There is a lot of discussion today about what is and isn’t appropriate to feed dogs. We hear about the “ancestral diet,” what wolves eat, and what this means for the dog diet. Things can get heated and confusing when people start discussing a dog’s diet. Here are some basics you should know to help you feed your dog.
Your dog is a carnivore.
He is descended from the wolf, that’s true, but dogs are also good at scavenging. They can eat a little of this and a little of that. If you have any doubts, just leave your dog alone with a pail of trash and see how fast he turns it over and helps himself to the contents. While this may seem appalling to us, this is an important survival skill for dogs. As a species, dogs have adapted to living just about everywhere on earth and one reason is because they are flexible about what they can eat. So, while dogs are carnivores, they have habits like scavengers and are a bit like omnivores. This means that you cannot feed your dog a diet that is all protein or all meat. Your dog needs other things in his diet.
Dogs have been living with humans for at least 15,000 years.
This pre-dates the beginning of agriculture. So, while they may have begun to hang out with humans as our hunting companions (shared meat and bones), they adapted with us to a farming lifestyle. Over the centuries, dogs evolved to possess the same ability to digest starches that human have. Sure, they don’t digest grains as efficiently as we do, but they do have genes for breaking down starches that wolves don’t have. http://www.nature.com/news/dog-s-dinner-was-key-to-domestication-1.12280
So, where does that leave your dog today?
Ideally, a good dog food will have good quality meat protein. It’s often recommended that a good food should have two or three meat proteins in the first five ingredients. This meat protein should be a named meat such as whole chicken or lamb – no “meat digest” or “animal by-products.” You want to know what is in the food your dog is eating.
The same is true for the fat in the food. Named fats are a healthy ingredient for dogs so look for fats like chicken fat and salmon oil. Avoid fats such as “animal fat” since they are vague.
While your dog can eat starches, it’s best to keep the carbs low. Some people like to feed a grain free food. This can be advisable if your dog has an allergy to wheat or corn. Keep in mind that other ingredients provide starches, too. Pet foods that do not use wheat or corn will usually substitute other starches such as potatoes or rice. Kibbles require some starch in their recipes to hold texture and make it through the machinery.
While dogs don’t technically need carbs in their diet, most modern dogs would have difficulties if they ate a diet that was only made up of meat and fat. They simply don’t get enough exercise to live with that kind of very high calorie diet unless they are involved in a very active sport like sledding. Some carbs in the diet, even small amounts, will help your dog feel fuller and keep him from getting hungry so often. They can also help provide some of the vitamins and minerals your dog needs. So, even if you feed your dog a grain free diet, there will almost certainly be some carbs in the food.
You should avoid dog foods that have artificial sweeteners, colors, artificial flavors, and artificial preservatives such as BHA. Look for natural preservatives such as vitamin C and E.
You can find this kind of information by checking the ingredient list on the pet food. You can also check the company web site. Most companies provide information about ingredients and nutritional values on their sites. The more informed you are about your dog’s food, the better you will be at choosing a good food for him.