Science Backed Reasons To Switch Your Pet From Kibble To Fresh Food
Choosing the right diet for your dog is tough especially when there is so much information out there on what they should or should not eat. For reasons such as cost effectiveness and storage convenience, one may end up with kibble as an option. However, it might not be the choice you want to rely on as the ‘all in one’ option. Being low in moisture, and often containing synthetic ingredients and carb-heavy fillers, the cons outweigh the ease of feeding kibble to your best friend.
While there are certainly kibble formulations with better ingredients available, fresh food still emerges at the top because of its vast array of benefits–from containing more natural, living enzymes for good gut health, helping your pet stay in shape, to having firmer, less smelly poops, we’re here to present you with science backed research to make the switch and most importantly, clear up the confusion and feed with confidence.
Importance of Biologically Appropriate Food For Pets
A biologically appropriate diet refers to a diet where the primary source of nutrition for an animal consists of fresh, unprocessed whole foods that surpass the species’ minimum nutrient needs, while also matching the macronutrient composition of their ancestral diet.  In simpler terms, these diets closely mimic what animals would naturally consume.
According to Steve Brown, a food researcher and formulator, in his book ‘Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet’ , he discovered that for both dogs and cats, 50% of their daily calories come from a mix of clean protein sources while he other half of their calories come from unheated, beneficial fats, along with some digestion-friendly ingredients like antioxidant-packed, low-sugar veggies and polyphenol-rich fruits. These extra ingredients are important for their gut health and the helpful microorganisms living inside them.
And guess what? No animal is born with a craving for those dry pellets.
When we take a peek into the past and look at what dogs and their wolf ancestors used to eat, it’s pretty obvious that they tend to lean towards eating fresh meat. Their teeth, digestive system, and how their gut works all point in that direction .
Dogs have strong, hinged jaws and sharp canines, plus triangular-shaped teeth called carnassials. These are all specialized for tearing into meat and crushing bones, which makes a heat untreated diet that is primarily meat based with appropriate fresh bones all the more suitable for them.
Are kibbles bad for your pets?
A big portion of the ingredients used in commercial kibble diets includes high starch, plant-based ingredients like green peas, oats, legumes and grains. And since we know that our pets thrive on diets that mimic their natural preferences, it just doesn’t make sense for them to be largely on this diet and expecting them to thrive on it.
Now, you might wonder, if kibbles aren’t ideal, why do so many pet owners still feed their meat-loving pets a dry kibble diet that is higher in carbohydrates, low in moisture, and lacks good quality protein from lean muscle and organ meat?
Well, one reason some folks opt for kibbles is because they’re concerned about the risk of bacterial infections such as salmonella, e.coli, along with many other infections that can be caused by improper handling with raw food diets . Kibble does have an advantage in that it is less likely to harbor harmful bacteria, due to it being processed at high heat, which can be a valid consideration for the safety of both pets and their owners.
However, it’s essential to know that there’s a middle ground. Gently-cooked food is a great fresh food option that offers the benefits of a more natural diet while reducing the risk of bacterial infection. It provides the best of both worlds by delivering a safer and more biologically appropriate option for our furry companions.
Furthermore, despite kibble being deemed as ‘safer’ due to it being heat-treated at high temperatures, it’s worth mentioning that the method of producing kibble involves extrusion. In simple terms, shaping and pressure cooking the kibble by forcing a mix of raw ingredients through a die.
The kibble must then be dried to reduce excess moisture, which is necessary to extend its shelf life. While this method offers benefits like better pasteurization, maintaining nutritional value, flexibility, and density control, according to a study done in 2011 on the effects of extrusion, the process can lead to heat damage to and cause a structural change in the proteins and a reduction of natural essential amino acids, vitamins and antioxidants found in the food .
So, even with the safety advantages of kibble, there can be trade-offs in terms of nutrient quality. This is also why you might notice that there is a long list of ingredients in kibble. Nutrients that are lost in the heat process have to be added back in, and most times they are of a synthetic nature which the body might not be as adapted to absorbing.
A study from the Journal of Animal Science, in 2021, found that fresh, lightly cooked food has greater nutrient digestibility compared to extruded diets  which is yet another scientifically proven reason to incorporate more fresh food into your pet.
Health Benefits of Fresh Foods For Pets
1. Increased Lifespan And Delayed Chronic Diseases
A study conducted by Lippert and Sapy for the Prince Laurent Foundation, a non-profit organization for the welfare of animals, sheds light on the significant impact of diet on a dog’s lifespan . Their findings demonstrated that dogs fed a homemade diet enjoyed a remarkable extension in their life expectancy by approximately 32 months when compared to dogs typically fed processed pet food. This is an eye-opening revelation that underscores the importance of nutrition in enhancing the well-being and longevity of our canine companions.
To further prove the importance of fresh food, a research done by Kealy and Lawler in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2002 on diet restriction in dogs, indicated that a mere 25% reduction in the consumption of commercial pet food had a significant impact on the dogs’ median lifespan and the onset of chronic diseases due to their lower body fat content and lower serum triglycerides, triiodothyronine, insulin, and glucose concentrations in their blood . Switching out 25% of bulk produced kibbles and including fresh food to your pet’s meals would not only avoid those potential health problems, but it could add other benefits to your pet’s life.
2. Healthier Skin And Coat
A shiny, healthy coat on your pet is more than just good looks; it’s a sign of their well-being. If your furry friend has a dry, flaky, or dull coat, it could be a signal of underlying health issues like thyroid problems, Cushing’s disease, kidney or liver ailments, or nutritional imbalances.
Your pet’s skin and coat are not just about aesthetics. They also have crucial roles in their overall health. Here are some of their primary functions:
The skin and coat act as a shield, guarding your dog or cat from external elements, chemicals, and environmental stressors. They help protect internal organs and contain nerve endings that allow your pet to sense temperature, pressure, and pain. The coat also defends against various external threats like chemicals, UV rays, and hot surfaces.
Your pet’s skin is essential for maintaining proper hydration. Dogs and cats don’t have sweat glands, so water loss through their skin can affect their health. Excessive water loss through unhealthy skin can lead to various health problems and impact their energy requirements.
The skin acts as a reservoir for crucial nutrients, storing amino acids, collagen, and enzymes, with dogs and cats hair primarily composed of protein. Fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, are stored in the skin, offering flexibility and protection against inflammation.
And the key to a healthy coat begins with your pet’s diet. A research done by the Journal Animals in 2022, looked at how the foods we give to our pets can affect their skin . In a study with eight healthy dogs, the dogs ate fresh food for a month, and then switched to regular dry dog food for the next month. Researchers found that fresh food helped in increasing the diversity of microbes on the dogs’ skin, which has a positive impact on their skin health.
This research suggests that feeding pets fresh food, especially one with prebiotics can improve the variety of microbes on their skin, which can help their skin stay balanced and healthy.
Furthermore, several studies found that a diet containing 25-30% protein on a dry matter basis, is essential for maintaining a healthy coat and skin in adult dogs . Eggs, being rich in high-quality protein, can be a simple and effective addition to their diet to boost skin and coat health.
But it’s not just about protein; essential fatty acids, such as Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, are crucial for a shiny coat and healthy skin according to the National Research Council on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats . Kibble, which is highly processed, tends to be lower in these essential fatty acids because they are more easily damaged during food processing.
3. Improves Cognitive Function
A fresh food diet can also boost your dog’s brain health. A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine in 2015 found that senior dogs with cognitive impairment who were fed a fresh protein rich diet with added antioxidants from fresh food such as maitake mushrooms, turmeric, and papaya, showed higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors . These factors may help slow down cognitive decline in aging dogs.
In the study, they divided 36 dogs into four groups and fed them different diets for six months. They measured levels of oxidative damage and antioxidants in their blood and found that a diet enriched with antioxidants significantly reduced oxidative damage and increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels which can be a valuable strategy to combat age-related cognitive decline in elderly dogs.
This concept is similar to how a diet packed with antioxidants, like fresh and colorful fruits and vegetables, helps prevent cognitive decline in humans. And the great news is that these benefits aren’t limited to older dogs. Even younger pups can benefit from a fresh and wholesome diet, as it supports their learning and alertness.
How To Make The Switch From Kibble To Fresh Food?
Searching for a good fresh food option for your pet can be overwhelming. Some pet food advertisements often showcase what they believe consumers want and incorporate current human food trends to create products that may appeal to pet owners, even if they aren’t necessarily good for the pets. Therefore, here are some key pointers on how to select the best fresh food for your pet to get them living their best:
Check meat content and source
As mentioned above, both dogs and cats thrive on meat. Look through the ingredient list of the pet food product. Soy, corn, or any sort of fillers should not be the first thing you see. And you’d want to be able to see the type of meat they use (e.g. Chicken, Chicken Liver), and not ‘Chicken By-Product/Meal’, which are parts of chicken that can contain feathers, intestinal content or manure.
In addition to the meat content in your pet’s food, knowing where the source of meat comes from is as important. Transparency is a huge green flag when it comes to deciding on whether or not to switch to a certain fresh food brand! At The Grateful Pet, we get our meats from human grade suppliers, from countries all over the world: Malaysia, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand, to name a few!
Ensure it is AAFCO complete & balanced
A good indicator whether the fresh food can benefit your pet’s overall wellbeing, is that they meet the AAFCO and/or NRC guideline. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and National Research Council (NRC) are independent organizations that have set specific nutrient benchmarks for pet food companies to meet and thus have ‘complete and balanced’ food.
The next time you’re searching for fresh food brands, look out for proper and clear labeling of their food. Most importantly, it should include the guaranteed analysis and ingredient statement. Additionally, check the company’s website or product page whether their food is AAFCO balanced, or NRC compliant, such as The Grateful Pet.
Avoid artificial preservatives
The shelf life of fresh food is naturally shorter compared to kibble, and that’s why kibble manufacturers have to rely on adding preservatives to keep them shelf stable. While some preservatives don’t do much harm, it can trigger allergies in some pets, or lead to adverse health effects. A good example would be glycerin.
Glycerin, is a chemically derived compound commonly used in pet food to retain moisture and enhance the appearance. It is also employed as a sweetener and mold preservative. While it may make pet food look more appealing, glycerin contains calories equivalent to sugar, leading to potential weight gain in cats and dogs.
Even more concerning, it can make up a significant portion of their pets’ daily calorie intake, despite not being classified as a carbohydrate or sugar on nutrition labels.
Hopefully, we’ve steered you into the direction of switching over to fresh food. And the good news is that switching from kibble to fresh food is easy! Most dogs are able to transition from kibbles over to gently cooked, or raw food through slow transitioning to get their tummies used to the new experience. Cats on the other hand, notorious for being finicky eaters, are a little harder. A longer, more gradual transition period is recommended for cats. Though with time, your feline friend will be licking the plate clean. You can find our guide on transitioning your pets over to The Grateful Pet fresh meals on our website.
Some pets have sensitive tummies, or picky palates, so going slow is the way to go. And soon enough, you’ll find them at their best!
 Raw meat-based diet (BARF) in dogs and cats nutrition – Veterinary Journal of Republic of Srpska, May 2020 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341115930_Raw_meat-based_diet_BARF_in_dogs_and_cats_nutrition
 Unlocking the canine ancestral diet – Steve Brown, 2009 https://books.google.com.sg/books/about/Unlocking_the_Canine_Ancestral_Diet.html?id=yxZvMNA7xJkC&redir_esc=y
 The Comparative Anatomy of Eating – Milton Mills, November 2009 https://drmiltonmillsplantbasednation.com/the-comparative-anatomy-of-eating/
 Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards – The Journal of Small Animal Practice, April 2019 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6849757/
 Effects of drying temperature and time of a canine diet extruded with a 4 or 8 mm die on physical and nutritional quality indicators – Animal Feed Science and Technology, May 2011 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0377840111000915
 Nutrient digestibility and fecal characteristics, microbiota, and metabolites in dogs fed human-grade foods – Journal of Animal Science, January 2021
 Relation between the domestic dogs’ well-being and life expectancy – Prince Laurent Foundation Price, 2003 https://www.ukrmb.co.uk/images/LippertSapyFullReport.pdf
 Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs – AVMA Publications, May 2002 https://avmajournals.avma.org/view/journals/javma/220/9/javma.2002.220.1315.xml?tab_body=abstract
 Fresh Food Consumption Increases Microbiome Diversity and Promotes Changes in Bacteria Composition on the Skin of Pet Dogs Compared to Dry Foods – Journal Animals, July 2022 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/362198863_Fresh_Food_Consumption_Increases_Microbiome_Diversity_and_Promotes_Changes_in_Bacteria_Composition_on_the_Skin_of_Pet_Dogs_Compared_to_Dry_Foods
 What to Feed Your Dog for Healthy Skin – PetMD, June 2015 https://www.petmd.com/blogs/nutritionnuggets/dr-coates/2015/june/what-feed-your-dog-healthy-skin-32814
 Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats – National Research Council, 2006 https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/10668/nutrient-requirements-of-dogs-and-cats
 An Antioxidant Dietary Supplement Improves Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Levels in Serum of Aged Dogs – J Vet Med., June 2015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590864/