Almost every facet of dog ownership has a debate about it. From how you train your dog to how you feed it, not everyone agrees. One of the most heated ongoing debates out there is about what you should feed your dog.
A dog owner can choose to feed their dog high-quality dog kibble which generally includes grains (although there are many grain-free varieties), starches, fruit and vegetables along with meat, or they can feed their dog a raw diet of meat, bones and other animals parts that is either sometimes supplemented with grains, fruits and veggies or not supplemented with non-meat foods.
Are dogs carnivores or omnivores?
Where this debate truly begins is in determining whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores. Do they need an animal-only diet, or can they be omnivores and eat meat as well as plants?
Dogs have sharp teeth like many meat-eating animals, and are taxonomically classified as carnivores under the order Carnivora. So, does this settle the debate? Nope.
This order of animals also includes includes cats, raccoons and all bears. Cats are obligate carnivores because they need taurine to survive, and taurine is an amino acid found in meat. But then those pesky raccoons and bears have to come in and mess everything up.
But the habitat of an animal can greatly determine what foods it eats (as with animals eating human food), no matter how much of a carnivore it is.
Dogs, unlike cats, don’t need to get taurine in from their food, because they can make their own like many other animals. This could indicate that they do not need a strict carnivore diet like cats do.
Domestic dogs are descended from the wolf, also under the Carnivora order, but is an omnivore. While eating a diet of primarily and varied meats, wolves will also eat plants, vegetables and berries, includng blueberries, apples or melons. So, dogs being classified as carnivores doesn’t help us much, because the physiology, environment and behaviour of an animal also has an effect.
Some websites that recommend raw feeding state that dogs are carnivores based on their physiology, including their teeth, external anatomy and internal anatomy or digestive systems.
The University of Missouri states that like cats, dogs are carnivores because of their pointed teeth, while domestic dogs have been “turned into” omnivores through a commercial diet.
But unlike cats, who need a strictly meat diet to survive because their nutritional needs can only be met with meat, dogs have the physical ability to be omnivores.
The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine suggests that dogs’ feeding behavior is omnivorous, and they should be fed a balanced, omnivourous diet through commercial dog food that states “Complete and balanced nutrition for dogs based on AAFCO feeding trials” right on the label, as this is the most convenient way of making sure a dog gets a balanced diet.
This is because, according to them, it is extremely difficult for a pet owner to provide a home-made diet that provides a dog with all of its nutritional needs. This study from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine earlier this year found that when making food at home, even using recipes from books by veterinarians, the food was often not nutritionally complete. The study looked at 34 different sources of dog food recipes, including veterinary textbooks, dog care books and websites to analyze the nutrition in meals for a total of over 200 recipes. Only nine of these recipes contained all of the essential nutrients a dog needs in the proper amounts.
When feeding dogs commercial kibble, it’s best to realize that not all brands are equal, and there have been some downright sinister things going on in the commercial kibble world. In the 1990s, it was discovered that there were trace amounts of phenobarbital, the drug used to put down dogs and cats, in some commercial pet food. While the FDA investigated the matter and could not find evidence of dogs or cats actually being in the pet food, the type of animal the tainted meat was coming from was never completely determined.
In the late 1990s, Oprah Winfrey herself was facing libel charges from Texas ranchers who took offense to the statements made on her show by a rancher-turned-activist about how animals are rendered and the beef industry. Her lawyers used the article and the author’s testimony to defend her, successfully.
And the former president of AAFCO (the aforementioned organization that determines what is supposed to be in pet food) actually admitted on camera that there’s really no way of telling what kind of animals (even “Fluffy”) are in commercial pet food, under vague ingredient names like “meat” and “bone meal”.
Does this mean commercial kibble should be avoided? No, it just means that just because a big-name brand is sold at a big-name store and has AAFCO written all over it, it doesn’t mean that it’s optimal (or trustworthy) food for your dog.
It all comes down to finding what is right for you and your dog. This is a huge, huge debate in the dog lover community and there are many stories about how one way is better than the other.
If you feed commercial kibble, find a high-quality local and trustworthy brand that names the ingredients on the label and isn’t vague about their protein sources. Find a company you feel you can trust, and check out their website to see if they list ingredients, ingredient sources, and why certain additives are in their food if any. Avoid food with common allergens like wheat, corn and chicken, unless you know your dog does well on them. Look for common fillers like corn and rice, and do your best to avoid them.
Admittedly, these higher-quality dog foods can be far more expensive than others. In many ways, a home-made diet can be less expensive, although that is not in any way the main reason many pet owners are beginning to transition to this way of feeding their pets.
But like kibble, not all home-made food is created equal. Kibble is a much more convenient option for dog owners, while home-made food needs a significant amount of research and preparation. Outside of nutritional deficiencies, many raw meats can contain e. coli bacteria or salmonella bacteria. These bacteria can infect a dog or cat without causing symptoms, and can then infect humans causing serious illness in vulnerable populations. Studies quoted by the AMVA (American Veterinary Medical Association) have also found other more dangerous bacteria, such as Listeria and Clostridium in raw food diets, which can cause a dog to become ill.
The AMVA recommends cooking all food thoroughly before feeding it to your dog or cat, but many raw food advocates disagree and say the benefits of a raw diet outweigh the bacterial risks.
When feeding a raw or home-made meat diet, it’s important to remember that you’re not just providing Fido with tasty (to you) muscle meat. Raw Fed Dogs recommends 80% meat/sinew/ligaments and fat, 10% edible bone, 5% liver and 5% other organs, while also recommending freezing certain meats for up to two weeks, such as pork or salmon, to eliminate the risk of parasites. Other diets, such as the BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet, recommend a much higher raw bone percentage over meat.
Certain cuts of meat can also be overly fatty, and an excessively fatty diet can lead to pancreatitis or be inappropriate for older dogs. A sudden increase of fat in a diet (or adding rich foods like organ meats) when switching your dog to raw can also lead to messy stomach upsets, so the switch needs to be made very slowly, over a period of months.
If you feed a home-made diet, whether raw/meat only or supplemented with other foods like vegetables, consult with a veterinary nutritionist to find the best way to feed your dog so he’s not missing out on vital nutrients. Another important recommendation when feeding a raw home-made diet is to always be conscious of food safety procedures when handling raw meats.
Tell us about your dog’s diet! What do you feed your dog, and why?