Dry dog food, or “kibble,” is, by far, the most popular type of commercial dog food sold today. The first commercial food for dogs, created in the 1860s by American James Spratt living in London, was a dry food in the form of a hard biscuit or dog cake. It was based on the hard rations that sailors had at the time. The food had to be hard-baked so it wouldn’t spoil during months at sea. The same thought process must have been used to create the original commercial dog food. This “Meat Fibrine Dog Cake” used meat, beet root, vegetables, and blended wheat meals as ingredients. They were initially sold to English country gentlemen to feed their sporting dogs but Spratt and later Charles Cruft (of Cruft’s Dog Shows fame) successfully associated feeding their food with a certain snob appeal. Spratt’s company even received a “Special Appointment” to Queen Victoria. (The Queen was a devoted dog lover and breeder who was instrumental in creating The Kennel Club in the United Kingdom.) The company also pioneered the idea of feeding an appropriate food for each life stage decades before there was scientific research to back them up. Spratt expanded their operation to the United States in the 1870s with the same success. More than any other single person or company, James Spratt is probably responsible for convincing people that they had to feed their dogs a commercial food – a dry food – in order for them to be healthy.
That’s how dry dog food was developed and how it became so popular in our modern world. Few of us would probably want to feed our dogs Mr. Spratt’s “Meat Fibrine Dog Cake” today but, for its time, it was probably a good food for many dogs. While we often think dogs of the past must have had a wonderful diet, eating a sampling of meat, organs, veggies, and other leftovers from their owners, the truth was probably less rosy for many dogs. Dogs that belonged to wealthy owners or that lived on farms may have had a decent diet; but many people in 19th century Britain, continental Europe, and some parts of the United States lived a hard life. Food was not always easy to come by, even for humans. Feeding a dog more than some bread and a little milk might have been impossible for many people. You only have to think of the potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s to imagine how impossible it was, at times, for people to feed a dog. So, the “meat fibrine dog cake” likely provided some dogs a better diet than they had been getting before if their owners could afford to buy it.
Today we have many more options for feeding our dogs and (we hope) our dry dog foods are better than Mr. Spratt’s dog cake. Is a dry dog food the best choice for your dog? There are a lot of good reasons why people choose them.
Reasons to choose kibble
There are lots of reasons why dry dog food is so popular today.
Convenience: Whether you are purchasing four pounds or 40 pounds, it’s easier for most dog owners to carry and store a bag of kibble than a case of canned (wet) food. You can buy single can of dog food but if you buy a case, they are bulky, awkward to carry, and each meal has to be individually opened. Judging by sales statistics, most dog owners find it easier to buy bagged food and scoop out portions for their dog’s meals.
Storage: Once you open a bag of dry dog food, you can continue to feed food from it for quite a while. By contrast, when you open a can of dog food, the food has to be eaten in just a few minutes or it will go bad. Even if you store it in the refrigerator it is only good for a very short time. This is partly because dry dog foods typically have more preservatives than canned foods (which can be a drawback), but it’s also due to the fact that up to 90 percent of the moisture has been removed from kibble. Canned foods can lost a long time if they are not opened but dry foods are superior once the product is opened. There is a limit to the shelf life of dry food and you should check the bag of kibble when you purchase it for a “Best Buy” or Sell By date, but most kibble should be good for at least six months on the shelf. Even dry dog food made with natural preservatives (Vitamin C and E, rosemary extract, green tea extract and others) will last for several months in the bag, though these preservatives are weaker than artificial preservatives.
Space requirements: It’s also usually easier to store kibble, in terms of space, than it is canned foods. If your dog requires 1200 calories per day, a cup of dry food may have, on average, 400 kcal/cup. So, you would need to feed him three cups of kibble per day. That’s not hard to do if you have a bag of dog food. On the other hand, a premium kibble might have 300 kcal per 8 ounce cup (or 500 kcal per 12.5 ounce can). You would need to feed your dog a little more than two cans of this (expensive) food per day to meet his caloric needs. Setting aside the cost for a moment, you would need to keep your house stocked with a lot of cans of food every week to feed this amount. Cans take up a lot of space, especially if you are feeding a large dog or several dogs.
Health: There are some differences in ingredients between dry dog food and canned foods. Kibble has more carbohydrates. They have to have carbs/starches to form a dough so they can work through the machinery that makes dry dog food. Some companies use filler ingredients and some don’t. Canned foods are made using a different process and often have few carbohydrates. They often have a higher protein content – and more fat – which can be a mixed blessing. Canned foods have few of the preservatives found in dry foods since they are preserved with the canning process. They do have binding agents and stabilizers such as carrageenan, guar gum, and other gums which have been associated with their own health issues in humans and animals. Canned dog foods also have the issue of (mostly) being lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA), though there does not seem to be a good alternative at this time for most companies. Both kinds of food can be made from high quality ingredients and, depending on the company, there is a range in quality and how the foods are made.
With cats it is possible to say that canned foods are better for the animal’s health due to urinary tract issues associated with eating dry cat food. However, it is not possible to say this about canned dog foods and canine health. While many dogs prefer canned foods because of the taste and the high fat content, we are not aware of any research that suggests canned (wet) food is better for a healthy dog than dry food.
Most kibbles do have more ingredients than canned foods which can be an issue if you are trying to feed a limited ingredient diet. It’s often easier to feed a canned food with fewer, simpler ingredients than a kibble, even if the kibble claims to be a “limited ingredient diet.” Again, check the labels of the foods to make sure which ingredients are in the food. Nearly all foods, both canned and kibble, will add vitamins and minerals today. If there are other ingredients you don’t recognize, investigate and find out what they are, especially if you have a dog with allergies or food sensitivities. One of these ingredients could be a trigger for your dog’s problem.
Cost: As we alluded to previously, canned dog food is more expensive than dry dog food. On a per ounce basis it is often prohibitive to feed canned food if you have a large dog or even several small dogs. Good quality canned foods are often high in protein and have few carbohydrates or filler ingredients. Unlike many dry dog foods today, their protein is often meat protein instead of plant protein – and that makes the cost high.
If you buy canned dog food, you need to read the label and check the ingredients. A food that contains lots of vegetables is displacing meat protein. Vegetables are usually high in carbohydrates which more or less defeats the purpose of feeding a canned dog food, especially if the company is still charging a meat protein-based price.
Best Dry Dog Food Brands
There are plenty of good reasons to feed canned dog food and to feed kibble. Both have their advantages. As we’ve already stated, if you have a large dog or you are feeding several dogs, buying a good quality canned dog food can be cost-prohibitive for many people. In these cases, people often use canned dog food as a topper or for special occasions. It makes a wonderful treat.
Some of the kibbles we like for a healthy adult dog include:
There are many other good brands. These are just some that we have tried and liked or which get especially high ratings from a lot of dog lovers. We normally look for foods that are free of corn, wheat, and soy and which use natural preservatives instead of artificial preservatives. Whether you choose foods that are grain free or grain-inclusive depends on you and your dog. Some dogs do better on a grain free diet and some don’t. Grain free diets can be a good idea if your dog has food allergies or food sensitivities since corn and wheat are among the ingredients that often trigger these problems, but they are by no means the only ingredients that can cause problems. Beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, and chicken eggs are all frequent triggers for dogs that have food allergies. If your dog doesn’t have food allergies or food sensitivities, then none of these ingredients should be a problem.
We also prefer kibble that is higher in meat protein so we look for foods that have two or three kinds of named meat or named meat meal in the first several ingredients. There’s a lot more to choosing a good dog food, but these are some of the basic things we notice.
Kibble has great advantages for most dog owners. Good quality kibble is less expensive per ounce. It is easier to store than canned foods. It is easier to feed once it is opened and doesn’t spoil quickly. While some dry dog foods today are high in carbohydrates and plant proteins, you can find good quality kibbles that are lower in carbs with meat protein. And not all canned dog foods are desirable. There are certainly many canned dog foods that you would probably not want to feed your dog because of the low quality of the ingredients.
If you are choosing between a good quality kibble and an average canned food, the good quality kibble is probably a better choice for your dog. If you can afford to buy a good quality canned food as your dog’s regular diet, be sure to check the ingredients and the dry matter basis of the food. Many of these foods have a very high fat content. While this makes them taste delicious to your dog, it also means that your dog can quickly pack on the pounds. Watch your dog’s weight and make sure he’s not becoming a little too porky. Dogs that eat a wet/canned diet can also have soft stools, so pay attention to your dog’s bowel movements if you change to a canned diet.
There are lots of great canned foods and kibbles available today. We hope that we’ve given you the information you need to make a good decision.