Updated: Dec 16, 2021
There is a saying in the raw feeding community…. kibble is kibble is kibble. So what the heck does this mean? Well it means no matter what type of kibble you feed, grocery store brand, from a high end canine caviar store, grain free or limited ingredient it’s all the worst option for feeding your companion. How is this possible? Aren’t all the veterinarians telling me it’s the best? What about all those pet food ads? And the pet store…there are hundreds of dry pet foods? How can it be bad for my companion?
It sounds pretty fancy all these ingredients that are put into pet food, fresh chicken, bison and venison, cranberries and coconut oil, lentils and much more. But what do you really have left after heating and cooking these ingredients at temperatures that are high enough to destroy most of the essential fats and nutrients (1,2 ,3, 4) in these “wonderful” foods resulting in companies needing to add a long list of artificial vitamins and minerals to make up for the loss (5). Why even bother adding whole foods if everything is destroyed anyways? The answer…to capture your attention as the buyer! These companies just like any other product or service on the market, uses marketing techniques so you can identify with a product and be enticed enough by the pretty colors, creative names and tantalizing flavors to buy it for your companion.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some dry kibble food companies that really try their best to source human grade ingredients from local farmers, use natural preservatives and are free of corn, soy, wheat, article flavors and colors. There are even brands that have gotten EU certification meaning the food ingredients are determined fit for human consumption. These are some of the strictest standards for the pet food industry. Unfortunately, despite this the reason that ALL dry kibble foods are terrible for our companions is two-fold.
Firstly, kibble based diets are made with a high carbohydrate content. In low quality foods this includes inferior ingredients such as corn, soy, wheat and gluten as well as its derivatives. In higher quality foods although you may not find soy, corn and wheat on the ingredient list you will find a list of fruits and vegetables as well as other higher quality grains like quinoa or barley. As human beings we have been trained to identify fruits, vegetables and grains as whole foods with vitamins and minerals. This is very true, but only for humans (omnivores) and herbivores that can convert the components in these ingredients into useable nutrients. For our carnivore companions like cats, dogs and ferrets this is far from true because they can’t digestive carbohydrates fast enough to utilize really any of the nutrients (6,7) .
Many carbohydrates that we may think are healthy such as peas, carrots, sweet potatoes and white rice are pretty high on the glycemic index for cats, dogs and ferrets (8) and some are even linked to serious heart conditions (9). Your companion doesn’t already have to have diabetes to be affected by these ingredients. Besides running the risk of developing diabetes, high sugar content also affects hyperactivity and is often converted into fat leading to obesity (8) That being said a weight management diet isn’t going to help either. While these formulates drop the fat content, fiber and grain content is only further increased, potentially exacerbating the condition.
Secondly the moisture content of dry kibble foods is what really makes kibble horrible. Most kibble diets have about 7-10% moisture in it. In comparison raw food contains at least 75%. Why is this important? We are taught that among shelter, food and clothing, water is essential for life. Most living beings are made up of around 75% water (10) and that is no different for our little carnivores. While dogs will rehydrate within hours, cats being of desert descent used to conserving water takes around 24-48 hours! Even if your cat has access to water all day long, they aren’t drinking what you think they are (11). So if your companion’s food only contains 7-10% moisture and aren’t drinking enough water where are they getting hydration from?
Besides being essential for life, hydration is important for everything happening inside the body. Most importantly this concerns the urinary tract and kidneys (12). It is often way too common that you hear a cat or dog is suffering from a urinary tract infection, kidney failure or painful crystals. Although there are many factors such as genetics and bacteria, diet plays a huge part in these conditions.
Often kibble and other commercially produced pet foods have a generalized amount of vitamins and minerals added so that it covers a wide range of pets. Furthermore, the numbers posted on the bag in the guaranteed analysis section are only maximum and minimums they, actually fall in a range and are not exact. Because these meals are not custom to the individual pet, some may absorb nutrients more readily or there may just be too much in a particular food such as calcium or magnesium that can result in painful crystals (13). In other cases, kibble food is so incredibly dry that the foods lack of moisture taxes the kidneys (12) so much that over time they begin to fail. Have you ever noticed that an animal in kidney failure is given an IV of fluids? Veterinarians recognize that hydration is important so why are dry kibble foods being recommended when they contain such little moisture?
Kidney failure and urinary concerns are not all one has to worry about with a kibble diet, dental disease is yet another very common concern. Dogs and cats are equipped with enzymes in the mouth just like humans. These enzymes are designed to begin the process of breaking food down. These enzymes include trypsin, protease and lipase. These enzymes are responsible for neutralizing bacteria as well as targeting the breakdown of meat proteins and amino acids. What does this mean for the carbohydrate rich diet of most animal companions? Plaque and tartar build up that lies along the gum line and between teeth. These enzymes are not designed to break down carbohydrates (14) so they are left to rot in your companion’s mouth which is often why our cats and dogs have putrid breath. Kibble is not enough to prevent dental disease (15). Imagine if you ate pretzels all day you still will feel a film build up on your teeth and by morning you wish you would have brushed your teeth the night before. Now multiple that by a life time of not brushing or minimal dental care!
Now one question you may ask is why is my pet fine and alive on a kibble based diet. Well let’s just say you can survive on McDonald’s every day but are you really healthy? Most people don’t monitor themselves or their pets on a regular basis internally. It’s often only until we notice signs of illness or distress that we go to the vet and see what’s up. Even then most tests and medications are generalized and broad spectrum. We don’t really know why our companions are ill. Nowadays it seems so common place for owners to say my pet died from cancer or kidney failure, but just like humans are now realizing, nutrition really plays a very large part in our health and wellbeing. It may not be the only factor (genetics, environment, stress etc.) but there is lots of proof that there is a connection. Your veterinarian or pet food industry may not want to admit or want to perform experiments/studies (that would only discredit their own industry) but basic common sense and research really can unearth the marketing tactics and indiscretion the industry is letting loose on our companion’s.
Kimura, M, and Y Itokawa. “Cooking Losses of Minerals in Foods and Its Nutritional Significance.” Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1990, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2081985.
Peterson, Michelle E. et al. “The Dependence of Enzyme Activity on Temperature: Determination and Validation of Parameters.” Biochemical Journal 402.Pt 2 (2007): 331–337. PMC. Web. 3 Mar. 2018
Nishiura, James. “Effect of Temperature on Enzyme Activity.” Effect of Temperature on Enzyme Activity, Brooklyn College City University of New York , academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/biology/bio4fv/page/enz_act.htm
Stephen, Nimish Mol, et al. “Effect of Different Types of Heat Processing on Chemical Changes in Tuna.” Journal of Food Science and Technology, Springer-Verlag, Mar. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3550962/.
Medicine, Center for Veterinary. “Resources for You - Pet Food Labels - General.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, 13 Oct. 2017, www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/resourcesforyou/ucm047113.htm.
Case, Linda P., et al. Canine and Feline Nutrition: a Resource for Companion Animal Professionals. 3rd ed., Mosby/Elsevier, 2011.
Hofve, Jean. “Digestive Enzymes.” IVC Journal, IVC Journal, 10 Aug. 2017, ivcjournal.com/digestive-enzymes/.
Olsen, Lew. “| Part I – Carbohydrates and Low Glycemic Diets.” B-Naturals.Com Newsletter, 12 Oct. 2014, www.b-naturals.com/newsletter/part-i-carbohydrates-and-low-glycemic-diets/.
Medicine, Center for Veterinary. “CVM Updates - FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease.” U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, 12 July 2018, www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm613305.htm
Perlman, Howard. “The Water in You.” Livestock Water Use, the USGS Water Science School, 6 Dec. 2016, water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html.
National Research Council. 2006. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10668.
Hodgkins, Elizabeth M. Your Cat: A Revolutionary Approach to Feline Health and Happiness. 1st ed., Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.
Chew, R. M. 1965. Water metabolism of mammals. Pp. 43-178 in Physiology Mammalogy, Vol. 2, W. V. Mayer and R. G.VanGelder, eds. New York: Academic Press
Kienzle E. 1993. “Carbohydrate metabolism of the cat. 1. Activity of amylase in the gastrointestinal tract of the cat.” J. Anim. Physiol. Anim. Nutr. (Berl.) 69:92–101.
Lonsdale, Tom. Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health. Rivetco P/L, 2001.