While your poodle may not look like a wolf on the outside, her digestive system still does. Does commercial dog food satisfy the needs of our carnivorous canines?
Many labels on the dog food aisle of your supermarket or pet store promise all the best of nature’s bounty. Dogs owners are offered tantalizing menus, such as pork & sweet potato, salmon & wild rice, turkey & duck stew. Even obscure regional favorites, like Cajun traducken can be enjoyed by your dog. Or, for a holiday banquet anytime, how about a pouch of roasted turkey slices with vegetables in gravy? These canned meals include such ingredients as spinach, celery, carrots, barley, green beans, and oatmeal. Many also contain various fruit extracts, grains, and broths.
These ingredients sound like the beginnings of mom’s Sunday dinner. While that may be appealing to pet owners, it may not represent food that is meant for a dog’s needs and digestion.
Are these gourmet combinations what dogs need to thrive? This begs the question of what kind of diet is best suited to a dog’s physiology.
What a dog is designed to eat
Dogs are canines, in the canis lupus family along with wolves. Canines are strictly carnivores, with their physiology designed to hunt, kill, and enjoy small and large wildlife. Dogs and wolves in the wild are known for eating deer, beavers, rabbits, rodents, birds, and more. Canine teeth are designed for killing, ripping and tearing into prey and cutting through bones. Dogs are not physically designed to eat or digest grains and carbohydrates, as their mouths do not include enzymes to begin the digestive process.
The natural benefits of the canine’s carnivorous diet in the wild is that they are getting the direct nutrients they need from the meat, bones, organs and hides; but they are also getting the benefit of any partially undigested food in the herbivore’s stomach. This small amount of grain, fruit, seeds, etc.—known as tripe—is enough to supplement those needs in a carnivore’s diet. These fruits, grains, and grasses are not what a dog prefers in the wild.
Consider that it takes up to 15 hours for a dog to digest cooked, grain based foods, whereas a raw diet is digested in 4-5 hours. That is a striking difference.
Dry dog food
If canines thrive on fresh, raw meat, why do we feed them kibble? It certainly is convenient and relatively inexpensive, but is it in any way a substitute for a dog’s natural diet?
First, let’s look at how it is made. Eden Canon explains the process.
“Most dry food is made through an extrusion process which was first invented in the 1950s to produce puffed breakfast cereals. First, a dough is made from a mixture of ingredients, then it is put into an extruder which cooks the dough under high heat and pressure. The cooked dough is then squeezed out and cut into the desired shape. Once the dough is exposed to the air it expands rapidly into the coco-puff like kibble we are familiar with.”
“After baking or extrusion, the kibble is dried to rid it of moisture in order to make it shelf stable. Many dry pet foods are then covered in a spray to make the product more palatable to animals. Rendered animal fat or vegetable oils are commonly used to coat dry pet food, a smell which you may be acquainted with if you’ve ever opened a new bag.”
There are dry dog foods that offer everything from roasted bison and venison, special formulas for puppies and seniors—even recipes for ‘extreme athletes’. It’s doubtful that any Olympic athlete eats a diet of dehydrated, processed food to support their health and performance. Imagine what a lifetime of eating mostly processed, dehydrated food would do to a human body.
Raw vs cooked
When dog food is manufactured, it begins with cooked down (rendered) meat byproducts, and processed in vats with the remaining ingredients then added. The supplements that are added to these products may promise to be as beneficial as the ‘real thing’, but nothing cooked and compressed into a can will compare to the benefits of a raw diet for dogs. Cooking a product destroys many vitamins and nutrients in the food, and completely depletes the enzymes, which are crucial to a dog’s digestive system.
Raw diets can eliminate harmful additives and preservatives that may negatively affect your dog’s digestive system. Even the basic ingredients that seem harmless on the label, such as corn or wheat, are irrelevant to your dog’s health and poor substitutes for the nutrients that these replace in conventional dog food.
What about vegetables?
There are benefits to be found in vegetables for a dog’s diet, but only in limited quantities. Dog’s should only consume vegetables in up to 25 percent of their total diet, with the other 75 percent comprised of meat, bone, and tripe—and greens such as parsley, kale or dandelion.
Dogs cannot digest cellulose, which is a primary component of the cell walls of plants and vegetables. In order for dogs to get the full benefits of the enzymes and nutrients found in vegetables, the raw vegetables need to be ground or processed in order to be broken down to where dogs can digest them. Cooking the vegetables is not a substitute for processing the raw vegetables because, again, the enzymes are completely lost, and the nutrients are reduced to insufficient levels.
Conventional dog food issues
Beyond the unappetizing smell and appearance of canned or pouch dog food, conventional dog food is often now what it seems. Many conventional dog food brands incorporate byproducts that are considered unfit for human consumption—including diseased or dying livestock, meat contaminated with fecal matter, and the entrails. While it is true that dogs in the wild will consume a whole animal, bones, skin, entrails and all, the level of nutrition in a freshly killed animal versus an animal that has been slaughtered, rendered by use of chemicals and solvents, and heavily processed are not one in the same. Since the introduction of commercial (conventional) dog food on supermarket shelves in the 1950’s there has been a steady rise in degenerative diseases, thyroid problems, pancreatic problems, allergies, dysplasia, and other health conditions in dogs everywhere.
Read our article about how pet food is made.
Aside from the meat quality, another issue with conventional dog food is the fillers and additives. In the 1990’s, Nature’s Recipe dog food brand was forced to recall thousands of their products at a $20 million loss because consumers began noticing a trend in their pets vomiting after feeding them the brand. As it turns out, the toxin vomitoxin, a derivative of the toxin mycotoxin which is released from mold contaminated wheat, was discovered as the agent of sickness for the dogs.
Another tragedy of international scale brought into sharp focus the dangers of commercial pet food. In 2007, a massive recall was initiated in North America, South America and Europe on hundreds of pet food products found to be tainted with melamine—an industrial chemical used to make fertilizer and plastic. Over 8,000 pet deaths from the tainted food were reported in the US alone. This was traced back to at least two Chinese companies who knowingly supplied melamine tainted wheat gluten and rice protein—two forms of cheap protein used in commercial pet food—to hundreds of pet food manufacturers around the world.
Health benefits of a raw diet
The group True Carnivores has provided a complete raw diet to thousands of clients with noticeable health benefits. Even veterinarians of dogs who have switched to raw diets are starting to see the benefits in the improvement of their patients’ health and wellbeing.
The benefits of a raw diet go beyond the basic nutritional elements. Feeding your dog a raw diet has been shown to improve a dog’s breath, tooth health, and overall odor, as well as improving their growth and development. Raw diets have also been shown to improve the immune system of your dog, and even increase resistance to arthritis, infections, and skin conditions.
Raw diet Do’s and Dont’s
- Do your homework. There is a lot of information out there about raw diets.
- Talk to a veterinarian who advocates raw diets.
- Buy meats and vegetables from a trusted source.
- Grind bones for ease of digestion. Learn which bones never to feed your dog.
- Pulp vegetables for ease of digestion and optimization of enzymes.
- Cook any grains, such as rice, before feeding them to your pet.
- Let raw diet food sit out or refrigerated for an extended period of time; remember, this is fresh food.
- Add sugar, sweeteners, salt or spices to get your dog’s attention as this is not healthy for them.
- Heat raw food before serving it to your dog, as this negates the nutrient and enzyme benefits.
Raw dog food recipe
You can purchase raw diet dog foods that are prepackaged and frozen in individual servings for convenience, or you can make your own, from scratch. To make a raw diet at home you can add dietary base mixes and supplements to ensure that your dog gets a balanced diet. A product such as Urban Wolf whole food mix is an excellent way to start.
Should you opt for creating your own delicious doggie meals, here is one recipe to get you started from feedmydog.org, where you can find many other raw dog food recipes.
- ½ cup raw meat such as beef, ground poultry, organs meats or lamb
- ½ cup pureed raw vegetables
- ¼ cup whole grains (cooked)
- 1 teaspoon bone meal powder
- ¼ teaspoon ascorbic acid
- ½ tablespoon kelp powder
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
Mix all the ingredients and serve.
Thanks goes to readers Marinus and Lauren for photo contributions of Bishop and Zino.