Monday, March 16, 2009

Born to be wild: Should your dog eat more like a wolf?

was the question posted as a headline for a write-up in Dog Fancy’s new “side kick” “Dog Fancy’s Natural Dog – Caring for your whole dog” in one of its recent issues. Needless to say that this caught my interest and led me to take a closer look into the subject matter, especially since it is one of the questions asked by customers and friends on a daily basis.
We all have seen the pictures printed on the dog food bags:
Timberwolf Organics, Taste of the Wild, Solid Gold WolfCub or WolfKing, Blue Buffalo Blue Wilderness and many more, typically high quality manufacturers are using these images to sell their products. With the intention to create an image making pet owners believe that they are buying something what is good for their dogs because they take an ancestrial approach of going back to the domesticated dog’s origins.
Says Taste of the Wild: “Years of domestication have turned your pets from fierce predator to best friends. However, modern science proves that your dog or cat still share the DNA of the wolf or wild cat. … offers your pet a diet dictated by his genes. It provides your pet with the kind of natural, balanced diet that he could find "in the wild."”
Dr. R.L.Wysong, DVM in his pamphlet “
How to apologize to your pet” writes under “Fresh and natural foods”: “Meats: The ideal meat product would be the entire natural prey your pet’s ancestors once hunted. This is not likely to be achieved, but nether the less feeding meat should mimic this model as close as possible. In the wild, when carnivores make a kill, they eat the viscera (organs), muscle meat and bones…. Such fresh meats should be a prominent fresh food you add to your pet’s diet.” He also mentions about plant based ingredients: “Vegetable, fruits and nuts: Believe it or not, many pets relish these foods. … Your pet may eat most eagerly if you are sharing the treat and eat the same raw fruits and vegetables…. The reasons (cats and) dogs frequently eat grass is because they crave and enjoy it – especially if they are feeding ill or are on a processed, dead diet. It is as simple as that. In the wild, pets will actually graze on grass, roots and sprouts as they find them. This should be a small, occasional addition to your pet’s diet. … Grains should be a smaller portion of your pet’s diet since they are technically not a natural food for carnivores.”
Mark Heyward of Timberwolf Organics explains in “The wolf in your living room”: “During the past decade a large following has developed in the US and Europe of animal nutritionists, breeders and pet owners who have begun reverting back to the old methods of feeding their pets raw meats, bones and cooked greens which was the norm before the advent of commercial pet foods. There’s much information available of studies pertaining to the use of whole animal meats and organs, essential fatty acids, seeds and some vegetation in the management of the nutritional requirements of our pets. In other words, simulating a "wild & natural" diet as closely as possible. Many people who take a serious interest in pet nutrition have made a decision to feed their dogs a diet that’s dictated by their genes, that carnivore diet they truly need.Dogs and wolves belong to the order carnivora, or meat eaters and the family canidae. They also share the genus canis and are of the same species lupus. Dogs have been reclassified as canis lupus familiaris. Recent tests have shown that the DNA of a dog is the same as a wolf. As such, a dog's diet should be as close as possible to a wolf's diet. In the wild that would include elk, moose, deer, beaver, rabbits, rodents and birds. All of the prey is consumed with relish, beginning with the blood at the incision site, which is loaded with moisture, minerals, salt and amino acids, followed by muscle tissue, which is high in protein. Quickly they turn to the internal organs: heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, spleen etc that are high in vitamins, minerals, hormones and fatty acids. Contrary to popular belief the stomach and its contents are among the last of the organs consumed and in fact the intestines and stomach contents are rarely eaten at all, only the fat surrounding the intestines. With smaller prey they can often be seen eating the head first. Just like their wolf cousins, canids have teeth designed for tearing, a relatively short intestinal tract and a simple single compartment stomach, which is efficiently designed to extract nutrients and energy from meat rich in complete proteins and essential fats.However, in our civilized suburbs it’s not practical to feed a completely wild diet. Our goal should be to feed a diet that approximates a diet seen in the wild as closely as possible.”
Those are just a few opinions coming from pet food manufacturers, which I classify as upper range quality food providers.
Now let’s see what the magazine had to say:
It started like this: “Imagine a wolf, its gray fur blowing in a wintery wind, howling at the moon, sharp eyes ever alert for potential prey. In the wild, wolves move in packs, hunting large mammals like deer, moose, elk and caribou. Sometimes they hunt alone and feast on smaller prey like rabbits, rodents and birds. “Wolves eat the entire animal, including the meat, hair, bone and all the internal organs” says wildlife research biologist and wolf expert L.David Mech, founder and vice chairman of the International Wolf Center and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. “They eat the stomachs of their prey, but shake the guts to remove the contents and any vegetation is consumed by accident. Wolves only eat fruit and vegetables when they are starving.” “
To me here it already starts to be interesting, because that is quite the opposite what I was made to believe in the past by pet food manufacturers who take the position that exactly because, so they say, the animal eats the guts with contents, that is where fruits and veggies come into play and that would be why dogs need to have the same to be present in their diets.
Natural Dog continues: “Now consider the domestic dog and his diet of dry processed kibble and biscuit treats, made largely from corn, rice, wheat, barley or oats. Caribou on the one hand, kibble on the other. What is wrong with that picture? Should our dogs eat more like wolves?”
Kathryn E. Michel, DVM, a professor of nutrition for the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, after questioned by the magazine stated that comparing our domestic dogs to wolves would be misleading. Wolves are apex predators, which means they eat mostly prey. Other wild canines, more closely related to our dogs, such as foxes, coyotes and wild dogs on the other hand are scavengers.
Here is where it becomes confusing. Who were the domesticated dogs’ ancestors? Wolf or fox? To find the answer I checked Wikipedia again:
“The dog is a domesticated subspecies of the gray wolf, a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora. The term is used for both feral and pet varieties. … “ . While I kept reading it became got more and more confusing, they keep going on and on, but are basically always coming back to the theory that the gray wolf was the original animal. To discuss this here in detail would distract too much from what I want to talk about, nutrition. But if you are interested in finding out more, here is the link:
Dog. It really makes for highly interesting reading. I for my part think much of it simply has to do with our dogs being “domesticated” animals, i.e. the evolutionary adjustments occurring because of the dogs living with the humans. I did find one more comment which I wanted to use here:
“Diet: Despite its descent from wolves, the domestic dog is an omnivore, though it is classified in the order Carnivora. Unlike an obligate carnivore, such as a member of the cat family with its shorter small intestine, a dog is neither dependent on meat-specific protein nor a very high level of protein in order to fulfill its basic dietary requirements. Dogs are able to healthily digest a variety of foods, including vegetables and grains, and can consume a large proportion of these in their diet. In the wild, canines often eat available plants and fruits.”
This is the time to come back to Dr. Michel: “Dogs aren’t built like the animals that must survive primarily on meat. All you have to do is look at the anatomy, physiology ,dentition and gastrointestinal tract to see what dogs are capable of digesting compared to the domestic cat for example. Dogs have gastrointestinal tracts and teeth that reflect a much more diverse diet. They have an almost full complement of molars, which are used for grinding plant material, much more like a pig or a human than a cat or a wolf.” (Sigh), this now sounds like we are all back on the same track again.
Michel concludes that dogs can survive on many different foods, including the starches in commercial kibble. There is no question that dogs are adapted to starch in their diets. They don’t need it, but they can utilize its nutrients if that is what is available. Now does that mean it is the dogs’ own fault that they have to eat food what makes them sick? While I agree, there may be many dogs that don’t have a problem with the food they are being fed right now, (I am talking about mass produced and marketed commercial dry foods), yet there are on the other side many more which do have problems. Look at the stats, they tell it all, most diseases amount to numbers in excess of 50% of the total dog population. And the magazine questions Dr. Michel’s conclusion too: “Whether or not a bowl of kibble is the ideal diet for dogs, however is another question. The subject is controversial, and much of the information both for and against different kinds of pet diets is produced by people or companies with a vested interest in selling a product. While some people say natural foods like raw meat and bones are obviously better for pets, others say scientifically formulated and nutritionally balanced food is superior, even though it is more processed and less natural. What is the real story?”
I agree with the “vested interest theory”, however also have to say that it is documented that pets fed raw diets are doing way better than pets being fed processed kibble. I have yet to hear similar horror stories about pets suffering from pandemic diseases because they were fed raw. I do however know that there are many such cases applicable to “scientifically formulated” dry diets. Like Dr. Wysong says in his “
Truth about Pet Food”, who are the scientists believing they are above everything in this world and can declare a food “100% complete and balanced”, while it is a fact that as of this day we still do not have a 100% knowledge of food and nutrition?
Natural Dog brings another specialist to the round table, Dr. Robert Goldstein, VMD, a holistic veterinarian in Westport, CT and co-author of “
The Goldsteins’ Wellness and Longevity Program for Dog & Cats”: “The problem with kibble is that it contains not only more carbohydrates than dogs need, but it is missing many things whole food once contained. Kibble is processed at very high temperatures. This sterilizes the food and destroys many of the nutrients.” And this, concludes the magazine, “bothers people who believe in eating food as close as possible to its naturally occurring state.”

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