Many pet parents wish to improve their pet’s diet, but lack the confidence to feed a fully raw diet or their lifestyle does not support it. Whichever reason it may be, adding in small amounts of fresh food into a processed diet has major nutritional benefits and can be accomplished with ingredients sourced from a local supermarket!
A home prepared raw diet requires time to source and prepare, which may not be feasible for some households. Storage and monthly expenses may become a concern for multi-dog homes, especially multiple large and giant breed dogs. In contrast, some pet parents are concerned with how their pet will respond to a raw diet and avoid feeding it all together.
These are valid reasons why a pet parent may choose not to feed a raw diet to their dog. However, fresh food can still be included in a processed dog food diet to make improvements when feeding a 100% raw diet is not feasible. These small adjustments provide major nutritional impact and can be accomplished in a few simple steps:
Calculate Fresh Food Additions
Determine how much fresh food to add to processed dog food.
Select Ideal Ingredients
Choose optimal ingredients with the most nutritional benefit.
Rotate Low-Calorie Meal Boosters
Include additional ingredients to boost nutrition without overdoing calories.
Create A Weekly Fresh Food Schedule
Following a weekly schedule helps reduce time and maintain consistency.
Calculate Fresh Food Additions
All food provides calories and overfeeding calories will result in unwanted weight gain. Therefore, the first step to adding fresh food to processed dog food is to determine the amounts of fresh food to feed and how to reduce the amount of processed dog food to account for the new additions.
Reduce Processed Dog Food & Calculate Fresh Food Additions
For pet parents who do not want to worry about nutritionally balancing a full raw diet, the addition of fresh food should only be a small portion of the overall diet and should not exceed 20% of the daily intake. If the portion of fresh food exceeds 20% of the overall diet long term, then the fresh food portion will need to be nutritionally balanced.
To begin, reduce the total amount of processed dog food by 20% to account for fresh food additions. It is important to remember that if feeding dry dog food, it lacks moisture and fresh food is high in moisture. Therefore the amount of fresh food added into dry dog food should be doubled to account for the additional moisture.
For example, if 5 cups of dry dog food is fed in 1 day – the dry dog food will need to be reduced to 4 cups to accommodate the addition of fresh food. Reducing the dry dog food by 1 cup calculates to a 20% reduction and 2 cups of fresh food will be needed to replace it.
Select Ideal Ingredients
There are many fresh ingredients to select from to add into a processed diet; however some ingredients outshine others in their nutritional profile which makes them ideal options to include in processed food diets.
Foods High in Lean Protein, Vitamins, & Minerals
These ingredients help improve the quality of amino acids within the meal. Ingredients such as organ meats and lean red meats are ideal options to choose.
Beef Liver, raw
Adding liver to a processed diet is an excellent way to improve a processed diet’s nutrition because it is jam packed with many essential nutrients necessary for optimal health. Liver is high in quality amino acids, fat soluble vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, it is very affordable but it is recommended to feed in moderation due to the concentration of vitamin A.
Beef liver is typically sold for human consumption in many supermarkets and it is one of the best liver options to choose in terms of it’s nutritional content. However, other commonly found liver protein options include chicken and pork liver.
Chicken Heart, raw
Raw heart is another beneficial and commonly found ingredient that can be added to a dog’s processed diet. It is another way to add high quality amino acids and other essential nutrients. Heart ingredients shine in their Taurine, CoQ10, and B vitamin content which is an excellent way to add in fresh food to provide heart health benefits!
Chicken heart is one of the most common heart proteins found in supermarkets. However, other options include beef heart or pork heart. According to studies, beef heart provides the most CoQ10 but chicken heart provides the most Taurine. Therefore it is recommended to rotate heart proteins when possible.
Beef Muscle Meat, boneless, lean, raw
One of the downfalls of processed food is that the quality of the protein degrades during the extrusion process. Therefore, the addition of boneless meat is an excellent way to reduce the extruded protein in a processed diet while increasing fresh, high quality protein and amino acids.
It is recommended to select lean, red meat proteins from beef or pork; however lean white muscle meat from chicken or turkey is completely acceptable. From a budget standpoint, white meat is more affordable but red meat is more nutrient dense. It is recommended to rotate boneless muscle meat proteins when possible.
Ingredients High in Essential Fatty Acids
Foods high in fatty acids improve the fats within the meal – particularly the omega 3 fatty acids. Ingredients such as fatty fish, shellfish, and eggs are ideal options to choose. Additionally, EPA/DHA is not considered an essential nutrient by AAFCO. Therefore, seafood ingredients are highly encouraged to add to a processed food.
Fatty fish are an excellent way to improve essential fatty acids within a processed diet. Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are highly concentrated in fatty fish but these ingredients are also high in vitamin D. In addition to these essential nutrients, the addition of fatty fish will also provide fresh protein and amino acids.
Salmon is the most common fatty fish found in supermarkets; however it does come with a higher price tag. Additional fatty fish options include Mackerel, Sardines, and Herring. Canned fish in water is another alternative if sourcing raw fish is difficult or expensive.
Blue Mussels, cooked
Shellfish are additional ingredients that can be added to a processed diet to improve the fatty acids. There are different types of shellfish that can be fed – Blue Mussels, Black Mussels, Green Lipped Mussels, and Oysters. These ingredients do provide the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA but these ingredients shine because of their mineral content.
Blue and Black Mussels shine in their essential manganese concentrations. Green Lipped Mussels shine in their unique fatty acid profile and chondroitin concentrations which makes them ideal for join support. Oysters shine in their zinc concentrations. Therefore it is recommended to rotate shellfish options when possible; however it is important to feed all shellfish fully cooked to avoid the risk of toxoplasmosis gondii. Canned options in water are acceptable.
Chicken Egg, without shell
Eggs are another ingredient that can fed to improve the fats and fatty acids in the diet. Additionally, eggs are another way to improve the protein and amino acids in a processed diet while remaining very affordable!
There is a common misconception that eggs should not be fed raw due to causing a biotin deficiency; however eggs can be fed raw if the egg white and egg yolk are fed together. Raw egg whites contain a glycoprotein called avidin which will cause a Biotin deficiency if raw egg whites are only fed. However, feeding the raw egg white and raw egg yolk together eliminates this risk.
Additionally, soft boiling eggs to fully cook the egg white while leaving the egg yolk soft is another recommended feeding method.
Rotate Low-Calorie Meal Boosters
There are additional ingredients that can be added to dry dog food that do not require any reduction of processed dog food or other raw ingredients. This is because these ingredients are low calorie and will not cause an excess in calories which results in weight gain. These low-calorie meal boosters are focused on increasing moisture, probiotics, and antioxidants.
Dry dog food lacks moisture content that dogs should normally be receiving through their diet. This is why dogs on dry dog food drink a lot of water! One way to curb this issue is to include high moisture ingredients within meals. It is recommended to add more moisture to dry dog food on a daily basis.
Cooking a pet friendly bone broth to add into a processed diet is an excellent way to increase moisture without overloading calories. Bone broth provides collagen and minerals that are beneficial to gut health!
Bone broth purchased at supermarkets are not ideal options to add to a processed diet because they are high in sodium and contain ingredients that are not safe for dogs to consume (onions!). Therefore it is recommended to make bone broth at home or purchase a commercially prepared bone broth specifically made for dogs and cats.
Coconut water is another way to add a mineral and moisture rich ingredient into a processed diet without overdoing calories. Coconut water is an excellent way to improve hydration because of its moisture content but it is also concentrated in beneficial electrolytes which is ideal to prevent dehydration!
Supermarkets carry coconut water near the sports drinks but it is important to select an unflavored option.
Water, plain, filtered
Adding plain water into processed dog food is another way to increase moisture. While water does not provide any additional nutrients, it is still recommended to add into dry dog food when no other options are available.
The immune system is 60-70% within the intestines. Therefore, providing beneficial probiotics helps promote healthy gut bacteria which ultimately supports a healthy immune system. Most of these ingredients are low calorie and can be added directly into processed dog food without reducing food.
Sauerkraut, low sodium
Many different vegetables can be fermented but the most commonly known and commercially sold option is sauerkraut which is fermented cabbage. Fermented vegetables are a natural way to provide soil based probiotics into a processed diet.
Most fermented vegetables made for human consumption are high in sodium and it is best to select a low sodium option. Fermented vegetables are high in probiotics, use sparingly – a little goes a long way.
Fermented milk (kefir) is another way to provide probiotics into a processed diet. However, kefir provides dairy based probiotics which are different beneficial bacteria strains in comparison to fermented vegetables. In addition to the addition of dairy based probiotics, kefir also provides moisture, some amino acids and fats.
Making kefir at home is easy and more affordable than purchasing ready made kefir. Kefir can be purchased from supermarkets but it is important to select an unflavored option. Additionally, it is important to use sparingly due to the high probiotic content – like fermented vegetables, a little goes a long way.
If fermented foods are not an option, using a probiotic supplement is the last option to include beneficial gut bacteria into a processed diet.
Antioxidants fight against free radicals and help protect against disease. This makes them an excellent choice to add into a dog’s diet. Antioxidants are not found within animal products and are only found in highly pigmented vegetables and fruit. Most vegetables and fruit are low calorie and can be added directly into processed dog food without reducing the food.
Purple Pigmented Vegetables & Fruit
Blue and purple pigmented vegetables and fruit are rich in antioxidants, including anthocyanins and resveratrol, and have been studied extensively for their anti-cancer and anti-aging properties. Anthocyanins act as a powerful antioxidant protecting cells from damage. Many red and pink vegetables are also rich in anthocyanins; but the darker the blue/purple hue, the higher the phytochemical concentration.
Options include beet root, red cabbage, eggplant (with skin), blackberries, and blueberries.
Yellow-Orange Pigmented Vegetables & Fruit
Beta-carotene is another widely studied carotenoid found in yellow and orange pigmented vegetables. Beta-carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A as the body must convert it to retinol, it’s usable form in the body. However, dogs have a very low conversion rate and cats are unable to convert beta-carotene to retinol but they still gain the antioxidant benefits provided by beta-carotene.
Produce options include carrots, sweet potato, winter squash, summer squash, yellow/orange sweet peppers, mango, papaya, banana, pineapple, and citrus.
Free Yellow-Orange Antioxidant Mash Recipe
Create a yellow-orange antioxidant mash to add to processed dog food. This recipe includes butternut squash, carrots, yellow crookneck squash, yellow and orange sweet peppers, banana, grapefruit, and turmeric spice.
Green Pigmented Vegetables & Fruit
Green fruits and vegetables are rich in lutein, isothiocyanates, and isoflavones. Dark leafy greens, such as kale, contain over 50 phytonutrients including kaempferol and quercetin. Kaempferol is an antioxidant shown to protect the body against cancer-promoting free radicals and quercetin is an antioxidant flavonoid also shown to protect the body against free radicals.
Produce options include kale, spinach, chard, asparagus, broccoli, snap beans, zucchini, avocado, bok choy, cucumber, honeydew melon, kiwi, and lime.
Free Green Antioxidant Mash Recipe
Create a green antioxidant mash to add to processed dog food. This recipe includes broccoli, kale, green cabbage, zucchini, cucumber, asparagus, lime, wheatgrass powder, and coconut water.
Create A Weekly Fresh Food Schedule
The next step is to create a weekly feeding schedule once the calculations are completed and the ingredients are selected. Following a predetermined feeding schedule helps reduce the amount of time spent preparing meals (this is exceptionally important for households who do not have much time to invest in diet changes). Additionally, a feeding schedule helps identify how much fresh food is needed within a week in order to acquire enough at a local supermarket.
Fresh food can be added to processed dog food daily, every other day, or less if desired. It is recommended to rotate ingredients as frequently as possible to encourage the dog(s) to remain interested in the ingredients being fed (sometimes being fed the same thing every day gets boring!). Below are some examples of fresh food combinations that can be used to add to processed food:
Dry Dog Food
Dry Dog Food
Dry Dog Food
A shopping list can be created once the daily calculations are completed, the ingredients selected, and the weekly schedule determined. The shopping list serves as a reminder of the ingredients required. Since these ingredients can be found at any local supermarket, they can be purchased while shopping for other household items.
Mixed Diets & Long-Term Feeding
Mixing fresh food with processed food is safe and can be fed long-term if the fresh food addition is balanced or does not exceed 20% of daily intake. The portion of fresh food must be balanced to nutritional standards if more than 20% of fresh food is added to a processed diet and fed long-term.
"IMPROVE PROCESSED FOOD BY FEEDING FRESH FOOD."
Ronny LeJeune, CertCN, CPDT-KA, CCFT, CCFC
Pet parents can include up to 20% fresh food in their dog’s processed food when feeding 100% raw is not feasible. The addition of fresh food to processed dog food helps improve the overall nutrition of the diet by:
Adding Fresh Protein & High Quality Amino Acids
Improving Fatty Acids
Adding fresh food to processed dog food can be accomplished daily or less frequently if desired. However, it is recommended to include a high moisture ingredient to dry dog food on a daily basis to increase fluid intake which ultimately decreases the dehydration effects of dry dog food.