Should I Give My Dog Fresh Food?
Yes! I'm all about feeding dogs fresh, or minimally processed food.
I think one of the worst pieces of advice is that dogs should never get "people food". We have to exercise common sense of course. Don't give your dog fried, high fat, or spicy food, donuts, or roasting pan drippings, for example; and don't feed your dog half a cup of broccoli when she's never eaten fresh veggies before. But there are wonderful nutritional benefits that come from well chosen fresh food.
6 Reasons to Feed Your Dog Fresh or Minimally Processed Food
Phytonutrients & Antioxidants: Fresh vegetables and fruit are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants. These are compounds that are beneficial to health. Antioxidants inhibit free radicals; free radicals damage cells and lead to disease and aging. Phytonutrients offer targeted support to cells, joints, and organ systems.
Anti-inflammatory Benefits: Compounds in fresh vegetables and fruit can reduce inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish have a wide range of anti-inflammatory actions that benefit the cardiovascular system, joints, skin, brain health and the gut.
Fiber: Vegetables and fruit are healthy sources of fiber. Fiber feeds the microbes in the gut which in turn produces beneficial short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids are fuel for the cells lining the intestines. Fiber slows the rate that glucose is metabolized, which moderates insulin response.
Gut Health & Microbial Diversity: Researchers have discovered that variety in the diet promotes a resilient and diverse gut microbiome which in turn supports the immune system and health of the dog. One of the easiest ways to increase diversity in the diet is by feeding fresh, appropriately chosen food.
Highly Bioavailable Nutrients: Fresh or minimally processed food provides a highly bioavailable source of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids (including nonessential, but very beneficial, taurine and glycine.) Bioavailability is a measure of the proportion of a nutrient that is absorbed and used by the body.
Mealtime Enjoyment: Fresh food additions to kibble, or totally fresh food diets, are more exciting and satisfying to many dogs. Don't underestimate the importance that mealtime has for many dogs. High moisture foods can create a feeling of satiety, interest and enjoyment.
Sounds Great! How do I Make This Happen?
We all have different budgets, different amounts of time, and dogs with unique taste preferences or health conditions, and so while I would love it if everyone could feed their dog a custom formulated diet, I realize that's not reality. Here are 3 different options for feeding fresh food to your dog.
Add fresh food toppers to your dog's kibble. You can add things like low glycemic vegetables and berries to your dog's kibble without much of an increase in calories. Your adult dog might be a candidate to have kibble with more substantial fresh food toppers such as sardines, eggs, muscle meat and organs in addition to veggies and fruit.
Feed a combination diet of part kibble and part custom formulated raw or cooked recipe. Working within your dog's caloric requirements you can feed kibble/dehydrated and fresh meals. This can be ideal for people who want to feed as much properly formulated fresh meals as they can but also need the convenience of kibble. With this option your dog needs to be eating kibble that is appropriate for his weight range according to the manufacturer's guidelines.
Feed a custom formulated raw or cooked diet. You can feed your dog a diet of entirely fresh meals. If feeding raw food is not your thing, a cooked diet is a great option. Cooked diet recipes should be formulated using the nutritional values of cooked food so there is no worry about missing nutrients. With this option pet parents need to make sure the diet contains all of the vitamins, minerals, fats, and amino acids that their dog requires. I use the NRC recommended allowances in diet formulations.
What is the NRC? The NRC is the National Research Council which has established the nutrient requirements of dogs and cats based on decades of scientific, peer reviewed research.
It is important to verify that whichever diet you choose for your dog meets their nutritional requirements. This is especially important for growing puppies. I am seeing an alarming increase in the amount of deficient commercial raw and home-prepared cooked diets.
Finally, go slowly with adding new foods to your dog's diet. Add a small amount of each new food to test tolerance and increase slowly.