Feeding Dogs In a Biologically Appropriate Way
For thousands of years, dogs roamed the ancient world, making their homes on the Savannahs of Africa, the plains of India and the forests of Europe, Asia and the Americas.
They ate what they could, wherever they could. Their food, like that of wolves now, came from 3 sources: prey, scavenged and grazed items. Prey would be mainly herbivores, like rabbits, deer, or sheep. Scavenged food was devoured from the scraps left over from the meals of big, messy carnivores such as lions, bears and pumas. Grazed food included apples, berries and other wild fruits and nuts in season, forming a small but significant part of a dog’s diet, especially during summer when their prey were well fed and harder to catch.
This makes dogs carnivorous omnivores, not true carnivores, like the cat.
Dogs hunted in packs and devoured their prey almost completely, leaving virtually nothing of the carcass. In herbivores, the guts would be full of chewed and partially digested vegetable matter, with a tiny amount of cereals. Then the muscle (meat) would be eaten. The bones, skin and hair comprised the final course, being nature’s way of cleaning the teeth after a large meal.
Key genetic features of the both dogs and cats classify them as carnivores hence they would have historically eaten a diet almost exclusively of meat
- Pointed Teeth designed for grasping ripping and shredding
- Jaws designed to swallow whole food (not grinding)
- High Acid Stomach Type
- Short small intestines
- Digestive enzymes adapted to breakdown meat
- Absence of enzymes designed to break down vegetable matter
The health benefits of feeding a good quality, species and biologically appropriate diet can be immense. When switching diets there is usually a massive improvement in gut health, immunity, coat, skin and teeth. Behavioural problems can often resolve, weight issues disappear and vitality increases.
In an ideal situation Dogs can be fed on a variety of raw meat and bones along with fruit and vegetables. (Just sticking to one meat will deprive your dog of nutrients.) Don’t use the best human meat – rough, chewy, gristly meat is best for dogs. Care with beef and chicken if your dog has skin or bowel issues – wait 4 weeks to ensure it won’t cause a reaction, then introduce gradually. Green tripe is amazing, being naturally full of probiotics (ideal in a case of any dietary upset and diarrhoea). Raw poultry carcasses can be fed as a meat source 2 or 3 times a week and are ideal, cut up, for small dogs and puppies over 5wks. Raw chicken wings are an excellent substitute for a dental chew.
A raw diet is an ideal way to feed, it is however not easy to do correctly at home. Getting a nutritiously complete, varied, long term and available range at home is often impossible to achieve. We recommend that you use one of the many reputable suppliers of a raw diet, and purchase several varieties from a ‘complete’ range.
There is also some controversy re raw meat and bacteria. We recommend that you consider very young or very old household members, as well as anyone with a compromised immune system when feeding raw. If feeding raw meat concerns you, very quick flash frying in olive or coconut oil to ‘seal’ the meat is acceptable.
If you struggle with the concept or practicality of a raw diet, there is now a large range of Biologically Appropriate foods. They can be freeze dried, steamed, tinned or kibble food.(In order of preference) Prepared diets do have vitamins, minerals and often herbs added. Kibble is prepared by ultra heating feed, and many nutrients are destroyed by the process. Synthetic essential vitamins and minerals are then added to make the food balanced.
When looking at a BA food for your dog, please study the ingredients label. They are listed in the order of largest quantity first, and so the first ingredient MUST be a named meat (not meat and poultry by products!!) preferably whole prey and NOT a cereal. Then check the rest of the ingredients, (listed in descending order of size) Ideally there should be fruit and veg and not be packed with cheap cereals (wheat, soy, rice etc) or fillers (potato)
In the early 20th century, food producers came up with a novel idea to sell the large amounts of leftover, poor-quality meat, gristle, viscera and cereal by-products: Put it in tins and call it ‘dog food’!
Suddenly, people could buy convenient food made especially for their dogs. The idea caught on, and soon it was forgotten that dogs used to simply be fed raw meat and bones with vegetable left overs.
Today people are bombarded with pet-food advertising as it is a very lucrative industry, however it does seem that on the whole the pet food industry has forgotten the basics of nutrition!
Before feeding your dog, ask of the food: Would you eat this, or feed it to your children?
NEVER FEED: Grapes or raisins, onions, macadamia nuts, cocoa beans or products. Bones are an ideal addition to any diet. But AVOID weight bearing or cooked bones.
Ideally do NOT feed cereals, or rice. This includes mixer biscuits or treats containing these things – always check the labels! Buckwheat, Millet and Quinoa are good fillers as they are not cereal grains.
Use a good mineral and vitamin supplement, especially as your pet gets older.
Treats: Try baked liver cubes, freeze-dried meats, meat jerky, fresh veg pieces & fresh fruit.
Our Guide to Feeding your tiny tiger
It may sound silly but if you compare their behaviour and anatomy there is little difference other than size!
Chasing, stalking, ambushing and pouncing are all practice hunting behaviours. Their amazing sense of smell, exceptional low-light vision and camouflage coats are all to assist in the hunt too. Big cats also purr, roll around, sharpen their claws on trees, sleep a lot, play, groom… Sound familiar?
Cat jaws and teeth are designed to eat a prey-based diet, whether in a wild, or domestic setting – large canines to capture, hold and kill; shearing molar teeth to cut through skin, meat and bone; and an up-and-down jaw action for cutting meat into chunks- not for grinding plants.
Digestion of carbohydrates requires an enzyme called Amylase – cats don’t produce this in their saliva, like omnivores do, so have a limited ability to digest plant matter and other carbohydrates. Cats get all their energy from animal proteins and fats.
Cats of all sizes are obligate carnivores – they are designed to only eat other animals.
Cats are descended from desert creatures so are intended to get most of their fluid intake from their prey, so rarely need to drink – fresh prey contains 65-75% moisture.
So whether big cats, or small, they hunt to catch prey for their food. They will eat virtually the entire carcass – meat, bone, skin, fur, gut, internal organs…as owners of hunting cats will know, often all that’s left of a mouse is half the skull and the gallbladder!
An appropriate diet:
An ideal diet is a either a prepared raw meat diet or a steam cooked meat diet, which is readily available and can be delivered directly to your home. Alternatively a high meat content, prepared tin or pouch diet is also suitable.
As they are obligate carnivores cats require a meat and bone content of 85-95%!
A variety of meats should be fed – try not to stick to just one type (e.g. chicken), feeding just one meat source will deprive your cat of certain nutrients.
Meat and bone are best fed ground up together. However small bones and chunks of meat are a brilliant addition to your cats diet. These not only form part of their meal, they encourage chewing and gnawing which exercises their jaw muscles and are great for teeth.
A natural prey-based diet also involves around 5-10% of organ meat. This can include heart, liver, kidney and tripe.
Your cat will only eat a small volume of food, if fed appropriately, as it is actually utilising most of its food! Feed 2-4% of your cats body weight.
When choosing a food please have a look at the ingredients. The ingredients have to be listed in size order so the (at least) first two ingredients MUST be meat. (Not meat/poultry by products etc) This will ensure that the diet is the best suited for your cat. There are many different varieties available from most pet food suppliers. Avoid dry food that isn’t at least 85% meat as these are often cereal based and are likely to cause health problems.
Cats should be fed a minimum of 2-4 times daily; young or older cats require more frequent meals. Many adult cats do better on more regular, smaller meals, if possible-in the wild a cat will eat 10-20 rodent sized meals a day! Consider feeding using a slow feed technique (a puzzle feeder/snuffle mat/kong etc) as this will mimic their natural hunting behaviours (and control weight in a overweight cat!)Feed away from their water supply as cats hate to feel their water is contaminated.
What not to feed
- Cooked bones of any kind – these are indigestible and very dangerous!
- Fruits or vegetables, especially onions or garlic
- Plant-based oils
- Milk (even ‘cat milk’)
- Treats (check the ingredients.)
- Plant based protein (nutritionally void cheap fillers)