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What & How To Feed

Canines and humans are biologically opposite.
Humans use carbohydrates for energy, whereas dogs use fats as their main energy source.
These fats, they will get from meaty diets and in the wild, predatory animals will only consume 3% to 5% carbohydrates.
Dogs and other carnivores have evolved to handle the bacteria in raw meats.
Their gastrointestinal tract is a very acidic environment, with a low pH of 2, or even lower.
Thanks to this acidity, raw meat and bones, decompose into soft, digestible materials.

The low pH is highly effective at killing potentially pathogenic bacteria like, salmonella, clostridia, campylobacter and E Coli.


If we change this pH in their digestive tract, by feeding a food that’s not appropriate for them (like carbohydrates), some of that protection is lost.
Dogs and cats have a significantly shorter GI tract, compared to other non-meat eating (herbivorous) animals.

The relative length of the gut reflects that nature of the diet, and how efficiently or slowly the food is broken down and absorbed.
Fresh raw meat is easily digested and absorbed – compared to vegetable matter – and as such, carnivores have a short gut and rapid gut transit time.
Other physiological differences pinpoint at the type of their natural diet:

Carnivores: Wolves & other Canidae, Dogs & Cats

Sharp, elongated teeth designed for tearing and killing prey – not grinding plants.
Jaws that move vertically and open widely, providing a smooth cutting motion, and the ability to swallow large chunks of meat.
Short, simple and acidic digestive tracts that quickly and easily digest protein and fat from animal sources & kill bacteria found in decaying meat.
No amylase in saliva.

Herbivores: Cows, Sheeps

Square & flat molars that provide an ideal surface to crush and grind plants (but not meats).
Lower jaw with a distinct sideways motion, that facilitates the grinding in order to chew plants.
Long digestive tracts up to 10 times their body length to break down plant foods.
Their saliva contains the enzyme amylase needed to digest carbohydrates.
Herbivores methodically chew their food, to ensure the thorough mixing with amylase.

Omnivores: Pigs, Bears & Humans

Flat molars & sharp teeth developed for both grinding and tearing
Ability of the jaw to move sideways to grind food.
Medium length digestive tracts that provide the flexibility to digest
both vegetation and animal proteins.
The saliva contains the digesting enzyme, amylase, needed to digest carbohydrates.

The natural “wild” diet of dogs and cats, has evolved a gastric environment that favours the decomposition of raw meats & bones, with a pH able to kill harmful bacteria, which are consistent with the carnivores' nature and in particular, the scavenging nature of dogs.

Fresh meat can be digested and processed within 8-12 hours, whereas plant and vegetable material in the herbivore’s gastrointestinal system, can take 3-5 days to be processed.
When a dog is fed with processed food (kibbles) and you make a transition to raw, you will notice a rejection, in the form of vomiting, or acute gastroenteritis.
Witnessing this “rejection”, you presume that raw meat is not the good regime for your dog, but it is a natural response for this type of diet transition.
This is due to the fact that the dog’s stomach is less acidic and he can’t cope with the bacteria.
The meat protein dictates the low pH and high acidity, in the carnivore’s stomach.
Kibbles lack of the good and quality protein.
Dogs, by nature, are resistant to Salmonella infection, due to their rigid gastrointestinal tract, with strong stomach acid, that usually neutralises the bacteria.

The intestine is responsible for over 70% of  the dog’s immune system.


It’s the number one defence mechanism against toxins.
The gut absorbs nutrition that fuels the body to survive and fight the aging process.
Hence a healthy intestine is extremely important.
Simply put, the walls of the intestines ensure that good things (water and nutrients) are used by the body, while bad things (toxins and pathogens) get stuck inside the intestines until they are rejected.
Once compromised, either due to diet deficiencies or health issues, the dog’s overall health is at risk.

Conventional dry dog foods can exceed 40% to 50% in total carbohydrate content.


This means that around half the dog’s diet is composed of non-essential simple sugars.
Unfortunately,  many dog parents are not aware of it, because the pet food manufacturers aren’t required to list carbohydrate content on their package labels.
According to 30-year pet food formulator Richard Patton:

“Carbohydrates intake above the daily dog’s needs, which is less than 8% for all dog species, triggers internal enzyme factors to store the excess as body fat.”

A small, steady amount of carbohydrate or starch in the diet is fairly harmless, but when large amounts of starchy carbohydrate are added to the diet and most of dry dog foods are 30-60% carbohydrate, this can cause obesity and insulin resistance.

Insulin is a hormone found in all humans, dogs and cats.
One of insulin’s primary purposes is to get sugar from the blood into the cells and is the only hormone that does this.

On the other hand, our dog has multiple hormones that raise blood sugar!

One more reason that proves the appropriate diet that dogs are meant to eat.
His organism is much better prepared to raise blood sugar when carbohydrate is scarce, than it is to lower it when too much of it is consumed.

When our dog eats carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose, which is the form the body can use for fuel. Afterwards, insulin is released to move the blood sugar, or glucose, into the cells.  And how quickly this happens is the food’s glycaemic load.

The glycaemic load, is an indication of how quickly the blood sugar raises!

The only foods that cause a quick spike in glucose and insulin secretion are carbohydrates.
Over time, the dog’s organism will become less sensitive to insulin.
Then, insulin resistance can occur.
After that the pancreas will have to work harder to produce more and more insulin and risks to become exhausted…
Finally our dog can develop diabetes. But other risks are also linked to insulin resistance.
For instance the thyroid disease and some types of cancer.
As one of insulin’s jobs is to store body fat, the dog eating a lot of carbohydrates and starch, can become obese.
Unfortunately the pet-food industry can’t avoid the use of it, because first and most important, it is cheap!
Imagine if they have to replace all the anti-nutrients, additives and carbohydrates, with real meat protein…
Expensive production leads to expensive products, thus difficult to appeal all budgets…Most people will look for a good compromise, therefore expensive pet-food will stay on shelves.
This is where the carbohydrates come into the picture.
But because they’re so nutritionally incomplete, you’ll also see other ingredients added, in order to boost the nutritional value.
In all of industrial pet-food ingredient analysis, you will notice “Free Amino Acids”, “Synthetic Vitamins” and “Added Minerals”.
The food manufacturers are not obligated or forced by a low, to mention the exact amount of carbohydrates in their products. This makes it even harder for the consumers, to know exactly what they feed their pets.

Mycotoxins & Kibbles

starchy-food

Mycotoxins are toxic by-products of mould or fungus, that contaminate crops before they’re harvested or after they’re stored. They are most commonly found in:

Corn, barley, wheat, beets, peanuts and cottonseed, sorghum, pearl millet, rice, wheat, soybean and sunflower seeds.


One of the most known mycotoxins is Aflatoxin – the most carcinogenic, naturally occurring substance. 

A global survey conducted between 2004 and 2013 found mycotoxin contamination in over 76% of the samples of grains and by-products destined for animal foods.

Aflatoxins target many of the organs in dogs but especially the liver, where they can cause toxicity, immunosuppression and cancer.

In the US, both human and pet foods are limited to 20ug (one millionth of a gram) of mycotoxin per kg.
But grains usually contain several different types of mycotoxins and they can interact with one another to increase their toxicity. And the effects of mycotoxin exposure are cumulative and build up in your pet over time.
A 2015 study published in Animal Feed Science & Technology, analysed 48 commercial dry dog foods, for the presence of 5 different mycotoxins.

Dr. Trevor Smith, an animal and poultry science researcher at the University of Guelph, claims that mycotoxin contamination is the largest concern in pet foods today.

“When half of the food is of vegetable origin, there will always be some degree of contamination. If the food is mainly of animal origin, the chances of contamination are greatly reduced.”

Half of the foods tested were low price and the other half were premium or super-premium foods.
The study found that all of the lower priced foods and all but one of the premium foods, were contaminated with at least 2 types of mycotoxin.

One premium brand was contaminated with all 5 mycotoxins, that were tested for.


Many pet food companies test their ingredients for mycotoxin contamination and ask their suppliers for a certificate of analysis showing mycotoxins have been checked.
But even if the food is under the allowable FDA limit, it doesn’t account for the dangers of combining mycotoxins.
When more than one type of mycotoxin is present, they can interact and become more toxic – so the safe limit is when there is only one type of mycotoxin present.

Consequently, the “Grain-free” label, sounds the more healthy approach, for the pet parents.
But the truth is, in order to replace the anti-nutrients – that comes with the grains – they simply added more starch and carbs, with the potatoes, rice or peas…

Antinutrients

Anti-nutrients are most commonly found in grains, beans, legumes and nuts.

1. Phytic Acid (Or Phytate)

Phytic acid is found in grains and legumes like peas, which are commonly found in grain-free pet foods.
It’s an anti-nutrient because it can bind to important minerals such as copper, iron, magnesium and zinc, and make them unavailable to your dog.
Phytic acid can rob your dog of up to 80% of these critical nutrients.

2. Lectins

Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins, found in large amounts in beans and some grains and, like phytic acid, can also reduce nutrient absorption. But lectins can do more damage than that … they can damage the cells that line your dog’s intestines. When this happens, the ability of nutrients to be able to pass through your dog’s intestines and into his body are affected. It can also disrupt the delicate balance of flora living there and trigger allergy and autoimmune reactions.

There are many other Anti-nutrients in grains and starches, including:
3. gluten (which can cause leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disease)

4. tannins (which can upset the gastrointestinal tract) and

5.
oxalates (which can cause kidney stones).

How to Calculate the Carbohydrate

On the back of your kibble’s bag, you will find the nutritional analysis of the product.
This is the guaranteed minimum amounts of certain nutrients in the pet-food. 
Your next step is to find the following percentages of:

→ protein
→ fat
→ moisture
→ ash

In case the “ash” is not listed, use an average of  7% (ash content can vary from 5 to 8%) for kibble and 2%, for canned food.
After adding these 4 ingredients, you subtract them from 100, what is left will be the carbohydrate-starch percentage, in the food.

References
Dogs Naturally Magazine / Nutrition

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In closing

Remember, you aim for the lowest carbohydrate percentage, as possible.
In other words, not more than 15%.
Actually a very difficult task, whilst as mentioned above, the commercial pet-food exceeds 40 to 50% in total carbohydrate content.
With some research you will find – in the range of the premium brands – more acceptable carb’s percentage, like 23 to 26%.
If you have no budget limitation, you should opt for the freeze-dried dog food.
Is superior to dry kibble and more healthier, because is not processed at high temperatures, therefore retaining more of their nutrient value.

Freeze-dried retains 97% of original vitamins & minerals, hence there is no need for additives, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.

 

Stella & Chewy’s, Orijen, FrescoStewart Pro-Treats, Primal-Pet-Foods, Wellness CORE, are some of the most popular freeze-dried dog food brands available on the market.

 

About Post Author

Reactif canin

Passionate advocate of Positive Reinforcement, Operant Conditioning and force-free training methods. Studied at Karen Pryor Academy, Ethology Institute Cambridge, Canine Principles Academy and Centre Of Excellence. Being responsible for an animal, consists on creating scenarios that build his self-confidence, helps him to discover his strengths and competences, to trust us and not fear of us. After all, a dog is a dog, a unique individual, who needs and must act like one and by expressing his natural behaviours! We must consider the relationship with our dog as parental, rather than this of the master and subordinate. Dogs, similarly to children, see us as their "role model" for guiding them to their new life, with us. Our role is not to dominate them, but to establish a symbiotic relationship with them. Let us be worthy of this role!

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