High Five: Stanley enjoys a meal of calf liver with cooked carrots and apples, with added supplements. *Photo supplied
High Five: Stanley enjoys a meal of calf liver with cooked carrots and apples, with added supplements. *Photo supplied
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It is hard for pet owners to do the right thing when it comes to feeding their dogs and cats a healthy species-appropriate diet.

The pet food industry has made ingredient labels vague and hard to understand, while including ingredients unfit for human consumption in order to make more money.

“Experts” recommend kibble filled with grains and carbohydrates, which are not species-appropriate and can cause inflammation. Many pets are eating a diet that is increasing their chance of illness, consequently increasing owners’ vet bills.

Unenthusiastic

Is your dog unenthusiastic about his meal? Does he sniff it and walk away, coming back later only to take a couple of bites, desperate because he is hungry and nothing else is on offer?

This could mean the food you are providing is not species-appropriate or that your dog doesn’t like it. Dogs usually get excited about food that provides them with the vitamins and minerals that they need, for example real meat. They know that foods filled with carbohydrates are not nourishing. If the food you offer is grain based, I am not surprised they don’t gobble it up. Dogs need a protein and moisture-rich diet.

What is not species-appropriate for dogs?

If you read your pet food ingredient list, many of you will find one or two of these listed: Grains (barley, millet, wheat, quinoa, flour, oats, rice), soy, corn, and sugar. None of these ingredients are species-appropriate for dogs and they are used as cheap fillers to bulk up the food. In addition, it is important to avoid foods and treats with preservatives and artificial colourings, as these are unhealthy and potentially carcinogenic.

According to Karen Becker, DVM and author of Dr Becker’s Real Food For Healthy Dogs & Cats, the healthiest canine diet option is raw, then canned and, lastly, dry.

How can you improve your pet’s diet?

Look for whole foods listed first on the label, not grains or carbs, and avoid by-products, which is meat that is not fit for human consumption, usually, feathers, beaks, feet, etc. By-products are not real meat. It is important to note that some medical or hereditary conditions may require dietary modification. This article is focused on normal, healthy dogs.

“A dog whose diet consists only of dry food will be moisture deficient and this can put strain on the organs, specifically the kidneys,” according to Dr Becker.

“Many people will say my dog must have dry food because it cleans the teeth; dry foods don’t clean teeth anymore than humans eating granola. What does clean the teeth is grinding on raw bones or the owner brushing the teeth. Most dry food contains grains that promote plaque and tartar.”

If your dog has health or behaviour issues, for example skin allergies, regular vomiting or hyperactivity, I would recommend switching the diet to something without all the grains and preservatives.

Often times a diet switch can improve a sick dog’s health. However, if they have been on a dead, dry dog food diet for a long time, a switch to a live raw food diet needs to be done gradually and often times with the help of a professional.

If you are interested in this option, remember balance is key. Digestive enzymes, probiotics and bone supplements must be added for optimum health and digestion. Feeding raw veggies can be hard on the canine digestive system, so it is best to steam and finely chop or puree them.

Behaviour

Diet can also affect behaviour. When I meet with clients to discuss a behaviour case, I spend significant time analysing their dog’s diet to make sure nothing in it could be affecting their behaviour. Behaviour issues such as hyperactivity and aggression can be linked to diet. 

“We’re told that humans need to eat whole, minimally processed, fresh foods and that we should vary our diets. We often get different advice for our animals. “Experts” say never to change your animal’s diet. Never feed him people food. Feed your dog complete food from a bag. Most of us accepted this concept for many years –– though we would look for another doctor if we got this advice from our paediatricians,” said Dr Becker.

She added: “ A fresh food diet is best for all living beings.”

Imagine how bored and unhealthy you would be if you ate the same food everyday. Why must we do this to our dogs? Dogs in the wild and their ancestors did not eat this way and dogs need different foods for different life stages.

“A healthy canine diet would consist of about 75 per cent meat, organs and bone and 25 per cent veggies and fruit,” according to Dr Becker. “In the ancestral diet of dogs, muscle, bone and organs make up 65 per cent to 80 per cent of the diet by volume. The dry foods that most of our animals eat have a very different balance.”

The table at right shows that today’s kibble-only diet is not species-appropriate, with low protein, high carbs and little moisture.

Kibble was invented in the 1950s for convenience and profitability. Before kibble, dogs were fed the family’s table scraps. The pet food industry spent a large amount of money advertising and funding studies on the dangers of “human food”. This is where our idea of no table scraps came from.

Kibble is cooked at high temperatures, killing off many nutrients in the food. So a diet of solely kibble is probably lacking important vitamins and minerals for optimum health and the dog may become dehydrated. You may notice your kibble eater drinks large amounts of water to compensate.

We want our beloved companions to be around for as long as possible and it is up to us to provide them with healthy foods suitable for carnivores that nourish their bodies.

Amy Terceira is the owner of Dog Gone Good –– a grooming and training business that also offers off-leash dog playgroups. She is a City and Guilds qualified groomer and a student of Jean Donaldson’s Academy For Dog Trainers.