Our responsibility as Dog Parents:
Dogs can’t go out into the wild as their ancestors did and select the food they need for themselves. We, as owners have a responsibility to ensure the dog receives suitable food – this is one of the five basic requirements – along with shelter, ability to exhibit normal behaviour, free from pain and suffering, with or apart from other animals. When we adopt a pet, we accept these responsibilities and therefore are acting in the best interests of the dog. The ‘suitable food’ factor concerns the owner providing the best food they can afford to ensure the dog remains healthy and happy. Animals will self-select in their natural environment, thereby eating what their body needs at the time their body needs it. Therefore, a dog may not select a whole balanced meal one day, but will select what it needs each day, supplementing what it is craving as it needs to, for example when they are lacking in a certain mineral or vitamin. Therefore, we as owners need to be aware of the health of our dogs and ensure they are provided with the food they need at all times.
The Physical Dog
Dogs belong to the Canid family which are ‘omnivorous carnivores’, meaning they will eat other animals or plant materials, though non-meat-based is not good for them long-term.
The physiology of a dog supports the belief that dogs are mainly carnivores however, with the capacity to survive on plant materials. The shape of their jaw, is shorter in some canids than others, assisting in maximising the ability to scavenge. Their teeth are designed for grabbing, ripping, tearing, shredding and shearing meat. They don’t have flat molars which are used for grinding plant material like humans do, for example, their molars are pointed and arranged in a scissor-type bite, facilitating tearing of meat.
Their jaw is extremely muscular along with powerful neck muscles assisting in pulling down prey. Their jaws can open very widely facilitating the gulping down of large chunks of meat and bone and their jaw is hinged to prevent lateral movement, when holding struggling prey.
The Digestive Process of a Dog
Dogs have an elastic stomach which allows for the ingestion of large amounts of meat, bone, organs etc. The length of a dog’s stomach is only four times the length of their body which allows for food passing through the body quite quickly, compared to the length of the human’s gut which is 10-11 times the length of the body. This short gut suggests further the suitability to a meat diet, as the short gut is more acidic, thereby being intrinsically involved in the grinding down of the meat and bone. A longer gut, like a human’s, allows for food to be within it for a greater amount of time so the food can sit and ferment, as is required for vegetable and plant matter. Dogs cannot digest whole vegetables as they don’t have the necessary enzymes to break down the cellulose in the vegetation. This needs to be pre-processed in order for the dog to gain any nutrition from it. Vegetables will come out of a dog in the same state it went in. If the stomach receives kibble rather than raw meat and bone, the acidic environment of the stomach isn’t maximised like it should be as it doesn’t have any work to do and, as a result, the PH of the body is much higher than it should be, which impacts on health.
The enzyme Amylase is required for the dog to be able to break down carbohydrates and starches. Omnivorous and herbivorous animals have amylase in their saliva which helps this process, dogs do not, which means the Pancreas has to work overtime to produce the amylase thus putting the pancreas under severe strain. Raw meat already begins to break down through the chewing process, with the saliva containing the right enzymes produced in the normal way, to help this process without strain.
Dogs do not produce the kinds of friendly bacteria that are required to break down the cellulose and starch in plant-based food ensuring the dog doesn’t benefit from the nutrients within the vegetables. This is why commercial food manufacturers include synthetic vitamins and nutrients in their food – as well as to ensure the cooking process that kills all the nutrients and minerals is supplemented.
The suggestion that dogs may benefit from eating berries and other fruits is supported by the existence of their taste buds which recognise sweet flavours. This would suggest that they did indeed supplement their diet with food other than purely meat.
The intestinal wall is covered in closely packed villi called the epithelium which exists to protect the membrane to which it is attached, in this case the gut wall. The epithelium functions to absorb, secrete and excrete substances. In the gut, it absorbs nutrients from the food, whilst secreting hormones, enzymes and other substances, such as Serotonin which is concerned with mood. Other mood-affecting substances are also stored within the epithelium such as Opiates, Tryptamines, and Dopamine; all concerned with mood, focus, calmness etc. This is why the stomach is considered the body’s second ‘brain’ as it dictates mood and wellbeing.
The epithelium is reliant upon good bacteria to regenerate and control the PH levels in the intestine.
The good bacteria provide a home for the necessary chemicals and neurotransmitters associated with health and wellbeing, thereby providing a healthy immune system which can fight disease and illness. If the immune system is strong, then the threat from bad bacteria is inconsequential.
When a dog is fed raw meat, the stomach is actively involved in the breaking down of the food and digesting it, utilising and regulating the PH level. The gut is healthy and therefore the villi in the epithelium are working optimally and the health of the dog is at its best, both physically and mentally.
The benefit of Raw Food:
The nutrients and minerals present in raw food remain in their natural state. These nutrients and minerals are cooked out of commercially prepared food and are therefore artificially replicated and added back into the food. Such nutrients that are compromised include the pro and prebiotics, amino acids, essential fatty acids, enzymes etc. In raw food these are provided naturally and are absorbed in the gut. Probiotics and Prebiotics promote good bacteria, which then promotes a good, healthy gut. These minerals and nutrients, when added artificially into commercial dog foods are done in the most ‘cost-effective’ or ‘cheap’ way ie providing in a premix of synthetic vitamins and minerals, thus avoiding the expensive and time-consuming testing and food trials.
As mentioned above, feeding raw food to dogs, ensures that all the required vitamins and minerals are provided to the dog in the correct amounts and combinations, in the most natural way. The gut reacts positively to the raw food as it was designed to digest raw with its higher PH levels, thus ensuring the stomach reacts as it is intended. The epithelium absorbs the nutrients and secretes the hormones to ensure the dog’s mood is positive. The bacteria take care of the digestion and the gut environment, ensuring the body gains all the goodness from the food. The hormones impact on the dog’s mood and thus behaviour – a satisfied, content, healthy dog is the result. Also, jaw muscle gets a good workout as it chews on the bones thus strengthening and flexing, and the teeth get cleaned from the gnawing on the bones, thus ensuring the mouth is healthy and exercised.
Often, dogs who have been diagnosed as having food allergies actually have poor gut health from an unsuitable diet. These dogs would benefit greatly from a raw diet which promotes gut health.
As well as these benefits from an internal perspective, raw fed dogs also benefit in other ways. For instance, their faeces is smaller, dryer and with less odour as the majority of the food is actually used by the body with less waste. The firmness of the stools also helps with emptying the scent glands and also leads to less flatulence.
I advise clients that, if their dog is pooing out as much as they’re eating, there has to be something wrong with their diet!
High protein raw diets help with the maintenance of weight in dogs, which are increasingly being reported as commonly being overweight or obese. As well as ensuring a steady metabolism, the food is slowly absorbed within the body thus avoiding the peaks and troughs of insulin levels on carbohydrate-based diets, demonstrated by the infrequent cases of diabetes in raw fed dogs.
Overall, a dog fed on a raw diet will generally live longer. The health of the gut is maintained and as such, all the organs do what they’re designed to do, unaffected by artificial additives and preservatives, and excessive overproduction of amylase, insulin etc as the body tries to deal with unsuitable food. The mouth and teeth also respond positively to the raw diet, as does the brain function, provided with appropriate and plentiful essential fatty acids and neurotransmitters.
Why it could be considered that an artificially prepared diet with various additives and artificial enzymes and hormones etc that is just eaten without any effort, could be more beneficial to the overall health of the dog is simply ludicrous, in my opinion.
And the Risks of Raw Feeding:
There are risks to raw feeding, but these tend to be very heavily exaggerated by those who are anti-raw food. Basically, if people consider that they are dealing with raw meat, and follow the usual hygiene requirements for dealing with raw meat, concerning hand washing, surface preparation and cleanliness, storage in the fridge, careful defrosting, then there shouldn’t be any problems.
The risks are risks to humans rather than to the dogs, other than the usual, ensure you supervise dogs when they are eating bone. Ensure dog bowls are carefully washed with hot water after use, don’t allow your dog to lick you for at least 20 minutes after they’ve eaten raw food (if at all) etc.
Campylobacter, Salmonella and E.Coli are the main diseases associated with raw meat and can cause diarrhoea, vomiting etc in both humans and animals, particularly those animals with vulnerable immune systems such as puppies and older dogs.
Therefore, the source of the meat you feed to your dogs must be assured to have been tested, and therefore DEFRA approved suppliers would be the sensible choice.
Frozen meats should stay frozen until they are needed – being defrosted in the fridge for 24 hours before being given. Dogs can tolerate partially frozen meat. Food should be offered from clean bowls, and once used, should be washed with very hot water. The usual guidance for washing hands and surfaces also applies, using anti-bacterial cleaner is recommended.
To avoid parasites, fish in the Salmonid family: salmon, trout, chars and whitefish, should be frozen for a few days to eradicate any parasites. This also applies to pork. Rather than freezing these foods, some people prefer to cook them. A particularly nasty parasite called Neorickettsia Helminthoeca can be found in Salmon which causes haemorrhaging in the small intestine which spreads throughout the body, acting in a similar way to Parvo Virus.
There are risks to dogs from eating bones, hence the guidance to supervise bone eating. Dogs need to learn how to eat bone and should be given bones to learn with that aren’t too dense but aren’t too small so they simply swallow them whole. There is a risk of gut perforation in this instance, or possibly fractured teeth if the bone is too dense.
Never, ever feed a dog cooked bone. The cooking process makes the bones brittle and dry and can cause perforation of the gut. People think that this can’t be the case as there are cooked bones available for owners to buy from pet shops, but they are potentially very dangerous for dogs if eaten.
Weight-bearing bones from cows, such as femurs can fracture the dog’s teeth as they are very dense. Dense smaller bones can cause problems with teeth fracturing or being swallowed in their entirety. It is recommended that bones that are larger in comparison to the dog’s jaw, to ensure they can only be chewed, rather than swallowed, and are chewed laterally which provides teeth cleaning, are given to larger dogs. Smaller dogs could be given the smaller bones like ribs.
Supervision is essential to ensure the dogs don’t get into any difficulty, if the bone gets stuck or they become too enthusiastic and try to swallow pieces that are too large. Also, where there is more than one dog, it is wise to supervise to ensure one dog doesn’t try to get the bone of another, thus avoiding a fight situation.
Commercial Dog Foods:
You might be surprised to learn that the commercial dog food market, although is a multi-billion pound industry, it is not regulated like human food and there is no requirement for pet food to be healthy and life preserving for dogs. Manufacturers can put whatever they like in pet food, and add chemicals and e-numbers to make it palatable for our canine friends. There are no maximums and minimums – the food can contain as much cereal as the manufacturer wants – the dog’s gut can do nothing with cereal, it can contain lots of salt, chemicals etc.
I considered the ingredients of a well known commercial dog food to actually understand what its ingredients were. The ingredients were listed as follows:
Ingredients: Cereals, Meat and animal derivatives (15%*), Vegetable Protein Extracts, Glycerol, Oils and fats, Propylene glycol, Minerals, Derivatives of vegetable origin.
* equivalent to 30% rehydrated meat and animal derivatives, with min. 4% beef
Analytical Constituents Protein 21.0% Fat content 10.0% Crude ash 8.0% Crude fibres 2.0% Moisture 15.0%
Now, to consider each in turn:
Cereals: This is a generic term and can include wheat, rice, oats, barley, maize etc. The term can be used for both high quality cereal or low quality as it is a generic term, however, the fact that the exact cereal isn’t identified would suggest that it’s cereal of a lower quality – presumably the manufacturer would wish to promote high quality cereal by labelling it more appropriately with ‘Barley’ or ‘Rice’ etc.
According to the Food Labelling standards, ingredients have to be listed in order of the weight with the main ingredient first. Therefore it can be seen that the main ingredient for this food is cereal – which actually the dog cannot utilise and therefore this simply passes straight through the body without any being absorbed by the body for use.
Meat and Animal Derivatives: The only actual meat contained in this food is ‘meat and animal derivatives (15%)’. Meat and animal derivatives is a term used to describe meat from any animal and it can be from any part of the animal therefore is usually from the cheaper parts of the animal eg claws, beaks etc.
Vegetable Protein Extracts: This again is a dubious description, giving no indication of what vegetable is being referred. Common sources used in dog food are soya, maize and wheat which, according to the ‘All About Dog Food’ website, are linked to dietary intolerances. Also, it is considered by some nutritionists that ‘Vegetable protein extracts’ may be a pseudonym for monosodium glutamate which is the controversial ingredient or additive that is considered mildly addictive by some.
Glycerol: This is commonly used in the food industry as a sweetener (E422) as well as it having preservative qualities. It is also used as a filler in some low fat foods as well as being widely used in the pharmaceutical industry eg in toothpaste, cough syrups, soaps. It can also be used as a laxative if used as a suppository. Previously it was used as an anti-freeze as it has a lower freezing temperature of -38? but it was eventually replaced by ethylene glycol which has an even lower freezing point.
Propylene glycol: is used in food processing as E1520 – a preservative in food and in tobacco products including the e-cigarettes, as well as other foodstuffs such as liquid sweeteners, ice cream. Similarly to the Ethylene glycol, Propylene glycol also lowers the freezing point of water and is also used as an aircraft de-icer, and car antifreeze, and also for winterizing plumbing systems. This ingredient is considered safe for dogs, but cannot be used in cat food as it has links to ‘Heinz body anaemia’ – affecting the red blood cells of cats.
Minerals: All dog food will generally have added vitamins and minerals to ensure the food contains all that the dog would need. This has the same benefit to supplements from the chemist. It would seem that Iron is included as the packaging states ‘iron for healthy blood’ – but one of the ingredients cannot be fed to cats as it negatively impacts on the red blood cells, causing Heinz Body Anaemia so it is a little of a wonder how it can be actually beneficial for dogs whilst causing potential fatal problems for cats.
Derivatives of Vegetable Origin: Similarly to the ‘Vegetable Protein Extracts’ discussed previously, this is a very dubious and non-specific term which does not indicate precisely what it is, which is problematic for any dogs with allergies or intolerances etc. This ‘umbrella term’ allows manufacturers to adjust the product’s ingredients dependent upon what is cheaply available, therefore different batches will have differing ingredients.
When considering the ingredients of this product, I would be very concerned to feed this to my dogs – in fact I would not feed this to my dogs as there doesn’t seem to be any ingredients that are actual ‘food’ that a dog’s body would derive any goodness from despite the claim: ‘with quality products to help maintain body condition’. There is an ingredient (Vegetable Protein Extract) which actually may create an addiction for the dog thereby giving the owner the impression the dog is really enjoying his food. The chemicals seem to be linked to moisture retention, thereby giving the dog owner the impression the food isn’t totally dry with the ‘spongey’ effect, ‘Tender Meaty Chunks’ being compared to meat – of which there is very little and only in ‘derivative’ form. This product, being predominantly cereal, is really a bulk product which will serve as something that can be fed to a dog as it is bulky. I don’t believe it would be a food that would be of any benefit at all to a dog.
The annotation: * equivalent to 30% rehydrated meat and animal derivatives, with min. 4% beef is confusing. Pet owners reading that would assume that the product actually has 30% meat in it. I assume the ‘rehydrated’ part is via the chemicals such as the propylene glycol and glycerol, but the fact of 4% beef would be via derivatives so could be hooves, hair rather than the finest cut of beef.
We raw feed our dogs. They are given Natural Instinct which is a pre-prepared, frozen dog food, which contains human grade meat and bone, with vegetables. Our older Labradors have been fed this for years – approximately 12 years, and the impact on their health when we first transitioned to the raw from kibble (previous vet recommendation – they were sponsored!) was quite shocking, so we’ve never looked back. Our two Labrador puppies are fed raw and are doing really well on it – their teeth and coats are fabulous, and they are very healthy and happy dogs.
Although I’d read all about the raw feeding before we transitioned and could see the positive impact of the raw diet almost immediately, I knew it had a positive effect on the behaviour and general wellbeing of the dogs, but I didn’t know exactly what the reasons were, other than, ‘this is what they would eat in the wild so this is how to make them happy’. So, to learn the detail of the gut function with the requirement for different enzymes into the gut for kibble and how the epithelium works, secreting Serotonin and other substances which provide the ‘feel good’ factor, was all fascinating to read and understand. So now I’m even more motivated to spread the word about raw feeding!
Guidelines to feeding raw responsibly to minimise risk and maximise health.
- Keep raw dog food separate from human food if possible – preferably in a separate fridge and/or freezer, if not, a separate shelf. Raw food should be kept on the bottom shelf if with other food stuffs and away from cooked meat.
- Ensure your hands are washed with soap and water before and after dealing with the raw food.
- Ensure surfaces are washed with hot water and soap or antibacterial spray to ensure totally clean, before and after feeding.
- Ensure the dog bowls are cleaned with soap and hot water after each use.
- When giving bones to the dogs, ensure they are of appropriate size and density, and supervise whilst the dog is eating them.
- Don’t feed dogs where there are small children – either food or bones. Dogs may become protective of their food.