Photos courtesy of National Geographic (Wolf)and Astrid Beutler, Thuringia in Germany (Australian Shepherd Puppies)

Species Appropriate Specific Nutrition

Dogs Are Carnivores

by Dr Jeannie Thomason

I just can not overstate the importance of proper nutrition for our dogs! Without proper nutrition, any and all other efforts at achieving and maintaining our dog's good health can be only somewhat successful at best. Without proper nutrition you will find there is a much greater need for medical intervention, simply to assist the body in dealing with things the immune system should be capable of dealing with on its own.

Let's face it, without proper nutrition every virus, every allergen, every parasite, every bacterium, and every fungus are made all the more pervasive, powerful, and dangerous. Not because they are strengthened in any way, but because the body's ability to fight them off is dramatically supressed.

The natural defense against all these things, the dog's own natural immune system, is dependent on proper nutrition to maintain adequate protection against invasion. With proper nutrition, there is a huge decrease in the need for things like antibiotics, vaccines, and parasiticides.

Species Appropriate Nutrition

Any discussion of canine nutrition needs to start with one basic premise. Dogs, all dogs, even Boston Terriers, are Carnivores, not omnivores. The assumption that dogs are omnivores remains to be proven, whereas the truth about dogs being carnivores is very well-supported by the evidence available to us.

Dogs being Carnivores is a biological given.
Look into your dog's mouth. Those huge impressive teeth (or tiny needle sharp teeth) are designed for grabbing, ripping, tearing, shredding, and shearing meat (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 258.). They are not equipped with large flat molars for grinding up plant matter. Their molars are pointed and situated in a scissors bite (along with the rest of their teeth) that powerfully disposes of meat, bone, and hide. Carnivores are equipped with a peculiar set of teeth that includes the presence of carnassial teeth: the fourth upper premolar and first lower molar. Contrast this with your own teeth or the teeth of a black bear. A black bear is a true omnivore, as are we. We have nice, large, flat molars that can grind up veggies. Black bears, while having impressive canine teeth, also have large flat molars in the back of their mouth to assist in grinding up plant matter. Dogs and most canids lack these kinds of molars. Why? Because they don't eat plant matter. Teeth are highly specialized and are structured specifically for the diet the animal eats, and the difference between a bear's teeth and a dog's teeth (both species are in Order Carnivora) demonstrates how this can be (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pgs 260.).

Dogs (and cats) are equipped with powerful jaw muscles and neck muscles that assist in pulling down prey and chewing meat, bone, and hide. Their jaws hinge open widely, allowing them to gulp large chunks of meat and bone. Their skulls are heavy, and are shaped to prevent lateral movement of the lower jaw when captured prey struggles (the mandibular fossa is deep and C-shaped); this shape permits only an up-and-down crushing motion, whereas herbivores and omnivores have flatter mandibular fossa that allows for the lateral motion necessary to grind plant matter (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pgs 258-259.). Consider this quote from the previously-cited Mammology text:
"Canids, felids, and mustelids subsist mainly on freshly killed prey. These families show correspondingly greater development in 'tooth and claw'; they also have greater carnassial development and cursorial locomotion." (pg 260, emphasis added)

Dogs have a highly elastic stomach designed to hold large quantities of meat, bone, organs, and hide. Their stomachs are simple, with an undeveloped caecum (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 260.). They have a relatively short foregut and a short, smooth, unsacculated colon. This means food passes through quickly. Vegetable and plant matter, however, needs time to sit and ferment. This equates to longer, sacculated colons, larger and longer small intestines, and occasionally the presence of a caecum. Dogs have none of these, but have the shorter foregut and hindgut consistent with carnivorous animals. This explains why plant matter comes out the same way it came in; there was no time for it to be broken down and digested (among other things). People know this; this is why they tell you that vegetables and grains have to be pre-processed for your dog to get anything out of them. But even then, feeding vegetables and grains to a carnivorous animal is a questionable practice at best.

Dogs do not produce the necessary enzymes (amylase, for example) to deal with the starch, cellulose, and carbohydrates in plant matter since they are carnivorous animals designed to eat meat and bone. Feeding dogs as though they were omnivores taxes the pancreas and places extra strain on it, as it must work harder for the dog to digest the starchy, carbohydrate-filled food.

Nor do dogs have the friendly bacteria that break down cellulose and starch for them. As a result, most of the nutrients contained in plant matter--even pre-processed plant matter--are unavailable to dogs. This is why dog food manufacturers have to add such high amounts of synthetic vitamins and minerals (the fact that cooking destroys all the vitamins and minerals and thus creates the need for supplementation aside) to their dog foods. If a dog can only digest 30% or less of its grain-based food, then it will only be receiving 30% or less of the vitamins and minerals it needs. To compensate for this, the manufacturer must add a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than the dog actually needs and of course the vitamins and minerals, etc. are in a synthetic form that may not be actually being properly digested or utilized either.

So, now we KNOW dogs are carnivores and all dietary decisions must conform to this if they are to result in proper, appropriate, nutrition. This is not something we can change to suit our own likes, needs and beliefs.

We must be guided by this imperative when making decisions about our dogs’ diet. This means that we must feed them a Species Appropriate Raw Food diet.

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The information contained on this web site is intended as education/information only. All the articles on The Whole Dog have been researched and reviewed for accuracy. However, they are not intended to be a substitute for diagnosis or treatment from a holistic veterinarian or other qualified holistic pet health professional. The Whole Dog does not assume any legal responsibility.

A consultation is highly recommended before any preventative program or treatment is started. A consultation includes a personalized diet and holistic program suggestions that are custom-tailored to your own dog's individual and personal needs.

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