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Is Fresh Dog Food Better Than Kibble?

Raw chicken and vegetables on a wooden cutting board, a dog facing the camera, and a bag of dog food
Brutus/Hill’s Science Diet/Purina

One of the biggest challenges you face as a dog parent is figuring out which food is best for your pup. While it’s hard enough picking out the best kibble brand, fresh and frozen dog food has been coming into the spotlight as an even better way to nourish your pet. Here’s what you need to know about fresh dog food versus kibble.

If you own a dog and spend any time on the internet, you’ve probably noticed the lavish homemade meals people are giving their pets. Bone broth, ground turkey, fresh vegetables, and even raw meat all seem to be making their way into dog food bowls across the country.

But do you really need to make your dog’s food from scratch or feed him raw meat and eggs to keep him healthy? Here’s what the experts say, and how you can help your pet stay as healthy as possible.

Fresh, Frozen, or Homemade Dog Food

A Golden Retriever lying down in front of his bowl.

This category refers to any type of dog food that needs to be refrigerated or frozen to keep from going bad. This food is usually human-grade, with raw meat being the exception.

You can purchase fresh and frozen dog food in most pet stores today, and there are many recipes available online for making your dog meals from scratch. These typically include a lot of protein with a smaller portion of vegetables and carbohydrates.

The Pros of Fresh Dog Food

Someone holding a dog bowl out to a labrador.
Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

The best aspect of fresh dog food, whether it is homemade or storebought, is that it tends to be less processed than kibble. Dry dog food has to maintain a shelf life, which means it must have preservatives to keep it from going bad when it’s stored at various temperatures. Packaged fresh food and homemade dog food typically expire within a week of being opened or prepared.

If your dog is a picky eater, fresh food may help them get more nutrients in their diet. You can imagine how ground beef, chicken broth, and rice would taste more appealing to a dog than brown dehydrated chunks that don’t really smell like anything.

Depending on which brand of kibble you’ve been using, fresh food may offer a wider variety of nutrients to your dog. If you make your own dog food, you have complete control over what goes into your pet’s body. Gone are the days of trying to pronounce the ingredients on their bag of kibble or stressing over pet food recalls in the news.

Many people have also found that switching to fresh dog food improves the health of their pets. According to the American Kennel Club, giving dogs food made with “natural, real ingredients … can do wonders for their overall well-being.”

Owners who feed their dogs fresh food have reported everything from healthier coats to fresher breath and improved eyesight in their pets.

The Cons of Fresh Dog Food

A roll of fresh dog food and packaged of fresh dog food in a refrigerator

First of all, it’s important to note that there is limited research supporting homemade or raw diets for dogs. While there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting the benefits, there is little scientific research on this topic.

Fresh, frozen, and homemade food is also more expensive than many kibble brands. Making your dog’s meals from scratch offers the most flexibility in terms of price, but can be incredibly time-consuming. Whether you make a large batch of food and freeze it for the next few days or you put together a meal every morning, you’re looking at around one to two hours of labor each week when it comes to feeding your dog.

You can purchase pre-made fresh food in most pet stores, but this is often the most expensive way to feed your dog. If you prefer this route, Freshpet Healthy and Natural Dog Food is a trusted brand that makes fresh dog food.

While some people report health advantages of fresh dog food, you can easily cause nutrient deficiencies in your pet if you aren’t careful. Dogs have different nutritional needs than humans and require a specific combination of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy.

According to PetMD, you should follow veterinarian-approved recipes if you are preparing your dog’s food at home. Straying from these recipes with even a single ingredient substitution “unbalances the diet and poses a risk for providing too much or not enough of one or multiple nutrients.”

Finally, using raw food in your dog’s diet can put both of you at risk of spreading bacteria and food-borne illnesses. The American Veterinary Medical Association actually recommends against feeding dogs unregulated raw diets and “discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.” The safest way to feed your dog raw meat is to speak with your veterinarian first.

Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs by Lew Olson is a must-read for dog owners looking to ease off from kibble. It contains a plethora of information about the ideal canine diet and will help you understand how to give your dog the best nutrition. It also recommends specific diets based on your dog’s health needs, including tailored options for dogs with cancer, diabetes, and bladder problems.

Dry Food or Kibble

Someone offering a lab a bowl of kibble food.
Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock.com

Dry food, or kibble, is any type of dog food with a long shelf life. There are dozens of dog food brands, and within those, dozens of specially formulated dog food products. Freeze-dried dog food, which is less processed than kibble, also falls into this category.

The Pros of Dry Dog Food

A dog sits by a white container as someone gets kibble out of it

The two most compelling reasons to feed your dog kibble are its availability and price. Every pet store and most grocery stores carry at least a few bags of dry dog food. These also come in a wide range of prices, which is helpful for people who are on a tight budget when it comes to feeding their pets.

Dry food is also more convenient than fresh food. Kibble is shelf-stable and unopened bags often doesn’t don’t hit their expiration dates until at least a year after purchase.

While dry food can go rancid when exposed to moisture and oxygen, this type of food will last significantly longer than fresh dog food that isn’t frozen. You can keep your kibble fresh for a longer period of time by putting your entire bag of food in an airtight container like this one.

Kibble makes more sense for people with tight schedules than homemade food does. Instead of meticulously researching the best diet for your dog, consulting your veterinarian, and taking the time to make their food, feeding your dog with kibble is as time-consuming as scooping some food from the bag and pouring it into their bowl.

The recent popularity of fresh food has many pet parents worried about the quality of their kibble, but many experts believe kibble is perfectly adequate for your pet. Dry dog food is formulated to give your pup all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Dog food is regulated by the FDA and “requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled.”

Yes, recalls happen, and yes, there are sketchy dog food brands out there. However, most types of kibble will help your dog meet their basic nutritional needs without any other work on your part.

The Cons of Dry Food

A happy dog rolls in the grass
Hill’s Science Diet

The cons of dry dog food are similar to the pros of fresh or homemade food. Commercial pet foods can be highly processed and contain sketchy ingredients. Just like you do your research when buying packaged foods for yourself or your kids, you should read up on various kibble brands before picking the best option for your dog.

Some low-quality dog food brands use high amounts of carbohydrates like corn or rice as fillers in their food. While this can make the food cheaper, dogs only need a limited amount of carbs in their diets. Too many carbs can cause health issues like obesity and diabetes.

The American Kennel Association recommends buying dry dog food that has a protein listed as its first ingredient. This is a good indicator that the food has plenty of protein and doesn’t use extra carbs as a filler.

Although dry dog food is generally easier to find and use than fresh or homemade food, it can still pose a headache of its own. High-quality kibble brands can be just as expensive as lower-quality fresh food. The cheapest dry dog food is often the worst quality and can lead to expensive health issues in your dog you’ll have to pay for (literally and figuratively) later on.

Navigating the kibble world isn’t easy, either. There are an endless number of brands and formulas to choose from, so you’ll have to do some research before picking one. It’s best to talk to your vet about your dog’s health needs so he or she can recommend a brand for you. The best kibble for your dog will depend on its breed, age, weight, activity level, and health conditions.

Fortunately, there are some dry dog food options that are known to be high-quality and safe options for most canines. One of the best picks for an adult dog with no health problems is the ​​Purina Pro Plan Adult Shredded Blend Dry Dog Food. With real chicken as the first ingredient, this food meets the ideal protein requirements and contains a variety of textures to keep your dog interested.

Another top-rated option for all breed sizes is ​​Hill’s Science Diet Small Bites Dry Dog Food. This brand has been a favorite of pet experts for years and is often recommended by veterinarians. Hill’s Science is one of the best brands for kibble brands that meet specific health needs as well.

How to Supplement Kibble

A woman pours bone broth on kibble and an orange bottle of salmon oil
Brutus/Zesty Paws

If you’re interested in feeding your dog some form of fresh food but are concerned about the price tag or time involved, your best bet is to supplement their kibble with fresh food, vitamins, and nutritious treats. This option is ideal for anyone who isn’t willing to thoroughly research canine diets and talk with their veterinarian before feeding their dog homemade or raw food.

It’s still a good idea to discuss this diet plan with your veterinarian. If you want to add a lot of fresh items to your dog’s food bowl, you’ll need to cut down on the amount of dry food they are given to avoid weight gain. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies quickly if you’re removing large amounts of kibble that contain the nutrients needed to keep your pup healthy.

When adding human foods to your dog’s kibble, it is important to be aware of the items that can be toxic to your pup. Onions, garlic, macadamia nuts, and grapes are all on the list of things to avoid, but it’s not an exhaustive list.

It’s best to start small when supplementing your dog’s dry food. If you only add one or two fresh items to their kibble, you don’t need to remove any dry food and therefore don’t need to worry about nutrient deficiencies.

One great item to add to your dog’s dry food is bone broth. This chicken bone broth can be poured directly on top of kibble. Not only will this addition keep your pup hydrated, but it’s packed with vitamins and minerals, as well. Bone broth is also high in collagen and glucosamine, which can improve hip and joint health.

Salmon oil can also help with hip and joints as well as heart and immune health. The powerful Omega fatty acids in this supplement will keep their skin and coat healthy, while also improving internal functions.

Some fresh foods you probably have on hand that can be added to your dog’s kibble include:

  • Eggs
  • Sardines
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Blueberries
  • Greek yogurt

We all want to feed our dog the best diet, and it seems fresh food is being heavily pushed lately. Now that you know more about the pros and cons of each doggie diet, and how each is best for your pet, you’ll be more equipped to decide which type of food and treats are best for your pup.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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