Why I’m Okay With Feeding My Dogs Nothing But Dry Food

I do this out of concern for my dogs' dental health, but I also monitor levels of carbohydrates.
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Editor’s Note: Food is a controversial subject here at Dogster. It’s only natural: we care about our pets and want to give them the absolute best. In our list of Dogster Values, we note that we believe in feeding your pet the best food you can afford; if that happens to be kibble, we won’t judge you for it.

The post below is NOT a sponsored post — it is the author’s opinion, which we’re publishing (as we regularly do) in the spirit of debate. You can agree or disagree, but please be civil. And please tell us what you feed your dog and why you do it in the comments area below.

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I find it strange how nervous I can get just talking about what I feed my dogs. The topic of whether to feed wet or dry, organic or conventional, raw or cooked seems to have reached a fever pitch, especially online. And I assure you, I am not here to try and change anyone’s mind. We all have to look at the information available and make our own decisions for our dog and our household. But I thought I would say a little about how I chose the dog food that I buy.

I want to use a dry food for two main reasons. One is that my older dog has some worn and broken teeth and my younger dog has a congenital issue that causes plaque intolerance, which requires that I keep her teeth very clean. I use a water additive and brushing but still find a dry food is a good idea for maintaining the dental health of both. The second reason is that it is convenient and easy, and I think it is better to admit that is a factor rather than pretend that it is not.

One of the biggest concerns with kibble is that it is quite high in carbohydrates like starches from foods such as grains and potatoes. Wolves clearly would not have eaten very much of those materials at all, just trace amounts from the stomach contents of prey animals. So the question is, just how different are dogs from their wolf ancestors? Is eating a diet relatively high in carbohydrates bad for them?

Erik Axxelson and a team of researchers completely sequenced the genomes of wolves and dogs, and what they found is that dogs differ in two main area: 27 genes that affect the brain and nervous system, and ten that affect the stomach. The changes in the genes of the dogs allow them to be much more efficient in breaking down carbohydrates like starch all the way to glucose, so that it can be absorbed. So, good news for my conscience, dogs have evolved to be able to use plants sources of nutrition. But that is not really the whole story.

Another study led by Adrian K. Hewson-Hughes showed that when dogs are given the choice, they want to get most of their energy from fat and protein and only seven percent from carbohydrates. Most studies find that animals given naturalistic choices have what is called “nutritional wisdom,” and will tend to pick the foods that are best for them. And these dogs selected a diet much closer to the ancestral wolf diet and well out of the range offered by most dry diets.

One reason for kibble being high in carbohydrates is that they are an ingredient necessary to be able to extrude and dry a stable dry pellet of food, so making a low-carb kibble is actually quite difficult. Formulations are unlikely to get much below 20-percent carbs, and they lower they go, the more they are going to cost. Now, in my case, the days where I had to decide between buying dog food, human food or gas some weeks are fortunately in the past, so I can go for the bigger-ticket brands if I think there is a good reason to do so.

Also, my dogs don’t have any health concerns known to be aggravated by a high-carbohydrate diet, so all I am trying to do is to balance my reasons for feeding dry, which I have already mentioned, with the dogs natural tendency to eat a low-carbohydrate diet (which is probably optimal for them). So my own personal decision has been to stick with dry diets, but to choose ones with relatively low levels of carbohydrates to try and balance the issues that concern me.

Other people make other food choices for their dogs, and I think it is important that we respect each other’s choices when they are made responsibly and for good reasons, especially because each dog is going to have different health and nutritional needs. And even when we disagree, a civil conversation is going to be more helpful than a polarized debate.

We are discovering new things about dog nutrition all the time, and new products are coming on the market constantly. It seems to me that so long as we can share the information we have discovered and we all are trying to make the best decisions, we as dog owners will be able to help one another make the best decisions possible for our dogs. And that is the most important thing.

What do you think about my decision to feed my dog only dry food? Do you agree with it? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

About the author: Emily Kane is a New Zealand-born animal behaviorist of the throw-back radical behaviorist type, albeit with a holistic-yuppie-feminist-slacker twist. She spent many years as an animal behavior researcher and is now more of an indoor paper-pushing researcher. Her early dog-related education came from Jess the Afghan Hound and Border Collies Bandit and Tam. It is now being continued by her own dogs and extended dog family and some cats (and her three aquatic snails Gala, Granny and Pippin — they think of themselves as dog-esque).

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8 thoughts on “Why I’m Okay With Feeding My Dogs Nothing But Dry Food”

  1. Disappointed in society

    Dear people in comments: unless you're a trained, certified veterinarian NUTRITIONIST, your thoughts and opinions on how to feed animals are anecdotal, unproven, and downright illegal on grounds of trying to diagnose or treat animals without a license. Research actually goes into commercial pet food to cover micro and macro nutrients. It's been scientifically proven that raw and home made diets are rarely, if ever, nutritionally balanced and complete (such as that "recipe" posted above, I'm sorry but your dog is NOT getting a complete and balanced diet). And that raw food contains bacteria that could really damage an animal's health. Anyone who disagrees is brainwashed by nature fallacy and their own clouded, hippie viewpoints. Full-stop. Take care of your pets.

  2. When I hear people say they feed their dog in a certain way because it’s convenient, IE, only dry dog food , what I’m really hearing them say is that I am incredibly lazy and unwilling to lift a finger to provide my dogs with any real, healthy, nutritious, fresh food. It’s okay to feed your dog some high quality dry dog food but by all means you should also provide them with some real fresh food in addition to that. This could be as easy as sharing some of whatever you are eating with your dog. Don’t be lazy, dogs know the difference between real fresh food and dry dog food that’s been sitting on a Shelf. And they will feel so much better. It’s the least you could do for them.

  3. I completely agree with you. I believe that the diet that I can best afford in terms of time, effort and money is the best diet for my dog.

    I’m not going to lie, I used to self prep raw for my dog. But after I got a second dog, I could no longer afford the time to prep for 2 dogs, not to mention the freezer space needed. Raw was not necessarily more expensive for me because organs, offal and bone is very cheap where I come from, but time wise I could no longer find the time to prep. I tried pre-packed services but it didn’t suit my dogs’ stomaches as their optimal proportion wasn’t the standard.

    So I researched on kibble and settled on one that I feel is the best for my dogs in terms of dry food. They’re healthy so far, energetic, happy!

    Honestly, a dog just needs your love 🙂 everything else is extra.

  4. My dog is almost 11 years old. Very healthy. No skin-, teeth-, digestion-, odour- or energy issues. Shortly after I got her as a puppy I read a book about natural animal nutrition. But at first, as a tiny little puppy, I gave her tiny puppy kibbles, soaked in water… then one morning I dropped a pear core on the floor, and this tiny little puppy went wild and ate the whole piece of fruit! Then I realised she craves real food.
    So for the last 11 years I have been making good, homemade food for her, I feed her mornings and nights. (and it is not expensive at all!)
    ~~~~~~
    It goes like this:
    -250gms of beef mince in a medium sized pot.
    -fill it to the brim with 3 colours of veggies. Usually grated carrot, swiss chard and a tomato or two. Sometimes I use kale, cabbage or celery for green, or butternut for yellow.
    -Add water and simmer for half an hour or so.
    -Teaspoon of dried green herbs(oregano, basil, parsley)
    -Teaspoon of turmeric.
    -Salt
    -2 or 2 and half cups of oatmeal, simmer till cooked.(be careful not to burn it at this point.)

    When the pot has cooled down I put the whole pot in the refrigerator…for convenience.
    ~~~~~~~
    When the pot is empty (after about 3 days) I will make “fast food” for her for a day or so:
    -Slice or two of wholegrain/brown bread, crumbled
    -1 Banana chopped
    -2 fish from a tin of tomato pilchards
    One egg.
    ~~~~~~~
    Inbetween I give her lick of milk about 3 times a week, and doggy treats that has selenium and omega oils in it daily.

  5. As a raw feeder, I obviously believe in the benefits of fresh, unprocessed nutrition. I used to feed high-quality kibble, and my pets did ok, but as different health issues arose, I realized that instead of prescribed medications, antibiotics and steroids, I could improve my pet’s health through diet.
    I do respect the author’s point of view, and it is true that feeding raw or fresh foods is more expensive. My pet food budget almost doubled when I entirely switched to a raw diet.
    Not every pet owner can afford this, and not everyone has the time, knowledge or tools to craft, store, and feed these types of foods. I recommend feeding a high quality, meat-rich kibble and incorporating fresh foods as often as possible.
    This could be as simple as a raw egg twice a week, some fresh produce once a day, either in food or as treats, or adding bone broths to kibble diets. Any way that you can add a little fresh, unprocessed food to their kibble or canned diet will improve digestion and overall health.
    One side note on dental health, raw meat contains enzymes that work to reduce harmful bacteria in your pet’s mouth, a benefit that is actually superior to the dental care gained through kibble diets.
    Thanks for the great article and the opportunity to have a respectful and open debate about pet nutrition.

  6. I’m a little confused as to why your choice of food for a dog with broken and cracked teeth would be kibble. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If I had broken and cracked teeth, the last thing I would want to be eating is hard, crunchy food, the pain would be unbearable.

    1. As an added note: You mention that you need a food low in carbohydrates. But, the recommended amount of carbs for a dog is 20% and for any food to bind enough to become kibble it has to contain 30% carbs. So, any kibble you feed your dogs will always contain too many carbs.

  7. I’m not a fan of dry food, but I get it for price and convenence. Honestly it doesn’t help the teeth, ask your dentist what he thinks about chips and pretzels and he should tell you that they stick to your teeth as much as sugar. But I understand that many people need to feed the best for their situation, so add human food to it when you can. Like pieces of hamburger and veggies not buried in sauces. It will help your dog in nutrition. No one or animal should be fed the exact same limited food day after day. That vitamins they add to the food is not balanced in the end. So supplement what you can afford.

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