The commercial pet food industry can be a scary business. From questionable ingredients that can make your dog sick to misleading marketing tactics, navigating the shelves to choose a healthy and affordable food is a daunting task.
We consulted canine nutrition expert Sabine Contreras, author of The Dog Food Project, to find out what’s really in commercial dog food—and we’ve gone raw!
Find out why we made the switch and tips for transitioning your dog to a healthier—and sometimes more affordable—diet.
Food in its natural state
The health benefits of a raw diet make it a no-brainer.
“It’s species-appropriate and addresses many health concerns, including dental care, digestive health, skin problems, allergies, obesity, and more,” Contreras says. “I don’t recommend it for immune-compromised animals and it’s important to be careful with dogs who don’t tolerate much fat, but the average dog will benefit greatly from eating a raw diet instead of processed kibble.”
Some folks may have the time to whip up homemade food for their pets, but I’m not one of them. I want to give my dogs the best but with my busy lifestyle juggling two toddlers and three dogs, I need convenience, too. So we decided on The Honest Kitchen’s dehydrated food, which Contreras assures is quite a step up from kibble.
“The closer you can get to foods in their fresh, whole state, the better,” Contreras explains. “This doesn’t mean you absolutely have to feed a raw diet that you prepare at home but recognize your dog needs ‘real’ food just as much as you do—and the more, the better.”
Not all raw food is pricy
My biggest concern with switching to the dehydrated food was convincing my husband the extra cost would be worth it. But amazingly, The Honest Kitchen is actually cheaper than the kibble we were buying!
A 10-pound box of whole-grain chicken REVEL yields 40 pounds of rehydrated food for $59.99, almost the exact price as a 24-pound bag of our kibble at PETCO.
Here’s how The Honest Kitchen stacks up price-wise with some higher-end kibble varieties:
- 10-lb box (yields 40-lbs) of regularly-priced Whole Grain Chicken REVEL: $59.99 or $1.50 per pound
- 10-lb box (yields 40-lbs) of regularly-priced Grain Free Chicken FORCE: $89.99 or $2.25 per pound
- 24-lb bag of on-sale Blue Wilderness salmon formula kibble: $54.98 or $2.29 per pound
- 25-lb bag of Merrick Grain Free Real Chicken & Sweet Potato formula kibble: $59.99 or $2.40 a pound
The Honest Kitchen also offers a rebate program with most retailers—buy ten, get one free—and a recurring order discount on their website.
Filling in the nutrient gaps
Since commercial dog food is fortified with vitamins and minerals, a traditional raw diet requires supplementation to fill in the nutritional gaps. This is not the case with many of the convenient dehydrated and frozen raw food diets available today, including The Honest Kitchen.
“As long as you choose a food—kibble, dehydrated or raw—that shows the statement that it meets AAFCO requirements for either one particular or all life stages, they are balanced under the same industry guidelines,” Contreras says. “Fresher foods tend to rely less on added supplement mixes, which is great because it’s less processed stuff the manufacturer has to add.”
The Honest Kitchen is one of the only companies that produces human-grade food from supply to production.
“We’ve gone through an approval process with the FDA where they’ve literally scrutinized every single one of our ingredients, our packaging, and our processing,” The Honest Kitchen Founder Lucy Postins says. “Being human grade is a line in the sand for us—it’s a way we demonstrate the quality and the integrity of our finished product.”
If you’re not familiar with the difference between human grade and feed grade ingredients, it’s an important quality distinction.
“The Honest Kitchen has taken not only human-grade ingredients but they prepare them in an FDA approved and inspected human-production facility, so it’s human grade all along the way,” holistic veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney explains. “It’s probably as close as you can get to making your own home-prepared diet, but it’s no harder than opening a can or opening a bag.”
Our trial switch
Yellow Dog, Sundown, and Mocha simply love the dehydrated food. They wait anxiously as I rehydrate the food with warm water, allowing it to sit three minutes and thicken up.
As we wean them onto the food, we mix it with some of their old kibble. Here is how we adjusted their food:
- Days 1 to 3: ¾ old food + ¼ new food
- Days 4 to 6: ½ old food + ½ new food
- Days 7 to 9: ¼ old food + ¾ new food
- Day 10: all new food
Every dog is different and you may need to go slower with the weaning process.
Here comes the gross part—pay attention to your dog’s bowel movements when switching them to any new food. Make sure to consult your vet on what’s normal and what’s not.
One of the things we like best about The Honest Kitchen: once your dog is adjusted, their food is designed so you can change proteins without a weaning period. So we can move between chicken and beef and turkey without any problems.
One complaint we have come across from reviews of The Honest Kitchen is dogs getting bored with the texture of the food. We haven’t experienced this, but we also add frozen raw pellets to our Honest Kitchen to give the food a little extra flavor and texture. Our go-to brands are Primal Pronto Nuggets (various flavors) and Stella & Chewy’s Duck Duck Goose dinner morsels. We occasionally add real food, like carrots, cooked eggs, sweet potato, salmon etc.— basically the dog-safe foods our toddlers don’t finish!
Remember, it’s important to wean your dog slowly onto any new food, including raw food.
“Most dogs don’t need a lot of transition time and can be switched within two or three days,” Contreras says. “Let your dog be your guide. If there are no adverse side effects except some loose stool, you can move right along. If the dog has a more difficult time, take it slowly and replace only a small amount of the old food with the new, or even take a step back.”
As always, it’s a good idea to consult your vet to see if this switch makes sense for your dog.
Have you thought about switching your dog’s food? Let us know what you think!
*Disclaimer: this is NOT a paid endorsement. We received no compensation for this article. All opinions are our own. This is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Consult your vet before switching your dog’s diet.
I think you folks are ready for the next level, documented in my blog on the same issue. https://homecookexplorer.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/diy-organic-dog-food/.
I think you will find this is both cheaper and better. Cheaper in that you are not paying for someone else to dehydrate, package and market; better in that you know exactly what your sources are.
Cheers! Burns Wattie