We talked with Dr Nicole Rous, owner of Mont Albert Vet (VIC) and founder of Shy Tiger, a professional grade natural animal health brand, about what we feed our pups, and what we should be thinking about when choosing between processed or raw dog diets.
What do we mean when we say a food is 'processed'?
Food is 'processed' in order to make it easier to package up and last longer on a shelf. Processing can refer to chopping, mixing, heating, adding other ingredients (often preservatives and fillers) in order to make a finished product that can last on a shelf until you buy it, and until your dog eats it. Practically all food is 'processed' to some extent - even cutting meat off the bone is part of a 'process' before that meat is available to buy.
The trouble begins when dog food is 'ultra-processed'.
Let's dig a little deeper into that.
Unfortunately, lots of dog food (especially kibble) these days is grain-based, because grains are a cheap addition, and when heavily processed, have a long shelf-life. But, unlike humans who need carbohydrates in their diet, dogs don't have a carbohydrate requirement. The average bag of grain-based dog food is often more than 50% carbs, largely from corn or potatoes (hello insulin increase!). It's diabetes in a bag!!!
Grain-free kibble is no better, possibly worse. Some of the bags have even more starch than their grainy counterparts and have been linked to deadly heart disease.
And worse still, these ingredients are resource draining, requiring:
⋒ Land to grow the grains/carby vegetables (often in locations the plant is not native to)
⋒ heavy chemical use to deter pests
⋒ Heavy machinery (and petrol use) to harvest
⋒ Heavy machinery and technology to process into a product that can be added into the dog food.
It really doesn't matter what scientific claims are made about the ingredients, dog kibble and tinned food is even more processed and less regulated than ANY human food you can buy.
We’re over feeding and undernourishing our pets.
Batch testing is not required for nutritional adequacy, contaminants or toxins, so you don't necessarily get the nutritional value listed on the back of the bag, and you run the risk of your dog ingesting toxins that (obviously) are not listed. Digestibility studies are optional. So whatever claims are advertised on the bag, there's little accountability for the brands selling it.
So what’s my take as an integrative vet?
Raw dog food is great if they use HUMAN grade meat. Pre-made raw diets that say they meet AAFCO standards are a good place to start - they are an organisation focussed solely on setting standards for safety and quality of the food you buy.
There are more recalls for salmonella in dry food than raw food, so don’t be scared by people saying it’s dangerous to feed raw. Use common sense and hygiene - wash your hands when handling dog food and don’t leave it out all day. Rotate food and vary it, the same way we should be feeding ourselves a variety of foods!
For dogs with sensitive tummies or older dogs, cooked fresh (or lightly cooked) meals are a better choice for improved digestibility. There are also much less resource intensive processing techniques that can be used for dog food: dehydrating and freeze drying are MUCH better in my opinion than ultra-processed kibble, and in most cases products made this way will have less (or no) extra crap added in.
If attempting homemade food without consultation of a nutritionist or a lot of research, use a balancer! A balancer is essentially a sophisticated multivitamin that has a bunch of vitamins and minerals that your pup needs in order to be nutritionally satisfied - I use Bestie Kitchen at our clinic! Support Australian fresh food businesses. We’re so fortunate to have such great options in Australia!
Please note that this article is not intended as individual dietary advice, and we recommend consulting your vet for advice exclusive to your pet.
For anyone interested here’s a great resource for more information https://foreverdog.com/