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Real Food for Dogs & Cats
A Practical Guide to Feeding Your Pet a Balanced, Natural Diet
By Clare Middle, Janet Blagg
Fremantle PressCopyright © 2008 Clare Middle
All rights reserved.
Principles of feeding dogs
We need to know a little about how the dog's digestive system works, so that the basic principles of feeding dogs a natural diet will make more sense.
The dog in the wild
The wolf and other wild dogs have been eating raw meat and raw bone for hundreds of thousands of years. Evolutionarily speaking, domestic dogs are not long out of the wild. Their psychology and physiology are adapted to life in the wild and they could, in general, manage well in the wild, either immediately or within a generation or two.
Wild dogs are closely related to our domesticated dogs, in fact dogs can interbreed with wolves. The dog and the wolf were officially recognised and named as the same species, Canis lupus, in 1993, under the code of the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature.
Once we understand the digestive physiology and the basic psychology of dogs in their wild state, the principles of natural feeding will make complete sense.
Dogs are pack animals, not human children
Humans and dogs can form amazing and beautiful bonds. Unfortunately, humans therefore tend to assume that dogs are more similar to themselves than they really are. This anthropomorphisation of our pets can cause significant problems in the feeding and training of dogs.
WARNING: If you anthropomorphise your dog, you may find the material in this book difficult to digest!
The important difference between dogs and humans is that dogs are very hierarchical and therefore seek to know and be sure of their place in the 'dog pack' — that is, your family household.
Fortunately, this crucial fact is becoming better understood, and training methods have improved markedly in the last decade or so, incorporating a more scientific understanding of what the dog is perceiving and feeling. The appropriate feeding of treats provides an enlightening example of this.
You should only ever give a treat when the dog has thoroughly earned it, and never before or during a human meal. Only feed a dog after all the humans in the household have been fed. If the dog is given a treat without earning it, the dog may get a false impression that it is higher than you in the pecking order.
If these rules are not followed, your dog is basically being told by you, in dog language, that they are higher in the household pack order than you are. Dutiful dogs can become over burdened by a sense of responsibility greater than they are capable of managing, making them confused and stressed, and sometimes leading to behaviour problems and even aggression.
As pack animals, dogs tend to copy the traits of the pack leaders to ensure their place in the pack. Therefore your dog will tend to copy your behaviour — whether you feel guilty or undecided, or confident and determined — about a new feeding regime, or anything else!
By law, a dog's behaviour is the responsibility of the owner, and it is important for owners to be aware of this, not only because it can save you expensive fines, but because it can make your dog happier and healthier!
I have seen dogs heal from itchy skin disease, irritable bowel disease, anxious or phobic behaviour and many other unpleasant conditions, simply when owners begin correctly training the dog, because being happier — unstressed — allows the dog's immune system to function better.
The dog's digestive system
In the wild an empty, hungry dog is in peak form to hunt for its next kill. It may be days, even weeks, before the next main meal hops past, but that is fine, as dogs are adapted for this situation. Dogs are capable of going without a meal for several days — with no loss of energy.
In the wild the next meal cannot be predicted: it is a random event. The dog's digestive system is very different from a human's. Their stomach has evolved to digest food best when it is very full. This means dogs can fill their stomach when they have the chance — after killing a large prey animal — and make the most of the opportunity.
Most digestion of a dog's food occurs in the stomach, which is a highly acidic pH 1–2, primarily due to the presence of hydrochloric acid. This is an extremely corrosive environment, capable of digesting large amounts of raw bone and raw meat.
In contrast, a human stomach is generally about pH 3–4. Human digestion occurs mainly in the intestines, and the stomach functions more like a mixing bowl, combining the food with the enzymes for digestion later in the intestines. Digestive enzymes are very sensitive to the correct pH to do their job well.
Carbohydrates can only be fully digested at a pH of about 4–5, while the optimum environment for starch digestion by the enzyme amylase is pH 6. A dog's stomach rarely or never has such a high pH, because dogs are not meant to be carbohydrate or starch eaters.
Humans eat far more grain and a higher percentage of vegetable matter than dogs, and our digestion favours more continuous eating. We can't digest raw bone at all, or raw meat very well, because our stomachs have too high a pH for this to occur.
Dogs do not chew food well — they have a basic scissor- action jaw which breaks the food into smaller pieces, if at all, prior to swallowing. The thought of gulping down lumps of raw meat and raw bone may sound foreign to us, but that is how dogs are designed to eat! They do not need to chew their food very well like we do, as their stomach acidity does most of that work instead.
The dog's stomach differs from the human stomach in another important way: empty, it is not much larger than the surrounding intestines. However, it is capable of greatly expanding to hold up to 5% of the dog's own total body weight of food. And when the stomach is fully stretched, the glands on the inner stomach wall are stimulated to produce yet more enzymes and hydrochloric acid to aid digestion.
This feedback effect is further boosted by an enzyme called gastrin, which stimulates stomach wall contractions, so that the more full the stomach is, the more contractions occur.
The dog's stomach therefore has to be full and dilated for optimum digestion.
Meals must be principally meat and bone
It is important that the dog's stomach be primarily full of raw meat and raw bone. If a dog's stomach is full of high carbohydrate or starch food which can only be fully digested at a pH of 3 to 6, then full digestion is obviously unlikely.
A dog's stomach full of undigested carbohydrate — and even the premium brands of dried dog food are generally 30–60% carbohydrate — can lead to stagnation and bloating, which can be a life-threatening condition in dogs.
Carnivores are not carbohydrate eaters. For energy they depend on glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. Therefore grain, sugar, bread, cakes, pasta, rice, biscuits and commercial dried dog foods should generally not be part of a dog's diet.
One cause of bloat is thought to be the gas produced by bacteria that proliferate in a stomach environment of about pH 3–6. These harmful bacteria do not survive well in the low pH stomach of a dog fed raw meat and bone. Bloat is unlikely to occur in a dog whose stomach has adjusted to a primarily raw meat and bone diet.
Grains and cereals and dried or kibbled dog food, and tinned meat containing cereal, are therefore not good foods to be fed in large quantities to a dog, as they may hinder the correct digestive processes in the dog's stomach. The 3–5% carbohydrate of a balanced natural diet is far more appropriate for dog physiology.
A balanced diet for a dog:
60–80% raw meat, fat, offal, bone, fish
20–40% vegetables, bran, fruit, herbs, fish oil, supplements
When dogs do need carbohydrates
In some cases, small amounts of carbohydrate can be justified if the dog is burning a lot of energy, for example:
very active working or obedience trial dogs
young pups growing quickly
pregnant or lactating dogs
very thin dogs who do not gain sufficient weight on non- carbohydrate foods
dogs with digestive system impairment such as exocrine pancreas insufficiency
dogs who have been on poor quality or high carbohydrate diets for a long time and no longer have the capacity to adapt to the low stomach pH needed for raw meat and bone
very old dogs who are not adapting well to a natural diet
dogs who are unwell and not adapting easily to a natural diet.
See chapter 3, 'Cereals', for a full discussion of the best foods for these special 'high carbohydrate need' dogs. But note that it would still be unwise to exceed 10% carbohydrate (by 'wet' weight, that is, cooked or soaked).
Select carbohydrates from:
cooked oats, quinoa, barley, millet, dried peas, lentils, chick peas, polenta
cooked sweet potato, swede, turnip, parsnip
the bran or outer husk of any grain, especially oat or rice bran and flax meal.
Any of these would be far more nutritious than commercial dried pet food.
The problem with commercial dried foods
If commercial dried food is used as a carbohydrate source, include it as no more than about 3% of the total diet, as it has a lower moisture content than the fresh foods listed above.
There is no law which enforces the manufacturers of commercial pet food to provide a full range of adequate nutrients. Most have a high carbohydrate content to make it profitable to manufacture, as cereal is generally cheaper than protein, and easier to market because it keeps at room temperature, and is convenient for owners to buy, store and handle. Even the best quality commercial dried dog foods can contain 25–60% carbohydrate, on a dry weight basis.
Unfortunately, it is not what nature intended for the dog's digestive system. Also, the grain content should be high quality food rather than the waste by-products or meal contained in many commercial dried foods.
I have found few brands of dried commercial dog food that have an acceptably low carbohydrate percentage of quality grain.
Low carbohydrate studies
Several studies confirm that the development of hip dysplasia in prone dog breeds is significantly reduced if the puppies are raised on a low carbohydrate diet with periods of fasting. The same research has established the benefits of feeding puppies and adult dogs a large proportion of raw bone in their diet.
Raw meat is best
Raw meat contains most essential amino acids, some essential fatty acids, most of the B group vitamins, many trace elements and some antioxidants. Cooking destroys about 70% of nutrients in raw meat.
Raw bone (and cartilage) not only keeps dogs' teeth healthy and clean, it also contains valuable nutrients including calcium phosphate, collagen and trace minerals. The marrow contains fatty acids and vitamins. Raw bone is nutritious and digestible, so long as it is not too large for the size of dog and if the dog is accustomed to eating raw bone.
Raw fat is beneficial and safe for dogs. It contains essential fatty acids and is the best energy source for dogs. (The full discussion on raw meat, fat and bone begins in chapter 3.) Cooking makes bone indigestible and makes fat harmful.
However, generations of some breeds of domesticated dog have long eaten some cooked meat, due to their relationship with humans. And it can be argued that a few dogs with impaired digestive ability, whether due to genetics, age, diet or disease, may be better with some cooked meat at some stages in their lives.
If you must cook meat, it is important that you do not also cook the bone or fat:
Cooked fat can be harmful, possibly causing acute pancreatitis.
NEVER feed cooked bone, as it cannot be digested and may cause blockages or injury to the intestines.
Remove the fat before cooking the meat.
Cooking can change the nutrients in fats and oils from useful into harmful ones, so any oil additives should be cold pressed and added unheated.
Supplements such as fish oil, kelp, flax meal and alfalfa must be added uncooked or unheated.
Fast your dog at least once a week
It is characteristic of the dog's digestive process that the dog thrives best on the whole digestive tract being completely empty at regular intervals.
An empty gut allows the liver to complete its metabolic processes fully, which can only happen when the rest of the digestive tract is totally empty. It takes between about eighteen and thirty hours for the dog's stomach, intestines and bowel to empty.
It is only then — when the blood glucose has dropped beneath a certain level and there is no other source of energy — that the liver is forced to convert glycogen from fat and muscle, and from the liver itself, into glucose for energy. This process is accompanied by the maximum release of pesticides, toxins and other harmful chemicals or drugs from the liver.
The liver is an important organ and its healthy functioning can reduce the incidence of allergy, infection, autoimmunity and cancer.
Toxic chemicals may have accumulated in the liver over many years, from many sources — digested from food or absorbed through the lungs or skin — and may include household cleaning products, white ant and other insect or weed sprays, flea products, mercury from vaccination, exhaust fumes, and pesticides from vegetables, fruit and grain hulls.
Liver detoxification will never occur completely if the dog is fed twice or more a day, seven days a week, week after week. More than six meals a week may compromise the liver's ability to ever fully detoxify.
I recommend you introduce a fasting day when your puppy is about six months old and is down to one meal a day.
Fasting enhances performance
Not only does the liver totally cleanse the body of toxins, it burns excess fat, so the dog can hunt even more effectively. Its senses are also more acute when detoxified.
In the wild a dog with an empty stomach is in peak form to hunt for its next kill.
The dog's use of glycogen as a fuel is an amazingly efficient process. A dog can go for days without food, working hard physically and mentally, in order to find prey.
For this reason, emergency search and rescue dog handlers fast their dogs as soon as a missing person is reported. They know the dogs will be more energetic and work more effectively if they have not been fed for a day or two. Similarly, many dog trainers fast a dog to enhance the effectiveness of their training program, and many owners of racing greyhounds fast their dogs so they can run more quickly.
Exercising your dog on its fasting day is a very good idea, because exercise will then add to the cleansing effect of the fast.
Fasting is not cruel
I have heard owners say they are afraid that if they fast their dog once a week, the dog will be miserable and hate them.
This is an example of looking at a dog's emotions in human terms: the owner is assuming (incorrectly) that not only is it not right for a dog to fast, but that the dog will rationalise in an intellectual way like a human.
It is not cruel to feed a dog only once every one or two days. It may be cruel to feed a dog twice daily, especially with a high carbohydrate meal, as it will never feel completely satisfied because full liver metabolism has not been achieved.
It might, however, be cruel to fast a dog that was on a diet of mainly commercial dried food. It is the combination of fasting with a raw meat diet that is important.
There are also situations when fasting is not beneficial, such as in late pregnancy, puppyhood, and for animals with diabetes.
Excerpted from Real Food for Dogs & Cats by Clare Middle, Janet Blagg. Copyright © 2008 Clare Middle. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsHow to Use this Book,
The Purpose of this Book Foreword,
1 Principles of Feeding Dogs,
The dog in the wild,
Meals must be principally meat and bone,
The problem with commercial dried foods,
Raw meat is best,
Fast your dog at least once a week,
Feed your dog at random times,
Feed by percentage body weight,
Feed until full,
Do not leave food out constantly,
Feed according to the season,
Your dog is happy: you are happy,
2 The Changeover Process for Dogs,
Handling raw meat safely,
Learning to digest raw bone,
Some changeover ideas,
Puppies and pregnant or lactating bitches,
Changing to random feeding,
Blood test anomalies during changeover,
3 Components of a Natural Diet for Dogs,
Raw meat and raw bone,
Ground bone for puppies and others,
Raw offal or organ meats,
Yoghurt, eggs, cheese,
Vegetables and fruit,
Kelp, alfalfa, spirulina and chlorella,
Sprouted grains, grasses and seeds,
Flax meal, flax oil and fish oil,
Prebiotics and probiotics,
Vitamins and antioxidants,
Some sample menus,
4 Principles of Feeding Cats,
Cats in the wild,
Raw food and Pottenger's cats,
The problem with dried commercial cat food,
When and how much to feed,
5 The Changeover Process for Cats,
6 Components of a Natural Diet for Cats,
Raw meat and bone,
Vegetables, fruit, grain, herbs, eggs, yoghurt, cheese,
Some sample menus for cats,
What not to give cats,