Simply put: Kibble consists of crunchy, little pieces made in a high-heat process that dog parents spill into bowls for their dogs to devour. No mess. No fuss.
Look around today, however, and you encounter kibble undergoing a tasty revolution. Companies now tout kibble as:
- made from sustainable and alternative proteins like insects, such as the dried black soldier fly larvae (Yum or yuck, depending on your viewpoint.)
- gently air-dried to maintain more nutrients with each bite for your canine pal
- made from all-natural human-grade ingredients
- containing certified fresh, not rendered, proteins
- produced in USDA-approved facilities
- made free of any GMO ingredients as well as void of any corn or wheat
- having enhanced digestibility, by focusing on microbes, probiotics and prebiotics
- boosting its quality of ingredients
“As more and more dog owners see their dogs as family members, it’s likely that the humanization of pet food will continue and grow,” says Betsy Flores, senior vice president of public policy at the Pet Food Institute, based in Washington, D.C. “We will likely also see more of a focus on sustainable ingredients, including alternative protein sources, such as insect proteins.”
The PFI has been advocating for safe and nutritious pet food and lobbying for science-based advances in the way pet food is made since being established more than 60 years ago.
“Pet food makers are continuously conducting research to determine the best dog food formulations to help our companions live long, healthy lives, so innovations in dog food are always occurring,” adds Betsy. “Today, there is a humanization of dog food and a variety of types of food — from dry and canned dog food to raw and freeze-dried — that was unseen 20 years ago.”
Kibble dog food trends
Enhanced digestibility is also becoming a big factor in kibble. The addition of healthy, digestive microbes in kibble bags is gaining attention, says Holly Ganz, PhD, chief science officer and co-founder of AnimalBiome, a biotech company based in California that researches key healthy microbes in dogs and cats.
“I do think that the fresh-food movement is changing ways that companies manufacture kibble,” says Dr. Ganz. “People want better ingredients in their dogs’ kibble. There are healthier options now that improve the microbiome in dogs for better digestive health.”
Pet food companies, big and small, are also becoming more boldly competitive. You may have seen this in television commercials that pit one kibble brand against another, points out Dr. Tonya Cooksey, director of veterinary relations at AnimalBiome.
“These types of commercials can make some people stop to think more about what they are feeding their pets — and that has pushed kibble companies to think hard about their ingredients, the quality and how their kibble is processed,” says Dr. Cooksey.
Tips for feeding kibble to your dog
During mealtime, whether it’s plain kibble or mixed in with canned, homemade or another type of dog food, give some food for thought to these tips and insights:
- Avoid buying kibble in bulk. Veterinary nutritionists recommend sticking to a month’s supply of kibble dog food to maintain freshness. Avoid buying in bulk because the kibble in an open bag is at risk of becoming stale, even rancid, over time.
- Shop by nutritional quality, not by price. Often, medium- and high-priced kibble brands provide more nutritional goodness per cup than low-priced, discount brands. It is like equating the nutritional value of an apple to a bag of processed potato chips.
- Dish up variety to your dog. Expand your dog’s palate by slowly introducing different quality brands of kibble in different flavors. Follow the 3-3-3 rule: for the first few days, the bowl should contain two-thirds of the current kibble with one-third of a new kibble. Then, switch to two-thirds of the new kibble for the next few days and finally, portion out the meal in the bowl with the new kibble brand. This 3-3-3 game plan allows your dog to adjust to the new food and avoid digestive issues.
- Scrutinize the label on the bag. Dog food companies are required to list their ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight. Make sure the first ingredient is a recognized protein, such as chicken, beef or salmon. Corn or grains should not be the first ingredient listed.
- Choose resealable bags to maintain freshness. Or store the contents of the dog food bag in an airtight container with a lid. Because of the proteins in kibble, there is always a filmy residue in plastic storage containers that needs to be cleaned with mild dishwashing soap and warm water and allowed to air dry before putting in a new bag of food.
- Beware of marketing hype. Claims of being “light” or “all-natural” carry no real nutritional clout. Look for brands that are labeled “complete and balanced” diets and ones that list feeding guidelines for dogs to maintain healthy weights.
Adds Betsy, “The most important item on the label of dog food is the nutritional adequacy statement. Dogs have varying nutritional needs at different stages of their life, so choosing the right life-stage formula is crucial.”