Natural Nutrition for Dogs
A bit of science and a lot of common sense
When I first began to seriously investigate nutrition for dogs and cats back in the early 1990’s, I noticed the subject had been given little consideration in scientific or veterinary literature prior to the development of commercial pet foods some 50 years ago. Since then, it has become “big business” and there is a wealth of biased information available. How did people feed dogs before tinned and dry food became available? What nutritional problems did they encounter? Who advised them on how to feed their dogs?
The answers are all quite simple. Dogs were fed fresh meat, bones, and left over table scraps. The nutritional problems were very few and simple to correct. Eg. Calcium deficiency, Rickets and Hypervitaminosis A. It was during the post‐war era of the 1950’s and 60’s, that processed foods began to gain popularity. Processed tinned and dehydrated foods for dogs began to fill the pantries of modern households and ride on the success of the convenience era. It took nearly thirty years for the medical profession to realise that this type of nutrition was detrimental to human health and begin to emphasise the importance of fresh food, fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet. Unfortunately (for dogs), the bulk of the veterinary profession is still yet to come to terms with these same health issues and begin recommending fresh food (raw) diets for dogs.
To fully understand the detrimental impact of commercial pet foods on the general health of dogs we must first understand the basic principles of what dogs should eat. These answers can be found by tracing the evolution of dogs and understanding how contemporary wild dogs eat.
Millions of years of evolution can’t be wrong!
The process of evolution is designed to “fine tune” every living species to best survive and reproduce in its given environment. The process causes minute changes that accumulate over millions of years, with the end result being an organism that is ready to thrive, survive, and reproduce. Dogs are no exception. They have been evolving for millions of years (before human intervention) and existing on a natural diet of raw prey, vegetable matter, fruits, nuts, insects and all manner of scavenged food. Despite the immense variation, the one common factor is that they are all consumed raw. They are omnivores by nature, meaning they consume both meat and plant based food sources. In fact, they are the ultimate scavengers, able to exist on a purely vegetarian diet, when necessary and thriving on a meat based diet, when available.
The dog’s entire digestive tract, from teeth and saliva, to organs and intestines, digestive enzymes, microbial flora and ultimately the entire metabolic process to the cellular level, has been finely tuned over millions of years, to be able to process, digest and absorb the products of a raw food diet. When a dog (or dog pack) catches prey, there is a systematic approach to consuming the various parts of the prey. The gut contents and organs are consumed first. The organs, like the liver, kidneys and spleen which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. The gut contents, included within the stomach, intestines and colon, are full of semi digested plant and grain material, almost like a prize to the hunter. The remainder of the carcass, comprising mainly of muscle meat and bones is then consumed. What we learned from this is a simple understanding of the basic ingredients in a dog’s diet. Apart from the vast array of scavenged material a dog may eat when available, a diet of freshly killed prey is the ultimate nutrition. It is certainly clear that dogs are best adapted to eating their food raw, but does cooking a dog’s food really make that much difference? The message became very clear when pet food manufacturers first began making processed pet food.
Cooking creates deficiencies
- Cooking denatures protein. By changing its molecular structure, its shape and mutates it. Sometimes this change is so small that the digestive system doesn’t recognise the change and absorbs the denatured protein and these molecules can trigger adverse reactions in the immune system and result in autoimmune diseases like arthritis and renal failure. Sometimes these molecules are carcinogens.
- Cooking destroys vitamins and enzymes. Vitamins, needed for normal growth and metabolism, are proteins, and as such are susceptible to the same denaturing as other protein. The hotter the cooking temperature, the worse the damage and loss of function of the vitamin or protein. Enzymes within the food, that are capable of digesting and releasing for absorption almost the entire content of the meal, are destroyed by cooking. These enzymes must then be replaced by the animals own body stores, at the animals own energy expense.
- Cooking decreases digestibility and bioavailability. By creating changes in protein, a percentage of available nutrients are rendered useless and is not recognised by the intestines to be absorbed as normal food molecules. This means that although an animal may be ingesting foods that are known to contain certain nutritional elements, the animal’s body may not be able to utilise them in the cooked form (decreased bioavailability). The single largest nutritional study ever performed was a study on cats eating cooked food vs raw food by Dr Francis Pottenger over 70 years ago. This study highlighted how damaging the effects of cooking are, and how subtle and insidious the damage can be. His results even suggest that some damage continues over generations and may become genetically irreversible, even on the best raw food diet. As for raw food and its advantages………… it is more the lack of disadvantages that makes it so obviously better.
Other cooking considerations
- The process of cooking food is unique to humans because it is simplest form of preserving food.
- Heating destroys the natural enzymes in food and microbial content, thus preventing the natural process of decay. • Destroys natural vitamins, essential fatty acids, amino acids and proteins.
- Renders many minerals unavailable for absorption.
- Problems became very evident in the early stages of pet food manufacture.
- Severe and sometimes fatal deficiencies were quickly identified.
- Deficiencies of Vitamins A, D, E, B1 and several essential amino acids were discovered in early tinned pet foods (eg taurine and arachidonic acid).
- Often these deficiencies are overcome by adding large amounts of synthetic vitamins and amino acids to the original ingredient • Modern processed dog foods have generally advanced little
- There are a range of subtle deficiencies that will never be overcome in cooked pet foods.
The basic understanding of how to feed an animal for maximum growth, development and reproduction has come from observing the animal in its natural state (in the wild) and trying to reproduce the same environment in the domestic situation (same types of feed, grasses, foliage etc). There are over 76 macro and micro minerals available in natural raw foods. Many premium brand pet foods are lucky to contain 50 of the 76 nutrients available and some cheaper pet foods may only have 30‐40. These deficiencies can result in subtle disease syndromes that accumulate and worsen over an animal’s life span. Correcting them is so simple…a well balanced, raw food diet!
Raw food is the answer
A well‐designed diet of raw food can provide all the available macro and micronutrients necessary for perfect health. The aim is to match the natural components of a wild dog’s diet. A generous portion of muscle meat and raw bones, some organ meats (liver, kidney, heart) and a balance of carbohydrate and vegetable matter, equivalent to the gut contents of a prey animal, makes the perfect diet. In general, it is easiest to use readily available ingredients, like rolled oats for carbohydrate, flaxseed meal or oil for omega 3 fatty acids and plenty of green vegetables. There are some simple additives you can use to fortify the diet and fill any gaps that would normally be supplied by a dog’s natural scavenging habits. Brewer’s yeast, kelp, lecithin, calcium, dried garlic, vitamin C and powdered barley grass or wheat grass, can all be added to the diet to create a fully balanced nutritional masterpiece. When the body gets just what it needs, in the correct ratios and in the correct form it evolved on, it thrives. Common improvements seen are improved health, longevity, fertility, energy, stamina, resistance to parasites and the distinct lack of degenerative diseases that we now just accept as part of our pets growing old. Vets All Natural Healthrolls and RAW76 provide complete nutrition for dogs and cats in packs ready to serve from the refrigerator.
This article was written and authorised by:
Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons)
Founder of Vets All Natural
For more information visit www.vetsallnatural.com.au
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Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and animal lover who founded Vets All Natural in 1996 with a simple mission, to “Improve the health and longevity of dogs and cats”. Dr Bruce is an expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.
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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.
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