1. THE FOOD MUST BE RAW
It was during the millions of years that dogs have been on this planet that their dietary requirements were formed, and nothing that’s happened in the last 100,000 years, including domestication, has changed their basic needs. No matter how the pet food industry tries to spin the facts, dietary adaptation cannot happen overnight, and that’s basically what they’re claiming when they say that dogs have “adapted” to the detritus that makes up commercial pet food. There is no question, dogs are biologically adapted to a diet made up primarily of the raw, unprocessed bodies of herbivorous animals. Nobody cooks for the wolf.
The only exception to the rule that food should be raw is certain vegetables, which are more digestible by dogs if they are cooked. Yams and sweet potatoes, for example, begin to resemble over-ripe fruit when their starches are dextrinized during cooking, and over-ripe fruit is a natural part of a canine diet. The trade off with cooking is always that certain nutrients are killed by high temperatures. However, this disadvantage is worthwhile if you are feeding these vegetables as a way of avoiding the overfeeding of fat (more on this below), which is much more likely if you feed your dog nothing but meat every day. Fruit can also accomplish this, and fruit should always be fed raw.
2. When Choosing Dog Food THE FOOD MUST BE LOW IN FAT
Don’t believe the nonsense that has been making the rounds on the internet about how when choosing dog food its “important” fat is in a dog’s diet. Fat has traditionally been a fairly small component in the diet of canines. If you take the fur and feathers off of the animals that wild dogs have historically eaten, you would see very little fat. Rodents, rabbits, birds, fish and ungulates in the wild have much less fat and much smaller muscles than is bred into agricultural animals.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that food for animals is destined for the commercial market are deliberately fattened. Producers are obliged to make as much money from the sale of their animals as they can, and they’ve had a lot of practice at how best to do that. Contrary to popular myth, obesity is never a disease of too little exercise or too much food, it’s a disease caused by eating indigestible crap. It’s quite easy, incidentally, for humans to remain slim if we eat the right foods, no matter how much we eat or how little we exercise. This is just one of the little secrets that the medical industry would prefer we not know. The animal agriculture industry has all this figured out as well and if they wanted to produce healthy, lean animals, they could do it. They don’t. The cheap garbage that they feed to their animals is stored on the animals’ bodies within their fat cells. Feeding cheap garbage makes money for producers during the upkeep stage of the animals’ lives and the fat that it puts on their bodies does the same thing at butchering time. The same stored wastes that made those animals unhealthy will cause disease in your dog as well if you don’t make every effort to feed as little fat as possible.
The fat issue, among others, is what makes processed commercial raw dog food so unhealthy for dogs. The manufacturers of these products do not remove the fat from the carcasses of animals they process and sell, and they are not required by law to disclose the fat content of their products like human food processors are. In fact, you’re most likely going to have a difficult time finding this information even if you go looking. The processors took the hit for the extra baggage that was deliberately put on the animals, and they’re not about to take the time and trouble to remove fat and toss out something that can bring them more money. So they will pass the cost and the waste on to you, and when you feed it to your dog, you’ll be paying not just once, but again, in the form of vet bills. When you buy meat that you can trim before you feed it to your dog, you at least only have to pay for the unusable fat once, and YOU retain control over whether your dog gets sick. There are other reasons to avoid commercially processed raw dog food, partially elucidated below.
3. IT SHOULD CONTAIN CONSUMABLE BONE
Dogs need to eat raw bones. Not necessarily every day, but regularly. If you are still unsure about feeding bones to your dog, I highly recommend ordering my booklet which fully explains why bones are important, which bones are best and the mistaken rationale that vets use to recommend against feeding them. No wild dog ever killed an animal and proceeded to eat only the flesh. The idea is incomprehensible. When dogs eat raw bones, they are entirely dissolved in the acidic stomach fluids. A dog that is fed a healthy amount of bone will have small, crumbly feces.
It is common for dog owners to feel fearful about feeding bones, because the sick dog industry has done such a number on our heads about it. I recently read an article by a vet that said we can’t use the fact that wolves eat bones as evidence that bones are healthy for our own dogs, because we never see healthy wolves. Apparently the fact escapes the good doctor that if bones were dangerous for wolves, there wouldn’t be one wolf left in the world. That wolves have survived through the millennia eating bones every single time they eat is solid proof that eating bones is as natural to them as breathing. Vets who bemoan the fact that wolves have no access to veterinary care need to account for how they have managed so successfully without it.
4. IT MUST BE APPROPRIATE FOR THE SIZE OF YOUR DOG
We did not invent a new species when we domesticated dogs. Domestic dogs still have all the instincts, physical equipment and digestive faculties that their wild ancestors had in order to feed themselves. Make no mistake, no matter how un-wolf-like your dog looks on the outside, s/he’s still a wolf on the inside, digestively speaking. People who think that modern dogs are products of civilization sometimes use this as an excuse to reject raw feeding. Even if we were to concede that incorrect point, we’d still be left to wonder what we should be feeding them, and we can’t ignore the epidemic of disease among domestic dogs that has perfectly coincided with the advent and growth in popular use of waste-ridden commercial foods.
With domestic dogs coming in all sizes, however, we have to make some adjustments from what a wild dog would eat in nature and choosing dog food. In order to be healthy, all dogs, regardless of their size, need bones that are soft enough for them to chew and consume entirely.
Large dogs can eat all forms of poultry, neck, spine, scapula and similar bones of larger animals, and some can even entirely consume ribs. If you have a small dog, your options are more limited. Some people buy poultry that is ground with the bones but I do not recommend this because of the fat content of these foods. It’s fine to grind your own poultry with bones, just be sure to trim as much fat as you can before you grind. If you don’t grind, the best foods for small dogs are small animals, like game hens, quail, fish, rabbits and mice. Of these, game hens are the most affordable, and the most accessible as they can be purchased in the frozen section of any grocery store. You can either feed whole parts cut up with poultry shears or you can hack it up in smaller pieces with a cleaver. Feeding whole parts is best for the teeth cleaning, but either way, your dog will be consuming the bones that s/he needs.
Femurs and other weight bearing bones should not be fed even to large dogs, particularly if they come from agricultural animals. Dogs are not able to consume these very dense bones, which leaves only the marrow, and marrow is almost pure fat. Even the small cuts of femurs that grocery stores commonly sell as “pet bones” should never be fed. A wild dog would never encounter a sliced femur in a natural setting. Although I’m not aware of any specific incidents and I certainly don’t want to contribute to the paranoia, I suspect that small femur sections can represent a choking hazard to a large dog. They can also chip the teeth of small dogs. Femurs are the rare exceptions to the fact that most bones are safe for dogs to eat if they are raw.
5. IT MUST BE UNCOMBINED WITH OTHER FOODS
When I talk about types of food, I am referring to macronutrient categories. “Macronutrient” is a fancy six dollar word that simply means “big”. ALL foods belong in one of three macronutrient categories: protein, fat and carbohydrate. As I mentioned in my last blog post, these foods all require different chemical environments within the digestive tract in order to be broken down. Combining foods that require opposing chemical environments causes food to become waste instead of nourishment. In any healthy dog diet that includes carbohydrates and proteins, the two should be fed separately. Doing so allows the food to be fully utilized by the body, provided all the other requisites for healthy digestion are in place as well. It is not necessary, by the way, to separate proteins. All proteins are treated the same by a dog’s body.
Dogs do not have opportunities to combine different types of food in the wild. Even the idea that wolves eat the contents of their prey’s stomach has been disproven by field studies, except for small prey animals like mice and rabbits, in which case stomach contents represent a tiny fraction of the meal.
Feeding one food at a time allows a dog to know what s/he is consuming, as well. Nature does not disguise foods. When a healthy, properly fed dog refuses to eat a food, s/he is using his primordial senses to guide him. Very often, refusing to eat certain foods can also indicate a dog is overfed, but regardless of the reason, a dog should never been fooled into eating something by disguising it under, or mixing it with, a different food. This is a trick that’s been used to extremes by the pet food industry, which has fooled millions of dogs into eating food with euthanized dogs in it that they would not touch if they were not being deceived.