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Understanding your dog's dietary needs

Understanding your dog's dietary needs

By Auriane Hurtes, Animal Nutritionist

Did you know whether your pooch is a 1 kg chihuahua or 120 kg St Bernard, s/he is likely a descendant of the wolf? The origin of the dog goes back approximately 40 million years ago. The partnership between men and dogs goes back the longest; it is widely believed that dogs evolved from the relationship humans developed with the more curious and friendly wolves roughly 30 000-15 000 years ago. In the wild, dogs are meat eaters or carnivores that live in social packs and cover long distances in a short amount of time. Dogs’ adaptation to living with humans, being domesticated, has altered their diet, particularly over the last 70 years with the pet food industry, thereby impacting their health.

Nutrients

Just like you, your dog relies on food to obtain adequate amounts of nutrients to grow, breathe, digest, keep warm and move. Nutrients are grouped into six major categories: protein (sources include poultry, beef and pork meats, fish, eggs), fat, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and water.

When referring to carbs or carbohydrates, we generally mean the types that can be digested: either simple sugar or a complex form called starch. Carbs in food are broken down in the digestive system into sugar (glucose) that is a source of fuel to the body. Carbs therefore affect your pup’s blood sugar levels. Excess carbs will be stored as reserves of sugar or once those are full as fat.

Physiology

The dog’s stomach acts like a mixing bowl as it mixes the food with molecules called enzymes that will breakdown or digest food to products s/he can absorb and use as energy. Your furry friend’s stomach is full of acid which is useful to dissolve raw meat and bone. Carbs, on the other hand, can only be fully broken down in a much less acidic environment. This rarely ever occurs in the dog’s stomach since they did not evolve eating carbs, notably starch. The undigested starch can move into the gut and disrupt the balance of beneficial and harmful microbes known as dysbiosis.

Looking to nature

In order to understand what the dog’s digestive system has adapted to eat, it can be helpful to look at their wild ancestor, the wolf. Wolves are intermittent feeders, eating large amounts at a time, unable to predict when their next meal will be. While this isn’t the case for dogs, you may have noticed that behaviour of chomping down their bowl quickly as if s/he hasn’t eaten in ages. Dogs can expand their stomach to hold up to 5% of their own bodyweight of food so beware of thinking they’ll regulate their hunger!

Domestic diet

If nature doesn’t normally provide many sources of carbs, especially starch, humans have come to rely on many carb-rich foods like cereal grains (e.g. wheat, maize, rice), thereby affecting the diet of the animals we care for.

Generally speaking, commercial diets, particularly kibble, are very high in carbohydrates, between 30% to 60% due to being produced mainly from cheap fillers such as cereal grains. High amounts of sugar and starch can lead to multiple health disorders such as diabetes, obesity, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBD) and a weakened immune system. While protein is essential to the dog’s diet, the quality is as if not more important than the quantity. To reduce cost, the pet food industry often uses poor quality animal by-products which can include bird faeces and feathers as a source of protein.

Moreover, pet food can be highly processed. Processing refers to a series of operations performed for a specific result, including feeding safety, degree to which a food can be used by the body or digestibility and longer storage life. This is commonly the case for starch rich foods like grains which are subjected to heat to make them more digestible for the animal. Pet food processing commonly exceeds 300°F (up to 480°F). However, when food is cooked above 120°F important vitamins and minerals as well as enzymes are destroyed. These enzymes are critical to helping the body absorb nutrients while vitamins and minerals play a fundamental role in health. Heat also transforms fat into toxins that weaken the body.

Feeding for health

While you intend to feed your dog a loving bowl of health, the pet food industry unfortunately doesn’t always have the best intention at heart! When it comes to feeding our four-legged friends, considering the foods their digestive system has adapted to eat goes a long way!

Some helpful reminders:

  • The majority of a dog's diet should be protein from meat and occasionally from fish and eggs.
  • Carbs should be kept to a minimum; preferably from vegetation (limit grains). Cereals such as wheat, corn and soy should be excluded as these are known allergens that can cause inflammation in the body.
  • While dogs evolved eating raw whole prey their fibre was pre-digested. Cooking pre-digests food making it easier for dogs to absorb the nutrients but heat destroys critical nutrients

Puppy Gang Fresh Foods (PGFF) cares about the nutrition that fuels your pooch’s health. The food offers the convenience and practicality of commercial pet food while minimizing the detrimental effects of processing on your dog’s nutrition. As such, foods at PGFF are gently cooked by steaming at temperatures below 230°F to cook the food with minimal impact on the vitamin and mineral content.

Remember, your dog is unique and you know them best; while in the wild s/he would pick what s/he wants to eat, offering them a diversity to account for varying amount of nutrients and flavours will keep it exciting and balanced for them!

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