Should You Mix Raw & Kibble? *Updated*

This seems to be one of the top questions I see floating around on the internet, and EVERYONE seems to have an option on the subject. So, I thought I would contribute my updated perspective on the matter. I know this topic can be controversial for many people, but bear in mind, that this is my opinion based on the research I have read & my experience helping countless pet owners feed their dogs (& cats) a mixed diet of raw & kibble.

YES, YOU CAN MIX KIBBLE & RAW FOOD.

Perpetuating the idea that raw needs to be an all-or-nothing endeavour scares away well-intentioned pet parents who either can’t afford to or don’t have time to feed raw all of the time. Getting some fresh food into an animal’s diet is better than nothing. A 2021 study from the University of Helsinki found that puppies “fed raw tripe, raw organ meats, and human meal leftovers during puppyhood showed significantly less allergy and atopy related skin symptoms in adult life. On the other hand, puppies not getting any raw foods, eating most of their food as dry food, i.e. kibble, being fed fruits, and heat-dried animal parts, had significantly more allergy and atopy related skin symptoms in adulthood” (1). This study goes on to conclude that the findings indicate that “even as little as 20% of the diet being raw foods… gives health benefits (1)”.

So, can we please stop terrifying people away from raw feeding before they even give it a chance?

In my experience, there are two main concerns that people raise: digestion rate & gastric pH.

Digestion Rate

Many people fear that mixing kibble with raw will slow the animal’s digestion rate & allow potentially harmful bacteria to grow. This is based on the idea that kibble takes longer to digest than raw, when in fact, this may not be true at all. One unique experiment X-rayed a dog as both kibble & raw food as it moved through its digestive tract & found that the kibble was digested faster than the raw (1). While not an intensive case study, this does poke a large hole in the urban legend that kibble takes way longer than raw to digest (something which I have never been able to find any scientific proof of).

The author of this experiment summarizes perfectly by saying, “digestion isn’t like a traffic jam, and a healthy digestive system is capable of handling foods that require different rates of digestion – otherwise, our dogs wouldn’t be able to eat raw meaty bones, since meat and bone also digest at different rates” (2).

Gastric pH

Another common “fact” that I see thrown around (without any scientific reference) is the idea that kibble-fed dogs have a less acidic stomach, in other words, that their gastric pH is more alkaline. The first thing to address here is that, like many things in the body, stomach acid values fluctuate within a normal range “using sensory and secretory cells in the stomach lining” (3). However, a 2012 study found that the average stomach pH for a fasted dog is 2.05 and *lower* for fed dogs (between 1.08-1.26 depending on the amount of food given) (4). This is significant because, in this study, the dogs were fed kibble & their stomach pH not only stayed acidic while empty it also dropped to be more acidic when kibble was given (which makes sense as the digestive process involves the secretion of acidic gastric juices into the stomach).

Another article from The Raw Feeding Community I often refer people to helps dive into the gastric pH issue further. It illustrates that “the claim that kibble fed dogs actually have neutral or alkaline gastric pH values is completely unsubstantiated and verifiably false. An alkaline or neutral gastric pH would not be able to digest raw OR kibble and would result in severe malnutrition…[A] dog’s digestive system is well equipped with a complex network of hormones and enzymes that regulate the production of gastric acid” (2).

Every Dog is Different

Having worked with hundreds upon hundreds of dogs & cats and being in the pet industry for almost a decade, the inescapable fact that I always come back to is that every animal is different. There really is no one size fits all formula. So while the science doesn’t, in my opinion, show any reason you cannot combine kibble & raw in the same meal, some dogs may just do better with it separated. Know your dog, experiment with what works best for them.

If they have some digestive upset, remember to go slowly, especially if this is their first time eating raw food. You can also try adding a high-quality probiotic &/or a digestive enzyme to their mealtime (which should be a part of your supplement regimen anyways, if you ask me).

My Conclusion

Considering all of this, I think that it’s fine to try mixing kibble & raw for your dog (or cat). I believe we should be encouraging pet owners to add fresh foods to their dog’s diets in whatever capacity they can & stop scaring them away from trying before they even begin.

PS- This is the second time I have written & released a podcast episode on this topic. You can see the original version from January 2018 here. While I come to the same conclusion that, yes, you can mix raw & kibble, I don’t think it was presented as clearly as it could have been.

References:

  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/11/211118203742.htm
  2. https://therawfeedingcommunity.com/2015/01/08/digest-this-kibble-may-actually-digest-faster-than-raw/
  3. https://therawfeedingcommunity.com/2018/01/29/gastric-ph-in-raw-kibble-fed-dogs/
  4. https://canine.care/nutrition/raw-feeding-myths-can-you-mix-with-kibble-and-raw
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19177514/
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