“When I had my own children, the penny dropped – I don’t feed my human children processed foods, so why should pets be any different?” That’s Dr Nicole Rous, who owns an independent veterinary surgery in Melbourne’s Mont Albert – and two griffon dogs named Pickle and Pudding. She’s worked as a vet for 15 years, starting out as a self-described “conventional vet”, encouraging people to feed their pets kibble diets, before turning to the benefits of fresh feeding. Dog diets are a big focus for Rous, and whether a furry friend is booked in for a general check-up or because something’s wrong, pet food always comes up.

Dog food 101: kibble versus fresh food

Similar to packaged food for humans in supermarkets, there are industry standards for shelf-stable pet food sold in Australia. For example, there is a minimum acceptable level of protein – “but if you’re wanting to give your pet an optimal diet, as opposed to an acceptable one, you would far exceed these [protein] levels,” Rous tells Broadsheet.

“Dogs don’t really have a carb requirement,” she says, which is interesting given carbohydrates are one of the main ingredients in most kibble sold in Australia. “They’re cheap, which is why they’re used as a ‘filler’,” says Rous. “If you put a dog in the wild, it would eat almost entirely meat.” In other words, dogs on an all-kibble diet get enough protein to survive, but not thrive.

Fresh food is food that’s been “minimally processed”, explains Rous. It can be raw, lightly cooked or even freeze-dried or dehydrated where “even though it’s gone through a small degree of processing, it’s minimal enough to ensure the important nutrients remain”. Feeding your pets fresh food, like the homemade, home-delivered meals included in a Lyka subscription, means you can better tick all the boxes to help your best furry buds to live their best lives.

Signs your dog needs a diet shake-up

Whilst your dog may seem “fine” on kibble or canned food, it’s important to know that their diet plays a pivotal role in their overall health and happiness, and the processed food they’re eating may be contributing to obesity, arthritis and digestive issues, and they may benefit from eating fresh wholefood.

For other dogs, the reason to need to switch to fresh may be more obvious. Rous’s advice is to look out for anxiety or mental health issues. If they’re destructive when you leave the house, or if you leave them food and they don’t touch it until you’re back, it might be worth incorporating foods that promote serotonin, like eggs and turkey.

Allergies are another sign their nutrition’s not quite in check. “If they’re scratching all the time, it might be because they’re not tolerating something well; they might need an ingredient removed from their diet, like certain carbs or proteins, or they might need more omega-3s, like fish, for dry skin,” Rous says. Obesity might also be a sign your dog’s metabolism isn’t coping with kibble.

So where should you start?

“Pet owners, myself included, have been stuck in the mindset for a long time that kibble is the way to go,” Rous says. “But when they realise their dog could have a better life with less allergies, less inflammation and less mental health issues, they’re happy to make the change.”

The ideal breakdown of a fresh food diet, according to Rous, is 70 per cent muscle meat (like mince), 10 per cent organ meat (like liver), 10 per cent bone, and 10 per cent veggies – but it’s important to note doggos can’t easily absorb nutrients from big chunks of raw vegetables.

Don’t be overwhelmed, though – you don’t need to switch your dog’s diet to all fresh food immediately. In fact, it’s better to do so slowly and steadily. She encourages people to start gently, for example by mixing a tin of sardines with a bowl of kibble, cracking an egg or dolloping a spoonful of Greek yoghurt on top.

And if all this has got you thinking about the convenience (or inconvenience) of a fresh food diet, a bunch of pre-made and prep-at-home fresh food options are available to make your life easier – and to keep your pooch’s head and gut in good nick. Thinking about making the switch to fresh feeding? Lyka is a convenient and fresh option designed by board-certified veterinary nutritionists. Each meal contains ingredients that are locally and sustainably sourced, handpicked to help dogs thrive.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Lyka Pet Food. Lyka is backed by science and taste-tested by humans, and has the lick of approval of thousands of furry customers. Please use code BROADSHEET20 for 20% off your first Lyka box. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer. Only available to first-time customers.