In Part I, we talked about the history of dog food, some of the strategies used by pet food manufacturers to sway the consumer mindset, briefly talked about pet food testing and posted a recap of the main pet food recalls since 1995. In Part II, Lew takes a closer look at the biggest, and perhaps the most harmful and detrimental 'filler' used in dry commercial dog foods, and how it can affect your dog's health. We'll end the series in March with a more in-depth discussion on commercial dog food – the ingredients, preservatives, added synthetic supplements and how the contents of that attractive dog food bag not only provides inferior nutrition to a fresh food diet, but how over time, feeding processed food to your dog overtime can set the climate for a variety of serious health issues.
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In order to develop and manufacture a pet food product that can sustain a long term shelf life, the primary staple ingredients needed for dogs, as carnivores, is compromised. Dogs require animal based proteins and fats to obtain the nutrients they need, however neither of these ingredients will sustain a prolonged shelf life packaged in paper or cardboard. So, instead of using these ingredients, pet food manufacturers elect to use carbohydrates as the main ingredient, as they do not spoil or rot quickly. Just as breakfast cereals can sit on grocery store shelves for many months, so can commercial pet foods. The main carbohydrates used in pet foods are either grains such as rice, corn, wheat, or barley, or starches such as soy, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, peas, carrots, beans and sometimes fruit. While carbohydrates do contain some proteins, the proteins in these carbohydrates lack the important amino acids taurine and carnitine which canines need for heart health and other major organ function. Even though proteins found in carbohydrates lack these important amino acids, the amount of plant based proteins are included as the total protein percentage in the food.
Dry dog food is hard particles made up of a carbohydrate based formula that include poor quality proteins and fats (often times the fat goes rancid in dry food). When we consider the anatomy of a canine, it's important to understand that their mouths, teeth and jaws are designed to tear and swallow large moist chunks of meat (protein) and fat. Dogs chew when they are given bones, simply to crush them into smaller sizes they can swallow. Additionally, dogs do not produce the enzyme amylase in their saliva and are therefore unable to break down starches. This leads to the tooth decay, plaque build-up, and bad breath so many dogs are plagued with. Finally, when dogs don't get the nutrients their bodies need, they crave the foods their bodies biologically need, which are fresh meats and fat. They need good quality fresh proteins and fats that contain the full amino acid profile found in animal based proteins, not in plant protein based foods.
The worst outcome from feeding a diet high in grains, starches and fruit is the invasion of a high amount of sugar into a canine's body. Dogs, as carnivores, need fat for energy and animal based proteins for healthy skin, coat and internal organs. Their digestive tracts are short and simple and they don't have the ability to digest, ferment or use carbohydrates as a nutrition source. While carbohydrates offer an inexpensive means for making processed dog food and offer the manufacturers a long shelf life, the ingredients cause damage to the dogs' health.
Carbohydrates and starches break down into sugars. Sugars can have an adverse affect on dogs. Sugar feeds cancer cells, adds extra 'empty' calories which result in obesity, and can cause tooth decay. Dogs do not receive the benefits of high quality protein in the amounts they need, when they are replaced by carbohydrates. When proteins are cooked at high heat temperatures, as required by pet food processing, the heat destroys many of the necessary nutrients needed for good health. When dogs don't get the amount of high quality protein in their diet they need, they can become protein deficient. This can cause problems with the liver, heart and kidneys later on in life. These organs need the full complement of amino acids found in animal based proteins to stay and remain healthy for life.
Dogs use protein to make glucose, but when fed large amounts of carbohydrates, their blood sugar levels go up and down. This can create mood swings and can make some dogs hyperactive or aggressive at times. The blood sugar levels created by carbohydrates can also negatively affect the performance dog as they can lose energy quickly due to blood sugar levels rising and dropping. Additionally, it can encourage seizure activity in some dogs. The amino acids found in animal based proteins create calmness and stability in the dog and keeps their mood and energy levels steady.
Carbohydrates from starches and grains are also high in fiber. While this encourages good digestion for herbivores and omnivores, it causes stress on the digestive tract of a canine that results in large voluminous and smelly stool and gas. Remember, dogs have a short, simple digestive tract that is not designed to ferment foods. People are always amazed when my raw fed dogs have small, hard stools that turn white and disappear after a few days. Dogs fed dry food have large stools, with much odor, that need to be picked and bagged. Since grains and starches pass through quickly because dogs can't ferment well, the stools are more tempting for those dogs with stool eating habits.
Unless your dog has a specific illness that requires a diet with less fat or protein, such as renal issues or pancreatitis, carbohydrates have little, if no, value in the canine diet. In fact, carbohydrates in the long run can do serious physical harm to your dog. To recap, carbohydrate based commercial pet foods can lead to tooth decay, promote good nutrition for growing cancer cells, can have a negative effect on mood and energy levels, create large and smelly stools, and they do not contain the good quality protein content needed for heart, liver and kidney health.
Raw diets provide carbohydrate free meals or contain small amounts if feeding a frozen, pre-made raw pet food. Home cooked diets need about 25% of the diet in low glycemic (low sugar) carbohydrates to offer the fiber that bone provides in raw meals.
Stay tuned in March for Part III for a more in-depth discussion on commercial dog food – the ingredients, preservatives, added synthetic supplements and how the contents of that attractive dog food bag not only provides inferior nutrition to a fresh food diet, but how over time, feeding processed food to your dog overtime can set the climate for a variety of serious health issues.