The process of evolution tells us that dogs developed as carnivores. Wolves are still carnivores and relatively, dogs were still wolves until very recently. So in theory shouldn’t our dogs still be strict carnivores craving protein and fibre and dreaming about hunks of juicy beef?
The majority of people still view the dog as a solely carnivorous feeder, but in reality the modern dog is a versatile and healthy eater. The needs of the dog have changed since his domestication; as a consequence so have his dietary needs. Most dogs have swapped the baron fields of Europe for the comfort of a basket or bed in a heated house.
Dogs are less active nowadays too; they don’t need to hunt so they need less energy. Most dogs get used to getting fed and acquire tastes of their own. So they tend not to gorge in order to stock up, they can afford to be more picky (this is rare however, most dogs will still try to stuff themselves, but they no longer need to).
So already we can see three reasons why the canine diet has changed. They no longer need large amounts of fat to stay warm, our houses do that for them, they no longer need huge amounts of energy to hunt with, so their need for protein is diminishing and they no longer need to gorge on a day’s worth of food.
So is there anything they do need in their diets that they might not be getting? Well, due to the advancements in veterinary care, our dogs are living much longer. In order to do this and benefit from a prolonged lifespan, dogs would benefit from foods rich in omega 3 oils, which promote healthy joints. Foods such as fatty fish contain high amounts of these essential oils, but surprisingly grass-fed beef is even richer in omega 3.
The subject of modern canine dietary requirements is much too broad to allow one to suggest three steps to healthy eating. The main question to answer is whether dogs are benefiting from their traditional diet, or are there now other options available to dog owners?
The more cynical dog owner may have pondered whether shop bought dog foods are a healthy choice, due to the simple fact that the manufacturers need to generate a profit and therefore need to use inexpensive ingredients. As a general rule, dog food manufacturers offer a good range of nutrients, but that is not to say they are getting it right every time. It is believed that the high calorific content and levels of protein found in puppy foods can often put smaller puppies at risk if they are over fed by their owner. The risk is just as real for larger or faster growing puppies who can suffer bone and joint injury if over fed on the same protein rich foods. Perhaps the modern dog does not need as much protein as was once the case.
Many dog owners have begun to favour a home-prepared diet, but this is just not practical for many pet owners. However the benefits of this diet are plain to see. Peace of mind is one advantage dog owners will enjoy if they know exactly what is being fed to their dog. Another plus point to this method in many people’s view is that home prepared foods can often represent more loyally what the diet of our dogs would have been like before they were domesticated. But why would the modern dog need such a diet today if they are no longer living the lifestyle of a wild dog?
One person who seems to have a very logical answer to this question is Dr Ian Billinghurst. Dr Billinghurst is famous as the man who developed the BARF diet, a vet and a lecturer in canine nutrition; he offers some revolutionary yet remarkably simple solutions to the dilemma of what to feed your dog.
BARF Diet For Dogs
BARF stands for many things, but it is most commonly used to denote Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods. The diet offers dog owners the chance to enhance the health of their dogs through resorting to a natural canine eating regime. Dr Billinghurst believes that for mammals to function effectively today they need to be fuelled by the same food that they had as the species was developing.
He draws this analogy “For any machine to work properly it must be supplied with the manufacturers recommended fuel, lubricants, and spare parts. Anything less will cause that machine to malfunction. Our pets’ bodies work on the same principle. A biologically appropriate raw diet is the only diet that will maximize health and longevity.”
Dr Billinghurst is a firm believer in giving the dog a bone, in he fact he believes so strongly in this practice that he has written a book of the same title. Bones are the storehouse of minerals and certain vitamins and when incorporated into a healthy, raw diet can promote good health even into advanced old age. There is no need for starchy or grainy foods in the canine diet.
The BARF diet is based on all food incorporated being raw. Dr Billinghurst subscribes to the belief that mammals, even humans do not need a cooked diet. This applies especially to dogs who can thrive when switched successfully to the BARF diet. BARF, although it sounds disgusting can also stand for Bones And Raw Food which is as good an indicator as any of what Dr Ian Billinghurst views as the way forward in canine nutrition.
So what would become of the canine diet if we took the BARF diet one step further towards a logical human conclusion? The Atkins Diet is arguably the most infamous diet of the last decade, causing some people to shed weight with ease and causing others to question possible health implications of a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. Would this diet be suitable for our dogs? Being similar to the BARF diet in so many ways does not mean that the diet would be a healthy diet for dogs, even ones that could benefit from some weight loss.
The Blue Cross advises pet owners that the number of overweight pets has doubled in the past ten years. This is a reflection of two things. Firstly we as pet owners are obviously not taking enough care over what we are feeding our pets, and secondly that a great proportion of our pets need to loose weight. But would a diet such as the Atkins be suitable for dogs? Or can our dogs succeed on a more vegetable biased diet?
Dogs in theory are carnivores, so surely only a meat diet could be suitable. But the palate and the body of the dog is developing to incorporate vegetables and even dairy products into the canine diet. The general consensus is that carbohydrates should make up nearly 50% of a dogs diet, so the Atkins diet is not really a healthy option. The meat element of this diet is not necessarily a problem, but it is believed that it would be detrimental to the health of any dog that was deprived of carbohydrates.
However, certain dogs are fed on vegetarian diets with varying degrees of success. This goes some way to establishing the maxim that dogs are no longer the protein hungry meat eaters they once were, but instead are versatile omnivores able to adapt to many lifestyles and diets.