A common concern for dog owners who are feeding a home prepared diet is whether or not it is ‘complete’. People worry that it won’t be nutritionally balanced and that their dog will miss essential nutrients that can only be found in commercial dog food.
It is important to keep a few things in mind when comparing fresh food diets to commercial processed pet foods. Let’s take a look at dry food vs. fresh food and compare them.
Commercial dog food is a mixture of ingredients, (proteins, carbohydrates and fats, with added minerals, amino acids, vitamins and preservatives) that together, intend to replicate fresh food that can be offered in a bag. Pet food companies use many of the same foods we use for a raw or home cooked diet, but they process them at high heat temperatures and add additional carbohydrates (grains, starches and fiber) so that the finished product can maintain a long shelf life.
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Dog food is made in large processing plants. The ingredients are placed in large vats and cooked at high temperatures for up to 2 to 3 days. This high heat destroys some nutrients (water soluble vitamins and some amino acids found in meat), so they are added back in supplement form to keep these diets ‘complete and balanced’. The food is heated a last time and put through the extruder that forms the various kibble shapes. Food dye and flavoring is also added to make both a pleasing odor and color for the dog owner and to make the food palatable for the dog.
It is necessary that pet foods strive to be ‘complete and balanced’, as dogs are eating the same formula day in and day out. Dog food companies follow nutritional guidelines set by the National Research Council, however while nutritional recommendations may change, the NRC doesn’t provide yearly updates. The NRC made changes in 1972, 1974, 1985 and 2003. In their last symposium, obesity was addressed, in that 1 out of 4 dogs and cats in the western world is are overweight. The report states the NRC has tips to keep dogs healthy, yet nowhere in this study was the idea of feeding less fattening starches and grains mentioned; nor feeding higher quality of proteins proposed. This may be partly because such a formula wouldn’t maintain a long shelf life and would be expensive to create.
Trying to obtain the quality of fresh food is difficult, if not impossible, in a commercial processed dry food. This task would include using high quality animal based proteins, not heating the proteins to temperatures that cause taurine and l-carnitine to be lost, and keeping the quality and the quantity of fats needed fresh. Dry dog food needs high amounts of carbohydrates to maintain shelf life, however added carbohydrates is a contradiction to the NRC nutrition standards for dogs, which shows no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates.
Using fresh foods, whether raw or lightly cooked, offers a wide variety of amino acids which don’t need to be improved upon or added to be complete. The fat in the food is fresh and the variety broadens the diversity of foods for your dog to enjoy. You don't need to build food to meet standards as you are serving fresh, high quality foods that already contain the nutrients that dogs require to thrive and remain healthy.
These foods are served fresh, either raw or lightly cooked, with little or no loss of nutrients. They are foods your dog would eat naturally, so the minerals, vitamins, fats and proteins are complete. The only mineral that needs to be added is calcium and that is only *if* you are feeding a home cooked or raw diet with NO bones (you wouldn’t serve cooked bones, as they are too brittle for dogs to safely consume).
Home prepared foods are naturally palatable for dogs and the flavors haven’t been destroyed by heat and over processing. We are able to use a variety of high quality ingredients (no by products or preservatives) and we aren't dependent on large amounts of cereals, carbohydrates and fiber. Fresh food is moist, making it easier to gulp and digest for a dog. Dogs are not meant to ‘chew’ their food. They are carnivores and designed to tear and swallow food, as their teeth are not made to grind and pulverize. That gives them tooth decay and gum disease.
The worry isn’t whether home prepared diets are ‘complete and balanced’, but rather to look more closely at commercial dog foods and determine if their single protein source based food with fixed ingredients is truly a guarantee that a dog is getting everything it needs? Certainly if you were to choose to feed a dry dog food, then it would seem wise to switch brands frequently to give variety in the protein and nutrients in the diet. If commercial food is the only option, then switch brands with each new bag and add fresh foods. You can add up to 50% of the diet in plain yogurt, meat, eggs and canned fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon.
The variety of a fresh food diet naturally contains a good balance of minerals, amino acids, fats and fat soluble vitamins. When you add raw meaty bones to the equation, you have calcium plus the addition of phosphorus for good balance. Why try to duplicate what Mother Nature provides so perfectly?
The supplements I recommend adding to any diet include the water soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and B complex (which don’t store well), vitamin E, and omega 3 fatty acids (to balance the over abundance of omega 6 fatty acids found in most foods) by giving 1 EPA fish oil capsules (1000 mg) per 20 lbs of body weight daily.
For puppies, dogs undergoing stress, travel, illness, or frequent change of dry food diets, I recommend giving the Berte’s Ultra Probiotic Powder . Probiotics helps keep the good flora and fauna in the system for good digestion and better immunity.
For puppies on a raw diet, I recommend vitamin D. You can find this, as well as vitamin C, E and B complex in the Berte’s Daily Blend . Simply add fish oil capsules and the Ultra Probiotic Powder. For adult and senior dogs, I recommend the Berte’s Immune Blend , which also contains vitamin C, E and B complex, plus probiotics and enzymes. Fish oil capsules are still recommended, as they can help fight inflammation in our seniors and they are heart, liver and renal protective.
A very Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all, may March bring us all warmer weather!
Copyright Lew Olson 2010
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