These are some of the questions so many pet parents ask themselves - questions we get all the time when they look for guidance.
There is not one right way to feed your dog - there are many ways to make sure your dog's nutrient needs are met.
But today instead of looking at what different foods do in the body and which nutrients they supply, let us look at how our dogs bodies actually work first. That way we can understand which functions we need to support our dogs’ diet and find our own way to make the diet work long term!
Another reason why it helps to understand your dogs’ body from the inside out first, is that this understanding will enable you to make more confident decisions on your own and not always rely on outside advice that might confuse you even more or is from doubtful sources. Getting to know your puppy takes a lot of effort but it is so very rewarding as well in the long run!
Getting to the actual topic: First we will talk about our dog's jaw - how is it build and what does that teach us about the food we should feed? A dogs’ jaw gives us a lot of insight into the perfect diet - they have long and pointy teeth in the front and sharp molars in the back.
That actually is the typical anatomy of an animal that is meant to eat meat protein in their diet. The basic functions of the teeth are to tear the food apart.
For humans or animals that are supposed to eat plant matter, the molar (back) teeth are flat, so food can be finely ground and the digestive process started. For dogs - they are incapable of grinding food! What we consider chewing is just a mechanism to make food small enough to be able to swallow it. Dogs can not even move their jaws sideways so grinding food like humans do is fully impossible.
For our dogs the digestive process starts in the stomach, not while chewing the food. Dogs have a highly acidic pH in the gut compared to humans and a much shorter digestive tract than herbivores or humans as well!Goats for instance have an average digestive tract length of 20-40 meters while dogs digestive tracts are merely 2-7 meters!
This shows us - a dog's digestive process is quite aggressive. Food gets torn apart in the mouth, forced down the esophagus and then gets into an acidic stomach. The big chunks of food can be taken apart by the aggressive stomach juices because of this acidic pH. When a dogs’ stomach lining is leaky due to inflammation, a poor diet or exposure to toxins then these acidic juices can not properly do their job and they can leak out of the gut and cause harm. That is why it is so important to have a focus on a healthy gut for our dogs.
Understanding the digestive process also helps us to know how to feed veggies and fruit best!
As we know that digesting plants is a very complex process that our dogs can not perform as well as other animals, giving our dogs raw veggies will not enable them to get much nutrition out of the veggies.
We have to take care of breaking the plant matter and cells down, so that our dog can absorb the nutrition from them better. Whether you grind, boil or fry the veggies is up to you of course!
In general the anatomy of our pets teaches us about the bioavailability of nutrients in food by showing us which processes are possible in the body. It is important to keep in mind that feeding a food that contains a certain nutrient doesn’t always mean the nutrient is available to your dogs when you feed them.
There are two examples which show this exact issue:
Let’s look at eggshells. Eggshells are made of pure calcium - but feeding the eggshell alone to your pup is not going to make them absorb or utilise the calcium! The dog's body needs phosphorus - another nutrient - to bind to calcium in food to make use of it. If you look at the egg yolk only you will find that it has high concentration of phosphorus closing the circle - whole foods are balanced in themselves often! So this shows you that keeping an eye on balance and variety plays a big part in bioavailability of foods.
The other example is Omega 3. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that we need to keep our dogs joints and skin healthy. An Omega-3 fatty acid is considered an essential fatty acid, meaning the dog’s body doesn’t produce it, so it needs to be consumed with food. There are both vegetable and meat based sources of Omega-3. Now - Vegetable based sources of Omega-3 are in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, known as ALA.
ALA is found in green leafy vegetables as well as flax, hemp, chia and other plant oils. The ALA needs to be converted to eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. EPA and DHA are the active forms of Omega-3 fatty acids. Herbivores and omnivores can convert plant based ALA sources to EPA and DHA through a series of enzymatic reactions. Dogs can only convert approximately 5 to 15 percent of the ALA sources so they need animal sources of Omega 3.
This is just another example of why offering different sources of different and the ‘same’ nutrients is important, whether you mix it in one meal or over time. There is no one food that he has to eat to be healthy, there just have to be certain aspects and nutrients / textures provided and you will find the ones that suit him and you.