Features May 2011 Issue

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.

[Updated July 16, 2018]

Whole Dog Journal readers have learned how to identify the best commercial foods when they shop for their dogs. 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.


© Detzi | Dreamstime.com

4. Vegetables and Fruits

Berries, especially blueberries, are packed with antioxidants. Other good fruits to feed include 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 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 meals 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!

dog eats leftovers

© Yurikr | Dreamstime.com

Comments (28)

I have read that sardines are bad, any fish is bad, because it can be contaminated with mercury.

Posted by: andrea70@sbcglobal.net | January 4, 2018 11:04 AM    Report this comment

I always thought when you feed off the table you are adding too much sodium to your dogs diet. Can anyone confirm this.

Posted by: Roo's Gram | December 21, 2017 5:45 AM    Report this comment

I recommend caution when feeding pets cruciferous veggies (e.g. arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, radish, turnips, & watercress) altogether for small dogs. A couple of years ago I was giving my Shih Tzu small amounts of cauliflower for a snack, and she began losing hair on both sides of her lower back and tail. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and prescribed levothyroxine. However, after doing my own research before administering the levothyroxine, I stopped feeding her the cauliflower, and her hair grew back in just a few weeks. I then requested a full thyroid panel at Michigan State University's Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (DCPAH). The results indicated no thyroid disease. The veterinarian who conducted the tests at Michigan State stated in her final report, "A class of compounds in cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower) that have been isolated as goitrogenic. These substances seem to interfere with iodine absorption, particularly where iodine is limited in the diet, and have been linked to the development of hypothyroidism in at-risk humans."

Posted by: My Dogs Rock | July 15, 2017 10:34 AM    Report this comment

I've routinely been adding things like scrambled egg, Greek yogurt, gelatin, chicken and chicken liver, coconut oil to my dog's (Sheltie/shepard mix) base of soaked, good quality grain free kibble (usually Taste of the Wild). She is 11 yrs old and the vet always commnents on how wonderful her teeth and coat look. I do the same for foster dogs (Bostons) that often come into the rescue with horrid teeth and skin conditions and am always delighted to watch the transformation to healthy teeth, skin and coat. They also get bits of what I eat such as lean meats, poultry, fish and veggies, cottage cheese and fruit, etc. None of my dogs has had to have a "dental cleaning" once they are on this diet. (I do brush their teeth but only about once a week).

Posted by: PJKutscher | May 13, 2017 7:19 PM    Report this comment

I worked for a large breeder (gordon setters) and she had us create a "slurry" to add over their dry food every night. It was raw meat (ground chicken, turkey, pork or beef, depending on what was on sale) and bags of frozen veggies, low sodium chicken stock (just enough to cover) and a sprinkle of garlic powder - all cook together. We would make a big pot couple 2x a week. Each adult dog got 1/3-1/2 cup (warmed) over their dry food (amount depended on age, activity level and weight). The dogs had gorgeous coats and I never had any trouble with dog not eating. I am doing this (smaller version ) for my dog. I cut some of his dry food back to accommodate the extra calories. I add it to his Salmon based food or Bison based (we switch off from time to time) His coat is soft and shiny. No ear infections or skin itcheshot spots. All things that plaqued my last springer spaniel. Discussed with vet and he loves it as long as I monitor calories.

Posted by: BusyVP | January 30, 2016 6:57 PM    Report this comment

My golden boy gets skinless raw chicken thighs with the bone in home cooked mostly root vegetable stew. He also gets 4 squirts of salmon oil, supplements for his joints, probiotics, and some turmeric with a sprinkling of black pepper (activates curcumin). He loves his food, is at his best weight ever (92#), and his poop doesn't smell! (Same goes for people: food that is truly what your system needs and in the correct form = smell-free poop!):)

Posted by: Ilse W. | April 18, 2014 1:34 PM    Report this comment

My golden boy gets skinless raw chicken thighs with the bone in home cooked mostly root vegetable stew. He also gets 4 squirts of salmon oil, supplements for his joints, probiotics, and some turmeric with a sprinkling of black pepper (activates curcumin). He loves his food, is at his best weight ever (92#), and his poop doesn't smell! (Same goes for people: food that is truly what your system needs and in the correct form = smell-free poop!):)

Posted by: Ilse W. | April 18, 2014 1:34 PM    Report this comment

Don't be afraid to feed fresh, real food to your dog. Fresh, real food is what us humans eat to keep ourselves healthy, and it can do the same for your dog.... far more natural and nutritious than you will get from any bag of processed kibble -- it is so unnatural for a dog, never mind any animal to live its whole life on unnatural, processed food.

If you buy canned sardines in spring water (Brunswick brand), there is absolutely no added sodium to the fish, only what is in it naturally.

Add some healthy real protein foods to your dogs diet ..... real meat, eggs, yogurt, etc. these additions will supply so much more in the way of nutrients than veggies. Veggies are fine, but they should be used as extras, whereas the bulk of a dog's diet should be real, fresh, protein with a high bioavailability. Protein builds a strong, healthy immune system, and it's your dog's immune system that will keep him healthy, or if it's not strong, will allow disease and illness to progress.

Healthy, Omega 3 fats, found in fatty fish, such as sardines, herring, wild salmon, also support skin, coat and a strong immune system. You can't go wrong by adding some healthy Omega 3 to your dog's diet.

Posted by: DuryLane | March 17, 2014 10:14 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: Showle | November 29, 2013 4:38 AM    Report this comment

I have been feeding my dogs this type of homemade/kibble mix for years. Sardines in spring water are excellent and if you taste them you will see that they are not high in sodium. I sometimes use them for my meals and will have to add salt to add flavor and I use salt very sparingly. Costco now carries frozen organic kale and broccoli! I also add dehydrated cranberries and whole milk yogurt - not low-fat. I do not feed chicken in any form since my rescue dogs have seasonal allergies and/or have shown some allergy symptoms.

Posted by: patricia b | October 4, 2013 12:47 PM    Report this comment

My dogs LOVE raw cabbage!!!

Posted by: BrianRke | January 31, 2013 7:24 AM    Report this comment

Mutt Soup from Your Dog's Diner can be added over kibble. Its a mix with really healthy veggies..

Posted by: Your Dogs Diner | January 30, 2013 6:49 PM    Report this comment

www.yourdogsdiner.com has Mutt Soup...can be added over kibble...wonderful!

Posted by: Your Dogs Diner | January 30, 2013 6:48 PM    Report this comment

I've been adding fruits and veggies to my dogs' meals for years. They LOVE 'em! No tummy troubles, beautiful coats and no picky eaters.

Posted by: rlkosek | January 28, 2013 5:39 PM    Report this comment

I have 2 Doxie's got them at 8 weeks old,bother and sister.She developed urinary tract with a few crytals,our Vet. put both of them on Royal Canine S/O They both have been throwing up at least every other day for almost a year.Vet said it's cause they get too hungry between meals so I got them the best money can buy of ground turkey and cook it for in between meals still threw up yellow.I decided to take them off with out his ok!! I researched and put them on Pure Vita Salmon dry and Prebiotics& probiotics powder.Stop old food all at once.I swear to all it worked they threw up very little yellow for a few days.Now it's wonderful Stool is solid no throw up at all!!!! Life is good they have been on it almost 3 weeks they are 13 lbs.& 16lbs.Good for Digestive my boy always had yeast ear infections that has cleared up after all the money we have spent on both of them they do not get any of our food I will try a few saldines thank you all

Posted by: rudydog | September 5, 2012 2:26 PM    Report this comment

Would recommend draining and gently rinsing the canned sardines (packed in water, of course) to reduce the sodium content.

Posted by: georgiapeach | September 2, 2012 3:26 PM    Report this comment

"This reminds me of two sessions I've held (as an animal communicator) just in the past week. Two separate occasions we've had dogs mentioned their diet issues. It was their first time doing a communication session and the first dog brought it up right at the beginning of the session."


Posted by: Ben W | July 20, 2012 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Regarding canned fish, it is very high in sodium. A healthy dog might benefit from a little now and then, but not too much at once or too often.

Posted by: ELIZABETH S | June 20, 2012 9:24 AM    Report this comment

My golden puppy 10 mos has had problems with diarrhea most of her life. She has been on Fromm dry and then I started cooking her meals. That did not work so after a consult with a holistic vet I started her on Great Life grain free Buffalo. The vet also prescribed Olewo dehydrated carrots. She continued to have problems but was better. I called Great Life and they said a puppy especially large breed should not be on grain free, too much protein and that alone can cause diarrhea. So I ordered the Buffalo with grain. My pupp is very thin, she eats 4 1/2 cups of food a day and I give her the carrots twice a day plus some fruit and veggies,Nuvet vitamins, and digestive enzymes with probiotics and omega3 oil supplement from the holistic vet. Her stools are negative for parasites. Hoping she will improve.

Posted by: Mary M | June 5, 2012 9:54 AM    Report this comment

My dog had struvite bladder stones due to a bad bladder infection, and rather than feeding those prescription foods which are awful (she wouldn't even eat them), I started out with all home cooked foods. Now, I am putting a small amount of grain free dry kibble with the homemade foods: cooked meats (chicken, lean ground beef or ground turkey), sweet potatoes, pumpkin or regular potato and high quality canned dog food, chicken broth and water. I added the dry kibble because the stools were so mushy. In the beginning I started out with rice and found that was causing problems with near diarrhea. The sweet potato or canned pumpkin took care of it. I also add digestive enzymes and fish oil from Only Natural Pet. I found in my research that feeding all dry kibble keeps your dog in a state of mild dehydration, so now all my other dogs get canned dog food and warm water mixed in with their kibble. I also add some vegetables sometimes.

Posted by: Mary F | November 9, 2011 3:27 PM    Report this comment

Warm water is actually a really good additive to dry food. I tried it when my Leo was hungry on his smaller, weight-loss portion of food. He was so hungry right after he ate that he would swat the bag of kibble with his paw as if I had short-changed him! I had considered switching Leo to the canned version of his food because it was more volume and weight for the calories, but it was almost 4 times the price. I just could not afford it. The main ingredient difference was that the canned food had chicken broth, and the dry food's bag suggested adding warm water to release the aromas. I decided to try it.

I happen to use a large flat-bottom bowl divided into 7 "pie" wedges (to make my dog eat slower), so his kibble is all in one layer. I cover that layer with warm (not hot) water and let it sit on the counter for two minutes. Most of the water is absorbed by the kibble, making each piece swollen to roughly twice its dry size.
My dog is happy and spends a lot more time eating his food. No more swatting the bag with his paw. What is interesting to me is that he is better hydrated, too. His urine is a lighter color and it's a larger volume, too. Despite my offer of fresh water at all times, he must not have been drinking enough. Hydration is necessary for humans to burn fat, and maybe its true for dogs. For that reason, I will continue adding water to his food even after he loses weight.

Posted by: Jenny the Philosopher | June 8, 2011 8:00 PM    Report this comment

Can you give advice how much yogurt to give a puppy? Also, its stated to give 25 cal/ 175 mg omega 3 fatty acid of sardines for every 25 lbs...is that daily?

Posted by: Perry M | June 3, 2011 7:24 AM    Report this comment

Sardines..that's interesting. I will definitely try that with my Australian Shepherd. I've been a little nervous to go all home cooked diet because I worry about him not getting all of the nutrients that he needs. We moved him to a grain free dog food, Acana and I give him 1/2 of that and 1/2 cooked foods. I try to vary it because I've heard that dogs benefit from variety in their diet like humans do. We do lots of different foods and I have to say that it makes me happy to see the little guy excited about his food. Why should dogs have to eat ho hum food all the time and look so dejected when you give it to them? LOL Proteins we have tried with Yzerman: roast beef, chicken (thighs and breast), tuna, salmon and tilapia. Fruits and Veggies: green beans, asparagus, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, squash, zucchini, bananas, apples and I have even given him small bits of oranges. I tried giving him each of these in small doses so that he didn't get an upset stomach. He's loving it!

Posted by: Rachael M | May 25, 2011 5:09 PM    Report this comment

I used to use jack mackerel for my Goldens & Berners, but have stopped using it due to its high mercury content. Sardines, I discovered, are much lower, so I use them instead. Sardines are not expensive & I just feed a few more, but feel much better about the lower mercury threat.

Posted by: Mtswiss | May 17, 2011 2:16 PM    Report this comment

My little Shih Tzu, Danny, LOVES vegetables. He will eat any kind of veggie, but especially loves green beans and carrots. I will mix some with his dry food (Natural Balance) at night. He will also get a raw carrot for a treat. He is at times a picky eater, but as long as he loves his veggies, I will continue to give them to him. He does like yogurt and bananas as well. From time to time, I will cook an egg for him. I did not know about the sardines, but will give them a try. That was very interesting to read. I am very conscious about what I feed him and he has always maintained a perfect weight with good nutrition and lots of exercise. Thank you for the helpful information!

Posted by: Unknown | May 4, 2011 11:56 AM    Report this comment

This reminds me of two sessions I've held (as an animal communicator) just in the past week. Two separate occasions we've had dogs mentioned their diet issues. It was their first time doing a communication session and the first dog brought it up right at the beginning of the session. The pet parent had changed their diet over a year ago. The pet parent knew what I (and the dog) were talking about right away and it began the session on a great note. They were able to make a simple change back to the old diets while keeping the new changes and make everyone happy.

The second client, a professional show dog was missing "crunch' in his diet since being changed to a raw diet. He just wanted the texture once in a while. Another simple change. However without talking one on one through animal communication they would have never known.

We encounter these type of conversations as professional communicators all the time, it's very rewarding making everyone in the household happy :)

Thom with AnimalHealings.com

Posted by: AnimalHealings | May 3, 2011 3:43 PM    Report this comment

I've been feeding Taste of the Wild as a basic food and have been happy with the results. Hadn't thought of the sardines. I've been adding fish oil caps to my two dogs (30-35 lbs ea) food by splitting a 1000mg capsule between them every three days. The sardines would provide other nutrients as well. I do add yogurt daily (Dannon, plain unsweetened). Started that after adopting my Boston Terrier a year ago--he was on antibiotics for bad skin and ear infections. He had been a stray and had unknown history but seemed to have allergies to tree pollen and possibly other things and was quite underweight. This Spring I "geared up" ahead of time with the nutrition (adding a brewer's yeast garlic supplement) and, so far he's doing great--minimal allergy symptoms (a few sneezes, a bit of itching but mostly fine).
I also feed food "scraps"--they eat what I eat, LEAN meat, low fat cottage cheese, LOTS of veggies and fruit.

Posted by: PJKutscher | May 3, 2011 3:37 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for your recommendat about sardines. I have a 10 yr old spayed chihuahua who has an "itch" problem (not fleas, but allergy) & I will s tart her with one-half sardine daily mixed in with her Eukanuba Sr. Chow - h ave to watch her weight. Had been adding boiled chicken breast!!

Posted by: Save-A-Life, Inc. D | May 3, 2011 2:13 PM    Report this comment

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