Among the most common questions that retailers field from customers is one that concerns the topic of dog nutrition.
Let’s call it, “What should I feed my dog?”
And that should come as no surprise. A well-balanced diet is vital to a dog’s overall health and well-being.
With that in mind, retailers need to understand what and how to feed a dog. It’s important to know what the nutritional requirements of a dog are and how these demands have developed through biological evolution.
Domesticated dogs have adapted to consume diets provided by their owners. However, as a species, the dog is a member of the scientific order Carnivora, where the word “carnivore” can refer to a meat-eating organism. This order is a large group of the most common mammalian animals that share a similar tooth structure. The dietary needs of the members of this order vary, with the order being split into suborders, which include the Feliformia (felines) and Caniformia (canines). Some animals in this group are known as obligate or true carnivores, which means they have an absolute requirement for meat, while others can meet their nutritional requirements through a combination of meat and plants, making them omnivores. Cats are obligate/true carnivores while dogs are omnivores. Thus, dogs eat both plants and animals for their nutritional needs.
Because of the dietary requirements of dogs, both their tooth structure and intestinal tracts have adapted to an omnivorous diet. Under normal circumstances, dogs can meet their nutritional needs by eating a combination of meat and plant-based foods. The source of the proteins and fat is less important than the quality and digestibility of these components of the diet.
A well-balanced diet must include an appropriate amount of minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. These components are necessary to build and maintain tissue and carry out biological functions. The amounts of these components vary based on the dog’s stage of life—puppy, adolescent, adult, senior and pregnant—and dogs have varying nutritional needs during these different life stages. A growing puppy or a pregnant or nursing mother may need different nutrients than a senior dog. It’s also important to note that a specific dog may need more or less of a specific component due to its individual needs or health status.
According to Pet Food Institute, the pet industry’s voice of dog and cat food makers and whose members comprise 98 percent of U.S. pet food and treat products, commercial pet food is designed to be complete and balanced, with each serving being a complete meal that provides total nutrition. The food found in these products are created using recipes that have been crafted by veterinary scientists and/or experts in companion animal nutrition.
Veterinary nutritionists have identified a diverse range of more than 40 essential vitamins and nutrients for dogs, which Pet Food Institute states are provided by the ingredients in pet food and supplements. Some examples of these nutrients include:
- Vitamin A is essential for cell development, growth, healthy vision and immune function.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) plays a role in energy metabolism and nerve tissue growth and maintenance.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) supports the process of releasing energy from food.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is a component of the enzymes necessary for metabolizing fats, protein and carbohydrates.
- Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) supports calcium metabolism and skeletal health.
- Vitamin E (Alpha-tocopherol) serves as a natural antioxidant, which scavenges free radicals, supports the immune system and a healthy skin and coat.
- Vitamin K is essential for the protein synthesis involved in blood clotting and bone formulation.
- Proteins are made up of amino acids, which build and maintain a dog’s muscles, bones, blood, organs and skin/ coat.
- Carbohydrates provide fiber in a dog’s diet, which are vital for the support of a healthy gut microbiome; they also encourage the movement of waste materials out of the body and supply glucose for cellular energy, thus sparing protein for other functions in the body.
- Calcium and phosphorus work together in the body to support bone development and support cell conduction, such as nerve impulse transmission and muscular contraction.
- Magnesium supports an electrolyte balance inside cells and bone structure integrity.
- Potassium serves many functions, including to help with nerve transmission and maintain the electrolyte balance in cells.
- Sodium and chloride play a role in maintaining the balance of fluid in cells, which impacts blood pressure and kidney function.
Of those essential nutrients, the basic nutrients for a healthy dog are water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. These essential nutrients are required as part of a dog’s regular diet to sustain all of the basic functions of its body. Nutritional guidelines have been developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AFFCO), and these guidelines are the basis for the nutritional content of commercial pet foods.
The AAFCO Nutrient Profiles contain 23 essential vitamins and minerals for dogs. Usually, according to Pet Food Institute, these vitamins and minerals are provided to the pet food via a prepared packet called a premix that is the multi-vitamin/ mineral of the food. While vitamins and minerals are added in small amounts, they account to close to half of the ingredients in a pet food and are often the longest part of the ingredient statement.
The three largest nutritional components of dog food are protein, carbohydrate and fat. Protein sources come from meat, meat by-product meal, corn gluten meal, meat and bone meal, soybean meal, with some contribution from whole corn, whole wheat, barley, rice, animal digest and amino acids. Without the proper levels of the essential amino acids, the synthesis of proteins is impaired. For example, puppies that don’t ingest the proper level of amino acids can experience reduced growth.
Dr. Gerald Buchoff gave a presentation on the subject of dog nutrition to an audience of retailers and distributors in November 2017 at the Pet Age offices in Somerset, New Jersey. Dr. Buchoff has practiced both traditional and integrative veterinary medicine for more than 35 years. He has served as president of both the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) and the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association. His credentials also include alternative modalities involving homeopathy, veterinary orthopedic manipulation, acupuncture, glandular nutritional therapy, cold laser therapy and reiki.
Dr. B’s Longevity Raw Pet Food has been formulated and designed by Dr. Buchoff to optimize a dog’s wellness for enhanced quality of life and to provide the animal with a maximum lifespan. In addition to using high quality raw ingredients with full nutritional integrity, Longevity adds pet superfoods such as green tripe, lycopene and medicinal mushrooms for wellness. Maitake, reishi and shiitake mushrooms reduce inflammation and possess antiviral properties. Green tripe is also among the ingredients, providing enzymes, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, probiotics and phytonutrients.
Based on his veterinary training and research, Dr. Buchoff recommends feeding dogs a diet that avoids grain, soy, dairy, chemicals or cooking. Instead, he prefers the diet to include approximately 75 percent raw meat and steamed vegetables plus supplements. The 75 percent portion of meat for such a diet can include raw beef, chicken, turkey, lamb or fish, 25 percent of which is made up of raw organ meats (heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, skin, intestines, stomach and glands).
Of the diet’s remaining 25 percent portion for vegetables, half of it should be comprised of “carbohydrate vegetables” such as sweet potatoes and squash. The other half should be spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, kale, collard greens, bok choy and any other non-salad vegetables.
Finally, an organic calcium supplement, a whole food vitamin-mineral-phytonutrient supplement mixture and an aloe vera concentrate complete the dog’s diet, according to Dr. Buchoff. He also notes that a dog should be given filtered or distilled water to drink instead of tap water that is chlorinated and fluorinated.
Among the topics discussed during the nutrition seminar was raw versus cooked dog food. In addition, retailers voiced their concerns over salmonella and the overall perception of raw food among many veterinarians and pet owners.
Dr. Buchoff explained that proper hygiene greatly reduces the risk of pet owners contracting and spreading salmonella from pet food and human food, alike.
“How do we get [veterinarians] to stop telling their patients that raw food is dangerous?” asked Vince Sheehan, owner of Katie’s Pet Depot in North Brunswick, New Jersey.
“That’s my next Don Quixote task,” Dr. Buchoff responded. “It’s going to happen not through me or Dr. Karen Becker [DVM, author and consultant] or [pet nutrition blogger and Planet Paws founder] Rodney Habib. It’s not going to be through us because we’re [considered] crazy vets. It’s going to be through the owners of pets telling these doctors … ‘I switched to raw food and now the dog is no longer itching, now the pancreatitis has gone away.’ ”
Because raw, frozen food is minimally processed, it retains its high moisture content. It also doesn’t require any heat application that, according to Dr. Buchoff, can put vital nutrients and enzymes at risk.
“When you cook it, you change the configuration of those enzymes, which are proteins, and they’re no longer acting as enzymes,” Dr. Buchoff said. “That makes the food inherently poorly digestible. Also, when you heat foods, you change the protein, which can make them allergenic and also create toxins.”
When posed with a question on the growth of the raw food segment, Dr. Buchoff acknowledged that he believes the raw sector of the pet food industry is growing more than other segments.
“The raw food industry is increasing at such a high rate,” he explained. “Although I think the amount of raw food being sold in pet stores is still a [very small] percentage, it’s the fastest growing segment, so much so that the big [manufacturers] are taking notice.”
According to Petfood Industry, raw pet food sales grew from $117 million to $393 million between 2012 and 2016 in the United States.
He also noted during the seminar that blood is among the ingredients in the Dr. B’s Longevity line of dog food.
“Blood is a great source of certain oils, proteins and minerals,” he explained. “My point in adding blood was not for nutrition—although it does have a lot of nutrition—but my main point, when I think of food that’s wholesome and natural, is that food should be the way an animal would eat it [in nature]. If you slaughter an animal and throw away the blood, you have a kind of bloodless meat. You’re losing the life of that food.
“In holistic medicine, we talk a lot about chi, about the life energy of an animal,” he concluded. “It gets its energy from its food, and I want its food to be alive. That’s what it is. It has a lot of blood, and that from a nice, healthy animal. We’re putting it back in there in the same proportions as it would be in the meat, and it’s alive. It makes the food a live food. If it’s highly processed, it’s clearly dead. But even if it’s a raw food and it doesn’t have the life energy, then I don’t think it’s up to what an animal would naturally eat.”