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Kibble, Canned, Raw: Choosing the Right Type of Dog Food

Kibble, Canned, Raw: Choosing the Right Type of Dog Food

Kibble, the Comeback Kid

I have a secret I’ve been concealing for years: I’ve been feeding my pup Artemis kibble, at least partially, for as long as I’ve had her. When I first adopted Artemis in 2016, all the cool, upwardly-mobile dog parents of New York were feeding their pups fresh food delivery. I dutifully tried every brand of fancy fresh dog food available, but Artemis didn’t like any of them after the novelty wore off. We always ended up wasting half the order. (And don’t get me started on raw food – Artemis won’t touch that with a ten-foot pole!)

So, I quietly went back to feeding Artemis kibble, intermixed with homemade doggie grain bowls and canned food, without telling anyone else because of the shame I felt as a failed dog mom. But you know what? Kibble suits our family just fine. Artemis and I travel internationally together, and kibble is allowed on-board flights and doesn’t violate customs laws. If Artemis turns her picky nose up at the bowl of kibble, I can cover it and try again tomorrow without wasting any food. And let’s not forget the storage situation – we live in a tiny pre-war Manhattan apartment, and I don’t have to worry about finding space in our tiny freezer or fridge for kibble, or dealing with potential salmonella risks from raw food.

The History of Kibble

Kibble has its origins in the earliest forms of manufactured dog food made by a London-based American entrepreneur named James Spratt. While in Liverpool, England, he saw stray dogs eating hardtack given to them (or dropped) by sailors on the dock. Around 1860, Spratt began making “dog cakes,” which were essentially biscuits for dogs, made of meat, wheat, vegetables, and beetroot. Originally, the Spratt company marketed these dog cakes to English gentlemen who needed something portable and easy to feed their high-energy sporting dogs. In 1870, the company launched in American markets, targeting health-conscious Americans and spending their marketing dollars at fancy dog shows.

By the 1950s, dry dog food came in cereal boxes, which may be why some dog food companies have denigrated kibble to be nothing more than cereal. But the backlash against kibble and canned food isn’t new – in 1963, there was a brand called Speak that sold “soft and moist” nuggets of dog food in trays that somehow didn’t need refrigeration. And then came the 2000s, when low-carb diets (for humans) became popular. Around 2010, gluten-free diets became the rage, and bread was increasingly demonized. We saw that in the manufactured pet foods too, as premium kibbles became grain-free.

The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of Grain-Free

As veterinarians will tell you, the switch to grain-free dog foods has nothing to do with dog nutrition discoveries. It has everything to do with our desire to impose our own dietary trends onto our pets. Last year, as warned by the FDA, grain-free dog foods became linked to heart disease in dogs.

“The grain-free versus non-grain-free issue actually has been a huge topic of conversation in the veterinary community because research was recently published outlining why grain-free is actually bad,” explains Dr. Zay Satchu, founder of Bond Vet. “What they found was the lentils that are in the grain-free foods actually bind to taurine, which is an amino acid that you need for your heart to function well. So, we’re causing these dogs to be deficient in taurine without even recognizing it. It becomes this disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) – a stretchy heart, basically. The heart chambers open up, and it ultimately leads to death. In early cases, it’s reversible. But it’s kind of scary when you think about that being the food that was broadcasted for all of us to purchase.”

Almost overnight, kibbles with grain were placed front and center at pet stores, as the grain-free trend came crashing down. But just as quickly, a new wave of kibble startups emerged, hoping to make dry dog food cool again – as cool as Spratt, crusading against kitchen scraps, made their dog cakes look in 1870.

Evaluating the New Wave of Kibble

As any dog parent who gets targeted for Instagram ads knows, there are so many new dry dog food startups these days, all promising innovative formulas and trendy ingredients. But how do you sort through the hype and marketing to find a truly high-quality kibble?

According to Dr. Jamie Richardson of Small Door Veterinary, most veterinarians aren’t trained extensively in nutrition, despite the all-knowing confidence we place in them. And even review sites like Dog Food Advisor can sometimes miss the mark on their top recommendations, getting “sucked into some marketing” themselves.

“Sometimes, they put the wrong focus on the wrong things and they get sucked into some marketing, as well,” Dr. Richardson explains. “They’ve written off some very solid companies, and they’ve put some dubious ones on their lists of good foods.”

At Small Door Veterinary, Dr. Richardson personally calls each dog food brand that her patients are curious about, and suggests that all dog parents ask their veterinarians to make calls to dog food brands to get the full nutritional profiles and research-backed studies involved. The only type of dog food she strongly recommends against is raw, citing concerns over salmonella contamination for both the dog and the humans in the household.

So, let’s take a closer look at some of the new kibble startups that have been popping up on our Instagram feeds:

Kibble Contenders

Brand Key Ingredients Unique Selling Points Cost
Spot & Tango UnKibble Chicken, Brown Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Carrots, Apples, Kale Gluten-free, non-GMO, dehydrated for raw-like convenience $20.24/week for a 20-lb dog
Jinx Organic Chicken, Dried Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas, Lentils Grain-free, contains probiotics $22.50 for a 4-lb bag
Heed Foods Chicken, Pearled Barley, Brown Rice, Oat Groats, Whole Egg Formulated for microbiome health with prebiotics $35 for a 5-lb bag
Sundays for Dogs USDA Beef, Beef Heart, Beef Liver, Beef Bone, Quinoa Air-dried for a raw-like taste, convenient for travel $75 for a 40-oz box
Lily’s Kitchen Duck, Salmon, Venison, Potato, Pea Protein Grain-free, supplemented with glucosamine and chondroitin £7.80 for a 1-kg bag

As you can see, these new kibble brands are pulling out all the stops – from innovative processing techniques to premium ingredients to pre- and probiotics. And the marketing is certainly eye-catching, with beautiful branding and influencer collaborations galore.

But at the end of the day, Artemis doesn’t care about any of that. She just wants her food to taste good and keep her happy and healthy. And that’s what I care about most, too.

So, while I’ll continue to keep an open mind and do my research, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll likely be sticking with good old-fashioned kibble as the foundation of Artemis’ diet. After all, as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! has a wealth of resources to help you choose the right type of dog food for your furry friend. Check it out for more tips and advice!

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