Maybe you’re trying to switch your dog to raw but you need to mix both together to avoid digestive upset. Or maybe a 100% raw diet isn’t in your budget … you give as much as you can afford, but you need to add a little kibble to make ends meet. And these are both really solid reasons to combine the two foods. And let’s face it … a little bit of fresh, whole food is better than none at all!
But mixing kibble with raw can set your dog up for some unhappy consequences. It could even be dangerous. Fortunately, you can limit the downside with just a few tweaks … but the potential health risks are real and you should be aware of the risks and how to reduce them.
So, let’s talk about the dangers of combining kibble and raw. I’ll also share the easy steps you can take to give your dog the health benefits of some raw food without any risk.
How Your Dog Digests Food
Inside your dog’s digestive tract are little proteins called enzymes. These enzymes digest the food your dog eats and converts it to energy. Protein is also used to build structures in the body while fat is used to build the walls of your dog’s cells. Carbohydrate has no function in the body other than supplying energy.
Some digestive enzymes are found in the stomach, where food is predigested. Rest of the enzymes come from your dog’s pancreas. These pancreatic enzymes go into the small intestine, where they complete the digestion process.
The dog’s stomach doesn’t just digest food … it also protects your dog from bacteria or other harmful organisms that might come from his food. And it does both of these jobs by secreting hydrochloric acid from its walls … this keeps the pH of the stomach around 2, which is very acidic (about the same pH of vinegar).
And the acids in your dog’s stomach also play one more important role …
How Acid Digests Bone
Here’s a cool experiment to try at home … take a bone (try a chicken leg bone) and place it in a bowl of vinegar. Let the bone sit in the vinegar for 2 to 3 days and then take the bone out. What you’ll find is that you can easily bend the bone, just like it was rubber.
This happens because the acid dissolves the calcium (and other minerals) from the bone. Once the calcium is gone, the bone loses its hardness. So that acidic stomach and intestinal tract helps your dog digest bone (and absorb all of the important minerals in his diet).
So, to summarize, the acids in your dog’s digestive tract:
- Release enzymes in the stomach to predigest the food
- Inhibiting the growth of dangerous bacteria
- Release enzymes from the pancreas for further digestion
- Absorb minerals from your dog’s meal (like calcium, magnesium, zinc and manganese)
Now if you plan on mixing kibble with raw, this changes.
Here’s what you need to know …
How Starch (From Kibble) Alters Digestion
One of the main differences between kibble and raw food is the amount of starch they contain. Most raw foods contain 0 to 15% carbohydrate (with 0 starch). Kibbles need starch to hold them together in that little kibble form. In fact, they need to be at least 30% starch for this to happen. Many kibbles are even 60% starch.
And if you feed a grain-free kibble, don’t be fooled … those foods still need starch and it will just be in a different form. So instead of rice or corn, they’ll contain the same amount of peas or potatoes. Even grain-free foods are very high in starch.
Now there are a whole lot of problems with feeding your dog this large amount of starch. The one I want to focus on today is how it changes how your dog digests food. And it does this in many ways:
- Kibble (or the starch it contains) will increase the pH of the stomach. The same would happen if you fed your raw meals with sweet potatoes or other starchy foods. The enzyme called pepsin breaks down the protein in your dog’s meal into its individual building blocks, amino acids. But pepsin is only released if the pH is below 2, so the predigestion of protein can’t happen in the stomach.
- When the pH of the gut is increased (less acidic), then pathogenic bacteria like E coli and salmonella are more likely to survive. This can cause digestive upset or illness in your dog. Remember, the acidic environment in his gut protects your dog against these pathogens. Dogs and other carnivores have evolved to handle the bacteria in raw meats … but if we change the pH by feeding a food that’s not appropriate for them (starch), some of that protection is lost.
- If your dog suffers from yeasty ears or yeast infections, Candida thrives on the more alkaline pH that comes with starch. Yes, we’re talking about allergies.
- Once the predigested food leaves the stomach, it needs to be at the proper pH to trigger the release of the pancreatic enzymes. These enzymes that do most of the digesting. If there’s starch in the meal, the higher pH means the body can’t release as many of those enzymes. Undigested food particles trigger inflammation and an immune response called leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut allows undigested food and bacteria to pass through the wall of the small intestine. It can then enter the body and cause immune disorders.
- If undigested food enters the colon, the last stop in the digestive tract, it can disrupt the friendly bacteria that live there and cause inflammation … which can cause diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
- And finally, and most importantly, if the stomach isn’t acidic, the bone your dog eats won’t be properly digested … and this will cause two problems:
- Your dog won’t be able to absorb all of the minerals he needs from the bone
- Your dog is at greater risk for bowel obstruction because his digestive tract can’t make the bones soft and rubbery. Think about the bone in the bowl of vinegar …
This is why mixing raw and kibble together puts your dog at increased risk for several health issues.
Now if this worries you and you’re ready to throw out the raw … don’t! I’ve got some easy and inexpensive solutions to make mixing kibble and raw safer.
Make Kibble And Raw Combinations Safer
In a nutshell, all of the risk your dog faces when eating raw foods and starch are the result of the changes to the pH. If you can control his pH, you can move to raw without diarrhea, vomiting or obstruction. And if you want to feed him both kinds of foods, it will reduce his risk of getting sick from bacteria or getting undigested bone lodged in his digestive tract … and it will help him get more nutrients and avoid the inflammatory responses that can come with undigested foods.
Here are two simple solutions:
Adding probiotics to your dog’s meals carries two benefits. First, adding friendly bacteria to your dog’s diet will help crowd out the harmful, pathogenic bacteria. This includes E coli, salmonella, listeria and campylobacter. And friendly bacteria inhibits salmonella activity.
Second, probiotics can actually lower the pH of the gut. Research shows that several types of Lactobacillus (a type of probiotic) can lower pH.
Note: If you’re going to add probiotics don’t forget the prebiotics too! Prebiotics are various types of preferred foods that nourish the probiotic bacteria and keep them active. Feeding prebiotics along with probiotics gives your dog symbiotics.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Just add a tsp to Tbsp for every 50 pounds of body weight.
And if you’re switching from kibble to raw, here’s one extra tip …
[Related] There are many benefits to giving your dog Apple Cider Vinegar. Learn more …
Bones And Switching To Raw
[Related] We have a great bone broth recipe for your dog … check it out here!
So this isn’t meant to frighten you away from the raw diet. Fresh, whole foods in their raw form carry so many important benefits for your dog, I wouldn’t want him to miss out on any raw foods you can give him. But hopefully with these simple tips, it will just add a little more safety to the diet (and save your rugs from potential accidents).