Rottweiler puppy holding a bowl in his mouth

(© Rita Kochmarjova -

HELSINKI, Finland — A typical kibble in the store consists of mainly highly-processed carbs, which isn’t very nutritious for dogs. A new study finds a diet of unprocessed meat, human leftovers, raw bones, and minimal carbs appears to be far healthier for man’s best friend. Moreover, researchers in Finland say it may even protect puppies from certain gastrointestinal disorders as they grow up.

Like in humans, dogs eating a highly-processed diet can lead to chronic disease. The question then becomes, what works best for them?

To study what a better diet may look like, Kristiina Vuori and her team from the University of Helsinki used data from the DogRisk food frequency questionnaire, developed in 2009 at the university to investigate links between the diet of dogs early in life and owner-reported incidence of chronic enteropathy. CE is a chronic GI disorder that is characterized by inflammation that leads to problems like diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss later in life.

Owners shared the types of foods they fed their dogs and how often they did during the puppy months (2-6 months) and adolescent months (6-18 months). The team then analyzed the diet data to see whether dogs developed chronic CE later in life or not. Ultimately, the study included 4,681 puppy diets and 3,926 adolescent dog diets. Of these diets, 21.7 percent of the puppy owners and 17.8 percent of the adolescent owners ended up reporting symptoms of CE.

What should your puppy’s diet include?

The researchers found that dogs fed a meat-based diet consisting of raw red meat, organs, fish, eggs, and bones, as well as some vegetables and berries, or even potatoes or table scraps, were much less likely to exhibit CE symptoms. A meat-focused diet and leftovers reduced risk of CE by 22.3 percent and 22.7 percent, respectively, during puppyhood. On the other hand, puppies consuming a highly processed diet were 29 percent more at risk. During adolescence, meat-focused diets and leftovers reduced risks by 12.7 percent and 24 percent respectively, compared to a 14.6-percent higher risk of CE with a highly processed diet.

In humans, the trend is similar. Diets rich in whole foods — with ultra-processed foods kept at a minimum — are the most protective for the gut and against chronic diseases. The findings of this study suggest that feeding puppies a whole foods diet early on can help keep them healthy and ward off CE later on.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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