With so many options available, choosing the best dog food for your pooch can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack. There are so many choices, and on paper they all sound great, but how can you tell which food is the right one for your dog?
Before you can pick a brand, you need to know the benefits of the different options available to you. We recommend checking out our blog on Choosing the Right Dog Food: What Does My Dog Need? to learn how to identify some of your dog's unique dietary requirements.
In this article, we will look into a variety of feeding formats so you can understand which type or combination of foods will most positively affect your dog's health.
Most of us are pretty familiar with kibble dog food, but knowing what it offers, and how it’s made may help you decide if it’s the right choice for your pet. Kibble is a style of dog food that contains all of your pet’s necessary nutrition, and is ground, formed into pellets and cooked.
Being one of the most commonly fed food styles for pets, the variety of kibble formulas and processing styles are vast, but the final products yield similar benefits.
Kibble was the first type of commercial dog food ever produced, and it was produced for convenience.
While the original ‘kibbles’ are unrecognizable to what we see today, the core concept has remained - to provide complete nutrition including meat, carbs and essential vitamins and minerals in an affordable and easy to feed format.
Benefits of Kibble
Although kibble diets were crafted with convenience in mind, today's dog food has come leaps and bounds in terms of quality. Canine formulas have advanced along with our knowledge of canine anatomy.
A kibble diet is no longer intended to just feed dogs but to nourish them and help them lead long, healthy lives. Awareness of canine nutrition and the demand for higher quality diets have produced convenient, complete kibbles that can provide a full spectrum of nutrients.
Here are some of the benefits of feeding kibble diets to your pet:
The main benefit of feeding kibble is still convenience. Compared to other formats, dry dog food is typically much cheaper and easier for pet owners to handle.
Just scoop, serve and forget about it.
When we are buzzing around trying to keep up with life, kibble makes it easy to confidently feed your pets high-quality nutrition without the fuss of other types of diets.
Kibble can support oral health. Bacteria can build up around the gum line and in between teeth, causing bad breath and more severe dental issues. Abrasion from chewing kibble can help remove some of the bacteria, preventing plaque and tartar build up.
Pets that do not chew their food properly, or basically just inhale it, will not receive the dental benefits from this food format. Check out My Dog Eats Too Fast, to learn how to encourage appropriate chewing and slow down your speed eater.
On the flip-side, the sugars in kibble can feed bad bacteria in your pet’s mouth too. Kibble as a sole dental routine is insufficient. No matter the format, you pet's diet should always be paired with a regular dental routine to prevent dental issues.
For more information check out our Complete Pet Dental Care Guide to learn different ways of caring for your pet’s dental health.
The increased shelf life of kibble is also a selling factor. Dry dog food can be left out for days without the risk of going bad, although fat is still present and can spoil if left in humid areas.
Once the bag is opened, the food can last for months without going bad, assuming it is properly stored.
Types of Kibble
You may assume that all kibble is the same, but how the kibble is manufactured can provide different benefits.
This standard type of kibble manufacturing is done by grinding and mixing the ingredients into a dough and then pushing it through a machine to form a cylinder that is then cut into pellets before cooking.
The pellets are cooked at high temperatures and coated in fat, vitamins and preservatives to prevent spoilage. While the preservatives don’t sound too appetizing, they are required to provide the long shelf life that we expect of our pets food.
The extrusion process, requiring high heat cooking methods, damage the nutrients in the food, so additional vitamins and minerals must be added after extrusion to maintain complete nutrition.
Many higher quality kibble manufacturers have started using the lower temperatures, below 100C, to cook their kibbles. This preserves more nutrition than a kibble cooked at a higher heat, but any cooked product will lose some nutritional value during the heating process.
You may see some brands using dies to create fun shapes, but they do not typically contribute to nutrition. This technique is used to appeal to us, the pet owners. We tend to lean towards pet products that appeal to us, so manufacturers use this tactic to sell their products.
Not as common, but starting to become more available, are baked kibbles. Baked kibbles are cooked at a lower temperature, leaving a more nutrient dense and flavourful kibble compared to extruded foods.
Baked kibbles can be a little more expensive and not as widely available, but are an excellent option for kibble feeders looking for a more nutritious diet for their pet’s.
Additional benefits of baked kibble are improved digestion and softer texture. Both of these are a result of the manufacturing process, which produces a less compressed and more porous pellet, allowing it breaks apart easier in your pet’s mouth and stomach.
A unique variety of kibble is coated kibbles. Some brands have started using a freeze-dried meat coating on their kibbles.
This can be done to either baked or extruded formats, and it is typically added after the cooking process to provide the additional nutrients gained from the freeze-dried meat coating.
Coated kibbles are a great way to increase nutrition and add flavour, especially for picky eaters, and is usually in addition to a vitamin and mineral premixes that are added to most kibble to fortify them.
Wet dog food is another very common way to feed. Like kibble, canned food has both negatives and positives. Canned foods are the second most popular feeding format for dogs.
Wet food is an excellent way to add variety to your dog's diet and ensure that they are getting the nutrition they need.
Canned foods are no longer limited to the standard metal can container. Pouches and Tetrapaks are offered for pet owners looking for a BPA free option or are seeking a more environmentally friendly packaging choice.
There are many benefits to canned diets, but here a few of the commonly-known ones:
Benefits of Canned Pet Food
The most commonly known benefit of feeding wet foods is their palatability. Canned diets come in a wide variety of flavours and formulas to appeal to your finicky dog’s tastes and encourage regular and healthy eating habits.
Canned food can be fed alone or alongside dry kibble diets. The higher cost of canned foods often leads pet owners to feed it as an addition to other diets.
The texture can increase palatability too. If your pet is being fussy, try switching to a flaked, shredded or stew formula to try to peak their interest.
Canned diets can be fed as a complete meal, but be cautious about your pet's dental health. With no abrasion from chewing, many pets can develop severe periodontal issues.
If solely soft foods are being fed, it is vital that you incorporate regular dental routines like tooth brushing, chews or supplements like water or food additives.
A very underestimated benefit to canned diets is their moisture content. Although many dogs drink water throughout the day, it is still not enough.
Canned diets contain 70-80% moisture content compared to the average 10% in a dry kibble diet.
Your dog's body uses water for digestion, nutrient absorption and to flush waste from the digestive tract. Better digestion will allow your pet's body to process calories better, absorb more nutrients, burn fat, and build muscle mass.
Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Diets
Some popular new formats of pet food are dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are either completely raw or gently cooked before dehydration.
Either way, these foods retain more nutrients than kibbles and wet foods that have been processed at higher temperatures. While this may be a newer format for many pet owners, it does have some exceptional benefits.
Benefits of Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Pet Foods
Ready to Eat Options
Crunchy style diets are an easy alternative for pet parents who are on the go and don’t have time to portion and weigh out their dog’s food. Just scoop and serve, similar to kibble.
This format will have a higher moisture content than kibble, but not by much. If your goal is to increase moisture content in food, then this food format may not be the solution you are looking for.
Any dehydrated or freeze-dried food can be rehydrated, even if it is intended to be fed as is.
Just Add Water
Many dehydrated and freeze-dried foods require rehydration. They will typically be finely ground, flaked, or a courser granola-like texture.
It is easy to store and feed, and can even be taken on the go for camping and vacations and prepped when needed.
You can also freeze prepared dehydrated meals to have a ready to use the option when you are in a rush.
Similar to canned diets, dehydrated formulas are easier to digest than kibbles. They are ideal for pet’s with sensitive stomachs, and can aid in many other systems in the body.
Feeding dehydrated foods is often a great choice for those looking to incorporate more fresh ingredients into your pet’s diet. Natural sources of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are easily utilized by your pet’s body.
If you are interested in checking out some dehydrated or freeze-dried diets for your pet, here are some brands that we love:
Raw diets supply the most natural form of diet and the most complete nutrition that you can provide for your pet. The benefits of feeding a nutritionally-balanced raw diet far surpass those of kibble or canned foods.
Benefits of Raw Pet Food
Bioavailability of Raw Ingredients
The bioavailability of an ingredient is how digestible and usable an ingredient is for your dog’s body.
To learn more about bioavailability, check out Dog Nutritional Requirements.
Heat from processing can alter the composition of fatty acids, amino acids, and enzymes used to support many functions in the body.
Raw diets retain all of the nutrition form each ingredient, in forms that your pet’s body can properly utilize. Synthetic vitamins and minerals added to cooked diets, are often less available or aren’t digested as efficiently as those coming from natural, unprocessed food sources.
When all ingredients are utilized properly and the dog is receiving optimal nutrition, an increase in muscle mass and reduction of fat can be seen.
You will also achieve improved energy levels and stamina, even in overweight, senior, and limited mobility dogs.
For pet owners who have never fed a raw diet before, the difference in stool quality can be quite remarkable. Commercial diets, being less bioavailable, create more waste. The result is a larger, more odorous stool.
With a raw diet, very little is wasted during digestion, so everything that is excreted is broken down into a completely biodegradable form. Fast decomposition will leave practically no backyard clean up.
Dental Health Benefits
Enzymes in raw meat provide superior dental benefits compared to the abrasion from chewing kibble. These enzymes work by combating bacteria in the oral cavity that can cause dog breath, plaque and tartar build up, inflammation of the gums, and the potential for other serious dental health issues.
These benefits do not omit the need for regular teeth brushing and dental care, but it will prevent rapid bacteria build up in the mouth.
Skin and Coat Health
Raw, unprocessed ingredients contain higher, unaltered sources of omega fatty and amino acids than processed and cooked ingredients will. These essential nutrients are vital to maintaining your dog's healthy skin and soft, shiny coat, as well as a variety of your dog’s other internal systems.
Raw feeders typically see improvement within weeks of switching to a raw diet, including reduced shedding and less dander.
Freeze-dried raw diets are a form of raw feeding that is gaining popularity. While they are entirely raw, the moisture has been removed and the product has been pressed into small pucks, patties or pellets.
Freeze dried raw diets must be re-hydrated, otherwise, they will absorb moisture from your dog, resulting in dehydration and possible bloat.
Benefits of Freeze Dried Food
Always Add Water
Similar to raw and canned foods, freeze-dried pet food is designed to add moisture to your pet’s diet. Freeze dried diets will be finely ground, leaving a texture similar to a canned food once rehydrated. This texture is very palatable for picky dogs and soft enough for young puppies and senior dogs.
Travel and Convenience
Freeze-dried foods are ideal for travel, vacations, and camping. It’s lightweight, easy to store and can be made to order by simply adding water.
It’s also a convenient option for raw feeders who aren’t willing to give up their precious freezer space for their pet food.
Conveniently, freeze-dried can also be prepped in advance and frozen for later use.
Meal Toppers and Treats
Complete meals aren't the only use for freeze-dried diets. In the kibble section, we mentioned the popularity of coated kibble. In a similar fashion, you can crumble small pieces of freeze-dried foods into another diet to add a similar flavour and nutrition.
Some kibble brands have even started making formulas with small pellets of freeze-dried food mixed right into the bag. These are particularly desirable for picky eaters.
Keep in mind that un-hydrated freeze-dried foods should always be added in small portions. Up to 10% of the diet is a good target. Larger portions should always be hydrated.
Here are some of our favourite freeze-dried diets:
So we've been over our choices, but which one is right for you and your pet?
Well, fortunately, your dog will probably do well on any format of dog food.
Raw has so many health benefits, but it's not right for every dog or owner. It can get quite costly depending on what size and how many dogs you are feeding and it requires a lot more prep time than other diets.
If raw isn't the right choice for you, then we recommend a mixture of foods. Each has its own benefits and pitfalls, but together they are stronger than they are apart.
With a proper dental routine and an active lifestyle, your dog can thrive on just about any diet format, as long as you are choosing high quality biologically appropriate ingredients.
Want to know more about finding the right dog food? Check out our Dog Food Guide for Beginners.
Posted by Krystn Janisse
Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.