Are you considering switching to a freshly prepared dog food? If so, veterinary research says you’re making the right move. Fresh dog food, formulated as part of a balanced diet, can have a great impact on your dog’s health, wellness, and even his lifespan.
When it comes to keeping your pup healthy and energized, simply choosing a commercial dog food with “wholesome!” on the label may seem like enough. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. “Just because a dog food is labeled ‘holistic’ or ‘all-natural’ doesn’t mean it’s necessarily any better than anything else out there,” says Andi Brown, author of The Whole Pet Diet and a pioneer of holistic pet products.
Here’s what those misleading dog food labels really mean.
And, as with humans, dogs are what they eat. Many commercial dog foods are the equivalents of burgers and French fries, Brown explains. “If you’re eating a steady diet of fast food every day, you’ll look and feel one way, and if you eat healthfully and thoughtfully from your own kitchen and garden, you’ll look and feel a whole lot better a whole lot longer,” she says. “It’s the very same thing with animals on a commercial diet.”
Read more: “Is Your Dog’s Food Safe?”
So what makes a fresh, prepared dog food healthy? It’s an important question to ask, since 95 percent of homemade dog diets studied by UC-Davis researchers didn’t meet dog’s needs. “You need a meat and vegetable diet, generally a 50-50 blend, with little to no grains or starches,” Brown says. “No byproducts, no fillers, no preservatives, no artificial chemicals.” Not only are having whole foods important, but pet parents also need to consider their dogs macro and micronutrient needs as well as the right balance of vitamins and minerals. Too much calcium for example, can cause health issues in dogs.
If you are feeding fresh, Brown also reminds pet parents that ensuring the food stays fresh until serving is hugely important. food that has sat for too long before serving or is cooked improperly can cause illness or not set your pup up to get the most from their food. That's why at Ollie, we take special care to prepare and store fresh meals properly so your pup can get all the good stuff and be protected from foodborne illnesses. Learn about the additional benefits of feeding a fresh food like Ollie.
1. Helps prevent medical conditions
“In my 30 years of experience working with thousands of animals, I’ve seen that many disease symptoms can be turned around very quickly when the animal is given the right nutritional support,” Brown says. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found a link in dogs between lower rates of urinary bladder carcinomas and eating green, leafy and yellow-orange vegetables three times a week.
Many commercial dog foods made in pet food plants, on the other hand, contain super-low-quality ingredients—stuff rejected for human consumption. Says Brown: “Why was it rejected? Well, the animal came to the slaughterhouse dying or disabled, or the grains are dirty from falling on the floor and can’t be used in human plants, so they’re immediately sent to the pet food plants. They’re garbage.” And when you couple inferior ingredients in your the commercial dog food diet with dyes, fillers, preservatives, and synthetic vitamins, “you’re setting the pet’s body up for warfare,” she says. “They have to battle those foods just to process them.”
2. Can be used to keep your dog at a healthy weight
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is well within your control, for the most part. In fact, in one survey published in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine, vets reported that just three percent of obesity cases they saw could be attributed to dog-specific factors (say, a genetic quirk or illness); 97 percent of obesity cases in dogs could be traced to how owners fed and played with their pets.
So how does commercial dog food lead to weight gain? Simple: It’s too heavy on starches, Brown explains. “Many pet foods contain fillers so that the manufacturers can make more money; corn, wheat, rice, potatoes are very inexpensive,” she says. “It’s exactly the same as for humans: A diet heavy on starches leads to weight gain.”
Balanced diets, like the ones formulated by Ollie, prevent excessive weight gain and ensure every bite of your pup’s food is packed with good nutrition—no fillers needed. On the other hand, if you have a dog who is underweight, Ollie can help your pup put on those much needed pounds in a healthy way.
3. Increases your dog's lifespan
In one paper, dogs fed a fresh diet lived for 13.1 years, on average, while those fed commercial, canned dog food reached an average of 10.4 years. That’s an extra two and a half years you and your dog could spend together! So, yes, what you feed your dog can have a positive impact on how long they live.
The starch, dyes, preservatives, and synthetic nutrients in many commercial dog foods eventually take a toll on a pup’s health, Brown explains. “People could live on potato chips and beer alone, but not long or well,” she points out. “It’s the same thing with animals on a commercial diet—sooner or later, it catches up with them.
4. Improves digestive health
A mix of vegetables and meat is critical for a dog to maintain a healthy gut. Think of it this way: Out in the wild, a dog would take down a small animal—say, a rabbit, bird, or squirrel—and consume the contents of the prey’s stomach, too, Brown explains. The small animals are generally herbivores, so the dog would be consuming meat, plus vegetables that provide nutrients and fiber, which helps keep the digestive system humming smoothly.
5. Helps your dog have better poop
One thing that pet parents who feed Ollie consistently report is that their pups are pooping better! By feeding whole foods like you find in our delicious fresh dog food, dogs have better and smaller poops. The same fiber that helps keep your dog's digestive system moving along a is also responsible for this phenomenon.
6. Higher quality sleep
Another surprising side effect of a healthy digestive system: Your dog will sleep better at night. “If your animal gets up in the middle of the night, sighing, breathing, switching positions, that’s a sign that the digestive system is upset,” Brown says. “When you’re putting the right ingredients into the body in proper proportions, the dog’s rest is pure and restorative.”
Just like you after a good night’s sleep—your dog will feel better and be healthier overall if they are getting a good night’s sleep.
7. Improves cognitive function
A healthy diet can actually improve cognitive function in dogs. In one study in The Journal of Veterinary Medicine, old, cognitively impaired dogs who were fed an antioxidant-enriched diet had higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which may slow cognitive decline.
The logic is analogous to how a diet rich in antioxidants (i.e., fresh, colorful produce) seems to help prevent cognitive decline in humans. Even in younger dogs, a fresh, wholesome diet fuels learning and alertness, Brown adds. “When you feel good, you’re sharper, you have more energy, and you can tackle more tasks,” she says.
8. Makes your pup's coat shiny
Skin problems are prevalent in dogs, from itching to rashes to scabs. Often, dogs with itchy or scaly skin are treated with cortisone shots and reaction-reducing steroids, which come with their own side effects. “Pet owners are told it’s an allergy when it’s often just a deficiency,” Brown explains.
Blame commercial pet food’s unbalanced, filler-loaded formulations that don’t give pups the nutrients they need. Because of the way it's cooked and processed, dry food especially can deprive dogs of the healthy fats and oils dogs need for a lustrous, moisturized coat and skin.
Within a few days of switching your dog to a fresh, natural, balanced diet, “shedding, itching, scratching, dry skin, a rough coat, and other skin problems will start to correct themselves,” she says. “You’ll really notice a difference.”
One note here is that some dogs really do have food allergies that can be the culprit. If your pup has itchy skin and a dull coat, consider the food you are feeding. It is more common than we think for pups to be allergic to chicken. At Ollie, that is why each of our recipes contain a single protein source. So if chicken is an issue for your dog, don't fret. We offer recipes featuring turkey, lamb and beef instead.
9. Fuels exercise and helps your pup recover
Getting enough exercise is critically important for dogs of all ages. While there are many great ways to exercise from simply walking through your neighborhood to competing in dog sports like Rally and Agility, your pup will need lots of good fuel to carry them through their workouts.
The protein in fresh food provides great energy for your pup so they feel good while they exercise. It can also help with recovery. By feeding the right mix of whole foods, your dog will be able to be the athlete (or walking companion) you've always wanted them to be!
10. Can help your pup overcome picky eating
If you have a picky pup, fresh food can help you get your pup to enjoy eating more. While for some dog owners it is impossible to believe that there are pups who turn up their nose at anything, others may be crying in the pet food aisle begging for something their pup will eat.
Fresh food helps with picky eating for a number of reasons depending on why a pup is picky. For older pups who have trouble crunching kibble - the soft texture of the fresh food may be appealing.
Another reason fresh is best here, is that it smells more appealing to many pups than kibble. As a bonus, it also helps keep your pup hydrated as the water content in fresh food is higher than its dry food counterpart.
For a picky pup, try a few different recpies to see what they like best.
At Ollie, we make it easy for your pet to try our fresh dog food. Take our quiz to get started and we will customize your dog's meal plan. You can change shipment dates, skip shipments or change recipes anytime along the way. Have you tried fresh food with your pet and noticed any of these benefits? Tell us about it!
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.