Dogs on a diet of dry kibble need human food scraps to improve health

There is a slightly shocking but an unsurprising story in the news media today which I am eager to report on because I am not a great fan of commercial foods either for dogs or cats particularly of the dry variety which is called “kibble”. Kibble needs a lot of carbohydrates in it as part of the manufacturing process. Although it is described as “complete and balanced” it is not according to the findings of this study from the University of Helsinki.

Feeding dogs on highly processed kibble is linked to CE
Feeding dogs on highly processed kibble is linked to CE. Infographic: MikeB

The lead author, Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman, said:

“Commercial dog foods are presented as providing a complete and balanced diet – they give the impression that it’s very difficult for an owner to prepare something that would be as good.”

But the study found that feeding puppies a varied diet of raw meat and bones, leftovers from meals prepared from people, vegetables and the odd helping of berries may well protect them against gastrointestinal problems to which dogs are predisposed when fed dry kibble a lot.

The news report comes from The Times today Friday, February 10, 2023 (Rhys Blakely) for which I am very grateful.

Dr. Anna found that a diet of highly processed dry kibble was linked with an increased likelihood of dogs suffering from chronic enteropathy (CE). This is an umbrella term describing a gastrointestinal disorder causing diarrhoea, vomiting and weight loss.

“Chronic enteropathy (CE) is a term used for gastro-intestinal diseases present for a duration of 3 weeks or longer, when extra-intestinal diseases or intestinal disease such as parasitic disease or neoplastic disease are ruled out.” – National Library of Medicine.

To be clear, feeding a puppy or adult dog on commercially prepared dry kibble consistently is not good for a dog’s health. The findings reflect those from studies involving people. They found that when humans eat lots of commercially prepared i.e. ultra-processed foods and large amounts of sugar they are more predisposed to developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

My mind immediately goes to reports that I have seen that IBD is on the increase in domestic cats and of course dry kibble is very popular because it is very convenient for cat owners. I suspect that this report is going to chip away at the popularity of dry kibble for cats as well as for dogs.

The researchers also found that when dogs are fed processed commercially prepared foods if this is supplemented with a regular diet of raw bones, meat and leftovers it can benefit their health by boosting the good microbes in their guts.

And Dr. Anna makes a good point as she also said:

“But what we show is that variety is important. Nobody would give 12 years of the same food to a child, why should a dog be different?”

The researchers studied 4,500 puppy participants between 2-6 months old. Their owners were asked what type of foods they had fed them and how often.

They also recorded the diets of about 4,000 adolescent dogs between the ages of 6-18 months. When they reached adulthood, the owners reported symptoms of CE in 20% of them.

Conversely, when the researchers fed a mixed diet when young which included offal, fish, eggs, bones, vegetables, berries and including raw red meat, but no kibble they had a 20% lower chance of experiencing symptoms of CE later in life when compared to the other diets.

The benefits of specific additional supplementary foods such as raw bones and cartilage where also researched. When fed these a couple times a week dogs had 33% lower odds of developing CE compared to those that were not fed these foods.

Feeding berries a couple of times a year was associated with a 29% reduction in CE. Rather shockingly but perhaps unsurprisingly, if dogs are fed ‘rawhide’ chews which give the impression that they are natural but are in fact heavily processed, there was a 100% increase in the odds of developing CE.

Dr. Anna feeds her dogs raw food. She added:

“The more you can keep to fresh food, the better it is for your dog. But you shouldn’t despair if you can’t switch entirely.”

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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