Better than wild
I like to think of this as a “better than wild” diet. Our dogs don’t live like wild canids. If a powerful digestive tract, healthy immune system and the speed and strength to bring down an elk are inherited traits, then wolves select for it naturally by mating with the strongest, healthiest alpha wolves — those that survived harsh winters, early illness and were free of congenital defects and physical limitations. Our dogs don’t do this and we, not nature, “unnaturally” select them. Perhaps a truly “biologically appropriate diet” would entail throwing them live animals every other day and letting them forage for wild greens, berries and…goose poop. Of course, we’re not going to feed Buster like this! A “domesticated” raw diet will provide a range of different fresh meat and foods — a wolf should be so lucky! You will be feeding human grade meat; fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs, and using select supplements to fine tune the diet or deal with health issues. A raw meat-based diet provides your dog with naturally balanced nutrition. His teeth and gums will be cleaner and healthier from chewing raw meaty bones. The animal fats help his skin and coat become supple and glossy, the proteins provide energy and vitality. The bones and natural cartilage in the diet will grow strong bones and healthy joints. When you remove cooked, processed meats and cooked grains from his diet, doggy odor, yeasty ears and chronic infections are often alleviated. There is even some evidence that common afflictions of our pet dog population like cancers, diabetes, epilepsy, and severe allergies are exacerbated or even caused by feeding commercial dog foods. When you take control of your dog’s feeding, you are taking a big step in bettering his overall health and vitality and quite possibly his longevity. He will love meal time more than you ever thought possible and will get a great deal of primal satisfaction and both physical and mental exercise from chowing down on real meat and bones.
Kibble: poison or profit?
I think most veterinarians honestly believe that the safest and most nutritionally complete way to feed your dog is by using commercial food. This is what they have been taught for decades in school. Certainly feeding kibble is convenient — toss it in the bowl, occasionally vacuum up grit and chunks and that’s about it. It’s not like feeding your dog pure arsenic or anything. However, it is important to realize that pet food manufacturers heavily fund veterinary school animal nutrition classes, and that these companies have done the most research on companion animal nutrition. Large pet food manufacturers may well know what’s best for your dog. They just don’t put it in a bag of kibble! Vets may be unwilling to recommend a better home prepared diet for fear that clients will not take the time to learn how to feed their animals properly. It’s increasingly common for the family pet to be overweight from overfeeding, and I have met otherwise educated folks who haven’t heard that cooked bones can kill a dog, so perhaps the vets are just being realists. On the other hand, given a choice, which would YOUR dog choose?
Grains: good or evil?
Dogs are not engineered to gain a significant portion of their nutrition from grains. This explains the large, soft stools excreted by most kibblefed dogs. It is clearly processed poorly by the dog. Many vets agree that corn, wheat and soy may cause allergies, skin and coat problems. Overfeeding grains may be a big factor in the frequency of canine obesity today. This in turn may cause or aggravate many other health problems. Grain-based diets promote bad dental health and that can lead to systemic infections and weakening of all major organs. I have seen estimates that 85% of all dogs over the age of three suffer from periodontal disease, largely from feeding a soft mushy kibble diet. One of the first benefits of a raw diet, often noticed within a couple of weeks, is improved breath and whiter teeth. I always gave my dogs plenty of raw chew bones when I was feeding kibble, thinking that was enough. It wasn’t. Once I gave my kibble away and went 100% raw, my older dogs’ breath became sweeter within days, and their teeth steadily became whiter and cleaner. Yes, there are decent kibbles on the market. You are probably feeding one now. However, all contain grain in one form or another, and a cornerstone of the raw feeding concept is that grain is wholly unnecessary for dogs. Grains are often used as fillers, and are the “glue” that holds the other ingredients in those little pellets. They provide, at best, an inexpensive, low quality protein source. Most grains are poorly digested, hence the large smelly poops they produce. Dogs did not evolve to eat grain, yet this is mainly what we have been feeding them for the last sixty years or so. Kibble contains cooked, often low quality ingredients that have had most of the nutrients, enzymes, and antioxidants “boiled” right out of them. These nutrients are then often replaced by synthetic supplements. Dogs have absolutely no need for such a high carbohydrate diet. A wolf eats very few carbs. Added to this, most run-of-the-mill kibbles are often so laden with preservatives and salts that the dog has to drink tons of water. Where there are allergies, yeast infections, GI upsets, poor dental health, obesity, and cancer, grain may be the major culprit.
Very little meat that goes into kibble is considered fit for human consumption. Some cheaper kibbles use “4-D” meats — dead, diseased, dying and disabled. Some people reason that this is not so bad; after all, wolves often eat the weakest prey animals, which are often 4-D! However, remember, the wolves eat UNcooked, UNrendered meat. But reports of road kill, euthanized pets from animal shelters, and rancid restaurant grease being rendered into dog crunchies do bother me (Goldstein; Martin). And consider this, you might think that since “Meat meal” is the first ingredient listed, your dog is getting plenty of meat, but if more than one of the next few ingredients is some kind of grain product you’re probably going to be feeding your dog mostly grains.
If meat is identified simply by source — lamb, chicken, and beef — this is best. Typically this indicates higher or human grade meat. This is also sometimes listed as “meal” (i.e. beef meal) meaning the meat has been processed and all the water removed. The terms “animal digest” or “animal byproducts” are generally found on cheaper foods. Not identifying the source indicates that they are getting the meat from several sources. “Animal fat” or “tallow” can be fats from animals or it can be restaurant grease, a common ingredient in kibble.
Kibbles high in corn or wheat are best avoided. These are particularly cheap grains and are often associated with allergies and yeast infections. This is why hypo-allergenic kibbles typically have rice as the primary grain source. Corn gluten meal and brewers rice have already been used in other food manufacturing processes and therefore their nutritional content has been depleted. For example, brewers rice is a by-product of the beer industry, and corn gluten meal is a by-product of manufacturing corn syrup. It’s interesting to note that corn gluten meal is a common herbicide, though it has been deemed by the EPA as “non toxic” to humans… hmmm. Preservatives and Stabilizers. BHT, BHA, or ethoxyquin are common preservatives. These have been associated with a number of serious health complications and behavioral problems, including some cancers (Goldstein). Ethoxyquin was developed as a rubber stabilizer and is also used as an herbicide. These ingredients are allowed in small amounts in both pet foods and some “people” food. There are many who think that there has been inadequate research on the long term effects of these and other preservatives, and may be contributing to cancers and other chronic illnesses in both pets and people in industrialized nations. In response to public concern, many manufacturers are switching to “mixed tocopherols” which are mixed antioxidant vitamins such as E, as preservatives. Of course it’s necessary to use preservatives to prevent fats from becoming rancid, the food from mold, or the meat ingredients from turning rotten, but isn’t it better to simply feed FRESH?
So, you still want to feed kibble?
In addition to heavy preservatives in most kibble, there are texturizers, flavor enhancers like salts and sugars, fat stabilizers and artificial colorants. Sure — most of us eat a lot of these things. But in every single meal, during our whole lives? I wouldn’t eat a diet of 100% processed foods, and I won’t feed it to my dogs either. Don’t you think it’s odd that we humans are told that fresh wholesome food should form the basis of our own diets — that the less “processed” foods we eat, the better, while what is supposed to be optimum nutrition for our pets is…you guessed it, 100% processed food? Food that has had the living enzymes and many nutrients boiled out of it — to be replaced by synthetic or cooked nutrients. Food that hasn’t been “fresh” in months, perhaps years.