By The Farmer's Dog | January 26, 2017

Over the past few decades, we’ve reconsidered how we’re eating, swapping highly processed food for fresh vegetables and lean protein. Our perspective on the traditional American diet has evolved, as has our understanding of the undeniable power that food has on health.

This journey to better health has been all-inclusive, spanning multiple generations and taking shape in schools and communities across the country. But while we’ve become skilled at deciphering labels in our grocery store aisles, our dogs have been eating from the same bulky mystery bags for years.

Commercial pet food brands — yes, even the “organic” or “all-natural” varieties — are all so highly processed that the nutritional value of any individual organic ingredient is lost by the time it hits your dog’s bowl. Feed grade ingredients require heavy processing to kill bacteria, whereas human grade ingredients are packed with fresh, natural nutrients.

While dogs can survive on traditional dry or canned dog food (much like we could technically survive on a lifetime of eating potato chips every day), they experience vast health benefits when they eat fresh, human grade food.

Here are a handful of the improvements you can expect when you start to add fresh, real food to your dog’s diet:

1. No more guessing games

Fresh food means real ingredients you can actually see in your dog’s bowl. Goodbye, mysterious brown balls of kibble.

Protein sources in dry food that have not been approved for human consumption are much lower quality than fresh, unaltered, lean, human grade meats. With fresh food you can always see how much meat and fresh produce is used, whereas most commercial dog foods are extremely processed and can be loaded with hidden ingredients and additives that have been known to cause health issues.

2. Better, faster, stronger

Popeye was right: eating spinach helps build strong muscles and promotes better health. Your dog can’t scarf canned spinach like the Sailor Man, but a fresh diet produces the same benefits.

Human-grade food made with high quality ingredients help build strong immunity and increased vitality. Even senior dogs show an improved range of motion and increased playfulness after switching to a fresh, human-grade diet. The protein and natural antioxidants found in high-quality, fresh food also helps fight ailments and illness. Because commercial dry food is cooked at such high temperatures, the natural nutrients in any individual ingredients are destroyed and cannot provide these regenerative properties.

3. Healthier digestion

Many ingredient lists on commercial pet food bags bulk up the protein percentages and don’t clarify the quantity of each ingredient. This means that the healthiest-sounding ingredients could be used in negligible amounts. Similarly, when a dog food bag claims that it contains 30% protein, it doesn’t mean it’s all digestible.

Your dog’s system wasn’t designed to consume the bulk of the ingredients found in dry food, and they end up turning into (smelly) heaps of waste. Switching to fresh, highly digestible, human-grade food results in fewer and smaller stools. Food is digested properly, nutrients are directly absorbed, and you get poop bags for days.

4. Better skin and coats (+ softer cuddles)

Many dogs suffer from skin issues like itching, rashes, and dry coats. While pet parents often chalk these symptoms up to allergies, many skin problems can be caused by the large amounts of fillers in processed, dry dog food.

Fresh, nutrient-rich diets with essential fatty acids (usually a combination of omega 3, 6, and 9) improve skin and hydrate coats, leaving dogs so soft you’ll never want to kick them out of bed.

5. More time with your best friend

Switching your dog to a fresh food diet helps maintain a healthy body weight, which has been linked to a 20% longer lifespan. Think about it: a human diet consisting primarily of processed foods would leave you sluggish, overweight, and at risk for host of health issues.

Commercial dog food contains fillers and preservatives that can affect your dog’s health over time, whereas a fresh, human-grade diet produces increased energy and improved long term health.

6. No additives

A true fresh food diet would have no additives or preservatives. Any alteration in dog food is generally meant for the convenience of manufacturing (a longer shelf life) or marketing for humans (i.e. food coloring, carrageenan, or xanthan gum used in kibble to make it look more “attractive.”) FYI, dogs can’t see  the same colors we can.

Many fresh, dog-friendly foods are already in your kitchen, making them an easy addition to your pup’s current diet. Just be sure not to add any more than 10% of their caloric intake in fresh food (or treats), to avoid unbalancing their meals. If you’d like to incorporate more than 10% fresh food in your dog’s diet, there are nutritionally balanced fresh dog foods available that can be sent right to your door.