The pet food industry is worth an estimated £3 billion in the UK alone and much more globally with the USA taking up a large proportion of that figure.
This ensures strong monetary control by leading brands about what we feed our dogs and our knowledge about the best dog nutrition for them. And rightly or wrongly we trust these brands, brainwashed by the clever TV advertisements and the psychological warfare in supermarket aisles. So, the question is are we ensuring the correct nutritional requirements for our dogs with the foods we buy or are we trusting dog food brands too much to make the decisions for us and feeding for their convenience and price.
There are over 8 million dogs in the UK and they are our close companions, so feeding a dog the correct food is a big responsibility. The majority will be eating a commercially prepared dog food. If this food is nutritious then that’s fine but the majority rather than the minority of these foods questionably provide dog nutritional needs and some are actually damaging to your dog’s health (see Bakers and Pedigree Dog Food Review by Stan Rawlinson, www.doglistener.co.uk).
What do dogs eat?
The wolf, the ancestor of the modern day dog were and still are carnivores. Today, dogs are omnivores, meaning they eat a variety of foods like meat, fruit, vegetables and carbohydrates. Before dog food started to be commercially produced in the 19th century dogs ate what they could get hold of. Dogs living in the countryside would eat raw meat scraps, raw milk and eggs. Inner city dog owners would end up feeding dogs raw meat scraps and anything else they could get their paws on. So the diet that dogs ate then was reasonably healthy, containing raw meat and proteins such as eggs.
Cut to present day and the myriad of dog foods and supplements available. I hear some real horror stories from people who feed their dogs not only food with absolutely no nutrition in it but also is extremely damaging to the dog’s health.
Recently I was having my hair cut at a local barbers shop and was discussing dog diets with the owner who was cutting my hair. His female assistant who was cutting another customer’ hair joined in the conversation and joked about the fact that she feeds her shih tzu chocolate, cappuccino coffee and almost all the human food that she eats. “She is so fussy she won’t eat normal dog food”. It is bewildering sometimes how stupid some people are.
Some dog foods are good and some are bad food for dogs. The one thing most have in common is that they are convenient compared to feeding your dog a raw natural diet which is not as convenient and will be closer to the natural diet of your dog’s ancestors (see Your wolf in dog’s clothing. The benefits of a raw and natural diet Winston & Porter Dog Blog).
I suppose it’s like us buying a microwave meal full of salt and sugars as opposed to preparing a fresh meal containing fruit, vegetables and fresh meat. One is not very nutritious and probably bad for us where the other is very nutritious and very good for us.
Dog sources of vitamins and minerals in food
Dogs need 37 essential vitamins and minerals to function at optimum levels. A few of the most important vitamins and minerals are usually provided by a healthy diet of meat, fish, organ meat and dairy products. They are:
Calcium is the most bountiful of all the minerals found in the body. If there is a calcium deficiency for dogs in the bloodstream the body will take some from the bones. Low calcium symptoms include heart and bone problems. Worryingly, dogs can lose up to 40% of their bone calcium before it is detected in the blood.
So, how much calcium does a dog need? According to the National Research Council (NRC) of America, dogs generally require 50 mg of calcium per kilogram of body weight. When feeding your dog bear in mind that a great source of calcium are raw meat bones. Other sources include yogurt and cottage cheese.
Chromium helps with the metabolism of glucose and can be found in cheese, muscle meat and liver.
Copper is good for bone development and elastin. Also,for absorbing iron. It can be found in fish, muscle meat and liver.
Iodine assists with the the thyroid gland. If some foods are overfed like strawberries, cabbage, peaches, spinach, peanuts and radish then this can have a negative effect on thyroid production. Therefore these foods should be limited.
Iron really helps with fighting anemia and encouraging cell production. Foods iron can be found in are meat, liver, fish, poultry and eggs. Iron is the most difficult to provide in the right amounts, but shouldn’t be too much of a worry due to the high meat content in dog diets.
Magnesium - do dogs need magnesium? The answer is yes as it helps with bones, nerve function and muscle relaxation. Magnesium is found in fish, meat and dairy products. What causes low magnesium? Diuretics, antibiotics and painkillers can deplete magnesium levels.
Manganese can be found in seaweeds including kelp and blue-green algae.
Phosphorus - this is the second most bountiful mineral in the body, especially in muscle tissue, and is present in bones. Phosphorus helps to harden bones, relaxes muscles and is the body’s pH buffer system. It can be found in dairy products, meat, fish and grains.
Potassium - assists to maintain cell fluid balance, glucose conversion, nerve transmission and hormone secretions. It is found in large amounts in raw food, meat, dairy products, fish and poultry.
Selenium - protects the heart and liver and is great for healing skin conditions. It is also known to be good for cancer prevention. It is found in seafood, organ meat and meat.
Zinc - helps boost the immune system and can be found in fish, eggs, meat and poultry. Zinc deficiency in dogs can happen through stress and illness. Steroids and certain medications can also deplete zinc and happens fairly quickly.
So, most vitamins and minerals are provided through a healthy diet for a dog by feeding meat, organ meat, fish and dairy products. There are a few companies who are now producing a raw food diet in a convenient fresh container and they may well be worth trying out. They are more expensive than traditional canned dog foods or dry kibble and are not as widely available in our supermarkets.
Winston & Porter ®
References: Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs: The Definitive Guide to Homemade Meals, L Olson, 2010.