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.


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.

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

Improving 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
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puppy eating yogurt
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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.

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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
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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!

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Mary Straus has been a regular contributor to Whole Dog Journal since 2006. Mary first became interested in dog training and behavior in the 1980s. In 1997, Mary attended a seminar on wolf behavior at Wolf Park in Indiana. There, she was introduced to clicker training for the first time, and began to consider the question of how we feed our dogs after watching the wolves eat whole deer carcasses. Mary maintains and operates her own site, DogAware.com, which offers information and research on canine nutrition and health. DogAware.com has been created to help make people more "aware" of how to make the best decisions for their dogs. It's designed for people who like to ask questions and understand the reasoning behind decisions, rather than just being told what to do.  Mary has spent years doing research for people whose dogs have health problems, or who just want to learn how to feed them a better diet. Over this time, she has learned a great deal about dog nutrition and health, including the role of diet, supplements and nutraceuticals.  In 2007, she was asked by The Ivy Group to contribute to The Healthy Dog Cookbook. She previously also wrote a column for Dog World.


  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.

  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