If you own a dog, you've probably heard someone, at some point, say that kibble is awful for your dog. There's even a hashtag for 'kibble is murder'. But, is there any truth to that?
Well, before we can really answer that, first we need to look at what kibble is.
Kibble is a massive umbrella term for any dry dog food. It's an absolutely MASSIVE category. To say that all kibble is bad is like saying all dairy products are bad for humans. Yes, some of them, like children's yoghurts and milkshakes, have added preservatives and sugars, and aren't good for you. But others, such as kefir and greek yoghurt, are fantastic for you.
How can you tell the difference? That's where we can help.
What makes a 'bad' kibble?
Where the protein comes from and how it is cooked is incredibly important for a dog kibble. Fresh meat that's been gently steamed (at below 100*C) will always be the top-notch option, but a lot of kibbles don't include these. Red flags to look out for include:
- vague terms, such as 'meat derivatives', as this usually covers up poor quality ingredients
- meat meals, as these are normally prepared at very high temperatures, denaturing the protein, and making it hard for your dog to digest properly
- potato protein or pea protein, as this is often less digestible than animal proteins, and the inclusion of it usually means there is not enough meat in the formulation.
It's rare for foods to state the crude carbohydrate content, but you can usually work it out fairly readily. Simply add up all the percentages listed under crude analytics (a.k.a. analytical constituents), and take that figure away from 100. For example, a label may read:
Protein 29%, Fat 16%, Fibre 3%, Ash 7%.
First, add these numbers together: 29 + 16 + 3 + 7 = 55
Then, subtract them from 100: 100 - 55 = 45
So this food would have approximately 45% of it made up by carbohydrates.
A large carbohydrate content (anything over about 40%) isn't brilliant, as this can often give your dog too much energy - leading to hyperactivity and a temper tantrum when that sugar wears off! However, it's also important to consider what the source of carbohydrate is: refined grains and white potato generally cause these sorts of issues, whereas sweet potato and peas have a much lower impact on your dog's blood sugar, and are preferable options.
For kibble to be kept on a shelf and not go off, it of course needs to be preserved. Whilst there are some good, healthy ways to preserve kibble, such as adding vitamin E, vitamin C, or rosemary oil, a lot of brands overlook these in favour of cheaper options. If your dog food simply states 'preservatives', the likelihood is that they are using the latter. These include chemicals such as BHA (E320), propyl gallate (E310), and potassium sorbate (E202). The first two of these are known to contribute to cancer development, and the third commonly causes allergic reactions or irritates the eyes, throat, and lungs.
If sugar features in the ingredients list, it's going to be a poor quality kibble. There is no need for sugar in a dog food, unless the recipe without it is not nice for a dog to eat. Most dogs like the taste of good quality protein and fats, and should not need the sugar to entice them to eat it! If you have a fussy eater, instead of opting for the doggy version of junk food, try the tips listed in this blog.
How to know if it's a good kibble
Specificity: a product advertising vague ingredients, such as 'meat and animal derivatives', 'cereals', or 'derivatives of vegetable origin', is legally able to change their formula however they like, as long as the ingredients stay within those labels. Such labels are incredibly vague, and usually mean the company is trying to cover up low quality ingredients. If the ingredients list reads more like 'Fresh Chicken', "Dried Chicken', and 'Sweet Potato', it's much more likely to be a consistent formula with high quality ingredients.
Expanded Analytics: if the crude analytics contain more than just protein, fat, fibre, and ash, it's probably from a brand that cares about dog well-being and knows what they're doing when it comes to dog food. The most common additions are calcium, phosphorus, omega-6, and omega-3. Some great examples of these can be found on the labels of Eden and Essential foods.
Named animal fats/oils: a good food will always name the fats and oils that they include in their recipe. Fats and oils are a vital part of dog nutrition, but where they come from is incredibly important. For example, fish oil is extremely beneficial for your dog, as it provides a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids. However, options such as vegetable oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil are not beneficial, and can cause more problems than they solve.
But I heard that raw food is better?
Just like 'kibble', the term 'raw food' is an umbrella, and encompasses a variety of diets. Some of these are good, some of them are bad, and each one deserves more investigation before choosing it for your beloved dog.
A lot of the time, one of the biggest benefits of raw food is said to be that it is more digestible than kibble or wet food. BUT, recent research  has actually suggested the opposite may be true. Steamed or lightly cooked chicken may actually be better for your dog than raw, as it is more digestible. Therefore, we may assume that gently cooked kibbles, such as Eden, are on a parr with, if not better than, the digestibility of raw foods - but without the microbiological safety concerns .
At the end of the day, it's about picking a food that works for you and your dog. If kibble is your preference, then you can absolutely find great quality kibbles that your dog will thrive on.
If you are ever in doubt, why not contact us for a FREE ten-minute nutrition consultation? Simply drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
 Oba, P.M., Utterback, P.L., Parsons, C.M., de Godoy, M.R.C., and Swanson, K.S. (2019) Chemical composition, true nutrient digestibility, and true metabolisable energy of chicken-based ingredients differing by processing method using the precision-fed cecectomised rooster assay. Journal of Animal Science. 97(3): 998-1009. https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/sky461
 Davies, R.H., Lawes, J.R., and Wales, A.D. (2019) Raw diets for dogs and cats: A review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 60(6): 329-339. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsap.13000