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Mixing Canned Food With Kibble? Here's Why It's Not Ideal

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

  • February 29, 2020









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  • “Combination feeding” (feeding ultra-processed canned food and kibble together) is a popular trend with some pet parents; big pet food is cashing in on the combination feeding fad
  • Another disturbing trend involves feeding dogs and cats items like pancakes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a way to add so-called “fresh human foods” to their diets
  • Many human foods, just like canned and kibbled pet food, are highly processed — not fresh — and of very low quality. These foods are not healthy to share with pets
  • Nutritional diversity is an important aspect of intentionally creating healthy pets and is best accomplished by adding unprocessed, fresh, whole foods that are loaded with enzymes, naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, prebiotic fibers, antioxidants and polyphenols



According to PetfoodIndustry.com, “Combination feeding is a significant, growing trend in the pet food industry right now”1 and while I couldn’t agree more that it’s about time we start diversifying our pet’s diets, many pet owners are going about it in a very unhealthy manner.

From what I can gather, “combination feeding” in the world of ultra-processed pet food means mixing two “fast foods” together, such as canned dog or cat food and kibble in the same bowl. Apparently, this trend is popular with pet parents, and needless to say, pet food manufacturers are finding ways to expand their product lines (and bottom lines) in response.

For example, one company, Petcurean, has developed an entire line of complimentary dry and canned foods, plus meal mixers.2 As reported in PetfoodIndustry.com:

“Petcurean has spent considerable time developing not only complementary dry and wet food lines that easily pair for successful combination feeding, but also educational materials for the company’s customers on how to properly combine the products to best benefit their pets’ health.”

According to a Petcurean representative, the company’s GO! SOLUTIONS wet and dry formulas are “fully integrated with each other.” Packaging is color coded to “identify sister GO! SOLUTIONS wet and dry recipes.”

While I applaud pet parents who want to offer their dogs and cats a varied, diverse diet, needless to say, I don’t agree that “combination feeding” as described above, is the ideal approach.

If I only eat Total cereal every day (the equivalent of living on dry pet food) and then decide to add an Ensure liquid beverage to wash it down, it doesn’t mean I’ve diversified my diet in a positive way. It means I’ve swapped a synthetically fortified dry fast food for a more moisture-rich option.

Yes, increasing moisture content is a great first step, but what about offering some unprocessed sources of enzymes, phytonutrients and polyphenols that are missing from all ultra-processed pet foods? My recommendations for diversifying your pet’s diet involve feeding fresh, real, biologically appropriate food, or at a minimum, using whole foods as training treats. More about that shortly.

Another Ill-Advised Trend: Adding These ‘Fresh Human Foods’ to Your Pet’s Diet

According to a survey of pet owners taken a few years ago, 18% of cat parents and 32% of dog parents add so-called fresh foods to their pet’s diet.3 Unfortunately, many of the “fresh foods” people are feeding to their pets, based on their survey answers, are downright disturbing and not fresh at all! No wonder conventional vets recommend against feeding “fresh foods” if this is how people define them. They include:

  • Breakfast foods such as biscuits, donuts, pancakes, muesli, sausage gravy
  • Sandwiches such as ham and cheese and peanut butter and jelly
  • Fast food French fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, and KFC fried chicken, along with ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce
  • Hot meals, including beef stew, macaroni and cheese, meat and potatoes, and meatloaf
  • International foods and ingredients, including Belgian cheese, curry, mango, papaya, and salsa

Mango and papaya are great treats for dogs (if they’ll eat them), but the remaining foods on this list that people think are “fresh,” aren’t. If we look at just the broad categories of foods people share with their pets, it’s only slightly less disturbing. For example, meat (beef, ham, and hamburger top the list) and meat drippings are the most common add-ins for dogs, followed by gravies, sauces or broths, and poultry.

Vegetables are also a common addition (and an excellent choice!), with carrots at number one, followed by sweet potato. Grains are almost as popular as veggies, with rice at the top of the list. There’s no notable health benefit if you add grains to your pet’s food. You’re just adding empty calories.

Also in this category are miscellaneous add-ins, including buttered bread, cereal, Nutter Butter cookies, and pizza crust. Bringing up the rear are dairy products, starchy vegetables, fish, and in last place for some reason, eggs. Yikes! Clearly there’s a lot of nutrition confusion happening out there in the pet space.

Obviously, “fresh food” means different things to different people. Based on the list above, to some pet owners, fresh food seems to mean anything that doesn’t come in a can or a bag labeled “dog food” or “cat food.”

That’s absolutely not what I’m talking about when I discuss fresh diets or adding fresh foods to your pet’s meals. My definition is a diet that meets nutritional requirements, is as biologically appropriate as possible (meaning it’s low in carbohydrates at less than 20%, has high moisture content, and has undergone minimal heat processing), and includes a variety of fresh, whole foods that are optimal for the species.

Dogs and cats need quality protein, fats and a small amount of vegetables and fruits (roughage). Veggies and fruits provide antioxidants, polyphenols, certain vitamins and minerals and crucial fiber to animals that no longer hunt whole prey.

Natural sources of trace minerals, vitamins and fatty acids must be also added, since the soils in which foods are grown are depleted of many of the nutrients pets need. Also, food storage, whether it's in a freezer or a pantry, decreases critical nutrient levels in foods.

Pets need unadulterated, fresh, whole foods that are moisture dense. They do not need combinations of highly processed wet and dry pet food, breakfast pastries, processed meats, sandwiches, or mac and cheese. I also don’t recommend highly processed toppers or mix-ins for the same reasons I don’t recommend highly processed pet food. If you’re going to top off your pets already ultra-processed food, top it off with something that isn’t dead.

The Fresh Food Diet I Recommend for Dogs and Cats

If you've watched my best-to-worst pet foods video, you know I advocate feeding your dog or cat the highest quality diet you can afford. The top 5 types of pet food I recommend are a variety of nutritionally optimal, unprocessed (living), whole food diets. That’s because the goal in offering pets food they can truly thrive on is to mimic their ancestral diet as closely as possible without breaking the bank.

My essential recommendation is to feed your pet as much unprocessed, fresh food as you can afford. If you can't afford to feed an entirely fresh, living, raw food diet, offer fresh food snacks instead. Research shows that providing any amount of healthy foods to dogs and cats is better than no healthy food at all.

In fact, Purdue University vet school found that replacing a handful of kibble with a handful of dark green leafy veggies and other colorful fresh veggies just a few times a week dramatically reduced the incidence of bladder cancer in susceptible breeds.4 This is what we mean when we say “add a little fresh food to your dog’s bowl.”

Other options to consider: Feed, for example, two to four fresh food meals out of 14 in a week, or do a 50/50 split, meaning one meal a day is a processed pet food, and the other is a fresh food meal. Take baby steps toward providing the best diet you can afford for your dog or cat, and keep in mind that any amount of species-specific fresh food snacks and meals is better than none.

5 Superfood Add-ins to Supercharge Your Pet's Diet

1.Fermented vegetables — Fermented foods are potent detoxifiers and contain very high levels of probiotics and vitamins. Beneficial gut bacteria provided by probiotics break down and eliminate heavy metals and other toxins from the body and perform a number of other important functions.

Adding 1 to 3 teaspoons of fermented veggies to your pet's food each day (depending on body weight) is a great way to offer food-based probiotics and natural nutrients. Find out more about this powerhouse addition to your pet's diet.

2.Mushrooms — Some mushrooms are toxic, so obviously you'll want to avoid those. Nontoxic, beneficial varieties include shiitake, reishi, maitake, lion's mane, king trumpet, turkey tail and himematsutake mushrooms. All mushrooms that are safe for people are safe for pets.

Mushrooms can help regulate bowel function, but even better, they also contain potent anticancer properties and immune system enhancers. You can either lightly cook the mushrooms in a very small amount of olive or coconut oil before adding them to your pet's meal, or try out my mushroom broth recipe.

3.Pumpkin — Fresh pumpkin, either steamed or boiled (or canned 100% pumpkin), is relatively low in calories and high in soluble fiber, which is beneficial for pets with gastrointestinal (GI) upset. Pumpkin helps regulate bowel function, which relieves both diarrhea and constipation. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of potassium. Don’t throw out the seeds! Raw, ground pumpkin seeds are a mineral-rich topper.

4.Sardines — Fish are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to your pet's well-being. If you supplement your dog’s or cat’s diet with fish, I suggest you use sardines packed in water. Sardines don't live long enough to store toxins in their bodies, and they're a terrific source of omega-3s.

5.Kefir — Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that contains beneficial probiotics that support the immune system. Although regular, pasteurized cow's milk can be irritating to your pet's gastrointestinal (GI) tract, fermented milk is different. One of the best and least expensive ways to add healthy bacteria to your pet's diet is to convert raw milk to kefir yourself.

All you need is one-half packet of kefir starter granules in a quart of raw milk (preferably organic), which you leave at room temperature overnight. Add 1 to 3 teaspoons of this super probiotic to your pet's food one to two times daily for overall improved GI defenses.

Superfood toppers, like all additions to your pet’s diet, should constitute no more than 15% of the overall caloric intake. If you are ready to prepare an entire fresh meal that’s complete and balanced for your dog, click here.