by Christine Busaba
If you're wondering what's wrong with kibble and everything else that's wrong with the pet food industry, there's a really awesome 1 hour documentary called Pet Fooled that we recently re-watched that digs into the commercial dog food industry, including the lack of oversight, the nutritional gaps in commercial pet food and just how messy the industry is.
In case you're not ready watch it for yourself, here's our brief synopsis of our major takeaways from the documentary and what you should know about what's wrong with kibble and the dog food industry.
1. Kibble is a recent creation and there's a very practical reason for it
During World War II, consumer products companies were no longer allowed to use cans for food anymore because materials for cans were needed in artillery production. Pet food companies had to find ways to get dog food out of cans and into paper bags to make the food shelf stable. That's the birth of kibble - dehydrated pellets that are technically shelf stable, but nowhere near what we were feeding before.
2. Every species has its own biologically appropriate diet
Every species has its own biologically appropriate diet for its own needs. A hummingbird needs honey and nectar to survive, while snakes, for example, are carnivores and need pure meat. If you put nectar in front of a snake, it would rather starve to death than eat the nectar because that is not the biologically correct food for a snake.
So how does that relate to dogs? Dogs are more resilient than other species and therefore can eat a wider variety of food, which allows us to essentially abuse them. We can push dogs to eat non-biologically appropriate foods and technically they will survive survive, but they won't thrive and their overall vitality will decline. In other words, you can feed them kibble, but it will slowly ruin their quality of life because it is not what they were designed to eat.
3. What is a dog's a biologically appropriate diet?
You've heard it repeated to you a million times by now that dogs are not wolves and therefore you don't have to feed them a primitive diet. That's not scientifically true and is generally spread by big kibble companies to deter people from switching off of kibble.
Genetically, dogs are nearly identical to wolves in the wild and share 99.9% of their DNA. Dogs and wolves have a nearly identical genotype. The differences we see between domestic dogs and wolves are all phenotype changes, meaning what's on the outside: the appearance differences across the two species and things that have allowed us to breed dogs that look a certain way or dogs that fit in a certain purpose. On the inside, they're still essentially the same.
So what should your dog biologically be eating? A biologically appropriate raw food diet:
- 70-80% of it should be lean, raw muscle meat (think cuts of beef and chicken)
- 10% of it should be raw edible bone (never cooked because bones become brittle and can become a choking hazard)
- 10% organ meat such as liver and other hormone secreting organs like kidney
- 5% vegetables, which provide micronutrients. Pureeing your greens before serving aids your dog's digestion.
4. Kibble is the opposite of a biologically appropriate raw food diet. What is in kibble and why is kibble so bad for your dog?
Unlike the biologically appropriate diet above that is 70-80% lean protein, kibble is made of 30-60% starchy carbs such as ultraprocessed corn and wheat.
Any meat in kibble only has to meet feed grade quality. That's the absolute lowest quality of meat. Up until 2019, kibble sourced its meat from 4D proteins (dead, dying, diseased and disabled animals). Many kibbles still use those sources. If you look at labels of many commercial kibbles, they mention things like "chicken byproduct." Byproduct is essentially what's leftover after an animal has been slaughtered and everything useful has been taken out of it. So what you're left with are remnants, scraps, no nutrients and what we call 'byproduct.'
Kibble is also ultra-processed and cooked at temperatures as high as 900 degrees fahrenheit, which not only kills any nutrients that could have possibly passed onto this stage, but also strips kibble of any moisture. Your dog is left devoid of nutrtients and dehydrated. All of this is done so that kibble can be shelf stable - though most kibbles actually go rancid rather quickly.
5. The negative health effects associated with kibble are long and massive and kind of scary
The health issues related to kibble are long and visible on the inside and outside:
- Allergic skin reactions caused by leaky gut syndrome
- Diabetes from too much starch
- Malnutrition from too little protein
- Metabolic issues
- Urinary crystals and stones
- Some cancers
6. The dog food industry is essentially self-regulated. They write their own regulations, meet their own regulations and then get to label their food however they like:
The FDA should be regulating pet food. It is the FDA's job to ensure that labels are not misleading the consumer. There's another regulatory body involved though, called AAFCO and this is where things get murky.
AAFCO is a voluntary organization who sets labeling requirements, ingredient requirements and nutritional requirements. For any dog food that wants to make the claim that their food is 'nutritionally complete', they must go through AAFCO. The truth is, AAFCO works tightly with major dog food manufacturers. Dog food manufacuters have a huge say in the regulations on their own industry. Manufacturers essentially get to write their own rules in AAFCO and then abide by those rules and stick dubious labels and claims on their products. Labels are basically meaningless in this world where the major makers of dog food (big kibble) also get to make the rules.
7. A biologically appropriate raw food diet (BARF) is the absolute best thing you can feed your dog
Yes, the acronym is a little strange, but a raw food diet is the absolute best thing you can feed your dog.
The diet basically consists of:
- 80% lean muscle meat
- 5% raw bones (it's okay if it's on the meat)
- 10% organ meat
- 5% fruits/vegetables such as pumpkin, blended greens and blueberries
If you're looking for any DIY raw recipes, we have more info here.
8. But at the end of the day, your goal should be feeding your dog the absolute best possible food you can afford to feed - whatever that looks like for you.
The reality is that our lives are constrained. We can't always afford perfectly organic homecooked meals for ourselves. We have cost and time constraints - that's part of life. So if you can't always feed your dog the perfect raw food diet, don't let it deter you from making small changes! Those small changes can be incorporating raw feeding once a day instead of at both meals. The changes can be including raw dehydrated treats. That can also be finding the absolute best dry food you can find and supplementing it with things like bone broth or vitamins.