More Thoughts on Homemade Dog Food…

Clasidog raised some good points about dog feeding that I’d like to address further with a new post.

 

First, I think it’s important to acknowledge that nobody really knows what to feed dogs. We lack scientific data and studies to guide us. Even some of AAFCO’s guidelines are based on dubious research, such as studies on hogs and mice, conjectured to the needs of the domestic dog and cat. And, many of AAFCO’s studies are based more on what’s required for the bare minimum of survival, not necessarily what’s optimal for ideal health. Most of  their studies are also very short-term, just a few weeks or months, there is not much good evidence available on long-term health affects of any particular dog diet. And this is where nutrition’s affects are most important: we may feel OK eating fast food burgers for a few days, but if we eat them daily for a lifetime, we know we’re headed for trouble!

 

Not to mention, I think we can conclude that what’s good for one individual may not be good for the next. Even if we did have plentiful research, it would still be impossible to quantify the optimal “complete and balanced” diet for an entire population-just look at the diversity of opinions on human diets! So, it is my feeling that we are all left wondering how to best nourish dogs in general, and our own unique dogs. Thus we must develop our own conclusions and assumptions, and this is very subjective indeed!

 

Here are some of the conclusions that I have come to, personally. First, I have come to believe that dogs are not very much like their wolf ancestors at all, but instead are a species that is specifically evolved and adapted to scavenge off of human society’s waste. A variety of readings and personal experience have led me to this conclusion, but my favorite book on the subject is Raymond & Lorna Coppinger’s Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution.

 

Scavengers, by nature, are adept at thriving off of very poor nutrition sources and a wide range of foodstuffs. Many people try to mimic a carnivore diet for their domestic dogs, but I think this may be misguided—there is much evidence to suggest that dogs have an evolutionary history of, and show mostly physical traits of a scavenger, not a carnivore. So, a wolf’s nearly pure-protein diet may actually not be what dogs are designed by nature to eat. On the contrary, feral dogs do quite well in South America, Africa and even here in the U.S., living off of and in garbage dumps.

 

I believe this reality can give us comfort that we almost can’t go wrong, from a nutritional standpoint, in feeding dogs. Just about anything we offer them should be better than a scavenger’s native diet, which is literally trash! But, of course, we don’t want our pets to merely survive, we’d rather they live optimally. I feel that the most important way to ensure that each individual gets what his unique body needs is variety, high quality, highly digestible, and natural food. So, that’s what I shoot for when feeding my dogs.

 

It may be important to distinguish between “leftovers” and “table scraps.” The former, I would define as food that I would normally eat, so is fit for human consumption. I eat a reasonably healthy diet, so anything that’s left over from my table is probably pretty good for the dogs, too. Though, I do feel that dogs can tolerate a much higher bacteria load than humans can, their stomach is much more acidic, and their digestive tract much quicker to do its work. So I would be comfortable feeding my to dogs food which I may consider a day or two too old for my own touchy human digestive system!

 

Table scraps, on the other hand, I would define as the byproducts of the household kitchen that are considered not fit for human consumption- loads of grease, fat, trimmings, spoiled vegetables, or other raw materials that we reject during our food preparation process. This definition, I think, is what veterinarians have tried to preach for decades, that “table scraps” are not too good for dogs. If you absolutely wouldn’t eat it on your hungriest day, why would you give it to the dog?

 

Yet, I would suggest that most commercial dog food is made from just that—byproducts of the human food chain. That’s what makes it affordable, despite all the industry that goes into processing, packaging, shipping and marketing it! How else can you buy such materials for a few dollars per pound, dry weight, unless it is truly junk?

 

When you consider how costly decent beef jerky is-about $20/pound at my local butcher- it becomes plain: dehydrating quality fresh ingredients renders a very costly product, by weight. If dog food is only $2/pound dry weight, the vendor must have had to pay pennies per pound for the original ingredients to still make a profit. What, I ask, can you get for pennies per pound, even buying by the ton? Certainly not quality muscle and organ meat! Not even good cereal grains come that cheap!

 

So, I might assert, if you are paying less than $10 per pound dry weight for your pet food, you might wonder what it was made from that they could sell it to you, at a profit, for so little. And even if you are paying that much, it would be hard to know if the ingredients warrant that, or if the manufacturer just has you fooled, and they are making a vast profit off the same waste everyone else is marketing. But, since we know dogs are evolved to survive on garbage, it’s no wonder that many dogs manage to do alright on re-marketed byproducts on the store shelf. I think that traditional commercial pet food is the ultimate testament to how thrifty the domestic dog really is.

 

The other thing that I think needs differentiation is: fat. Because we humans are particularly vulnerable to getting fat from eating fat, we tend to assume the same is true for dogs. And, veterinarians report seeing cases of pancreatitis in dogs whose well-meaning owners top off every pet meal with a big dollop of cooked grease from the kitchen.

 

Yet, from what I’ve read, dogs metabolize fat into energy much more successfully than humans, so they actually can handle, and do well on, a fairly high-fat diet. And, I think the key is that most of the fat should be in its native form- either raw animal fat from healthy animals, or vegetable oil- not kitchen grease. I actually seek out higher fat meat for my dogs, and add oil to every meal. I believe this keeps their skin and coat vital, which is critical to overall health.

 

My mother remembers in her childhood, commercial dog food was just becoming popular, but her family couldn’t afford it. They always fed their family dog “extras” from the kitchen, and he was in optimal health and lived a long life, even after having recovered from contracting distemper as a pup! My now-deceased great uncle also recalled to me that in the “olden days” they used to home-prepare all of the food for their kennel of home-bred hunting dogs, and were very successful with this. I have also read many writings from dog kennel managers in the early 1900’s describing the meals they prepared for their show dogs—all homemade from locally available ingredients!

 

Commercial dog food has only been “on the scene” since about the Fifties, and only ever became wildly popular here in the U.S.And, we can hardly claim that dogs nowadays in our country are healthier on their commercial diets- quite the contrary. More dogs exhibit signs of disease than ever- allergies, dental disease, behavior problems, etc. Ian Billinghurst, in his book Give Your Dog a Bone, asserts that the U.S. has much more incidence of chronic canine disease than in Australia, where commercial pet food never really caught on.Not only is most commercial food made from poor ingredients, it is over-processed, with too many chemical preservatives and non-digestible vitamins added at the end of manufacture. And, most foods contain the same 10-20 basic ingredients, there is little variety. I just can’t see how this is an optimal way to feed anything, as compared to using a range of dozens of fresh, whole-food ingredients.

 

So, it seems, what comes around goes around, and many people are returning to just making their own dog food and seeing how well dogs do on basic food: meat, vegetables, grain. I think that pet food manufacturers have done an excellent job of marketing the idea that we’re incapable of making balanced meals for our dogs. Even most veterinarians seem to buy this logic (though, it’s possible this happens because dog food companies often fund or provide professors to teach nutrition in veterinary colleges- a sad conflict-of-interest situation).

 

If you fear this same fear, I would pose this question: do you feel qualified to raise and nourish a human child? How do you know he gets enough niacin each day? Vitamin C? What form of Vitamin C? What is the calcium-to-phosphorous ratio in his meals? What is the ratio of meat-to-grain, grain-to-vegetable in his meals? If a company advertised to you that they had created a one-a-day brick of food that was the most complete-and-balanced meal you could offer your child, would you buy it? Would you believe it? Of course that’s ridiculous; we know that as long as you provide your child a wide variety of quality whole foods, he’ll do fine! And that some processed lump of conglomerate ingredients and chemically-derived nutrients, with no day-to-day variety, would be a poor choice for you baby. Now, why would your dog, another omnivore, be any more complicated than your own kids?

14 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Homemade Dog Food…

  1. JUDY HAUSLER says:

    WELL MUCH THANKS FOR AT LEAST NOT TRYING TO SELL ME $100. WORTH OF SOMETHING. THIS HAS BEEN A LONG HAUL AND NOTHING WORKS. I’M OUT OF MONEY AND MY LAB IS RUNNING ON LOW.

  2. Coleen says:

    Brilliant post! I have thought what you have written for so long.
    I too believe that dogs are scavengers and not total carnivores and that our domesticated companions are only distantly related to their wolf ancestry. I think variety is very good for their health as well.
    I use Dr. Harvey’s as a base and mix different meats and oils.
    But I believe what you recommend is fantastic. Stay away from chemicals and preservatives, by products and fatty meats.
    Stay away from commercial dog foods that are cheap. They can’t be healthy. Feed your dog a variety of vegetables, meats, high quality grains and essential fatty acids.
    Thank you for this great post. I just loved it.

  3. Clasidog says:

    Hurrrah…..for you…
    I am giving you a standing ovation here!!!
    I feel absolutely like I have been ‘spanked’ but your post was one of the best I have read ‘anywhere’ yet….good job…you make points that did not even occur to me …and I consider myself highly intelligent and very educated in canines. I would like to repost this (with your permission of course) on to my site.
    My site is all about educating and enlightening ‘Dog Owners’ and I am feeling very ‘enlightened’ myself (not to mention a little on the one of the stupid side…after reading your post)
    Also I am the the mother of four children by the way….your last paragraph really brought your point home for me 🙂
    Let me know if your feelings on my reposting this!!
    Thanks,
    Michele
    askfido@rocketmail.com

  4. workingcollies says:

    Good thoughts, all! Yes, re-posts are fine, with credit, I’m honored! Clasidog, I by no means meant to chastise you! There are certainly no right answers, this is only my opinion, and who knows, I could be way off base! I enjoy the discussion, all we have are each other to learn from and stimulate new ideas.

    I do think that clever marketing is at play here, that pet food companies have done a brilliant job of convincing our culture that we’re not qualified to feed dogs. They’ve attacked from all angles- not only targeting consumers, but veterinarians and other animal professionals who dole out advice to the rest of us. So, for a long while, this propaganda was everywhere we turned.

    I feel lucky to have found a couple of vets in my region who are in favor of homemade food. They are so pleased with the condition of my animals. One recently commented to me about my 15 year old dog that she was amazed how bright and clear his eyes still are. She said she suspects that the grain-heavy diet of kibble causes chronic inflammation in most dogs, pushing them towards eye disease in old age. She said just this dog’s eye health alone was a testament to his diet. That made me feel so great!
    Michelle

  5. Clasidog says:

    Michelle,
    Absolutely with credit !!! That is pretty much what my site is based on…research and all it involves…instead of rewriting what someone else has already worked hard on and written..I post what I have found in original form all credit due to the writers…
    My forte is the research itself!! I actually have information posted on myself that I do not personally adhere to but I try to offer information for all canine owners. For example I have a category just for ‘Vegan’ dog owners. (And although I have recently become vegetarian it is not so much because I think it is morally wrong to eat meat, but because of all the preservatives, Hormones, and basic crap that is injected into beef, pork, and chicken.) I am certainly not a Vegan…my respect to those that are it’s tough enough to find edible food when cutting out meat never mind cutting out dairy and seafood as well!!!
    Thank you again for your great posts and the effort that goes into them!!This compliment comes from a person that works on a blog 8-10 hours a day and knows the work a simple post can be!!!
    Regards from the Michele with one ‘L’ 🙂

  6. Wardeh says:

    Michelle,

    You are so knowledgeable about this and speak with much clarity and make intelligent arguments. Wow! Much has gone over my head, but as I know that dogs and homemade food are soon in the future for us, I will print this and read it over more.

    Love, Wardeh

  7. Guy says:

    Wow. Great post, it’s sad to see so many people still fall for the marketing of the large pet food companies. It’s natural that they will do everything to convince the public that only they know the ‘secret’ to providing the right diet for your pets.

    I’ve been feeding my dogs home made food and treats for years now and they are all very happy and healthy. As you pointed out, dogs have been around a lot longer than commercial dog food and as long as the large companies continue to treat pet safety and health with such contempt I’ll never consider feeding my dogs commercial food.

  8. iris says:

    I am thrilled to have come by your post. You should write a book! It was not only as informative as anything I have read out there but, you cemented my ideas about homemade pet food. i am amazed at what 3 short days has done for my dog. His temperament is the first difference-for the better! He is so fluffy I cant even see his tiny body under his healthy coat. Again thank you for taking the time and effort to post this blog. You are appreciated!

  9. Z says:

    Thank you. I have a similar experience with my own dog. I share your sentiments that dogs co-evolved with us to eat our garbage. My travels in S. America introduced me to healthy looking street dogs. That put idea in my head.

    Then, last month I began giving my dog real food. The improvement in her mood, coat, and energy levels were unbelievable! I always considered her to be a happy, active dog – but this is crazy. She is even happier and more active than before.

    I came online to try to spread the word and was most pleased to see someone already on the case. Thank you for trying to educate people. Your writing is clear, informative, and logical. You are a saint.

    • workingcollies says:

      Thanks, Z; I certainly share the “evangelist” mentality about it, 🙂 though I try to only offer my opinion if someone asks about it. It breaks my heart when coworkers and acquaintances will mention that their dog is experiencinga bunch of illness, especially rampant allergies, and I know that changing the food would probably solve the problem, but some people are not open to the idea. So, I mention it, and leave them room to ask more about it if they choose.

      I keep on hand a few extra copies of Kymythy Schultz’s book, because it’s inexpensive and a quick read. I can hand that to people, so they have something more than just my opinion on it, but are not overwhelmed by a huge book to read. I tell them to pass the book on to someone else when they are done.
      Michelle

Leave a Reply to Guy Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *