Wednesday, May 06, 2015

A Well Fed Dog is Never Fat

This article was written for the August 2009 issue of Dogs Today.

I am always a bit amused at how many people have strong opinions about dog food, and how few of these opinions are supported by common sense.

For example, most dog food debates are about quality rather than quantity. And yet, quality hardly matters as most dogs (even most working dogs!) can easily have their nutritional needs met by grocery store kibble or carefully selected table scraps.

Which is not to say that everything is fine in the world of dog food. The problem, however, is not too low a quality of food; it's too high a quality of food, and too much of it too.

Fat dogs are not only losing years off of their lives, but they are also costing their owners billions in unnecessary veterinary bills.

Most of the problem is that people are over-feeding their dogs out of guilt for spending too little time with them.

Another factor, however, is that many modern dog foods are packed with calories which means "just a little more" may end up putting on real pounds. Add in chronic lack of exercise, and you have the same prescription for fat pooches as for obese humans.

It's not just too many calories. Modern dog food is also loaded with vitamins and calcium, and this triple combination means many large-breed dogs are growing up faster than God intended, and as a result they are suffering from increasing amounts of nutrition-related dysplasia.

Are canine web sites and list-servs abuzz about the need to feed dogs less in order to keep them in proper weight?

They are not.

It's estimated that 35 percent of the dogs are over-weight and obesity is the number one killer of dogs and people in this country, but that conversation tends to strike a little too close to home.

Put three people in a room and talk about obesity as a health issue, and at least one of those people is going to cop an attitude: Are you talking about me??!

Which circles us back to the issue of dog food. When people ask me what I feed my own dogs, I tell them grocery store kibble. What brand? I feed Purina at the moment, but what brand does not really matter so long as it is the proper amount. There is no research -- not one whit -- that shows that one brand of dog food is better than another.

Nor, might I add, is there any research to show that corn in commercial dog food is bad for dogs, or that pumpkin, millet, barley, deer, beaver or any other exotic mix is good.

Why do I feed my dogs kibble? Simple: Kibble has been treated with fire.

While cooking does not cure all ills, it cures most, and that is especially important with meat. The more you know about meat -- any kind of meat -- the more likely you are to order your steaks "well cooked."

Whatever brand of kibble you choose to use, one thing is almost guaranteed: your dog will end up eating better than you do.

Not only is most grocery store dog food balanced for proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, but it has probably been tested in the real world with scores of thousands of dogs thriving on it for many years.

Can most dog owners say that about the food they eat? I think not!

As for dog food being full of snouts, lungs, udders, and shin meat, it most certainly is. It also has chicken feet ground up in it, as well as bones and beaks, and pieces of tail, testicles and cow privates.

All of this is excellent food, and most of it was "human quality" until very recently.

Of course, in the English-speaking world we mostly turn our nose up at such stuff. We demand that all meat be the very choicest cut served on a white napkin placed on top of a foam plate. The meat must be dyed the right color to make it pleasing to the eye, and the whole thing must be shrink-wrapped, dated, bar-coded and placed in a cold packing crate in the super market. Only then will we buy it.

Blood and guts? Testicles and snout? Entrails and feet? Most people shudder at the thought of eating those parts of a pig or cow that nurtured their grandparents not so long ago. Go overseas into the markets of Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, however, and people are still eating everything, including the squeal. Ox Tail soup? Bones for Ossobuco? Udders, stomachs and lungs for sausage? Testicles for breakfast? All good food.

What is laugh-track funny are the folks who pop up in every dog food debate to talk about the diet of wolves.

You see, whether wolves are chasing caribou in the Arctic, pulling down wild boar in Russia, or stalking buffalo in Kansas, they are all doing the same thing: they are looking for the young, the sick, and the infirm.

A downer cow? To a wolf that's the dinner bell ringing.

Yes, that's right: The preferred diet of the wolf is not cooked backstrap from the pride of the herd, but raw flesh ripped from the diseased rectum of a downer cow.

Funny how that fact never makes it into all these conversations about "natural" dog foods.

Nor is it ever mentioned that wolves eat a lot of rabbit, deer and rats riddles with round worms and other parasites. Disease? A wolf likes nothing better than a diseased animal; they are so much easier to catch.

Unlike your kibble-fed dog, wolves are not eating flesh from healthy animals that have been given vaccines, regular vet checks, dosed with antibiotics, and given unlimited amounts of high-quality feed and clean water.

But that's what our dog food is made out of.

And then, to make it even better, we stir in corn, rice, and wheat in order to increase fiber and add carbohydrates. We also add in vitamins and micronutrients, as well as preservatives to keep the whole thing fresh. Then we grind it all fine, cook it, extrude it, fire it hard into bite-sized nuggets, and put it in hermetically-sealed stay-fresh bags.

Poor dogs! If only they had quality foods!

Bottom line: Relax about what you are feeding your dog.

You are not a bad owner because you feed your dog a commercial kibble bought at the local grocery store.

Nor are you a better owner because you pay a lot more for an expensive product made from exotic ingredients.

Just remember this simple rule: A well-fed dog is never fat. If you truly love your dog, you will never over-feed it.


Lappan Genealogy said...

I like most of your articles this one however leaves much to be desired in my opinion.

First of all I don't believe a carnivore - and dogs ARE classed as carnivores do not do well on a diet high in cereal and grains. Many humans in fact do not with 1 in 4 in N America being allergic to wheat and dairy.

Secondly, with the Melamine poisoning and NUMEROUS recalls, more and more ingredients being sourced in China... I choose to make my dogs food so I know what they are being fed.


PBurns said...

Marnie, as I read your comment I am tossing sugar peas to a Pit Bull that loves them. I just spent the day in the field with working terriers that spent the first thirty minutes not doing too much work, such was their delight in eating grass because they like the taste so much.

Surely you know that dogs are omnivores, no matter what the dogs tell you? Surely you have seen this yourself in forest and field? Dogs will eat anything that tastes good to them, and that includes dog shit I assure you.

Most canids are, in fact, omnivores as anyone who sets out food for them will atest. My wild yard fox love old bread, baked potatoe and, of course, dog food above all. You know what they feed the wolves at the zoo? Dog food! Purina even!

And do you know what the single greatest food allergy dogs have is? Beef! It's why so many dogs with allergies are told to switch to lamb and rice. I am not sure what your mumble about wheat allergies in humans is about. One quarter of humans have wheat allergies? Nonsense!

No reason not to make your own dog food if you want to and have actually read a bit and followed a a recipe developed by someone with at least a year in nutrition clases, but be advised that in fact you have no idea what you are feeding your dogs. In fact, you have no idea what you are feeding yourself most of the time. Almost all grain in the U.S. is GMO at the moment, your vegetables come from all over the world where they have been sprayed with who-knows-what, and the prescription medications you put in yourself and your dogs are made in China, India, Puerto Rico and God Knows Where.

You may like to make your own food, and it probably does the dog no harm, but you are not likely to have any idea how much fat, protein or carbohydrates are actually in the food, what micro-nutriets might be missing, or even if you have the proper amount of roughage.

The good news is that the gut of the dog is a marvelous thing and it generally sorts it out, with only a little strain on the liver and kidneys if you get it wrong.

Dog food fetishes by pet owners are mostly about themselves and not about the dog. I am always amused at how many fat people who do not excercise at all are concerned that their dog eat only "natural" food. These same people drive in cars with chinese brake pads in them, but have decided everything in china is to be avoided because of the melamine incident. Did they miss the almost daily toxic food and drugs stories coming out of U.S. factories? Or how about the people that poison their kids with bad cooking and "homeopathic" medicines? Happens every day!

Now Marnie, if you REALLY want to feed your dog a natural diet, I recommend catching wild rats and squirrels and tossing them to your dog, guts, bones, fur and all. Throw in a little dead deer ass too. That's what wild carnivores really eat. If you want to feed your dog like a wolf, it's whole rats and deer ass all the way.


Unknown said...

Hello Sir,
I am reading this blog for a long time, however this is my first comment.
I liked your post Inbred Thinking and So You want a dog very much.

I want to know whether a large breed like Great Dane can be raise on a meat less diet.
Years ago my family had a INDog. We used to feed him milk/curd, flat bread(roti/chapati), ghee and he also ate raw vegetables.
He was a healthy dog of medium size.
But can we give such a diet to a large dog and will it maintain it's health.

PBurns said...

As long as there is enough ghee in his diet, the dog should be fine. In fact, once I thought about it, commercial dog good might be described as "bread, ghee and vegetables" in that it is grain, roughage, vitamins, and fats. The ghee (clarified butter for those that are not familiar) is important, as it is the source of fat, and the bread is the source of carbohydrates, with the vegetables the source of fiber and minerals and protein. The main thing I would want to see added to a large breed's food is a source of calcium and perhaps some supplemental vitamins, but these would not be too hard to add in order to keep the dog vegetarian.

Unknown said...


Thanks for such early reply.
We used to give our dog 1 Litre of milk divided into 3 meals - whole milk in the morning and curd/yoghurt in the evening.(my father says milk cause gas in their stomach)

Do u think increasing the amount will give sufficient calcium?

What about the protein requirement?
Can we replace wheat with grounded pulses/lentils cooked with ghee?

Thank You once again.

PBurns said...

The milk and yogurt is good and should be enough for calcium. As for lentils and other beans, just remember that a dog's digestive tract is not very different from as humans; so long as YOU can eat it and put on weight, so can the dog. The problems come when grains are not processed or cooked very much, as they thin pass through the dog without much absorption. Think whole corn kernels -- the come out pretty much as they went in! Grinding up a grain a bit and or cooking it well will help a lot. As for gas, I would not worry too much about milk (dogs are not lactose intolerant as so many Asians are). Good luck!

PipedreamFarm said...

I strongly suspect many of the issues owners think are due to food (excluding toxic adulterants) stem from genetic mutations that make that dog intolerant of a normal food proteins (like lactose intolerance in humans).

As far as red meat allergies in dogs, I wonder if some of these are "alpha-gal" allergies (due to tick bite) that was recently recognized in humans.

Where are the pet food ads showing wolves eating rotting carcasses, digestive tract contents of ungulates, or berries off plants? Owners need to include these if they want to feed their dogs like wolves.