There have been many news stories about the contents of some human foods and this has triggered doubts about the contents of commercial dog food. Consequently, some owners have decided it is safer and healthier to abandon commercial pet food.
So, are “Natural” or homemade diets better options? Let's take a look behind the stories and find out the facts
Myth 1: Dogs cannot digest carbohydrates
There are some common arguments against feeding dogs carbohydrates. One of which is that dogs were once wolves. Wolves have teeth and digestive systems designed to break down bones and to digest raw meat. Wolves don’t eat carbohydrates, so why would we feed them to our dogs?
That may be true for wolves, but dogs and wolves are actually quite different; a process which started 14,000 years ago. Humans began a partnership with wolves where they would help us hunt and catch prey. In return, we would share our food, shelter, and warmth. As wolves became increasingly domesticated, they began to evolve into dogs. Part of this evolution included their ability to digest carbohydrates as they started to eat more of our leftovers. Through this evolution, dogs are not only better able to break down fats than wolves, so can be considered decidedly omnivores, but they even thrive from having them in their diet.
Myth 2: Fresh meat is healthier for dogs
Continuing the myth that dogs are wolves, some owners believe raw meat is safer and more beneficial for dogs. The myth that dogs and wolves have the same diet has the potential to be quite dangerous.
It is true that dogs are better able to eat raw meat than humans. This is because they have stronger acid in their stomachs and can breakdown food faster while killing more bacteria. But the higher presence of bacteria on fresh meat increases the risk of sickness occurring compared to almost no risk from pet meals. Of 196 samples of raw meat tested for bacteria, 15 showed salmonella and 32 showed listeria. Conversely, there are no bacteria on the samples of dog treats, semi-moist dog food and dry dog food.
Furthermore, owners must take extra care to wash their hands thoroughly after preparing the meat. This won't transfer any bacteria to themselves, other humans or their pets.
Myth 3: Homemade diets are more nutritious than meat meals
Stemming from the view that natural, unprocessed food is healthier than packaged food, another myth about pet food is based on a mistrust of the ingredients. There is logic to this argument. By feeding your dog a meal that you have prepared yourself, you know exactly what your pet is eating. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite so straightforward.
Homemade diets in dogs most often contain a mix of several or all of the following: meat, bones, fish, offal, dairy, oil, nuts, cod liver oil and supplements. However, after analysing almost 100 homemade diets for adult dogs, it was determined that the majority fell short in delivering a number of essential nutritional levels, including calcium and vitamin D. In fact, 60% of the diets were found to fail to deliver sufficient levels of nutrition.
Moreover, of the 40% deemed to meet the recommended daily allowances of nutrients, some actually delivered excess calcium. Many nutrients actually have an optimal range where too much can be harmful. Calcium is one nutrient which needs to be carefully managed, as it can be particularly problematic for large dog breeds susceptible to skeletal growth issues.
Myth 4: Dogs don’t get enough protein from pet food
Finally, another common criticism against pet meals is that they don’t contain enough protein. This reproach is especially levied against dry dog food, such as kibble.
In actual fact, the amount of protein printed on a label is most determined by the weight of the meat. As fresh meat is about 70% water, cooking releases most of its weight. In the end, a slab of meat said to contain 78% of protein will instead only serve the equivalent of 26% after it has been cooked for safe consumption. While nutritional levels vary according to suppliers, this is about the same amount of protein found in kibble, while wet meals contain closer to 60%.
On this point, it is also worth noting that not all proteins are the same. Much in the same way that there are multiple types of carbohydrates, such as simple and complex, so, too, are there fast and slow proteins. The name of each type represents how quickly they can be in the digestive gut lining. Given that dogs have shorter digestive tracts than human beings, slow proteins might not be digested before they are excreted. While a product might promise higher amounts of protein, it doesn’t mean it is the right protein for a dog. Especially if that product is for human beings.
Myth 5 - Dogs Can Eat Anything
Dogs are natural scavengers and will feast on many things we would really rather they didn't! One of my old dogs once broke into the compost heap and started chomping on that and came back bloated and stinking...and then had a very bad stomach for many days afterward, but still tried to do the same thing a few weeks later!
However, this does not mean that everything we eat is good for them.
This is the reason why you should never give dogs excessive amounts of table scraps or left-over food. Table scraps are usually very poor substitutes for real dog food because these food items often have high fat and salt content. If fed exclusively on table scraps, your dog is getting only empty calories with little or no vitamins, minerals, protein, or roughage (dietary fiber).
Myth 6 - You Get What You Pay For In Dog Food
It is a common marketing strategy for dog food companies to use "familiar sights" to reel in new customers, but do not be misled by marketing campaigns of dog food companies. Many dog food companies use a lot of artificial colour and other additives to make the food more attractive to owners.
So while they advertise their new product has "fresh beef," is "hypoallergenic," and that "your dog will love you forever for buying this food" be very aware that this is aimed at you - as you know, your dog is more than happy when it finds a dead seagull or rabbit and really couldn't care less about any of that expensive marketing!
In fact if the pet food company has gone to such great lengths to do this for you they will be doing it for a reason. The first is so they can charge you more money for a "premium" product. The other is that they are masking the fact that they used meat byproducts such as bone meal, organ meats like arteries and liver, and ground animal meals.
So before you try a new brand, check the label at the back. Is this new product really more nutritious than the food you are giving your dog now? If it is, then are you just paying more money for nice packaging?
The simple fact is that dogs do not really care that their new food comes in a clever new hermatically sealed packet and looks like a restaurant-style steak with gravy. Dogs appreciate food through smell, taste and, late, by how vibrant, energetic and healthy it keeps them.
Myth 7 - All Fats Are Bad for Dogs
There is no question about it, excessive amounts of fat in a dog’s diet can cause your dog's weight to balloon and can also harm their liver and pancreas. However, a dog’s body on the molecular level needs fat. So if you give your dog only carbohydrates and protein, they will also suffer.
The big challenge for every dog owner is to strike a balance in their dog's daily diet. So what’s the middle ground?
Quite simply in the wild dog's eat a lot of fat as part of a carniverous diet. The difference is that this is unprocessed and usually grass fed rather than the common grain fed poultry and meat. Much of the food we eat is not great for us but even worse for dogs.
This is the reason why you should never give dogs excessive amounts of table scraps or left-over food. Table scraps are usually very poor substitutes for real dog food. It is because these food items often have high fat and salt content. If fed exclusively on table scraps, your dog is getting only empty calories with little or no vitamins, minerals, protein, or roughage (dietary fiber).
Much of the meat we eat is high in Omega-6 fatty acids, the result of feeding on grain rather than grass and other environmental effects. To counteract this we should aim to keep these fats lower while increasing Omega-3 fatty acids to counteract this both in our diet and that of our dogs.
Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally occurring healthy fats that are in cold water fishes, and even in small aquatic inhabitants like krill. Unlike fat from beef or pork, omega fatty acids do not cause damage. But it still supplies the chemical components needed by the dog for survival.
These oils and fats are a great help with arthritis prevention. This can be a problem with some breeds. So by adding fish and fish/krill oil to your dog's diet, you can actually make your dog healthier by increasing the consumption of fats, but they need to be the right ones!
Sadly, the much of the science doesn’t support many of the myths around homemade dog food. Yes, low-quality dog food is not great, but in the same way you would not expect bargain priced ready meals to provide your family all the nutrition they need, this is the same for low-quality dog food.
So while many dog food manufacturers appeal to the owner with the presentation of their products, the same idea is true of many homemade diets - they sound great but are not ideal for your dog.
So look for the better brands of dog food, look hard at the ingredients and you will probably find that you will spend less and get better nutrition than you would with a home-made diet.
- 1 Myth 1: Dogs cannot digest carbohydrates
- 2 Myth 2: Fresh meat is healthier for dogs
- 3 Myth 3: Homemade diets are more nutritious than meat meals
- 4 Myth 4: Dogs don’t get enough protein from pet food
- 5 Myth 5 - Dogs Can Eat Anything
- 6 Myth 6 - You Get What You Pay For In Dog Food
- 7 Myth 7 - All Fats Are Bad for Dogs
- 8 Conclusion