine.
posted by mortaddams at 4:08 AM on July 14, 2021 [10 favorites]

Darwin's has a promo offer right now for 10lbs of raw dog food for $15, if you want to give it a try. I currently have some hurtling toward me via UPS.

I feed my small two dogs kibble (Blue Buffalo) and they're both healthy and have good poops. One is a recent adopt, the other I've had his whole life. He's been eating kibble (either the more expensive Costco brand with salmon or Blue Buffalo) his whole life. These aren't prestige kibbles but they're not terrible.

I've been researching better dog foods in the last couple weeks because 1) I can afford now to upgrade some things in my life and 2) they're getting older and I want them to stick around. (It's how I found the Darwin's raw food promo.)

I'm going to stick with kibble though, just better kibble, for a few reasons. Because of ease of storage and feeding. Because they both like kibble. Because there's not one dang thing wrong with high quality kibble. I've been reading ingredient lists here.

I'm going to get some Orijen and some Acana dry kibble and see how the dogs do, and then probably stick with one of those going forward barring some major poop disagreements.

I would personally never do homemade dog food as I am neither a chef nor a vet and I don't want to break my best friends' kidneys by being an idiot.
posted by phunniemee at 4:54 AM on July 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

There's little evidence that raw diets are better for dogs and some reason to be wary (food poisoning!). Dogs are not opportunistic carnivores, they're omnivores who have been living alongside grain eating humans for thousands of years and whose diets have primarily been composed of "human" food. That's not to say they should have a bowl of Cheetos but that they're not any more Paleo than modern humans are. Kibble is fine! We use Fromm's, but science diet is highly recommended.
posted by dis_integration at 5:02 AM on July 14, 2021 [9 favorites]

A few years ago there was some reporting on a potential link between grain-free dog food (specifically, dog food that used peas/lentils instead of grains) and heart disease in dogs. As best as I can figure out, the science is not settled or unambiguous - most of the news I can find with a quick Google is by people with a dog in this fight one way or another - but you might consider supplementing with taurine if you feed something that's heavy on the legumes.
posted by Jeanne at 5:25 AM on July 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

There are lot of anecdotal and vague evolutionary arguments that come up around this topic, because there haven't been any long-term comparative studies examining the effect of kibble vs raw food/homemade diets on longevity, health, or whatever else. In the absence of hard data on raw food diets, you get a lot of "well, when dogs were wolves..." which is romantic but not especially backed by anything at the moment. So to answer the question you posed above the fold about data, you may want to look for food companies with nutritionists on staff, companies that conducted feeding trials in line with AAFCO guidelines (which are not comprehensive, but a good start), and at that Tufts Vet Nutrition site linked above, which is a really helpful source in general.
posted by superfluousm at 5:30 AM on July 14, 2021

There is slight contention in phrasing between omnivore/carnivore, but we are talking about an animal that primarily should have a significant amount of meat to thrive/survive (please don't make them vegetarians.. they're not). They're also not* wolves, just relatives.

I'm going to bow out of this. Heads up, Hills, Science diet and Purina are companies that have had a lot of interference from commercial veterinary sources: the companies want people to buy($) the food. They often pay commerical offices to carry the food. I wouldn't recommend either, regardless of ingredient change, they haven't been found to be ideal companies in many ways. Additionally, just because an article is from Tufts, doesn't mean it was composed with the animals' best interests at hand. Highly suggest seeking different sources and cross comparing.

Dogs cannot get the same reaction from salmonella (their gut flora/gi tract is very* different than a person's) and one of the largest recommendations for feeding raw food is the available fresh nutrient content.. it.. provides a huge difference. (An analogy for kibble is slightly like astronauts eating dried food. It works, but?) There's a bit of mis-info in this thread- I'd recommend consulting with a local ethical/sustainable food supply store in your area. They'll have better resources. Good luck!
posted by firstdaffodils at 6:14 AM on July 14, 2021

Coming back to say that this older comment on the same topic may be interesting/helpful, if you haven't seen it.
posted by superfluousm at 6:42 AM on July 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

I work with nutrition and food safety/microbiology professors. We had one who specializes in dog food come to talk to us for some professional development; and two takeaways I had about dog food from that conversation that have really stuck with me:

-if anyone in your family/that interacts with your dog has ANY immune issues or are children, it is not safe to feed your dog raw food; there is way too high a chance of transmission of people of any pathogens your dog eats. In my region, you are also not allowed to feel raw diet to therapy/wellness dogs for the same reason.

-if a cooked or heat processed packaged kibble talks about probiotics, they don't actually usually contain any because heat processing destroys them even if they were there to begin with.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 7:19 AM on July 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had a long nutrition consult with a veterinarian that specialized in nutrition and homeopathic therapies. She had gone through vet school and had practiced as a vet for many years in a standard office before transitioning (I will also note she is not anti-vax, so not extreme woo). She very strongly recommended raw food for my dog. I feed my dog Andersen's raw food and switch up the proteins--that particular brand might not be available to you depending on where you're located. I also give my dog raw goats milk on a daily basis. If you do decide on raw, she suggested making sure at least one of the top 3 ingredients was an organ meat.

Several people mentioned the risk of food borne illness. She said she probably wouldn't recommend raw food for a dog if there were small children in the household or severely immune-compromised household members, but otherwise it's no different than using safe food-handling practices when you cook raw chicken or other raw meats. Can you imagine if we were told not to cook chicken in our home kitchens because of the risk of food-borne illnesses? Just use common sense and wash your hands and your dog's food bowl.

Another thing she discussed is that they don't teach nutrition in vet school. Every time I take my dog to his regular vet for his annual physical, the vet side-eyes me when I tell her I feed raw food and they often lecture me on how kibble keeps their teeth healthy, etc., because that's what they're told. Then literally a minute later they inspect my dog's teeth and tell me they look fantastic and he doesn't need a teeth cleaning. He's only 5, so still pretty young, but he's been eating raw food for most of his life and his teeth are whitest I've seen on a dog. It also seems to be much easier to manage his weight. If skin, coat, and nails are any indicator of health--which I think it is--he seems to be extremely healthy. Lord knows he has plenty of energy. Also, prior to moving him to raw food my dog had a lot of tummy issues and diarrhea, and I don't think he's had diarrhea once in the 3 years he's been eating raw. I think this has a lot to do with the goats milk that has a lot of probiotics, but regardless he hasn't gotten sick off the raw food.

Long story short, with the advice of a nutrition-trained vet, I decided to feed my dog raw food. Roughly three years into this decision, I feel good about what I feed him and will continue this route for the foreseeable future.
posted by shornco at 7:22 AM on July 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

posted by firstdaffodils at 7:22 AM on July 14, 2021

Your question raises a subject, clearly, with a lot of debate, strong personal feelings, and, unfortunately, misinformation. First, I will say that I personally don't believe there are definitive answers to your questions. As with human diets, I don't believe there is one right diet for everyone or every pet, and I generally distrust anyone who says there is. Instead, I will offer a few things I think of as perspective. I learned a lot from this New York Times Magazine article. As background disclosure, I know someone who works at a high-level in the pet food industry, and we have had many conversations on this subject. Forgive me if any of this is obvious or old news to you.

As historical background, the commercial pet food industry developed during the rise of human cereal production and slaughterhouses. Pet kibble was a result of repurposing cheap leftovers from those two industries for pet consumption.

Veterinarians generally endorse big brands, such as Purina and Science Diet, in part, because those products are made by gigantic corporations. Now, this doesn't mean that big corporations necessarily equal good (or bad), or the opposite with smaller boutique companies. What it does mean is Nestle Purina, Mars, Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, etc., have the resources to back studies and staff experts to mitigate risk (food sickness and recalls). This doesn't necessarily mean their food is the best if you're trying to optimize, but that they can make evidence-backed claims of safety. More importantly, they can make marketing claims that the smaller companies cannot because the corporations have the capital to back up these claims through studies and counter-suits if they are sued.

You might be surprised how small many boutique pet food brands truly are. There are companies that have big footprints in boutique pet stores that are, in fact, tiny. These smaller brands may not have the money or staffing to verify their products, nutritionally, medically, or, again most importantly, for marketing claims of supposed health benefits to the extent that the corporate companies do. Smaller companies cannot make claims without the fear of being sued, so they often rely on fluffy, unregulated terms (in the US) such as "natural," "premium," or "pasture-raised." These smaller companies may, in fact, offer a "better" product, but from a business standpoint, they also need marketing claims that appeal to pet owners AND will hold up against ruinous lawsuits, so they over-rely on what you referred to as "woo."

The reality is that pet-food trends follow human-food trends. This is known as "Pet Humanization, whereby pet owners are increasingly treating their pets like children and are highly receptive to products similar to the ones they use for themselves. They want to buy them the best possible of everything — a trend called Pet Premiumization." Again, this is neither good nor bad in itself. But many of the claims about what dogs or cats want or what a pure, Edenic dog or cat would prefer seems to fall under the Appeal to Nature fallacy, in my opinion. (See also: vaccines, grooming, breeding for behavioral and aesthetic characteristics, riding in cars, etc.)

The TL;DR of this all is that if the food you're feeding your dog is working for you, your dog, and your vet, I think you can safely continue with what you're doing.
posted by cursed at 8:32 AM on July 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

Much like with people, the answer is it depends, I have one dog with liver problems that if fed the wrong diet his body stresses out he get's HGE and can literally shit blood until he dies. I have another dog that can eat pretty much anything but only if I introduce it carefully and slowly into his diet as he personally hates change.

So the tips the vet handling my dog with liver problems and HGE suggested where this, monitor your dog. Monitor their poop, is it firm and healthy, are they needing their anal glands squeezed a lot, then their food needs to change to make their poop be firmer. Are they a healthy weight, most dogs are overweight or obese you should be able to easily count your dogs ribs when running your hands over them. Is their coat shiny are they happy and active. I have one dog that lives on a commercial brand dry senior dog food, that's very reasonably priced but also very highly rated for it's ingredients and one that lives on pretty much chicken and, rice because that's what works for him right now at 12 years of age with liver problems (this is under vet supervision and not a nutritionally balanced diet, but a nutritious diet would cause him pain and possible death). So the point I'm making is, whatever works for your dog to make them happy and healthy is the best diet for them.

Whatever you pick you will always doubt your decision. You want what is best for your dog, advertisers will pick at that, people on social media will have vocal loud and scientifically inaccurate opinions on what you are feeding your dog.

Having said all that I had dogs growing up one of which lived to 19 years old that were fed pretty much entirely on table scraps, back in the days before commercial dog food. If you are happy with your dogs condition, if your vet is happy with your dogs condition and doesn't recommend a prescription diet for some medical reason, keep doing what you are doing. Enough exercise and not being overweight will have more effect on your dogs life and health.
posted by wwax at 10:05 AM on July 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

« Older Non-slip bathtub mat recommendations, please!   |   Economical and fast video streaming over local... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments