A new study suggests that feeding your pup fresh food fit for a person might have an added welcome effect: smaller poops. The findings suggest that a fresh human-grade diet is more easily digestible for dogs than standard diets made of dry processed food, and it may also satisfy a dog’s appetite with fewer calories per meal.
Kelly Swanson, a nutrition scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has been studying dog and cat nutrition for about two decades. More recently, he and his team have been looking into pet diets primarily based on fresh and minimally processed meats and other foods. Sometimes, these diets are composed of USDA-certified ingredients made for human consumption, which are called human-grade diets when given to pets.
Though pet food companies are moving into developing commercial “human-grade” pet food, the term has no official meaning and there’s little evidence as to whether these diets are healthy for pets to consume. Not everything people can eat is necessarily good for pets to eat, and pets can have different nutritional needs than their owners. But Swanson’s latest study, published in the Journal of Animal Science last late month, suggests that fresh and human-grade diets are still capable of providing dogs enough nutrition and may possibly be even better than other types of diet.
They enlisted the aid of 12 dogs for their experiments. These dogs were carefully observed over a period of several months as they each tried one of four different diets. One diet was made of dry kibble; another was made of minimally processed fresh food (mostly chicken); and two were made of human-grade ingredients (chicken and beef respectively, along with some vegetables and carbs like rice or potatoes). All the products were commercially available.
By the end, the team found that the dogs had the largest poops when eating dry food and the smallest when eating human-grade food (fresh-food poops were also smaller than dry food). The main reason for this smaller fecal paw print is likely because these diets are filled with ingredients that are largely digested by the dogs, with less going to waste. Earlier research of theirs, giving human-grade food to roosters, had shown a similar effect on digestion.
“Of all the diet formats we tested over the years, these human-grade foods have been the most digestible,” Swanson said in an email to Gizmodo. “Over 90% of what was consumed was digested and absorbed.”
Dogs also ate more when given dry food as opposed to the other types. It’s possible that fresh foods might satiate a dog’s hunger more than a processed diet would—an effect that’s been seen in people as well. The human-grade diets also seemed to change the makeup of the dogs’ gut microbiome, the community of bacteria that live inside animals like humans and dogs. These microbiomes are thought to be important for maintaining good overall health.
Though these findings are certainly intriguing and may point to the added benefits of fresh and human-grade diets, Swanson isn’t looking to scare any owners whose dogs seem to be perfectly fine eating kibble.
“Because most of the existing commercial foods on the market are of high quality and our pets are living longer, healthier lives than in the past, I don’t want to send out an alarm and suggest that everybody needs to change their pet’s diet immediately,” he said. “I do think it is worthwhile, however, to continue testing the various diet formats to determine whether or not they may impact long-term health.”
He notes that there are many factors in selecting a good diet for our dogs, and all diets will have their advantages and disadvantages, such as cost and nutritional balance. Ultimately, owners should carefully vet any diet they decide to give their dogs, including from companies that purport to sell human-grade pet food.
“For dog owners that are happy with their current food and the animal is healthy, there may not be a reason to change,” he said. “However, for those that are not happy with their current diet, I think fresh human-grade dog food is something to consider. This diet type is not cheap, but provides many potential benefits for the pet and owner.”
Swanson and his team plan to continue to study how these various diets affect a dog’s digestion, microbiomes, and other health outcomes.