The Kibble Nibble

This week I asked the question: Is it okay to make kibble the basis of your dog’s diet? I noted that advocates of raw feeding, home cooking, and other diets would argue that it isn’t.

But kibble sure is convenient.

After doing the research and giving the issue some thought, here’s how I saw it.

1) Bones and Raw Food

Fans of this primal diet — including Jim McBean who guest posted about it on my blog and writes regularly on the topic at — contend that the dog-wolf divide is nonexistent and that canines thrive by eating the same thing that their lupine ancestors ate.

Animal welfare advocate Mary Haight, who brought up this topic recently on her comprehensive The Fight Over Pet Food vs Pet Food Safety post on, provides a relevant counter link, citing the FDA’s recent statement that eating bones pose a health risk. Commenting about the raw diet on that same post, Eric Goebelbecker of notes:

I am supposed to believe that as dog was domesticated, either via “adoption” or as an opportunistic scavenger, that he maintained a diet consisting of raw meat and bones? Did Paleolithic man starve his kids so his dog ate well? Why is it that the truly wild dogs we see today still live from scavenging around villages (Africa) and hanging around in garbage dumps (Mexico)? Why are they *thriving* if dogs should only be fed meat and bones?

2) Home Cooking

Many of you wrote advocating home cooking buttressed by supplements to ensure that a proper nutritional balance is achieved. It’s a nice idea but supplements don’t grow on the supplement tree. So added to the work of cooking — which many find pleasant; I don’t — is the work of finding out where the supplements come from, whether they include any additives and chemicals… Supplements are less regulated than dog food and we know how well regulated dog food is. Not.

3) Cans, Rolls, Freeze-Drieds, Dehydrates

Store-bought food exclusive of kibble runs the gamut. Some varieties claim to be nutritionally complete, others are only intended to be supplemental. Some have many ingredients, some have only a few, some are totally organic, others contain suspect mystery components. All tend to be expensive, but the brands with the greatest health claims, especially the freeze drieds and the dehydrates, are the priciest. What they all have in common: They go through some kind of processing — minimal as it might be — in order to get to the store and live on a shelf.  And they’re designed to be convenient.

4) Kibble

Not all kibble is created equal — and it’s not hard to separate the wheat (or I should say the Monsanto corn) from the chaff. My two favorite sites for evaluating the different brands of kibble are The Whole Dog Journal, which does annual surveys of dry food; and the, which teaches you how to read a dog food label.

5) Conclusion

By coincidence, an email that I received from a company offering me a sample of packaged home cooked food, individualized to my dog and delivered to my home, helped me make my decision.

The company writes on its website:

…. Kibble – no matter how high the quality of the ingredients – is still a highly processed food product. Kibble’s base ingredient is carb-heavy, processed dough, even with higher protein formulas. Kibble dough is essentially “fried” during processing, using the fats in the formula. Since much of the nutritional value is lost in this process, virtually all kibble receives a spray of synthetic vitamins and minerals to “balance out” the nutrient profile and make up for nutrient loss in the extrusion process.

The company’s solution: To use high-quality kibble as the base of their program and top it with the fresh food that they provide. Hmmm. If kibble is so bad, why advocate including it at all?

A kind of class snobbery — that’s the only way I can describe it — seems to be going on. Convenience is okay as long as it’s expensive convenience, like dehydrated raw food. When convenience is associated with kibble, no matter how high quality, it’s synonymous with laziness.

If you have the time and the money and the conviction that a particular type of non-kibble diet is best for your dog, I say go for it.  I agree that just kibble is boring, and that some fresh food is desirable. So I use high-quality kibble as a base and top it with low fat meat that I also eat myself, sometimes adding veggies. Easy.

One more thing: You can’t put home cooked food or raw meaty bones in a toy designed to keep dogs occupied, like the one pictured on top of this post.

25 thoughts on “The Friday Five: In Defense of Kibble”

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Class warfare in dog food? The Friday Five: In Defense of Kibble - #dogfood --
  2. fwiw: As a busy and ‘average’ dog-owner who shops at Petsmart, (never ventured into one of those ‘alternative’ pet shops, maybe I should but dont, buys 4 different Science Diet kibble for each of my 4 pets (Senior/activeAdult/Lite Adult/Indoor cat), and adds frozen vegetables (California blend frozen: Carrots, cauliflower and broccoli – hey, it’s crunchy, they love it frozen! especially for the one on a diet) and a sauce from whatever we had for dinner, my pets are healthier than I am. I was pretty happy during the China-poisoned-petfood scare to see that, as far as I know, Science Diet was about the only brand with no recalls. If the economy goes south and I get really poor i’ll probably be forced to make dogfood and interested in recipes, but until then, am reassured to know that, more or less, it sounds like I’m doing the right thing based on your blog. so thanks. (hope I don’t get a bunch o well-meaning criticism re what I ‘should’ be doing.:)

  3. Thank you for the article, it is a great topic.
    From what I understand the main reason to feed a raw diet is because dogs do not have the same digestive tract as we do. As result the thinking of raw diets is that dogs can absorb nutrients easier in raw foods.
    Processed foods need a much longer time to digest to realize the nutrients.

    I do agree that processed foods alone do not supply all the nutrients a dog needs.

    I guess doggy digestion has been a topic for a while. Pavlov felt it was the saliva that aided digestion in dogs and that was way back in the 1890’s.

    I feel I do not possess enough knowledge to create a balanced diet for dogs so I do not feed a raw diet.

    I feed kibble combined with supplements. One suppliment has Omega 3 & 6, probiotics, Fiber for bowel health and phytonutrients (so much for avoiding plants eh?). I also use an enzyme product which aids in absorbing nutrients. I use the enzyme because of the short digestive tract and the problems it has in metabolizing processed foods.

  4. As a retailer of (“alternative” as Diane calls it) of top quality kibble pet foods as well as pre-made raw diets and someone who also trains dogs and cooks her own pet food. Whew, its a pain in the ass. I love my dog to bits but sometimes cooking for her is more than I can manage in a given week, for instance this week I was out with a cold, it was all I could do to drag my butt into the store and be nice to people when I really wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. So she absolutely ate kibble with some fresh stuff added. As you said, stuffing most toys with mushy homecooked or raw is kinda difficult, although I do successfully freeze portions of her meal in kongs, so having alternatives that aren’t highly expensive treats to fill the boredom buster toys is a must.

    FWIW, Diane, I know you probably aren’t interested in any “well-meaning criticism” so I will simply say that dogs, as carnivores often do better on a higher meat content diet than science diet is known to provide. Check the ingredient labels on that stuff and if you can read it and be comfortable with a food who’s first ingredients are ground whole grain corn and soybean mill run or chicken by-product meal then who am I to tell you what to do? All I can say is I wouldn’t be caught dead feeding GMO corn or soy or byproducts to my dog, or myself for that matter. Even PetSmart is now carrying some better products, maybe you could look into the blue buffalo brand (or buffalo blue, whatever its called) and see if their ingredients seem more food-like? FYI Science diet did have a cat food product affected by the menu pet food recalls and they absolutely use ingredients imported from China, many of them.
    Again, everyone is entitled to their opinion but I have met many people who simply have never read the ingredient labels on their pet food so if this gives you a push in the right direction, great. If not, its always your choice.

  5. Hey, I’ve got this little princess (amazing how quickly they adapt to the good life) who desires only one food…the roll of lamb and rice. It costs about $12 a month, and she thrives on it. Smells pretty good to me sometimes, I tell you.
    Before finding this stuff I’d tried wild and natural kibble, and other ‘superior’ canned food. She hated me for that ( she has total control, shhh, don’t let her know) but has forgiven. She’s about ten pounds, one pound overweight, he hair coat is thick, long and shiney, she is a happy little girl.
    {One confession, I used to cook for my dogs, two greedy little dachshunds whom I adored. I kept the ground egg shell, shredded vegetables, and ground beef and chicken in a glass loaf pan in the fridge…One day, I came home to two unhappy dachshunds, and a brother chowing down on something in a glass loaf pan, lots of catsup on top…He had thrown it in the oven himself, and added the catsup on top. His comment: This is the best meatloaf you ever made, except, there where some eggshells that got in there.

    1. Hi Glenda, I’m sure Chica would never hate you! And of course she has total control. Your story about your brother and the doxie’s “meatloaf” is hysterical!

  6. I’ve been exploring this topic on my blog this month too, and am listening to all sides with interest. You bring up very good points and give a great, thoughtful review in your post here. Thank you!

    1. I just had a chance to check them out — very interesting. I’ll look forward to reading more.

  7. Hi, Edie, and thanks for the kind mention of my post! I had the “elitist” discussion with a friend of mine re holistic/alternative foods that take the gmo, toxic chemicals and other harmful and non nutritious filler ingredients. The way many see this topic is parallel with how things were and maybe still are with the Whole Foods market “alternative.”

    Sometimes when we get inside of a topic, especially one as essential as dog food and ingredient quality, the bigger picture is lost – it is not good if we are making people feel guilty because they can’t afford certain foods for their dogs, or their families for that matter. We all need to do the best we can according to our circumstances.

    That said, I appreciated Simone’s reveal of Science Diet. While some of brands have gotten rid of the carcinogenic ethoxyquin (cheap preservative), the more we know, the better armed we are to make other choices. I think that is all any of us who are more invested in this topic are trying to do. The more who know, the louder the call for change gets – eventually they have to listen or lose market share:)

    Your references to dogfoodproject and whole dog journal will help take the headache out of checking things out and deciding which way to go, even if it’s the choice that was already made.

  8. Just a quick jump in before I address some of these comments more fully tomorrow morning. It occurs to me that I’m coming across as judging people who take the time to do the best for their dogs by cooking (or not cooking) for them. I don’t mean to. Having spent a great deal of time slow-cooking tepary beans in a crock pot for Frankie because they reduce diabetes among Native Americans in southern Arizona, I include myself among the potential snobs. My intention is only to expand the range of options that should be considered acceptable, not to be critical of any attempts to do right by your dog.

    1. I didn’t see you as being judging at all, just underscoring a *really* good issue that’s not often broached. From the talks I’ve had with my friends, and especially this last conversation I referred to above, I realized judgmental and elitist was how one of my friends was seeing all the talk about what not to feed your dog. Awk! I had to turn that ship around and wanted to mention that here–sharing the sentiment that this is in the spirit of good will, “here, look what we found out” kind of thing, and not the “holier than thou” attitude some people feel they get re their pet food choices:)

      1. Thanks, Mary; much appreciated. I just didn’t want people who commented on the post where I posed the question and offered an anti-kibble perspective to feel like they’d been set up somehow!

  9. When I come to your blog, I always assume it’s a guilt-free zone 🙂

    I read all the comments and believe it comes down to doing good research so you are making informed decisions … and then doing the best you can with what you got … and not feeling guilty about what you can’t do or can’t afford.

  10. you have to feed your dog what works best for them. There are a lot of really good kibbles out there, like Orijen and Before Grain, but they are pretty expensive. There are also a lot of really good canned foods out there, like Tripet and Before Grain, buy they, too, are really expensive. I think that a lot of people want to feed their dogs better, but can’t afford it or don’t think they can. A small bag of Before Grain costs $22, which would last Jersey a week. So every month, with taxes I would spend about $100 on dog food. When I make my own, it’s more like $50.

    I started making my own dog food because Jersey would not eat any of the kibbles that I could buy at Petsmart. (I think that she was the smart one then!) I didn’t know too much about what was in dog food, I just knew that she didn’t want to eat it. So every week I buy a batch of meat, boil it up and add the veggie mix from Honest Kitchen. Jersey is going to be 7 in a month and just had a wellness exam that included blood tests. Turns out she’s tip top and in great health!

    I’m not going to judge anyone by what they feed their dog, it’s a personal choice for the owner. Is the dog happy? Are you doing the best you possibly can for your pet? okay then, your good to go!

  11. Thank you for such a thought provoking topic. I’m not a nutritionist expert by any means, but I’ve always felt that moderation and balance go hand in hand when it comes to both my and my dog’s feeding habits. I’ve visited the website in the past and it is a good resource for seeing what is in the different commercial dog foods and what is important to look for. It was quite an education for me and helped me to pick what I feel comfortable with feeding my Penny.

    I think that it all boils down to what you feel is best for your dog’s well being and health and gives you the best tangible results (shiny coat, increased energy, disease resistance, long life). After all, deep down isn’t that why most people strive to give their pet’s the best…so that they live long and healthy lives so that they won’t leave us.

    I know if I had my way, my little girl would be around for 30 years so that when the time came, we could go together. Sometimes I feel a bit like Dorian Grey…living, loving, and watching all of the pets I’ve ever had in my life pass before me. But life is sometimes just one big crapshoot and just because you feed your pet the “best” diet won’t guarantee that they will live any longer or not get the bad diseases that are out there in the shadows.

    I don’t have the answer to what’s the best…raw or kibble, but all I can do is make the best educated decisions based on the knowledge that I have at the time and keep on learning day to day. Thank you all for helping me to continue to learn and grow and add to my information. I learn so much for all of your comments and of course Edie’s great posts.

  12. If you live in Canada and want to home-cook for your dog, you got it made. We have a supplement specifically designed to balance home-cooked meals, made from human-grade ingredients at a human-grade facility.

    And! Our vet is also down with this diet!

    Comes with a book of 101 recipes!
    Our Jasmine has eosinophilic gastroenteritis (among other things) and we have to be really careful what enters her mouth. For years she suffered with bad stools and stomach upsets and getting her to eat was an every-day struggle.

    Now she has great stools, great appetite and really enjoys her food. I tasted it and I could easily live on it as well. Tastes particularly good with her Chinese medicinal herbs.

    Note: you CAN create a treat at home that can be used with toys as the one above. We made home-made jerky for our dog’s treats (just dehydrated beef). This can be broken into chunks and used for stuffing.

    1. It all sounds good except for those Chinese medicinal herbs which come from, um, China… Seriously.

  13. The longer you continue to feed your dog commercial dog food, the more you shorten his life span day by day. Dog owners are becoming wise to the fact that commercial dog food ingredients contain sub-standard ingredients and are switching to organic, all-natural and homemade meals for their dogs in increasing numbers. I believe if these pet food companies don’t clean up their act, the number of dog owners making the switch will continue to increase.

    Yes, kibble is VERY convenient but most types of kibble, even “high-end kibble”, can’t not even begin to compare to organic or all-natural dog foods. Kibble is baked, the heat destroys some vitamins and enzymes. This makes the proteins and fats ingredients less useful and even worse, some kibble has been known to contain animal waste products, diseased animal parts and toxic filler chemicals.

    As you can tell, I am anti-kibble and no I am not a nutritional expert by any means but I am a true believer in providing my dog Gretchen, the healthiest food possible to make sure she’s around with my family for as long as possible 🙂

    1. I don’t know where you get the evidence about shortening your dog’s life span by feeding kibble (by implication); that’s a pretty sweeping statement without any back up data. I want Frankie to stick around for as long as possible too and if I believed I were shortening his life with kibble I wouldn’t feed it to him. As for “organic”: What, precisely does that mean when it comes to dog food (or human food)? And of course we’re not talking about kibble that contains the ingredients you note but high quality brands.

      Incidentally, if you single out anything that shortens a dog life span, it would be not giving sufficient exercise. If the convenience of kibble allows more time for walks, I’d say that’s a good tradeoff.

  14. Thanks so much for this post, and to your readers for their great comments. As you know we feed our dogs a dehydrated raw diet from The Honest Kitchen. Considering we now live our lives in a Winnebago, the dehydrated food is really convenient for us. Each 10 lb bag makes 43 pounds of food, so we can feed the dogs for months! That being said, we feed it to them because we believe it’s good for them and it works for us. Everyone needs to make their own decisions about what works for them. I can understand others hoping to share information – because figuring out the ingredients and nutritional information on dog food packaging is a nightmare – but to tell others (like you’re reader above does) that they’re shortening their dogs’ lives every day they feed kibble without data to back it up is a little over zealous as as far as I’m concerned.

    1. I appreciate your comment, Amy. I’m all for people doing what they think is right, not scaring others by proclaiming a “one true path.”

  15. All you can do is try cooking it yourself for a month and see if you can notice any change in your dogs health.I picked up an ex-breeding dog strictly fed on kibble teeth rotten and early stages of cataracts.Two weeks of natural food looks a totally different dog,clear eyes and a shinny coat.Vet checks confirm no sign of cataracts so it worked for me.That said the kibble probably wasnt the best.After keeping various pets,live or natural foods seem to always bring the best out of them whether it be fish or dogs.

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