5 Steps to Enhancing Your Dog’s Store-Bought Dog Food

Five things to do to improve your dog's diet if you feed commercial dog food.

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Whole Dog Journal readers have learned how to identify the best commercial foods when they shop for their dog’s diet. But whether you feed dry kibble or canned food, even the best commercial diets can be improved with the addition of appropriate fresh foods. We know that, when it comes to enhancing an already complete & balanced diet, real foods are often better than supplements.

Keep the following things in mind when adding fresh foods to your dog’s diet. Decrease the amount of commercial food your dog gets, so that you don’t increase the total number of calories you feed your dog, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Limit the amount of fresh food you add to about 25 percent of total calories consumed; if you want to feed more than that, you need to be careful to feed an appropriate variety of foods in order to keep the diet complete and balanced.

Improving Your Dog's Diet

Here are some of the best foods you can add to your dog’s diet:

1. Eggs

Few foods can beat the nutritional impact of eggs, with their combination of high-quality protein and fat along with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Eggs are inexpensive and easy to feed, too. Egg whites are more easily digested when cooked, while yolks retain more of their nutritional value if fed raw. Most dogs have no trouble with bacteria in raw eggs, but it’s fine to feed soft-cooked, hard-cooked, or scrambled eggs.

A large egg provides about 70 calories; this amount is fine for medium-sized and larger dogs, but smaller dogs would do better with half an egg daily, or one egg every other day, with meals reduced proportionately.

Do not include the shell when you feed eggs, as the shells contain far more calcium than your dog needs. Too much calcium can be harmful to large-breed puppies, and also binds other minerals, making them less available to your dog.

dog looking at eggs
© Meepoohya | Dreamstime.com
puppy eating yogurt
© Maximilian100 | Dreamstime.com

2. Yogurt

A natural source of probiotics, yogurt is another food that is inexpensive and easy to feed. Stick to low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt, as your dog doesn’t need the sugar provided in the flavored varieties.

The probiotics (beneficial bacteria) in yogurt provide benefits for all dogs, but are especially good for dogs with digestive problems. Use yogurt with live and active cultures. Varieties that contain more than just Lactobacillus acidophilus may provide additional benefits to the digestive tract.
Low-fat yogurt has less than 20 calories per ounce, so even small dogs can enjoy a spoonful without concern about reducing food portions.

3. Sardines

Fish supply omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA that are good for the skin and coat. In addition, they help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation, and so can be helpful for dogs with allergies, arthritis, and autoimmune disease. DHA is also good for brain health, which can benefit both puppies and senior dogs.

One small canned sardine provides about 25 calories and 175 mg omega-3 fatty acids, a good amount for a small dog (20 pounds or less). Give larger dogs proportionately more. Use sardines packed in water (not oil). Feed soon after opening so the fatty acids are still fresh.

Other canned fish options, especially for larger dogs, include jack mackerel and pink salmon.

sardines
© Detzi | Dreamstime.com

4. Vegetables and Fruits

Berries, especially blueberries, are packed with antioxidants. Other good fruits to include in your dog’s diet are bananas, apples, and melon; some dogs even like citrus. Don’t feed the pits, and avoid grapes and raisins, which can cause kidney failure when eaten in large quantities.

Leafy green veggies are a much better choice for your dog’s diet than starchy foods such as grains and potatoes. Vegetables are more nutritious when fed cooked, but raw veggies, such as carrots, zucchini slices, and even frozen peas, make great low-calorie snacks. Non-starchy vegetables can also be included in your dog’s diets to increase the quantity you feed without adding significant calories. Cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, are especially nutritious, but watch out: too much can cause gas.

dog tries vegetables
© Ncn18 | Dreamstime.com

5. Healthy Leftovers

I know that pet food companies and often veterinarians discourage giving leftovers to dogs, but as long as you stick to healthy foods and limit portions, there is no harm in sharing your meals with your dogs. Feed the same foods you eat yourself, such as meat and vegetables, not fatty scraps that lead to weight gain and have little nutritional value. Keep amounts small, or reduce meal size to accommodate the extra calories.

It’s easy to overdo leftovers, particularly with small dogs; I learned this the hard way when my 11-pound Norwich Terrier, Ella, began gaining weight. Extra calories add up fast with our little guys, so keep portions small!

40 COMMENTS

  1. I have always suuplemented my dog’s food with nutritious foods I eat, like yogurt, pink salmon, and apple slices.
    HOWEVER, I had no idea that the salmon could predispose her to pancreatitis, due to the fact that it IS a fatty fish (which is also why it’s so good for us humans and animals). In any event, she developed acute pancreatitis that almost KILLED her. Thankfully, she pulled out of it, but it was a very frightening “close call.” For the next several months, she had to eat a VERY low fat prescription diet made with kangaroo, which thankfully, she LIKED! I now allow her only very small amounts of salmon infrequently. She loves cod fish, which is low in fat, so she has some cod whenever I cook it for myself, with just occasional small treats of salmon.

    • Lois, I’m so sorry this happened to your dog. Thank goodness she was OK. It’s always best to keep portions small when adding foods. Be particularly careful with dogs prone to digestive upset, especially when introducing anything new.

    • Anna, I’m not sure I understand your question. Yes, pink salmon is like sardines. As far as I know, it is OK to freeze either one.

    • If you have access to the fresh fish! I cook our salmon and scraps and bones in a pressure cooker. Then freeze them in smaller portions. I haven’t done pink this way, but I’m sure it’s a great use of all those extra ones caught while fishing for coho.

    • Santana, yes, it is fine to feed frozen veggies after cooking. Just make sure they’re soft after steaming, not crisp, as otherwise they won’t be digested.

  2. So, how much dry dog food combined with yogurt, carrots, broccoli so he doesn’t gain weight. He’s a lab and already 10 pounds overweight feeding him dry dog food with rotisserie chicken. How much carrot, broccoli, egg, etc?

    • Bonnye, carrots and broccoli can be added in any amount. Broccoli in particular has very few calories; carrots not that much more. Both should be cooked in order to be digestible, but can be given raw as treats if your dog likes them. Too much might cause gas or loose stools, but otherwise you can give as much as your dog wants.
      When I give yogurt, I usually just give a spoonful. A large egg provides about 70 calories. Ideally, when adding things like chicken, eggs, or larger amounts of yogurt, you will reduce the amount of kibble accordingly so that calories are not increased. See my article on weight loss for more info: http://dogaware.com/articles/wdjweightloss.html

  3. if you are sharing your food with your dog, be careful not to add onions, garlic, grapes and other foods that are harmful to them. some people mistakenly think that garlic and onions are ok if cooked. they are not. they can cause anemia. check your spices and foods to make sure you aren’t poisoning your pet before sharing.

  4. I have a 2 month old husky, & he hardly eats unless we give him treats for doing good on certain tasks. What are some things I can do to get him to eat his kibble?

  5. I give my dog a cooked food diet. I will suppliment with blue buffalo wilderness or add it to his food I prepare. I noticed that when I started doing this his skin and fur became so much healthier! Plus his poop was so much better! For his snacks he getsfrozen blueberries, frozen strawberries, apples license, and carrots. Pumpkin is an absolute SuperFood!!!!! Coconut oil garbanzo beans they’re all fabulous! I am going to be adding some yogurt tonight and I’ll see how he does. I use all of these in his daily food I prepare. I usually prepare corn any once a week, and it doesn’t take more than a half an hour to make after the chicken isb boiled.

  6. I give my dog a cooked food diet. I will suppliment with blue buffalo wilderness or add it to his food I prepare. I noticed that when I started doing this his skin and fur became so much healthier! Plus his poop was so much better! For his snacks he getsfrozen blueberries, frozen strawberries, apples license, and carrots. Pumpkin is an absolute SuperFood!!!!! Coconut oil garbanzo beans they’re all fabulous! I am going to be adding some yogurt tonight and I’ll see how he does. I use all of these in his daily food I prepare. I usually prepare corn any once a week, and it doesn’t take more than a half an hour to make after the chicken is boiled.

  7. Help! My husband insist on feeding our dogs Blue Buffalo. We have 3 dogs. 2 lab mixes and an English lab. The only thing these guys have is common is the dry kibble.
    All 3 of them eat Grass and dirt daily. They are particularly interested in the clay, they scratch the surface and chow down. No, it’s not just a lick of the loose dirt. They use their teeth to get bits and yep, the chew and swallow it. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Any suggestions?

    • Cris, here’s my general advice when it comes to feeding commercial foods:

      Rather than trying to find a single, “best” food, I recommend that you choose at least two or three different brands, using different primary ingredients, and rotate between them, anywhere from a daily basis to every few months. Variety is always better than feeding any single food, as it helps to guarantee that all of your dogs’ nutritional needs are met and is more interesting for your dogs.

      The only warning I have about feeding a lot of variety is not to feed exotic proteins (duck, rabbit, venison, etc.); most of those should be reserved in case you ever need to do an elimination diet using foods your dog has never had before to test for and treat food allergies.

      If your dog has been eating the same food for a long time, or is prone to digestive upset, make the transition from one food to another slowly, substituting just a small amount of the new food for the old and gradually increasing the percentage of new food as long as your dog continues to do well. This gradual transition may not be needed in the future, once your dog is used to changing foods, though you may need to continue to be cautious with dogs prone to digestive upset.

      • I like your idea of switching between 2-3 different brands with each using different primary ingredients. It seems as though my female pitbull has completely lost interest in her food (which is why I’m here on your website.) Right now she’s eating Taste of the Wild Wetlands. Do you mind suggesting a few examples of your favorite brands? I’ll be honest, I don’t really know much about dog foods or diets, I wish I did. Any info you choose to share will be appreciated. Thank you 🙂

  8. My dog avoids eating his food by himself, I add a scrambled egg and half cup oats although he still doesn’t eat it. He only eats the eggs but he leaves the feed at the bottom. Does he need more flavouring added?

    • Prabh, have you tried feeding other brands of food? Other types of food? Is your dog underweight/losing weight? Is this is a recent change? How old is your dog, and how much does he weigh? If you can contact me via my website (my contact information is on the bottom of every page) with the answers to these questions, I can offer some input.

  9. This is such helpful information, thank you for sharing your knowledge! Right now I have a situation with my 6 yr old male pitbull, I’m hoping that if I share it with you, you might have some insight. He very recently once weighed about 95 pounds and now weighs 75 pounds. He’s getting close to being just skin and bones with a tad bit of muscle. He has 6 cups of Taste of The Wild’s Wetlands a day but what I’ve been noticing recently is, he likes to eat a lot of grass when we’re out on our walks, like he’s almost compulsive about it and then throws up his dry food + grass once a day. Within the span of 3 days, he threw up his dog food+grass in the middle of the night, the next day he drank too much water and threw up which left me quite surprised by the amount of food that came out, and then the next day he ate so much grass on our walk that he stopped to throw up a couple times in a row. I’ve heard that dogs eating grass means that they might actually be i sufficient of something in there diet. Is that true? The reason I’m asking you this is because I’ve taken him to the vet and after they’ve done a few tests I’m told that “he’s healthy.” Sorry, but, the sight of seeing Thor’s ribs, spine, and tail bone leads me to believe that he is in fact, not healthy. I wish I could attach a picture for you. I have a strong feeling you know what you’re talking about.

    Thanks for reading!

    • Lindsey, I’m sorry to hear that your dog is having problems. Since it’s clear that your dog is not “healthy,” I would try to find another vet more interested in pursuing a diagnosis. You may need to see an internal medicine specialist since it sounds like something is going on with his gastrointestinal tract. That kind of weight loss should not be ignored, particularly when combined with the other symptoms you describe.

      Yes, dogs eat grass for many reasons, but when a dog’s behavior changes, and he starts eating a lot of grass when he did not do so before, then again, that’s a sign that something is wrong. He could be eating grass because he feels nauseous, or because he’s in pain, or because he’s hungry, or because he’s missing nutrients since he’s either not eating, not retaining, or not digesting his food. It’s another clue that a better vet would use to help identify the underlying cause.

      Your dog should probably have an ultrasound done by a specialist, and they may want to do an endoscopy as well, where they put a camera down his throat (while anesthetized) so they can visualize his stomach and take samples if needed. If you can’t afford the diagnostics, there may be some empirical treatment that could be tried, depending on what they see on examination, such as for possible ulceration. There are also medications that can help with gastric motility, nausea and vomiting. Please find a vet who will help you figure out what is wrong with your dog before it’s too late.

      You may also want to try feeding a very simple diet in the meantime, such as chicken and white rice, to see if there is any improvement, which can help your new vet determine what might be going on (if it’s some kind of reaction to the food that you have been feeding, which can occur even if you had been feeding it with no problems in the past).

    • As far as I know, adding plain bone broth should be fine. I couldn’t find any canned bone broths to look at their nutritional profiles. It might depend on whether there are added ingredients.

  10. Hi, can dogs have a diet of both raw meat and kibble? I have heard so many contradicting views on this.
    Also my stbermastiff loves fish, both oily and white fish, but how much oily fish should they have in their diet?

    • Heather, it’s fine to give both raw meat and kibble as long as it agrees with your dog. Most dogs do not have any problems with the combination.

      I can’t really answer your question about fish as it depends on the rest of the diet. In general, I probably wouldn’t feed more than one or two fish meals (out of 14) per week, but you could add small amounts more often. Ocean fish are generally safer than freshwater fish; never feed raw salmon or related species due to the risk of salmon poisoning (only affects dogs, not people). I have some information about fish oil, which includes using oily fish, here:
      http://dogaware.com/articles/suppsoils.html#fishoil

      • Thankyou! I will try introducing raw to his diet at an appropriate time.
        I will take a look at your article. Having a few problems with him at the moment due to allergies, of which we are not sure of the course yet as the vet have advised he is too young for an allergy test at the moment (10months), however he has been started on a course of steroids. Though the last 5/6 days he has been bringing up what looks like bile early in a morning (leaving lovely yellow stains on my carpet), do you have any dietary suggestions to help with this or should I ask the vet about possibly starting a ppi medication whilst on the steroids?

        • Heather, it’s best to contact me by email via my website for ongoing discussions, particularly when they veer off the original subject. I would contact your vet about the vomiting, as prednisone can be hard on the stomach and may need to be stopped, but may need to be weaned off in that case depending on dosage and length of time he’s been getting them. Early morning vomiting of bile is sometimes helped by feeding a late meal or snack, so the stomach isn’t empty as long. It’s also important to always give prednisone with food, to try to reduce its effects on the stomach.
          Have the steroids helped? I’m not sure they do with food allergies, which may help you figure out whether the allergies are related to food versus environmental (such as fleas).

  11. I have been home cooking for my little pug for 2 months now. He was diagnosed with Pancreatitis in May and the prescription food did not go well with him. I have been feeding him a mixture of turkey, lamb hearts, turkey liver, sweet potatoes, broccoli and green mix (spinach, kale). He feed him fish in his mixture 3 x a week – one week he gets Cod and then the next Haddock. I have been wanting to add food with vitamin D as I worry that he is not getting any with the food I´m feeding. So I want to add a bit of herring and eggs. How much eggs or herring – do I need to feed per week for him to get enough vitamin D?

  12. My beagle has been diagnosed with a chronic cough. His prescriptions are really expensive and they don’t eliminate his symptoms. Could changing his diet help? I am thinking about preparing his food instead of dry dog food.

    • Lola, it’s unlikely that your dog’s cough is related to his diet, particularly if this is an older dog. You could try feeding a very simple homemade diet for a few weeks to see if you notice a difference — It’s not that important for an adult dog to ensure that the diet is complete if you only feed it for a short period. If you do see improvement, you’d then need to add supplements to make the diet complete, such as by using recipes and supplements from Balance IT.
      If your dogs medications aren’t helping, the cause of his cough may be misunderstood. You’d need to discuss that with your vet.

  13. Hi. So I add many of these things listed in this article to my dogs kibble. I have heard purée vegetables are digested the best. I have been adding half a jar of organic baby food vegetables or fruit most evenings to my dogs kibble. They have no additional ingredients other than the vegetables and fruit and the jars are small. Is this ok. It just makes it so much easier and isn’t to costly. Thank you.

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