Ask any dog owner from the mid-late 20th Century about their pup’s food, and they’d be very likely to tell you it gets scooped out of a bag each morning. However, feeding processed, extended-shelf-life food to dogs was not always the societal norm. The “Kibble” Revolution is thought to originate from James Pratt, a lightning rod salesman who noticed English sailors throwing “hard tack” (biscuits) to stray dogs on loading docks.
This visual gave him the idea of what resembles the modern-day dog biscuit. As people caught on to the budding pet food market, new foods began to emerge in the 1920’s, which were produced with meat grinds (often horse meat). As post-WWII attitudes emerged, along with humans’ affinity toward fast food, grain mills and slaughterhouses had an overflow of leftover product (which pet food companies sought eagerly). Kibble emerged as a convenient food with a long shelf life.
If the thought of feeding your pup dry pebbles from a bag suddenly seems unusual, you’ve successfully broken from a widespread, modern perspective. When considering the last couple centuries, feeding kibble IS unusual. The best way to make sure you feed your dog the most species-appropriate, bioavailable nutrients is with a fresh, raw diet. However, not all pet owners are equipped with the knowledge, financial means, or geographic advantage to feed a raw diet. If this is the case for you, or if you plan to slowly wean your pup off kibble and onto a fresh diet, do it with confidence. Don’t just grab a bag of dry food from the store shelf and hope you made a decent choice at random. Due to their unnatural, unhealthy, or nutrient-inferior nature, here are a few ingredients to avoid when choosing kibble:
The remains after desired “cuts” of protein are removed. In the United States, it isn’t common to find chicken feet on the average household’s grocery list. However, by-products like feet, liver, spleen, and kidney can provide crucial nutrients to your dog’s diet. By definition, byproducts are not bad. So, why avoid them in kibble? When producing kibble, manufacturers can prevent microbial contamination using a process called rendering, which cooks the meat at very high temperatures. Since rendering eliminates viruses and bacteria, manufacturers can use 4D meats (dead, dying, diseased, or disabled) as a cheap protein source.
A powder derived from trees or other fibrous plant material, that pet food companies use to bind and bulk up kibble. Cellulose in many forms is known for its extremely low digestibility and nutrient composition.
Corn gluten meal, like many corn products, is a common allergen for dogs. When the starch and germ is removed from corn, and the remaining bran is separated, the resulting product is corn gluten.
Wheat gluten is another cheap result of food processing by humans. It offers negligible nutritional value and is typically used as another binder to help hold together kibble’s shape and texture. It’s essentially just washed wheat set out to dry.
Another filler, soybean products are poor quality ingredients used to increase the “Crude Protein” analysis on pet food labels. Soy isn’t a bioavailable nutrient for dogs, meaning canines can’t use it well. Soy products supplement the poor sources of protein found in the other ingredients, boosting overall protein numbers.
Aside from being a rice product (which are known to be inflammatory to dogs, causing digestive issues), brewer’s rice is simply leftover product after rice kernels have been broken into milled fragments. This means these small fragments are processed and lacking any nutrients found in ground/brown rice.
Feeding raw, fresh food is the most effective way to know exactly what your dog is consuming, which may not be an immediate reality for everyone due to cost, sourcing, or other variables. However, better understanding the ingredients in kibble that offer little nutritional value and may cause digestibility issues is a great first step in taking responsibility for what’s in your pup’s bowl. Here are a few ways you can begin to supplement and improve your dog’s meals, even while feeding kibble!