In the past, many raw and fresh food feeders believed to NEVER mix kibble with raw food and I was one of them. Reasons such as kibble taking longer to digest than raw and kibble affecting the dog’s stomach pH made sense to us. But these were always claims or fears made without any basis. With new knowledge and scientific reasoning, we now know that this is a myth! It is perfectly okay and safe to feed your dog dry food and raw food at the same time, unless your dog has a delicate or unhealthy digestive system. Although many dogs eat kibble and raw with no issues (including my dog), unfortunately this myth still propagates from time to time, confusing new raw feeders and even pushing them away from introducing raw foods. Here are the facts debunking this myth!
Myth #1:Kibble (more specifically the presence of starches and carbohydrates) increases the pH of our dog’s stomach making it more difficult to digest raw meat (protein) and bones and kill bad bacteria.
We know that a dog’s stomach is much more acidic (low pH around 2) than a human’s which is why they’re best equipped for breaking down raw meat. The fear was that feeding kibble would make the stomach less acidic (raised to 4 or 5).
But gastric pH, or the pH level in the stomach doesn’t stay constant! When dogs anticipate food, the digestion process begins and their stomach becomes very acidic to create an optimal environment for enzymes such as pepsin and lipase to break down nutrients. This step is called the cephalic phase. As food is being digested and broken down, gastric pH remains low and very acidic. After digestion, gastric pH goes back up while the body sends signals to neutralize the acid before the food mixture enters the small intestine and inhibit further gastric acid production. If your dog has had hunger pukes (yellow bile) before, this is due to acid buildup from anticipating a meal for too long without food.
Although studies comparing raw and kibble-fed dogs are limited, a few studies found that the pH of dogs fed dry food are quite low, on average a pH of 2! The myth that a dog fed dry food has a high pH is false. In fact, they wouldn’t be able to carry out digestion at all since we know that their bodily functions rely on certain signals and environments.
The claims of “digestive confusion,” “cannot absorb nutrients” “can’t fight off disease,” and “can’t digest food properly” are false. Dogs are well equipped with a system that regulates stomach pH based on the food their eating, even fine-tuning itself between different kibble brands or different raw cuts in each meal. Remember, a too-acidic pH can also cause harm. Instead if you are trying to aid in your pup’s digestion add whole food sources of probiotics such as raw goat’s milk!
From a scientific standpoint, this claim doesn’t make sense either. Different types of food will digest differently for all organisms. When we eat a burger, the bread, meat, and lettuce will be broken down in different ways. In dogs, their digestive system works like this:
- Food is ripped, torn, and crushed by their canine teeth. Dogs have no salivary Amylase enzymes (breaks down starches) like humans but dogs do have pancreatic Amylase.
- Food is gulped down the esophagus (have you seen regurgitated kibble? It’s whole!)
- The stomach produces enzymes (pepsinogen, trypsin, chymotrypsin) to break down PROTEIN and stomach acid to soften BONE.
- Mushy partially digested food (chyme) enters the small intestine to digest and absorb the majority of FAT and CARBOHYDRATES . FIBER is indigestible.
- The undigested and unabsorbed material forms into stool and is stored in the large intestine until the dog has a bowel movement.
The pancreas (enzymes), gallbladder (bile for fat), small intestine (enzymes), and stomach (enzymes and acid) all work together to break down and absorb nutrients.
In this experiment, results indicated that kibble actually digested faster than raw food! By using Barium as a marker (a common way to measure digestibility), x-rays were taken to track the digestive progress of a kibble diet and raw diet. After 2-3 hours, the kibble was notably moving into the intestines faster than the raw meal and feces is being formed. Around 3-4 hours, the raw food mostly left the stomach. The raw food definitely doesn’t sit “to rot” or “contract bacteria” as claimed by others.
A couple interesting notes from this study was that the bone pieces in the raw diet remained in the stomach even after 5 hrs, which means that whole bones take longer to digest as opposed to ground bone. The stool was also much larger from the kibble diet than the raw diet although the initial volume fed was the same. This means that more nutrients were absorbed from the raw diet than the kibble diet.
The study concludes that because the raw food is digested quicker and remains in the GI tract longer, the body is able to absorb more nutrients, leading to small, firm, and less frequent poops. No wonder why we see such drastic improvements in our raw fed dogs than when they were eating dry food!
Since we know that dogs fed kibble still maintain a healthy acidic pH level and that kibble doesn’t digest slower than raw food, mixing kibble with raw is safe to do. All nutrients are digested differently, even a raw turkey wing will be broken down at various steps and times. The stomach breaks down the lean meat protein quickly while the fat takes another step to be digested in the small intestine. Meanwhile, the bone will be slowly softened in the stomach! If we were nervous about different digestion rates, then we would have to separate every nutrient in our raw diets including the bone, fat, protein, and carbohydrates from fruits, veggies, and grains which is silly! :)
Some raw feeders recommend a cold turkey switch (leading to a “detox” phase, AKA vomiting and diarrhea from not gradually switching foods) or criticize any amount of kibble which can make transitioning to a raw diet intimidating for many interested dog owners. From what we know now, mixing kibble and raw is okay to do in a healthy dog and a great option for dog owners. Don’t feel pressured or rushed to go all-or-nothing! Whether you are interested in adding air-dried toppers like green tripe or raw meaty bones to boost your meals or don’t have the time, space, or money to prep full raw meals, mixing meals is an alternative to improve your dog’s nutrition until you and your pup are ready for a full raw diet!