Few subjects are as contentious among dog owners (and vets!) as whether dogs should ever eat 'people food' and what is the best diet. There are countless options for feeding your dog, from cheap supermarket brands to the latest 'grain-free' and 'natural' choices. Yet, despite our increasing knowledge of pet nutrition, statistics show that over 50% of dogs in the US are obese, decreasing their lifespan by up to two years. In addition, levels of cancer and other chronic diseases in our dogs and cats are higher than ever.
When it comes down to it, food is food. There is no real distinction between food that people are dogs eat - everything we eat originates from the same basic whole foods: meat, vegetables, grain, fruits... While of course there are some 'people foods' that are toxic to dogs, or may not be well tolerated by them, there are many more that are highly nutritious for both pets and people.
Commercial 'kibble' dry pet food was first developed during industrial expansion post-WWII, when it was discovered that scraps from slaughterhouses, grain mills and processing plants could be re-formed under high heat to form kibble as we know it today. Now, instead of wasting these scraps, they could be sold for profit in the rapidly expanding pet food market. Naturally, in order to sell more of their products, these companies promoted the idea that pets should only be fed these foods and not 'people food'. Many of the major dog food companies give free food and other incentives to veterinary students as part of their marketing.
Today, we know much more about the effects of the high-temperature processing that is necessary to create kibble. Very high temperatures create chemicals such as heterocyclic amines and acrylamide, which have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory tests. Although more research is necessary to establish whether these do cause cancer at the levels eaten by our pets, would you want to eat them every day yourself? Other chemicals added to preserve food, such as ethoxyquin and BHA, have also been shown to have negative health effects. Another health problem with kibble is that it often contains high levels of grains such as corn and wheat. These grains are simple carbohydrates, meaning that they are rapidly broken down by the body into sugars. These sugars are the primary energy source of cancer cells and cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, which in people can lead to diabetes. Although these kibble diets are labeled as nutritionally complete (containing all necessary nutrients), they are therefore not necessarily the healthiest choice.
So what should the responsible dog owner feed their dog?
Top Three Do's for Good Feeding:
- Know what's in your dog's food - if you would like to continue to enjoy the convenience of a commercial dog food, choose one that is less highly processed than kibble (such as a fresh frozen or dried food) and does not contain corn, wheat or excessive chemical additives
- Consider adding organic meats and vegetables to your dog's pet food to enhance health and enjoyment
- If you have the time, consider a home-made diet for your dog, using only wholesome, natural (organic if possible) ingredients - there are many books available to help you ensure that you are feeding a balanced diet
Top Three Don'ts For Good Feeding:
- Avoid foods that are toxic to pets, such as grapes, raisins, onions, avocado, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, macadamia nuts, large quantities of garlic or salt, the sweetener xylitol, yeast dough)
- Avoid any foods that seem to produce diarrhea or other symptoms of intolerance in your dog
- Do not feed too many fatty table scraps, such as fatty meats and bacon, as excessive fat can cause problems including pancreatitis and can lead to obesity