This article represents part 1 of a 3 part series on Natural Canine Health. Topics covered will include diet, medications, vaccines, and alternative therapies. The book, Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, D.V.M. provided the information for the article.
Introduction To Canine Diet Needs
According to some practitioners, like Alfred Plechner, D.V.M., there is a health epidemic in our dogs due to the poor quality of commercial dog food as well as environmental stresses. As a result, says Dr. Plechner, many dogs have become biochemical cripples with defective adrenal glands unable to manufacture adequate cortisol, which is a vital hormone. Also, dietary deficiency is suspected in a number of pet allergies.
How do you know if the food you are feeding is providing good nutrition for your pet? If any of the following symptoms occur frequently (any of these symptoms can occur on occasion with any dog), poor diet may be the culprit: prone to ear infections, smells bad, picks up fleas easily, constantly sheds, has a dull coat, has gas and/or large voluminous stools that smell awful, teeth get dirty and brown, doesn’t want to eat the food, has no energy, is hyperactive or frequently gets infections. If your dog suffers from some of these symptoms, take a moment to evaluate their diet.
Your Dog Needs Meat (Animal Protein)
Although dogs are technically omnivores, they thrive best on meat. Their bodies are primed for digesting animal protein. Proper cell function requires protein (9 to 12 essential amino acids), carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and water in a correct proportion. What happens to the cells if they do not receive the proper amounts of nutrients? The cells die which results in premature aging.
Most people know that protein in essential for our dogs, right? We would hope. But what is just as important (or perhaps more) is the source of the protein. The more expensive proteins such as chicken, beef or lamb are animal proteins while the less expensive proteins, such as corn, wheat, soy or rice, are grains.
Beware of dog foods that are using primarily grains as a source of protein. By law, ingredients for pet food are listed in order of greatest quantity. If grains provide four of the first five ingredients, grains are most likely providing the majority of the protein.
Too little animal protein in a dog’s diet can result in a myriad of symptoms ranging from epilepsy, spinning, aggression or excessive shedding to weakened immune systems, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of pigmentation, poor appetite and other maladies.
A couple of additional points to note about protein in your dog’s diet is that protein amounts required for a growing puppy and certain working breeds is higher so be sure to feed a diet that includes at least two animal proteins in the first few ingredients; an amino acid supplement is recommended by some practitioners due to amino acids (the building blocks of protein) being partially destroyed by heat, which is used in the commercial food manufacturing process.
Note: In the debate or ongoing learning process of canine health, there have been concerns raised of “too much protein” in some large breeds that was thought to cause health problems; however, the current thought is that too much protein may not have been the culprit, but rather poor protein sources.
Other Dietary Needs
In addition to reviewing protein sources in your dog’s food, you should also be aware of other dietary requirements. First, carbohydrates and vegetables are essential for energy, digestion and thyroid gland function but a “low carb diet” is best. Whole grains are preferable such as oats, barley, brown rice, etc. Corn and soy are less desirable for canine digestion (soy is high in protein but binds up other nutrients and makes them unavailable for absorption).
As previously mentioned, the heat process during manufacturing of food breaks down carbohydrates, thus destroying some nutrients. For a dog to digest carbohydrates, they must be broken down so it’s a bit of a problem for commercial foods (dogs eat the intestines of their prey in the wild where the carbs are already broken down). So remember to feed high protein, low carb and you will have less voluminous (and smelly) stool and less tartar build up on your dog’s teeth.
Next, in terms of fats, your dog needs saturated and polyunsaturated fats because together they supply the essential fatty acids. Recommended animal fat for a dog’s diet is between 15% to 18%. (Too much fat can cause obesity and some cancers while too little fat can cause lack of energy, dry skin, cell damage and heart problems). The best source of polyunsaturated fat comes from flax seed oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, olive oil and corn oil. (Not all dogs are created equal. For instance, you may find that your dog has a problem digesting flax seed oil and may need another source of fat).
To preserve dog food, manufacturers must use a preservative. Natural preservatives such as vitamins C and E (tocopherol) are good choices but they limit shelf life to 6 months or less. Other preservatives that give a longer shelf life are not preferred by those who like to stay “natural” and those preservatives include BHA, BHT ethoxyquin or propylgallate
A Final Word On Diet – Vitamins
Vitamins release nutrients and enzymes so your dog’s body can absorb and use them. Although dog food manufacturers add vitamins to their product, the heat process destroys a certain amount of vitamins and so does the air the food is exposed to after you open the bag so it’s a good idea to supplement your dog’s diet.
Dogs produce their own vitamin C but need additional supplements in today’s environment. Vitamin C helps break down animal proteins, strengthen the immune system, speed wound heeling, etc. Additionally, dogs need vitamin B (B Complex) for energy and promoting biochemical reactions, which work with enzymes to change carbohydrates to glucose. (The importance and function of enzymes is an interesting but detailed analysis. For more information on this subject, visit our web site at www.houstonpettalk.com and search our articles section on “Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog” where we have an excerpt from the book, or pick up a copy of the book at your local bookstore…it’s a great resource!).
Supplementing Your Dog’s Commercial Dog Food Diet
In today’s busy world, many of us don’t even cook for ourselves (I am the queen of takeout!) much less have time to cook for our pets. However, feeding your dog a good quality dog food with whole animal protein sources (chicken rather than chicken-meal or by products as an example) and natural preservatives is a good start. We can compliment this choice by adding vitamin supplements and some raw food once a week as well as a bone to clean their teeth (and they will love it!).
You can make your own raw diet supplement (see the recipe on our website) or purchase one from the many new raw food manufacturers that have prepared raw meat diets for purchase, along with bones, including www.thedinnerbowl.com or visit these retailers for other options; Molly’s Mutthouse www.mutthouse.com (Midtown and Heights), Urban Tails www.urbantails.cc (Midtown).
Also, as you look for ingredients for high quality kibble, an example of the a quality ingredients with two or more whole animal protein sources in the first few ingredients would be Core by Wellness Pet Food (www.wellnesspetfood.com to find retailers) or EVO (www.naturapet.com to find retailers). Be prepared to pay more for these quality ingredients but its well worth the health of your pet.
Part 2 and Part 3 are posted on this site as well. Just click here.