Fresh Dog Food vs Kibble: Which Should I Choose?

Filed in Dog Health on July 25, 2021

fresh dog food vs kibble

Picking the right dog food for your pet can be a very overwhelming process. It seems like everywhere you look you see an ad for new pet food. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options.

Recently, there has been a rise in the promotion of fresh food diets. But what is a fresh food diet and should you be feeding it to your dog?

The answer: It all comes down to the individual diet and your pet’s needs.

This vet-written article will provide you with information on the differences between fresh dog food vs kibble, as well as what to look for when picking your pup’s food.

What to Look For in a Well-Balanced Diet

The most important thing to look for when picking any diet is to make sure the product meets the AAFCO standards for diet formulation. AAFCO stands for Association of American Food Control Officials.

This organization establishes standards for nutritional requirements and ingredients in pet food. Because it is not a regulatory agency, AAFCO does not directly test or regulate pet food products.

Pet food that says it is AAFCO approved, simply means that the product meets the standards set by AAFCO.

For more information on AAFCO and their role in pet food regulation, you can use the following link: AAFCO

Another important factor in picking a well-balanced diet is to find out who was involved with the formulation of the diet.

To ensure the diet meets all nutritional requirements and AAFCO standards, your dog’s diet should be formulated with the help of a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist. Most pet food products will specify this on their label.

What is a Fresh Food Diet?

Fresh dog food

Fresh food diet is a very broad term that refers to less processed diets that do not contain preservatives.

While there is some debate as to whether raw food diets should be included in the fresh food category by this definition, I will only be referring to cooked food when I use the term fresh food in this article.

Raw diets can pose potential health risks to both you and your dog. If you would like to read more about the American Veterinary Medical Association’s position on raw diets you can use the link: AVMA Position Statement

Why Consider a Fresh Food Diet?

There are many reasons you may be curious to try a fresh food diet. Some of the most common reasons that owners switch to fresh food diets include the following:

  • A desire to improve ingredient quality
  • Desire to avoid preservatives
  • Palatability of food
  • Specific health conditions or concerns

More research needs to be done to determine if all of these reasons for feeding a fresh food diet are supported by science.

Learning more about the specific health benefits that fresh food can provide could be the most useful tool in helping you make an informed decision for your pet.

Some evidence suggests that dogs with certain food sensitivities have benefitted from fresh food diets where the problem ingredients have been eliminated.

A study on Scottish Terriers found that dogs who consumed specific fresh vegetables at least 3 times a week were less likely to develop transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder.

Studies like this suggest there may be other potential health benefits to pets consuming more fresh ingredients.

As fresh food diets become more popular, veterinarians and researchers will continue to look at how these diets may improve your pet’s long-term health.

Special Considerations with Fresh Food Diets

One thing to be aware of when feeding a fresh food diet is that these diets typically don’t contain preservatives.

Because these diets don’t contain preservatives, how they are cooked and stored is especially important. Food that is not properly cooked may contain harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria.

Food storage is also an essential component of food safety. Fresh food formulations are more susceptible to bacterial growth with fluctuating or improper food storage temperatures.

Freezing improperly cooked food does not eliminate the bacteria, and in some cases, refrigeration can even promote additional bacterial growth.

Feeding contaminated food can be harmful to your pet. Handling the food containing this bacteria can also pose a risk to your health.

Picking a Fresh Food Diet

Making sure your homemade diet is balanced and meeting all of your pet’s nutritional needs can be a daunting task.

Many homemade diet recipes found on the internet do not meet nutritional requirements. One study evaluating these diets found that 95% of homemade diets did not meet the standards required to be considered nutritionally adequate.

For this reason, commercially made fresh food diets are a great alternative.

When picking one of the commercially available diets, you should use the same tools previously discussed to pick a well-balanced diet.

Because of the risks associated with preservative-free products, where and how the food is cooked and processed is particularly important for evaluating fresh food diets.

The Pros and Cons of Fresh Food:

Here are the pros and cons of fresh food when comparing fresh dog food vs kibble:

Dog eating from his blue bowl

Pros:

  • Customization: Many of the subscription-based fresh food companies offer personalized meal plans. The company will ask you to fill out a short questionnaire about your dog. Based on your pet’s ideal weight, breed, and activity level the veterinary nutritionists can customize the diet to your pet’s needs.
  • Portions: Many of the fresh food diet markets on the market are delivered in pre-portioned packages. This packaging is great for taking the guesswork out of how much to feed your dog. It is important to note that most companies provide a full day’s worth of food in each package, so make sure you divide your pup’s meals up accordingly.

Cons:

  • Storage: Fresh food must be kept refrigerated or frozen so you need to make sure you have adequate room for storage.
  • Safety: For most home delivery options, once the food is cooked it is shipped frozen to your door. Because the product contains no preservatives it is important to double-check the temperature of the product when it arrives. If you have any concerns, check with the company to make sure the food is safe to feed your dog.

Why Feed a Kibble Diet?

There are many reasons that kibble has long been a staple in the pet food industry. Dry dog food has many benefits including:

  • Safety and shelf life:

Dry dog foods contain preservatives that make them safe to store at room temperature for longer periods of time.

  • Increased calorie density compared to wet or fresh food diets:

One of the biggest differences between kibble and fresh food diets is calorie density. As a general rule, for your dog to get the same amount of calories that they get from one cup of dry dog food, they will need to consume a larger quantity of fresh food.

Calorie content varies for every dog food formula. Every diet should contain a label that details the calories per cup or per kilogram of food to help you determine how much you will need to feed your dog.

Picking a Kibble Diet

Dry Kibble dog food

When picking a kibble diet, I prefer diets from one of the larger companies, such as Purina or Royal Canin. This is not to say that smaller companies don’t have quality products.

Purina and Royal Canin have a long-standing history and reputation for quality nutritional products, which is an important factor in my recommendations.

The larger companies tend to have more research behind their products, as well as experience with safety regulations and quality standards.

Just like evaluating fresh food, to pick the right kibble diet you need to look for the AAFCO statement and information on how the diet is formulated.

Whether it’s from one of these big names or a smaller company, always talk to your veterinarian if you are interested in changing your dog’s food.

They can answer any questions you may have about the specific product and determine if it’s appropriate for your pup.

The Pros and Cons of Kibble

Here are the pros and cons of a kibble diet:

Pros:

  • Availability: Kibble is the predominant type of dog food available in local pet stores, although refrigerated fresh food options are available in some locations.
  • Cost: As a general rule, kibble is significantly less expensive than fresh food.

Cons:

  • Palatability: Although Purina provides a wide variety of flavor options, fresh food typically has a wet or semi-moist consistency. This makes fresh foods more palatable to most dogs.
  • Processing: While more and more kibble brands are moving away from using artificial preservatives in their product, kibble contains more preservatives and is more heavily processed than fresh food.

Conclusion on Fresh Dog Food vs Kibble

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your dog is consuming a safe and nutritious diet.

While some owners have seen that their pet has benefited from a fresh food diet, more studies need to be done to determine the full extent of these benefits.

Hopefully, this article will provide you with a better understanding of fresh dog food vs kibble, as well as the potential benefits and concerns.

As always, if you are considering making changes to your dog’s diet, talk to your veterinarian to create a plan that is right for your pet.

 

Sources and additional reading:

Stockman, Jonathan et al. “Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association vol. 242,11 (2013): 1500-1505. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.242.11.1500

Raghavan, M., Knapp, D. W., Bonney, P. L., Dawson, M. H., & Glickman, L. T. (2005). Evaluation of the effect of dietary vegetable consumption on reducing risk of transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder in Scottish Terriers. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 227(1), 94–100. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.2005.227.94

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