Choosing a dog food can be a confusing process for many dog owners. With pet stories full of competing products and web sites packed with contradictory information, it is difficult to know what to believe. This problem is compounded by the fact that there are so many myths about dog food masquerading as scientific facts. Some of the most common claims made about dog food involve raw meat diets, dairy products, raw eggs, grains, dietary fats, the benefits of commercial foods and the need for age and breed specific foods. It is important for dog owners to understand these claims and the facts behind them in order to choose the best foods for their dogs. Having a better understanding of dog nutrition will enable owners to read labels with confidence and choose dog food ingredients that are truly healthy and not just popular due to some fad or other.
Claim: Raw Meat is Always Best
…fails to take into account that today’s domestic dogs evolved in close association with humans, living on human scraps … (evolution) favored opportunistic scavengers …
Advocates of raw diets assert that dogs need raw meat to thrive. This claim, however, is not supported by peer reviewed scientific studies. The myth is based on the fact that domestic dogs are descended from wolves. Since wolves eat raw meat, proponents reason that dogs will do best on a similar diet. This, however, fails to take into account the fact that today’s domestic dogs evolved in close association with humans, living on human scraps. This environment favored opportunistic scavengers able to survive on both meat and vegetable products. These animals were the ancestors of today’s dogs. This means that, while dogs are not obligate carnivores like cats, they are also not true omnivores like people. Instead, they do best on a diet that is high in meat based protein but also includes some high quality grains, vegetables and fruits. Further, it is also a myth that dogs cannot properly digest cooked meat. Researchers have found that dogs do very well using cooked meat as a protein source.
Claim: Grains are Unhealthy for Dogs
Dogs also use some undigested grain as a source of fiber to regulate their digestive processes.
While it is true that dogs cannot digest raw grains like herbivores, they can utilize cooked or predigested grains very well. This is especially true of easily digestible grains like rice. Corn and wheat, on the other hand, are much harder for dogs to digest. Dogs also use some undigested grain as a source of fiber to regulate their digestive processes. Any grain, however, needs to be fed in moderation. Unlike herbivores, such as horses, or even true omnivores, like humans, dogs do not thrive on diets made up predominantly of grains. This is because their digestive tracts are too short to fully process raw grain. The best use for grain in high quality canine diets, then, is as a source of carbohydrates and fiber. Using grains as a source of cheap protein is less than ideal for dogs.
Claim: Raw Eggs are Dangerous
Raw or boiled eggs are actually an excellent source of highly digestible protein in canine diets.
This myth is based on two premises. The first is that avidin, an enzyme found in egg whites, destroys biotin. While this is true, there is plenty of biotin in egg yolks to make up for the amount of avidin in the whites. The second premise is that there is the potential for dogs to be exposed to Salmonella if they eat raw eggs. This is a legitimate concern, but dogs are less susceptible to salmonellosis than humans. This is due, in part, to the fact that dogs have shorter digestive tracts than humans. Raw or boiled eggs are actually an excellent source of highly digestible protein in canine diets. Owners, however, should take precautions when preparing raw eggs or feeding them to dogs. They should also practice especially good hand hygiene when cleaning up after dogs fed raw meat or eggs, because the stools of these animals might contain Salmonella.
Claim: Dogs Cannot Digest Dairy Products
…yogurt containing active cultures is very beneficial in maintaining healthy bacteria in the gut and helping to sustain regularity.
This stems from the fact that many adult dogs, like many adult humans, are lactose intolerant to some degree. This means that these animals do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to digest large amounts of lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. However, yogurt and cottage cheese are dairy products that are unlikely to trigger reactions in most animals and are high in calcium and protein. In addition, yogurt containing active cultures is very beneficial in maintaining healthy bacteria in the gut and helping to sustain regularity. This makes it especially good for many dogs with stomach and intestinal problems. Owners should make sure, however, to only feed plain yogurt and cottage cheese to dogs and to purchase low sodium products if possible. Also, owners should stop feeding dairy products to dogs that develop diarrhea, gas or other problems when eating them.
Claim: Fat is Just Empty Calories
…(fat provides) more than two times the energy supplied by comparable amounts of protein or carbohydrates.
This may be the most dangerous of all the dog food myths. Fat is an essential component of a healthy diet. It is actually the most important source of energy for dogs, providing more than two times the energy supplied by comparable amounts of protein or carbohydrates. Fat is also essential for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. Further, fatty acids are important in decreasing inflammation in the body. Fat also serves as a metabolic source of water, protecting working dogs from dehydration. Animals fed diets deficient in fat can develop poor coats, skin problems and neurological disease. Fat is also very palatable for dogs, so pets may be less willing to eat diets that are very low in fat. Of course, fat needs to be fed in moderation. Very high fat diets are associated with problems like obesity and pancreatitis. When it comes to fat, moderation is the key to good health for dogs.
Claim: Commercial Dog Foods are Unhealthy
Good dog foods exist, but it takes educated owners to find them.
Most commercial dog foods are complete and balanced to meet the nutritional needs of dogs. It is true, however, that not all commercial foods are the same. Some foods use low quality ingredients and cheap, poorly digestible protein sources. They may be high in salt, contain chemical preservatives and colors and be full of fillers. Other foods use high quality ingredients, including real meats, vegetables and grains. Some foods actually use human quality ingredients. The best foods are free of chemical preservatives, colors and byproducts. They use meat as the primary protein source and are balanced to meet a dog’s nutritional needs. In order to find good commercial foods, dog owners need to educate themselves about canine nutrition and read labels. Good dog foods exist, but it takes educated owners to find them.
Claim: Dogs Need Special Diets Based on Age and Breed
…good food for adult dogs is also a good food for puppies and senior dogs.
In most situations, a good food for adult dogs is also a good food for puppies and senior dogs. The amount of food fed to dogs at each life stage, however, needs to be different. Growing puppies and lactating bitches need more food relative to body size than healthy adults. Senior dogs may need more or less food than adults depending on body condition. Older dogs may also need nutritional supplements. These should only be given at the discretion of a licensed veterinarian.
It is important to note that not all special diets are unnecessary. Dogs with health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, anal sac disorders, pancreatitis, kidney disease and other problems, may have different nutritional requirements than average adult dogs. Owners should consult their veterinarians about choosing diets for dogs with special needs.