Feeding your Boxer well requires more than just buying the most expensive brand of kibble at the pet shop.
It’s easy to be bamboozled by marketing gimmicks like “complete and balanced”, “Boxer specific”, “puppy formula” and “large breed” foods.
But it’s essential to understand how kibble is made so that you can make an informed decision about whether to give it to your Boxer.
This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
Kibble Is A Recent Invention
Before the widespread adoption of kibble feeding in the 1930s, many Americans fed their dogs a combination of raw meaty bones and table scraps.
It’s a testament to the power of advertising that a majority of owners now believe packaged food is perfectly fine to feed their dogs — and perhaps think it’s even better than fresh, whole foods.
Convenience is a powerful driver of behavior.
People love fast food, and we’ve foisted many of the same dietary mistakes upon our companion animals.
Chicagoland Boxers put it well when they say, “There is nothing packaged in a bag that can match what Mother Nature intended dogs to eat.
“When you continue to feed diets that are economical, and commercial, you compromise the health of your dog.
“Over time these cost saving practices mount up to weakening Boxer genetics, leading the breed to become cancer prone, premature death rates and a host of disorders which our kennel has eradicated over generations with good feeding practices.”
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Kibble?
The upsides of kibble are that it’s:
- convenient, and
- relatively cheap.
The down sides of feeding your Boxer kibble include:
- low quality ingredients
- biologically inappropriate fillers
- additives, artificial colorings, flavorings and “palatability enhancers”
- preservatives including antimicrobials
- mycotoxins produced by mold growth
- infestation by storage mites
- contaminants including weed killer and flame retardant
- degraded nutrients
- excesses of vitamins and minerals
- rancid fats
- low moisture content
- cooked multiple times at very high temperatures
- synthetic vitamins and minerals added
- genetically modified ingredients
- no raw meaty bones
- increased risk of bloat
- increased incidence of disease
- poor dental health
- anal sac problems
Gentry Boxers have documented the stunning difference in the physical condition of their dogs when fed a natural, raw diet compared to processed kibble.
Check it out here.
Low Quality Ingredients
Pet food makers are not required to reveal the source of the meat their products include, instead using terms like “meat meal”.
According to prominent integrative veterinarian Dr Karen Becker, kibble contains low quality protein from dubious sources including:
- carcasses of diseased animals
- expired grocery store meat (including the plastic and styrofoam packaging)
- road kill
- zoo animals
- dogs and cats that have been euthanized, and
- feed-grade ingredients rejected for human consumption.
Dog Food Advisor published this disturbing clip of Hersch Pendell. He was president of the pet food industry regulator AAFCO in 1998 but his words are no less troubling today.
Biologically Inappropriate Fillers
Because it’s cheaper than meat, kibble makers bulk out their product with carbohydrates.
Dogs are not built to consume carbohydrate-heavy diets.
Though they have evolved since domestication to have more genes than wolves for the digestive enzyme amylase ..which breaks down starch… dogs remain carnivores.
They don’t have the four-chambered stomach necessary for the optimal digestion of complex carbohydrates like the starches in plants and grains.
They are adaptable scavengers and can get by for quite a while on sub-par diets.
But eventually, improper feeding takes its toll.
Additives And Preservatives
Kibble contains artificial colorings, flavorings and “palatability enhancers”.
Preservatives including antimicrobials are added to slow the growth of mold.
Whether you’re a human or a dog, the same adverse consequences flow from the consumption of highly processed diets and these chemical additives are one of the reasons why.
Mold And Mycotoxins
In his book See Spot Live Longer, Steve Brown explains how dry dog food grows mold and how that mold produces dangerous byproducts called mycotoxins.
The career pet food formulator says, “Storing open bags of dry dog food for 39 days in warm, humid areas (most kitchens) promotes the growth of molds. Some of the waste products of these molds are increasingly being implicated as long term causes of cancer and other health problems in humans, poultry, pigs and other animals. Dogs are particularly susceptible to these toxins.”
“The molds that consume dry pet foods include the Aspergillus flavus mold, which produces Aflatoxin B1, the most potent naturally occurring carcinogenic substance known.”
Brown says data from the manufacturers of antimicrobials shows that mold growth starts after four days at above 12 per cent moisture.
“People can’t see low levels of mold with the naked eye, and most dogs can’t taste it. While some dogs have died shortly after eating mycotoxin-contaminated foods, mycotoxins kill most dogs slowly by suppressing the immune system and creating long-term health problems in all organs of the body.”
In October 2020 the latest dog food recall encompassed 15 brands found to have high levels of aflatoxin.
Storage mites can also proliferate in kibble during its typically long life between manufacture and consumption.
Storage mite sensitivity can cause inflamed skin, hair loss and recurrent ear infections.
Among the toxic chemicals that have been found in kibble are:
- the cancer-causing chemical glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup, and
- PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) which are chemicals used as flame retardant.
As kibble sits on the shelf at the factory, in transit, in the store and then in your home, all its micronutrients degrade.
Especially vulnerable to depletion are vitamin A, thiamin, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin C and pantothenic acid.
This means that kibble that passes the test at the time of manufacture may not meet minimum nutritional requirements by the time it’s actually consumed by your dog.
Excesses can be as dangerous as deficiencies.
Because of the way dog food is regulated, manufacturers are only required to guarantee the minimum amounts of each nutrient.
A consumer-funded project published in 2015 tested a range of dog food brands and found nutrients including the mineral calcium and the element sulfur were oversupplied.
Sulfur excess has been linked to ataxia, depression and even convulsions.
Calcium must be in the correct ratio to phosphorus. Excessive calcium interferes with growth and increases the risk of bloat, as explained in more detail below.
Kibble makers use antioxidants to delay the oxidation of fats.
But, during storage, those antioxidants are progressively used up and the fats then inevitably oxidize.
In other words, they go rancid.
Fish flavored kibble, marketed for its high omega-6 fatty acid content, is particularly susceptible to rancidity.
The frequent consumption of oxidized fats may cause cancer and contribute to chronic health problems.
Low Moisture Content
You only have to compare a piece of kibble to a leg of lamb to see how dehydrated it is.
When dogs eat dry food diets, they are thrust into a constant state of dehydration.
Dehydration makes dogs more prone to urinary issues including UTIs or urinary tract infections.
Dogs switched to fresh, raw diets drink much less water — but are dramatically more hydrated — because their food contains the moisture it should.
Cooked At High Temperatures
The manufacturing processed required to make a meat product shelf stable for extended periods is done at extremely high temperatures.
Meat that goes into kibble is subjected to an average of four high temperature cooking processes.
- inactivates enzymes
- denatures proteins
- kills beneficial bacteria, and
- creates carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines and acrylamides.
Cooked foods are not a natural canine diet.
Throughout a million years of evolutionary history dogs have thrived on live prey and foraged scraps.
Everything about a dog’s digestive system — from the short digestive tract, to the bacteria present in its gut — is designed to consume raw meat.
Upon domestication, dogs began to eat a lot more carbohydrates as they fed on human leftovers.
But their diets didn’t become highly processed until about 80 years ago.
Buying high end organic brands doesn’t get around this fundamental problem with kibble: it’s cooked, whereas dogs — like every other species on earth — are designed to eat raw foods.
Synthetic Vitamins And Minerals
The destruction of nutrients by cooking means manufacturers must then add synthetic vitamins and minerals to meet minimum standards.
Studies have found synthetic vitamins can be harmful.
The body doesn’t recognize them in the same way as whole food nutrients, can’t properly utilize them and instead processes them as a foreign substance, creating stress on the liver and kidneys.
No kibble company has conducted a lifelong study on the safety of their food, so we don’t know exactly what the fallout of this artificial fortification is for the body, long term.
Most kibble contains genetically engineered ingredients like corn, wheat, rice and potato.
Much remains unknown about the full consequences of GMO food on human and animal health.
No Raw Meaty Bones
Feeding kibble denies your dog the most essential component of a healthy canine diet: raw meaty bones.
The consequences of this omission are far reaching.
Even if you opt to feed kibble, you absolutely must make sure your Boxer is also getting some raw meaty bones.
It’s essential that your dog actually consumes the bones, not just gnaws on them — although the chewing is certainly part of the benefit.
Chicken frames make great edible bones. Lamb necks are recreational bones that are also pretty much entirely consumable.
Increased Risk Of Bloat
Kibble has been associated with an increased risk of deadly bloat, a concern that must be taken seriously in deep-chested breeds like the Boxer.
In his book Give Your Dog A Bone, Dr Ian Billinghurst says “the excessive calcium in dry dog foods is heavily implicated as a cause of bloat in the adult dog”.
Increased Incidence Of Disease
Given all of the above, it’s unsurprising that many now trace the uptick in disease within the pet dog population to the popularity of kibble.
Dogs Naturally Magazine reported on two studies that shed more light on this.
In the first study, a Swedish researcher found young animals fed a cooked, processed diet initially appeared to be healthy.
However, once they reached maturity they began to rapidly age and develop degenerative diseases.
Meanwhile a control group raised on a raw diet stayed healthy, showing no signs of degenerative disease.
In a second study, Belgian researchers collected data on more than 500 dogs over a five year period from 1998-2002.
They discovered that just the removal of kibble — and its replacement with a homemade diet consisting of foods similar to those eaten by the owner — extended a dog’s life by three years.
Both Dr Billinghurst and Dr Becker, leading lights in the field of dog nutrition, link the epidemic of chronic inflammatory and degenerative diseases in dogs to poor diet.
They strongly recommend raw diets over kibble.
Other vets too, like the authors of this article published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, have found that abandoning processed dog foods in favor of home-prepared, raw diets alleviates chronic digestive, allergic, and metabolic problems in their patients.
Dr Lea Stogdale and Dr Garcea Diehl write, “We find that we can prevent a large number of problems from occurring in our feline and canine patients, including bladder stones and feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), intermittent vomiting or diarrhea, seborrhea sicca, and recurrent ear infections.”
Dog food formulator Steve Brown believes the improper storage of kibble (with the resultant mold growth and mycotoxin production) partly explains the appalling death rate of dogs from cancer.
One in three dogs lose their lives this way …including a tragically high number of Boxers.
If you must feed kibble, buy small, recently produced bags. Finish each bag within seven days to help minimize the growth of mold.
Whenever the food appears moist or has changed color, throw it away. If your dog refuses to eat at mealtime, don’t force him. Get rid of the food he’s rejected.
The Dog Cancer Series is recommended viewing for every Boxer owner, in order to further understand how what you feed will determine the health of your dog.
Gut health is a powerful determinant of overall health, in both dogs and people.
Studies like this one from 2017 have found the microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract of dogs eating raw, whole foods is more diverse and abundant than in dogs fed processed, commercial diets.
Poor Dental Health
One of the myths around kibble is that its crunchiness somehow contributes to dental health.
This is a bogus claim that serves the pet food industry.
The atrocious state of the teeth of kibble-fed dogs tells the real story.
According to VCA Hospitals, more than 80 per cent of dogs over the age of three have active dental disease.
The specialty of veterinary dentistry coincided with …you guessed it… the advent of kibble.
Dogs that eat raw meaty bones daily have no need for daily brushing or annual teeth cleanings under anesthetic.
Calculus falls off dog teeth when bones are consumed, with studies finding as much as an 80 per cent reduction in as little as three weeks.
Anal Sac Problems
Kibble is pureed, reconstituted mush.
It produces chronically soft stool.
A dog eating his natural, intended diet of raw meaty bones makes much firmer poops that naturally express the anal sacs each time the dog defecates.
Kibble-fed dogs, on the other hand, can develop anal sac blockages and impaction.
Your Boxer should never need his anal glands manually expressed by a vet or dog groomer or by you at home.
If he does, you are almost certainly feeding kibble or tinned dog food.
Why Do Vets Recommend Kibble?
Having graduated from programs that devoted little space in the curriculum to nutrition, many conventionally-trained vets have sold kibble in their waiting rooms and recommended it to owners.
Some still do.
The average vet’s perspective on dog nutrition has been further compromised by the close relationships that pet food makers have cultivated over the years with veterinary schools.
As canine therapist Sacha Packer writes in her guide Fresh, “When your vet went to university, a kibble company such as Royal Canin or Hill’s likely paid what is called a ‘sponsorship’ which allowed their branding, free goodies packs and discounted foods to be made available to the students.”
This financial arrangement also allowed kibble makers to lecture vet students during their nutritional education.
Spot any problem with this?
Veteran vet Dr Andrea Tasi told the LA Times in 2017 that vets are taught “next to nothing” about animal nutrition.
“Most vets believe that pet food companies make good products and have pet health at interest,” she said.
“They’ve done the research, they know what to do and they know what’s best. And I bought it hook, line and sinker.
“I no longer believe that.”
Dr Tasi is not alone.
While many vets have seen the results of raw diets fed poorly and decided they are no good, others have seen it done right.
Increasingly, vets are taking it upon themselves to learn about canine nutrition and to question what they were taught by the dog food companies.
Many vets now embrace the feeding of fresh, natural, species-appropriate diets.
There is even a Raw Feeding Veterinary Society.
This long-overdue acknowledgement by vets aligns not only with a dog’s natural diet, but with what raw feeding owners and breeders have known for years.
That is, when dogs eat a biologically-appropriate diet, many of the health problems experienced by kibble-fed dogs fall away.
But My Boxer’s Kibble Meets AAFCO Standards As “Complete And Balanced”
The term “complete and balanced” was made up by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
The pet food industry is governed by minimum standards set by the AAFCO…and guided by what the National Research Council deems the nutrient requirements of a dog, which was last updated 14 years ago in 2006.
These standards are problematic in a range of ways.
The case of taurine is a sad example.
In the 1980s pet food nutritionists, based on tests with laboratory Beagles, assumed all dogs had no dietary need for this amino acid.
Taurine is now known to be important for a dog’s heart, eyes, reproductive organs and bile acid production for fat digestion.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which can affect the Boxer breed, has been associated with inadequate taurine levels.
Many dogs suffered premature deaths before the dog food industry began paying attention to taurine content.
Just like any man-made standard, the AAFCO and NRC guidelines are subject to fads and human errors of judgment and to the always limited understanding afforded by the science of the day.
Which is to say nothing of its susceptibility to influence from industry.
On the other hand you have Mother Nature, where dogs thrived for a million years without kibble.
The 2016 documentary Pet Fooled takes in-depth look at the pet food industry including the total lack of oversight, and examines what nutritional requirements dogs and cats have, compared to what they’re being served.
Do Boxer Puppies Need Kibble?
The idea that puppies, especially large breed dogs, require kibble for the first year of life to make sure they grow properly …is another self-serving myth put about by the dog food industry.
It’s a pretty canny ploy that gets owners hooked on their product early, for fear of doing damage to their puppies.
Remember, kibble has existed for about 160 years.
Puppies did just fine on their natural diet for the million years prior to that.
Dr Billinghurst, who in addition to being a vet has bred Rottweilers and Great Danes, weans six-week-old puppies onto minced chicken wings and necks.
He says within 10 days the pups are devouring the wings and necks without any mincing.
See also: How To Raw Feed A Boxer
Pouring your dog’s dinner out of a bag might seem convenient, but it can quickly become a false economy if that packaged food ends up making your dog sick in the longer term.
Don’t take the word of the pet store clerk, other dog owners or your vet. Don’t even take the word of this article.
Educate yourself by doing your own research.
Read as widely as you can and then make an informed choice about what’s best for your Boxer.