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Diet and Fecal Health in Dogs: Meat vs. Kibble-Based Diets

It seems that dog enthusiasts and various “experts” are continuously debating whether meat-based diets are really healthier than kibble for dogs, but a revealing new study on the interaction between diet and fecal health is an important research-based step in putting this debate to rest once and for all.

Today, I would like to bring to you an interesting new study revealing how diet affects the canine intestinal microbiome and specifically the link between diet and a dog’s fecal bacteria. The relationship between diet and fecal health in dogs is vital because the fecal microbiome has been shown in humans to play a significant role in the onset of chronic disease, including obesity and diabetes, and may of course do the same in dogs.

diet and fecal health in dogs

Researchers have previously studied how diet affects the fecal microbiome of humans and rodents, and this research has been extrapolated to include dogs as well. However, as we know, dogs have very different dietary requirements than people, and up until now there really has been no direct evidence regarding the role of diet on fecal bacteria and canine health.

Let’s take a look at the study and its findings:

The Study

Sixteen healthy adult dogs were randomly assigned to one of two dietary groups. Both groups were fed an adult maintenance diet. However, one group’s diet consisted of a commercial kibble-based food, while the other group was fed a raw red meat diet (composition = 73% beef muscle, 10% beef liver, 5% bone chip, 5% beef tripe, 3.5% beef heart, 3.5% beef kidney, 0.2% mineral pre-mix). Both diets were formulated to meat AAFCO standards for adult maintenance. The dogs were fed the diets for a total of nine weeks. (Note: One dog in the raw meat group was removed from the study for unrelated reasons, so 15 dogs completed the study.)

The two diets, as one would imagine, varied greatly in their protein content. The meat-based diet contained 76.3% protein on a Dry Matter (DM) basis, while the kibble-based diet consisted of 29.9% protein. The meat-based diet contained 17.9% fat on a DM basis and was lower in fat than the kibble diet, which contained 27.1% fat DM.

The researchers used the dog’s feces samples to evaluate several key factors:

  • Apparent digestibility of energy, dry matter, carbohydrates, protein and fat
  • Fecal weight
  • Fecal health scores
  • Fecal volatile fatty acid (VFA) concentrations
  • Fecal microbial composition

The Results

The study revealed some interesting results:

  • Dogs fed the kibble-based diet had a higher Dry Matter intake than dogs fed the raw meat diet.
  • Dogs fed the red meat diet weighed less than the kibble-fed dogs at the end of the study.
  • Apparent digestibility of DM, energy, crude fat and protein was higher in the dogs fed the red meat diet.
  • Diet affected the dogs’ overall fecal health scores; the kibble-fed dogs had a lower fecal health score than the meat-fed dogs.
  • The kibble-fed dogs had more protein and fat in their feces.
  • The kibble-fed dogs produced more feces than the dogs fed the meat diet.
  • The dogs fed the meat diet had lower concentrations of VFAs (volatile fatty acids).
  • The fecal bacterial populations differed significantly between the two dietary groups.
  • Dogs fed the red meat diet had higher levels of bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion.
  • Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, two types of bacteria studied for their roles in pet health, were increased in dogs fed the meat-based diet.

The Bottom Line

This study indicates several important bottom-line findings:

  • Diets high in animal protein are more digestible for dogs than kibble-based diets.
  • Dogs are able to more efficiently absorb nutrients from high-meat diets than kibble diets.
  • Dogs on a high meat diet had higher levels of the bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion.
  • Dogs on a high meat diet had smaller feces and better overall fecal health.

Conclusion about Diet and Fecal Health in Dogs

This study is very enlightening, in that it shows us that diet indeed affects fecal microbial composition in dogs, and that there is a close relationship between fecal microbial composition and physiological parameters such as macronutrient digestibility and fecal health scores.

This study on diet and fecal health in dogs has shown that dogs may very well have very different nutritional needs than humans and other animals and that by understanding their digestive systems we can improve the way we feed our canine companions for optimum health and vitality.

While more research is warranted on the functional role of gut microbiota, their interaction with diet and their ultimate effect on the health of dogs, it is my opinion that this study once again indicates that whether raw or cooked, FRESH food is the BEST food.

I hope that you enjoyed this article about diet and fecal health in dogs and that it helps you and your canine companion to enjoy many healthy, happy years together.

Want to go deeper? Click here to read the full study.

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  1. Mary Crothers says:

    This is very interesting. We are about to get a new puppy and want to make sure it is getting the very healthiest of foods. What about chicken? I’ve read articles about people who feed their dogs cooked chicken and veggies. I’m just concerned that we would also need to feed kibble that contains the vitamins and nutrients they need. And also, how much of the chicken and veggies do you feed?

    • Hi Mary,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! For me, the biggest take-away from this article is that fresh food is much more bioavailable than kibble. And, of course, we know that fresh food contains the high-quality amino acids dogs need. So, chicken would certainly be acceptable. Remember, however, that it is always best to rotate proteins between poultry and red meat so that your dog benefits from a varied nutritional profile and also to help avoid food intolerances down the line. The amounts to feed would depend upon your individual dog’s size, age, lifestyle and Caloric intake. And, remember that just chicken and veggies wouldn’t be balanced. If you would like information on how to create your own varied diet for your dog to create optimum health, Dr. Jean Dodds and I have a wonderful online coaching course on this. You can find more information on it here:

      I hope that helps!


  2. Kathleen Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing this study! it confirms what we know to be true and I feel even better feeding my puppy a rawbalanced diet.
    And thank you for educating people. We will all have healthier and happier dogs!

  3. Laura M. Ainsworth says:

    Thank you for the newsletter Diana L-D,
    When our Suzie had a CT Scan of her head/sinuses and biopsies, a rare fungus was found. As well, a brain stem growth, totally a surprise. When the prescription to eradicate the fungus in her sinuses became intolerable to Suzie, and nothing was staying down, we began feeding raw beef, a little rice, along with Grandma Lucy’s Premix Garbanzo bean based freeze dried food leftover from our Gretchen (a recommendation from Dr. Dodds), and olive oil. Glad to say that Suzie isn’t vomiting anymore. She can thrive for as long as she has on this diet. Digestion isn’t 100%, but she can live with this. Every bit of knowledge helps. Then one observes the dog. Everyone had organic eggs this morning as a “treat”/topper.

  4. chudi patrick says:

    Hi, I own a 3months old Boerboel I feed her pudding of soya bean, corn, groundnut, fish or chicken parts and dry kibbles at some other time but she still looks skinny. Wat do u advice I feed her on. Kindly advice, ‎

    • Hi Chudi,
      Unfortunately, what you are feeding your dog would not be a nutritionally balanced diet and is, in my opinion, dangerous, especially for a large-breed puppy. I highly recommend that you find a high-quality, balanced commercial food to feed made for large breed puppies. Not only is what you are feeding your dog not sufficient for her growth, but you are not giving her the proper amount and balance of calcium and phosphorus, which can result in long-term orthopedic diseases.
      I hope this helps!