Today’s TrU Plate provides a beefy serving of controversial ideas and ideals about your best friends nutritional NEEDS.
It all started with Brynna, our new beloved dog who has rather different nutritional requirements from the other family members. This precious Eastern German Shepherd has inspired me to research what I can do to best serve her needs. She lives to support my husband as his PTSD service dog; a precious vocation and calling! Like her pop who she serves so well, she too has allergies to ‘traditional’ diets, arthritic damage in her spine, joint issues and digestive sensitivities. Her own special needs have compelled me to hunt high and low for answers. This blog post is the beginning of my own journey of discovery; one that will keep continuing as all great learning experiences do.
Like nutrition for humans, there is much heated debate as to what the optimal diet includes, yet JUST LIKE human nutrition, the deeper you go the clearer it all becomes. My aim in this article is to clear up misconceptions, expose deception and empower you to make good choices for your four legged family members.
I will cover these topics:
- A basic background on the unique biological differences between dogs and most herbivores and omnivores
- Dog food regulations
- What to look out for when reading labels
- The hierarchy of nutritional options for your dog
- How to feed your dog a BALANCED healthy diet.
1. A basic background on the unique biological differences between dogs and most herbivores and omnivores
Around 15,000 years ago dogs evolved from the timber wolf; a carnivore. They have since adapted to a wide array of foods and yet have distinct biological differences from their human omnivore companions. Biological differences of dogs and humans can be noted in their digestive enzymes, bacteria, teeth and intestinal tract.
Although dogs can digest some starches, unlike most herbivores and omnivores they do not have salivary amylase which aids in breaking down the carbohydrates into sugar. Although they do have this digestive ‘aid’ in their pancreas and intestines, the lack of salivary amylase impedes the process of digesting plant matter. When their diet is heavy in carbohydrates, it can put added strain on the pancreas. Humans and other omnivores on the other hand, have ample salivary amylase to enable the effective breakdown of plants in a way that dogs cannot. Also some of the healthy bacteria that enable humans to break down cellulose and starch does not exist in dogs, making the nutrients in plants largely unavailable and un-absorbable.
Canine teeth are designed for sheering, ripping and chomping animals, not grinding grain and grasses. A bear’s teeth are also designed for shearing and ripping flesh, yet unlike the dog they have flat molars in the back like us humans for processing plant matter unlike our canine companions.
The dog’s intestinal tract is far shorter than that of the human or other omnivores. A shorter intestinal length allows for a speedier digestion of proteins, yet far more difficulty in processing plant matter.
2. Dog food regulations
Pet food companies have much at stake; 15-17 billion dollars of customers’ money invested daily. Dog food is actually an offshoot of the food and agricultural industries. These companies capitalize on the waste products that come from the processing of meats and veggies for human consumption. However the FDA and USDA do not set controls on the waste materials used for dog consumption. There is little regulation apart from the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) which do not set standards on ingredients, digestibility or quality. They do offer minimal standards regarding the vitamin and mineral content which is a step above other countries. They set MINIMAL requirement for vitamins and minerals but not a maximum limit, leaving the potential for inappropriate quantities of synthetic vitamins which can be highly toxic in large amounts. This allows dog food companies to create a ‘recipe’ with unsuitable waste parts of animals only to add in synthetic vitamins and minerals as a cheap solution to turn non-nutritional matter into AAFCA approved dog food. Although this does not happen in every company, it is a problematic issue.
3. What to look for when reading labels
The ingredient list is a good place to begin when searching for deceptive information on dog food labels.
The food items in the ingredients list are placed in the order of the greatest quantity (just like human food labels). However, the way dog food companies get sneaky is by breaking up the variations of a single ingredient so that it appears in smaller quantities. This is called “splitting” and can be spotted when you see multiple derivatives for the same ingredient. For example a company might want you to think there is more chicken in it then corn, so the corn will be listed as “corn”, “corn gluten” and “corn gluten meal”; all with separate titles so as to make the corn falsely appear in smaller quantities disguising the fact that the corn is the greatest ingredient bulking up the food as a cheap non-nutritional filler.
Specific Names of Animals:
I recently went hunting for some meat scraps for my dog from some local butchers and discovered that the common practice of butchers is to separate out all the choice parts of the animal for human consumption (flank, tenderloins and ribs) from that which is not FDA approved for human use such as beaks, guts, fur, feathers and even tumers that have been cut out to be used for dog food companies. It is permissible for “triple d” cows (those that are not fit to be used for human consumption) to be used for dog food. Triple d stands for diseased, down or dead!
so, you want to look for real meat names such as duck, beef, or chicken or even duck meal, beef meal or chicken meal instead of ‘meat’ or ‘poultry’. This helps you identify what kind of ‘by products’ your food is made out of. Like I said, most of the products used are ‘by products’ clearly unfit for human consumption according to the FDA. Non-the less those by products are a step above the non-identifiable scraps used in some dog foods that would be called ‘meat’ or “animal’ parts (unidentifiable as an actual species). It is highly unlikely that your dog will be eating human grade meats in any dog food. Don’t be fooled.
If you are able to get a dog food made with human grade meat (about 10% of the brands out there do make it) it will run about three times as much as the other traditional kinds.
Please do realize that dogs are designed to consume FRESH blood, bone and guts. The problem arises when your dog is actually consuming a mashed up overheated, antibiotic laden, diseased and dirty matter.
Synthetic Vitamins and chemicals:
The more an item is heated up, the more living material killed and the more vitamins must be added back into the dog food to make it ‘somewhat’ nourishing. It only makes sense that diseased animals would have to be heated up to kill the harmful bacteria. Being that the majority of foods are treated in this fashion, it should come as no surprise that the cheapest way to meet the AAFCO guidelines is to add synthetic vitamins; substances that can be highly toxic at worst and not absorbable at best. According to Dr. Karen Becker, seizure disorders are on the rise. This is linked to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Just like reading food labels for your family, the same principles apply for your dog’s food labels. If you can’t pronounce the word, it’s likely you don’t want your dog eating it. The shorter the ingredient list, the better (for the most part).
Preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin are known cancer causing agents. They allow dog food bags to sit on store shelves for months at a time which is ideal for the sellers, YET not for your dog’s digestive system.
Whole grain might be a buzz word for some health circles of humans, but should be a RED FLAG to run from if you see it on dog food labels. Many grains are problematic for dogs.
Corn is cheap and a non-nutritive source of allergies and stomach upset.
Rice, although often recommended for dogs with digestive upset can often become a digestive irritant.
Soy is estrogenic and destructive to the endocrine system of your dog.
Wheat is like adding sugar to a child’s breakfast; only appropriate if you want to rot their teeth, cause metabolic syndrome and stress their liver. Dogs with compromised immune systems can be highly reactive to wheat. There are more canine autoimmune diseases popping up than ever before and I wouldn’t doubt it has much to do with these grains AND the herbicides and pesticides that come with them.
4. The hierarchy of nutritional options for your dog
Below I listed in order of best to worst (with 1 being the best and 9 being the worst) dog food choices. 3,4, and 5 could be reversed in their order depending on the company and the ingredients.
- Whole (grass fed, finished and organic) raw BALANCED food purchased for humans
- Whole (grass fed, finished and organic) raw BALANCED food purchased for dogs
- Whole raw freeze dried BALANCED dog food
- Grain free BALANCED canned dog food made from wild caught game and fish
- Grain free BALANCED kibble from wild caught game and fish
- Grain free balanced kibble from non-human grade meat sources
- Regular canned dog food
- Regular kibble dog food
- Donuts and random table scraps
To help you make the best decisions for your dog, here is a great resource for comparing and contrasting dog food brands: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com
5. How to feed your dog a BALANCED healthy diet.
First of all please note that I am not a vet and highly recommend discussing these matters with respected professionals in the field that are NOT biased by financial incentives or swayed by narrow minded teachings. It is not easy to find a holistic minded vet. I recomend getting yourself well versed in natural health principles from Wendy Volhard “The Holistic Guide to a Healthy Dog” and Dr. Karen Shaw Becker’s “Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats” o that you can make educated decisions when choosing a vet.
There is a way to feed your dog a BALANCED diet of nutrient dense foods that are better than any commercially processed options WITHOUT shattering your budget. Just like with human nutrition, the most cost effective way to eat the most nutritious options is to buy whole REAL foods and prepare process and plan it YOURSELF! Sure it takes a little time and thought, BUT why would you want to leave your health in the hands of companies whose first goal is to make money off of you….you and your dog!
Before I continue, please realize that a raw whole foods diet is EVEN WORSE than an average cheap kibble IF IT IS NOT CLEAN, BALANCED and varied. Just like people who think eating chicken, broccoli and kale day in and day out is a balanced diet, so with dogs, it is just as destructive to take a select few items and expect it to meet our very diverse nutritional needs.
It is a good idea to get your dog’s blood work tested before, during and after any dietary changes that you make to really see what is happening and to make sure your dog is thriving. There are stories of well-meaning owners who attempt to feed their animals a homemade diet of rich costly grass fed muscle meats to the detriment of their pets. Muscle meat is only ONE aspect of your dog’s needs and will lead to terrible nutritional deficit diseases if it is all that is fed.
To insure you cover all your dogs nutritional requirements, you should follow a specific recipe which Wendy Volhard, Dr Becker and others lay out based on their research and experience.
Here are some BEGINNING guidelines when feeding your dog a whole foods raw diet
What to feed:
In short, the crucial ingredients to a healthy diet are
Fat (remember fat does not make your dog fat; corn, wheat and grains do)
Green raw Tripe (Tripe, otherwise known as stomach tissue has an ideal blend of micronutrients and minerals and according to Dana Scott should be fed twice a week. It provides your dog with needed digestive enzymes, Lactobacillus, Acidophilus, vitamin B, Linoleic and Linolenic acid.)
Eggs (Whole grass fed free range organic eggs in the shell offer a perfect balance of calcium and phosphorous as well as magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, vitamins A, E and B6. These can be added I twice a week.)
Berries and greens: They have been found in wolf scat and are nutrient dense although veggies are not digestible apart from being juiced or processed (like that of the contents of an animal’s stomach). You can add herbs and minimal greens.
Don’t hesitate to include ‘nasty’ stuff like chicken feet, tails, testicles, blood and kidneys. Beef trachea and chicken/turkey feet are packed with natural chondroitin and glucosamine which are awesome in their natural whole food form
I read in one source that the ratio of animal parts should be close to 75-80% muscle meat with ample fat, 10-15% organs/offal, and 10% raw meaty bones. Yet, in another source I read that dogs should get about 40-50% raw meaty bones.
It appears that there is no one definitive ratio for all dogs much like there is no one macronutrient ratio for human diets.
I did learn to balance the calcium phosphorous ratio between 1 /1. Bones are high in calcium and meats are high in phosphorous.
Great options that are well balanced are whole prey, fish, eggs and tripe. Because of this, I like to include these options.
Organ meats are a super food loaded with minerals and nutrients for humans as well as dogs, yet like in humans, organs can become toxic to dogs in excessive amounts. Remember too many vitamins and minerals are as dangerous as too little. You will not want to exceed 15% for the week.
If you notice the organ meats are causing loose stool, they can be divided up through the week which would allow you to feed them in lesser amounts at a time so it still adds up to 10-15% over the whole week.
Raw fatty fish can be included weekly for omega 3 fatty acids; a crucial ant-inflammatory fat that is hard to get enough of when consuming non-grass fed meats. You can also substitute with fish oil.
What is crucial is to provide variety of animal parts, not just muscle meat or just organs. Remember the bones must be RAW. A great benefit is that the bones provide awesome ‘dental care’ as dogs get to grind away particles that build up on their teeth.
When feeding salmon or pork, freeze them a couple weeks prior to feeding in order to prevent any parasite transmission from food to dog. You can feed frozen or thawed animals. It is amazing to watch your dog crunch right through bone and skin. I learned you can even feed mice and rats, BUT you’ll need to freeze them as well to prevent parasite and disease transmission. If I could come up with a cruel free method of killing the mice in my home, I’d certainly try it; with as many generations as I have thriving in my home.
Pureed pumpkin can be used as a stomach tonic as well as bone broth to ease any stomach upset. You might want to begin your transition to raw food with a higher carbohydrate plan in order to match the original processed foods you were originally using so the dogs digestive system can adapt gradually.
The issue of carbohydrates is controversial as Dr. Becker states, “dogs have no need for carbohydrates” although some say that in the wild dogs consume the contents of digested vegetation from small animals like rodents. Others say that wild dogs generally do not eat the stomach contents of other animals. It should be noted that domesticated dogs have adapted to a wide variety of diets including carbohydrates although they predominantly thrive on a carnivorous diet.
Being that dogs digest traditional kibble much slower than real whole animals, it is not advisable to mix raw food and traditional. As I am transitioning Brynna off the kibble, I am giving her breakfast of raw food and dinner of kibble. Some dogs will get an upset stomach from switching back and forth too soon from kibble and raw food. It is advised for those that are sensitive to allow them to fast in between feedings if need be to allow their stomach to digest one or the other. You’ll have to watch carefully their bowel movements to see how their digestive system is functioning and alter accordingly. At first, Brynna got a little constipated and I had to transition slower so her digestive system could adapt with the appropriate enzymes
I learned that much like humans, the dogs digestive system gets accustomed to one source of protein at a time and is safest when introduced to one kind of animal at a time for a couple weeks until it’s system adapts to digesting that kind of matter and acquires the right balance of enzymes and friendly bacteria.
I learned that much like humans, the dogs digestive system gets accustomed to one source of protein at a time and is safest when introduced to one kind of animal at a time for a couple weeks until it system adapts to digesting that kind of matter and acquires the right balance of enzymes and friendly bacteria. So for a couple weeks you’ll want to give your dog chicken parts (for example), bones, organs, feet and all. Then after a couple weeks, try beef or bison parts as a new species to introduce.
I began by feeding her 1.5 lbs of frozen duck wings (which are quite bony and provide awesome teeth scraping and health) and whole eggs just because I found them for a good price and they were from a clean farm. It was such a joy to watch her crunch down on all those bones as part of her natural “dental care”. I look forward to witnessing her dental health improve with these new changes.
How much food:
A rough estimate would be ½ lb or more per 25lbs of weight. Another way to estimate is to feed 2-3% of your dog’s body weight. The exception is with puppies which need to eat 2-3% of their ADULT body weight.
If you can feel your adult dog’s ribs somewhat BUT NOT SEE them, then your dog is probably around a healthy weight.
When to feed:
Although most dogs are fed twice a day, there is evidence that fasting is beneficial to the gut and immune systems health of the dog. You could feed your dog twice a day or once a day keeping in mind that wild dogs are designed to eat large quantities at once (a prey caught and shared with the pack) and then go for extended times with little tidbits like mice or berries. However, realize that with 15,000 years of breeding and adaptation all dogs are different and some might require far more regular feedings. Puppies have special needs and should be fed three times a day before they are 6 months old.
I recently heard that one gentleman was able to feed his large dog for under 90cents a pound with grass fed organic choice animals. You’ll want to buy in bulk. The good news is that when you buy in bulk (like a ¼ a cow) you get a better deal for your whole family and can prepare your family’s food while saving the discarded parts for your dog, like the fats, bones, nasty parts and some muscle. You can also experiment with pureed tubers and vegetables in very small amounts.
Never feed a dog:
Coffee and tea
Grapes and raisins
Large amounts of salt
Essential citrus oil
Tobacco or marijuana (don’t laugh but animal hospitals see their share of dogs poisoned by this)
Remember that as you research any deep matter, you will encounter differing opinions. Be courageous and take them into consideration knowing that diverse ideas and research will EMPOWER you to formulate your own educated opinions. Get all sides of an argument before landing on one.
When it comes to planning my dog’s diet, I keep in mind what the ratios of a wild dog’s diet would be as well as the unique adaptations and nutritional needs of my own dog. Different breeds are genetically adapted to different diets based on where they have been bread. Perhaps a raw diet doesn’t fit into your lifestyle, but what I hope is that you can now make educated decisions about how to best serve your canine companions that LIVE to serve you.
Honestly I don’t have all the answers BUT I can tell you neither do the dog food companies. I’ve got a lot more learning to do, BUT that is what is exciting; learning, evolving and making intentional educated decisions!
Here’s a good article on the vitamins and minerals and where to find them:
Other great sites: