Connecting the Dots for Our Dog With A Raw Ancestral Diet
Joy Eriksen CSAN
Certified Small Animal Naturopath
How long do you think dogs can live? The average today is between 8-15 years. The American Kennel Club Survey says that dogs are now living 11% shorter lives than they were a decade ago. In 2017, it was estimated there were 89.7 million dogs in America with 68 % of households owning dogs. How are those dogs fed? The diets can vary from kibble to wet canned food, to home cooked diet and to raw. We know diet is fundamental to our health, but what about our dogs. Does diet matter to their health? Short answer, yes, it does.
For me, this journey began with my own health crisis in 2005 when I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. With the help of Dr. Tom Cowan, I was able to heal from that disease with diet and supplements. I did not need to have surgery or the lifelong use of drugs. Sadly, I did not connect the dots for my dogs until July of 2011 when my Golden, Josephine became ill. The vet could find nothing wrong except one kidney was enlarged. I had been reading about diet and I made a drastic change and took her off the cheap kibble I had been feeding her. She did very well and made a lot of progress but it was not enough to save her and she passed in Sept 2011 from cancer of the spleen and liver. At that time, I had an 8-year-old seizure dog, an English Springer Spaniel named Hobbes. He was on high doses of two drugs and still seizing. I also changed his diet, and he made huge improvements. I was able, with the vet, to reduce his meds by ¾’s and he lived his last three years seizure free.
We have all suffered the loss, much too early, of a beloved pet. Many to cancer. Cancer is at an all-time high right now and dogs, in particular, are dying at younger and younger ages. Dogs actually have the highest cancer rate of any mammal. Diabetes is also at an all-time high. as well as pancreatitis. Why is this? Could it be what we are feeding them.
Commercial dog food started in America in the 1800’s by a man named James Spratt. It was called “Spratt’s Patented Limited” and was made from wheat meal, veggies and meat. In the 1950’s Spratts became part of General Mills. Later, Nabisco, Quaker Oats and General foods were able to market by-products or waste, into dog food as a profitable source of income. Dry food was more convenient, less messy and faster to serve. In this day, we have become a nation of fast and convenient We don’t want to put in the work. Today Pet food is a multibillion-dollar industry. America alone grows 8 and a half million tons of feed for the pet food industry followed by Brazil at 2.5 million tons. That also takes into account the feed for animals used in pet food. But, if commercial dog food only came on the market 150 years ago, what were dogs eating before that? They were eating home cooked food, left overs or table scraps and raw food. I remember our Water Spaniel my family had when I was a child. We never fed it kibble. She ate what we ate.
Canine lupus familiaris has been domesticated by man for many thousands of years. How many years ago is unknown but scientists believe at least 15,000. They have become our companions and our help mates., They assist those who are blind, deaf and in wheelchairs. They can help traumatized children and adults and provide comfort to victims of disasters. They risk their lives in search and rescue, military and police work. They can sense when someone is going to have a seizure or go into a diabetic coma. We have all experienced our dogs come and comfort us when we are not feeling well. Josephine always knew when someone was not well and would stay by their side. I noticed this before my 93-year-old Mother passed. My Mom did not care that much for dogs and Josephine usually gave her a wide berth. One weekend as my Mother visited with us, I noticed that Josephine spent a lot of time lying next to my Mother. She seemed fine so I didn’t think too much of it. Two days after my husband took her home, she was taken to emergency where she died the next day. I didn’t know but Josephine knew. There is no other animal that can do everything for us that the dog does. They are the most social animal on the planet and seek out our companionship. And they ask very little in return. A soft warm bed, a safe home, love, to understand their dogness, (stolen from Joel Salatin) and good food. They deserve the very best we can give them.
To understand how why diet is so critical to the dog’s health, let’s take a very basic look at the anatomy of the dog’s digestive system. It is responsible for three things:
1.digestion of food
2.absorption of nutrients
3.preventing the entry of toxic, disease causing substances into the body.
Dogs have 42 permanent teeth. They consist of incisors, canine, premolars and molars. All of their teeth are pointed and none of them are flat. A dog’s mouth only moves up and down when they chew, unlike humans and other mammals who grind their food. Think of a cow chewing its cud and the circular movement of the mouth. Dogs just go up and down They rip, tear and shred their food. It goes straight from the mouth, lubricated by saliva, which is very thick and slippery, and guided by the tongue, down into the esophagus. Normal dog saliva has an alkaline PH of about 8, which prevents dental cavities. Dog saliva also contains antibacterial chemicals. This is how dogs’ clean superficial wounds, by licking. When a dog eats carbohydrates, sugar molecules are formed in the mouth making the saliva slightly more acidic therefore increasing the bacterial load, forming plaque. Plaque can lead to periodontal disease and those very expensive dental cleanings. They have very little amylase in their saliva so the pancreas has to overproduce to digest all the carbs. Could this be why we have so many dogs with pancreatitis, diabetes and cancer?
In the stomach the food is further broken down into a very thick liquid called chyme. A dog only has one stomach, which means they were not designed to eat huge amounts of vegetation. They are not a cow. Cows have multiple stomachs so they can ferment the vegetation
Dr Lyn Thomson, A New Zealand vet says:
“Meat protein stimulates strong stomach acidity (by triggering the production of hydrochloric acid in acid-secreting cells within the stomach). Carbohydrates do not stimulate strong stomach acidity. A complex cascade takes place when a dog or cat ingests food, put simply: 80% of the gastric juices secreted are a direct result of receptors in the stomach detecting the presence of meat-based proteins. This keeps the stomach at a very low pH of around 1-2 (a low pH means high acidity). This low stomach pH is important because digestive enzymes work best in an acidic environment. The acidity in the stomach will sterilize ingested pathogens (bacterial or fungal)”
The small intestine is a long hollow tube. It is about four times the length of your dog’s body. Within the small intestines there are openings that let digestive juices enter from the pancreas and gallbladder. The lining of the small intestine has millions of little finger type tissues called villi. These little villi increase the surface area of the small intestine to better assimilate and absorb nutrients. Almost all nutrients are absorbed from the small intestines into the bloodstream, and then travel throughout the body to be used by the cells. The main job of the small intestine is to absorb nutrients from the food. The canine intestinal system is shorter than that of a human. because, as a carnivore, your dog needs a faster processing time for all the meat protein he eats. Because they have a faster time to digest their food. they don’t have time to ferment plant matter to make it more digestible. Hence, bigger poos.
The more we learn about the gut’s immune system, and its beneficial microbiome, the more we gain appreciation for its multitude of health-giving functions. Beneficial gut bugs are also known as probiotics. Probiotics are a part of the entire population of intestinal micro-organisms referred to as the microbiome. Without this colony of bugs, your dog could not survive We are just learning how important and vital to our dog’s health the microbiome is. Dogs are only as healthy as their microbiomes and the level of inflammation in their bodies. Just like us, our dogs need a healthy balance of probiotics to insure good health.
Large Intestine is also known as the colon. The colon has the important job of saving water and mineral electrolytes from the food that has passed through the whole system. It keeps hydration in the body at a constant level. Bacteria in the large intestine helps to break down the very last, hard to digest material. Feces are formed and stored here and await exit as poo. Keep in mind that what goes in one end as food must come out the other end as poo. If it’s coming out as food, then that is not a good food for your dog
With what we know about the anatomy and digestive system of a dog, we know that he was designed to eat protein from meat, good fats and a small amount of carbs from berries and a little vegetation What he can’t handle is the large amount of carbs that is in dog food. Some as high as 60%-70%. Grain free has been all the rage in the last few years. Grain free does not mean low carb. Most grain free dog foods have replaced the grains with peas, lentils potatoes and beans. Yes, they are high in protein but they are also high in carbs. So, what is the big deal about carbs in your dog’s diet. They have no nutritional need for them. They are also the preferred food for cancer, yeast and the bad bugs in the gut. Remember that any carb that comes from a starch becomes sugar as soon as it enters the bloodstream. Most carbs in dog food come from GMO crops and we know the dangers of GMO’s. And starchy carbohydrates play a critical role in a process known as gelatinization — a process which is absolutely crucial to the workings of kibble machinery. Without the starch those little pellets can’t be formed.
One very disturbing fact about commercial dog food is where the ingredients are sourced from. Some ingredients on the bag can be, meat meal and animal by-products. Since there’s no mention of a specific animal, this item could come from almost anywhere: roadkill, spoiled supermarket meat, dead, diseased or dying cattle, dead zoo animals, even euthanized pets. Now how can that be? Euthanized pets? There is nothing in the guidelines that prevents it and there is an allowable level of barbiturates in rendered meats. Phenobarbital is a euthanasia drug used on companion animals. It is being found in many brands of dry dog food. Former AAFCO President Hersch Pendell said in an interview when he was asked the question about euthanized pets. “Clinically it may not be acceptable but nutritionally it’s still protein.” When asked if owners could tell what’s in the pet food by looking at the label he said:” There’s no way to really tell that because the ingredients say meat and bone meal. You don’t know if that’s cattle sheep, horse or……Fluffy.”
Notice if the word “with” is in the name of the dog food — “with beef”. Also known as the Three Percent Rule, this little-known technicality can provide a powerful clue as to the true meat content of any dog food. Whenever you see the word “with” used in a dog food’s name, you know you’re dealing with an ingredient totaling not less than (and probably close to) three percent of the product’s total weight. In other words, there’s not much beef here. The word “flavoring” on a package can mean there is no meat at all. Attorney Vince Field says “As long as the dog food meets the nutrient level for protein, it doesn’t matter what the source is.’’ Something else to be looking for in dry for are additives. BHA and BHT are preservatives. Both have been linked to cancer in lab animals. The EU classifies BHA as an endocrine disruptor. BHT has also been shown to cause developmental defects and thyroid changes, suggesting it too might be an endocrine disruptor. Another thing we don’t want to see in dog food is artificial coloring. Seriously, who is that coloring meant to impress? Certainly not the dog. He doesn’t care what color the food is. But to a pet owner, those colors on the outside of a pretty package are very enticing.
While the heat used in rendering will kill any pathogens, it won’t reduce the amount of antibiotics and drugs that would be found in meats. The rendering industry also admits that meat wrappers can be mixed in with raw materials, as discarded grocery store meats will go to rendering. Of course, these meals are of very questionable origin and they’re often an inconsistent mixture of several protein sources. While AAFCO definitions state the source of the protein for meals, they don’t specify the freshness of the sources or how they were handled. Any meat not for human consumption, such as spoiled or rancid meats that might sit in the hot. sun at the farm or rendering plant, would also be allowed in by-product meals
Part of the process of making dog food is extrusion. Webster’s describes this as “to force, press, or push out: to shape by forcing through a die”. Extrusion is done at high heat During these processes carcinogenic toxins are formed. One is called Heterocyclic Amines which form when proteins are treated at high heat. The second one is Acrylamides which is another carcinogenic toxin formed when starches are processed at high heat. Doesn’t sound very natural to me.
Nutrient listing is a common source of confusion to the consumer as protein is further divided into meat meal, meat digest, fat meal, bone meal and animal by-product Manufacturers can further confuse the consumer by ‘splitting’ lesser nutritional ingredients such as corn or wheat to move the ingredient down the list. For example, by dividing corn into corn, corn bran, corn germ meal, corn gluten, corn gluten meal and corn syrup, a manufacturer can produce a food that is perhaps 50% corn and 10% chicken and make it appear to have chicken as the main ingredient by splitting the corn into the above ingredients, effectively moving it down the list of ingredients. You won’t find corn in commercial dog food because it contributes some nutritional property., It’s there simply because it supplies cheap calories. The presence of corn gluten meal is usually an indication that the corn is being used to boost the protein content in a food that’s lacking in animal protein sources.
We have seen the acronym AAFCO several times, but what does it stand for? AAFCO stands for The Association of American Feed Control Officials which is a private corporation, not a government regulatory agency. AAFCO regulations state that a pet food manufacturer must provide not only a guaranteed analysis on the food label, but a list of ingredients presented in descending order with the ingredient with the most weight listed first. Despite its regulations, AAFCO has no means of enforcement, nor do they perform any analytical testing of foods They create their own regulations and then enforce their own regulations and the FDA is compliant. Something very wrong here.
Now that I have painted this grim picture, let’s look at some solutions. At the University of Helsinki. Anna Hielm-Bjorkman researcher for the Dog Risk Research Study, says that “As little as a 20% change in the diet affects a metabolic change and DNA expression. “Now what does 20% look like. If you feed one cup of food, instead feed three quarters of a cup and then add in ¼ cup fresh food. That could be some raw ground meat, a raw egg. A chicken wing or some other chunk of raw meat such as stew meat. Some raw goat milk or raw goat cheese is also a great option. Always serve the fresh food in a separate meal from any kibble. I recommend feeding the fresh in the morning and the kibble in the late afternoon or early evening. Once you see the improvement in your dog and how he loves his food, you will be ready to take it all the way and switch to a raw ancestral diet for your dog.
What does this diet look like? To answer that we need to look at the wild wolf. The wolf is generally considered to be the ancestor of the modern dog. From a Chihuahua to a Great Dane, domestic dogs share 98.9% of DNA with the wolf and they have the same digestive system. Wolfs eat raw meaty bones, raw meat with organs and glands. Wolves hunt in packs to bring down the prey they need to survive. If they don’t make a kill they don’t eat. This is called fast and gorge. They gorge on a kill and then fast until they get another. Many raw feeders, myself included, use fasting as tool in replicating the wolf diet. Fasting is safe and healthy for your dog. They will also be seen to eat some vegetation, mostly wild grasses and some berries. But everything they eat is raw. Today, raw feeders are attempting to replicate the wild diet. There are several models out there. Some better than others. All better than kibble. At the top of the list is the Whole Prey Model, feeding our dogs whole animals, feathers, fur and all. Then there is what is know as Franken Prey, where the owner feeds meat, bone and organs in large chunks to replicate as near as possible a wild diet. There is also BARF (Breed Appropriate Raw Feeding) which can use grinds of meat, organs, glands and bone. Grinds are good for weaning puppies to raw and for elderly dogs that have trouble chewing. There are also the commercial raw grinds. You may ask, which one is best? The one your dog will eat and you are comfortable serving.
Whole Prey Model is the closest to the wild wolf diet, but, in my experience, is the hardest to consistently do. I have one dog who won’t touch whole prey and the other who will only eat certain parts of it. She will eat a whole prey quail but not a duck. Whole prey can also be hard to source on a consistent basis. Next, we have the Franken-Prey Model. This is the one I personally use because it is what I can source and my dogs will eat. This one takes large chunks of meat, about the size of your dog’s head is generally recommended. Add to it organs such as liver and lung. There is controversy as to whether heart and tongue are organ or muscle. I say, just feed it and count it as both. Add glands when you can. Pancreas, brain and spleen are used most commonly. Another important food is green tripe. This is the lining of the stomach of ruminant animals. This stinky food is a wonderful source of fatty acids, bacteria and enzymes. All raw models use tripe. +
The BARF diet can be a variation of the prey diets that will also incorporate in fruits, veggies and raw dairy. There is a lot of controversy in the raw feeding world about these last three ingredients that I am not going to address here. The BARF diet will also use grinds. I don’t usually recommend grinds for healthy adult dogs unless this is the only food the owner is comfortable feeding. It requires very little chewing on the part of the dog and I want the dog chewing and biting his food. Why is that important. Why would I care about a dog biting and chewing his food? Or anything for that matter. According to Dr. Patricia Jordan DVM: “Dogs who don’t get to bite, their mastication muscle is unable to produce the neurotransmitters needed to have a level head. Then you have behavioral problems in these dogs. They HAVE to bite.” Dog Trainer Leah Twitchell of Canine Movement Lab explains this need in more detail. “Because dogs are predatory by nature their instincts dictate that they channel their energy into hunting activities. The culmination of every hunt is the bite because the goal of every hunt is to kill the prey. The act of biting and carrying an object represents a successful hunt. Biting, chewing and ingesting finishes this cycle of emotional grounding”.
The last raw model are the commercially prepared foods. These are always grinds and can be a good place to start for someone who is unsure of switching to raw. Grinds usually have fruits veggies and bones added in. Do your homework on these though. Not only are they very expensive, many of them are High Pressure Pasteurized. This basically sterilizes the food, killing enzymes, bacteria and nutrients. However, it can be useful for dogs with compromised immune systems or as an introductory food for owners worried about bacteria
Remember to serve a wide variety of proteins. Serving only one source can cause sensitivities. Mix it up between chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, and pork. These are the easiest proteins to source. If you can get wild game such as duck, boar bear or dear, that is a great option. It is recommended to freeze wild game for two weeks to kill any parasites that may or may not be in the meat. Most people start with chicken, (I did) as long as you know your dog does not have a sensitivity to it. It is readily available and inexpensive. From there you can introduce other meats
Now that you have read this far, my hope is that I have inspired you to connect the dots for your dog. To be your dog’s advocate. Nobody loves your dog the way you do. Put in the time needed to help your dog. The little bit of extra work now will be rewarded with a healthier dog that will live years longer. Yes, it is a new learning curve but your dog is worth it. I learned in the trenches when my Josephine got sick. I found someone to mentor me and I became a Certified Small Animal Naturopath. How long can a dog live? Longer than what we are seeing now. Maggie was a Kelpie that lived on a farm in Australia. She ate raw goat milk and the after birth from the farm animals. She just died in the spring of 2016, at the age of 30. She was a vibrant dog even in very advanced age. Sally Fallon, President of the Weston Price Foundation, told me “We had a wonderful dog that lived to 20, no arthritis, beautiful coat, no fleas. I gave him 1 raw pork chop with the bones and 1 slice of raw liver per day, plus all the bones, etc. leftover from making stock.” Don’t we all want that for our dogs? I do. I have two dogs, a nine and a half year-old Golden Retriever and a 7-year-old English Springer. Both have always been raw fed. They have never had a hot spot, itchy skin, ear infection, bad breath or a dental cleaning. They run and play in the forest and creek and have a wonderful time getting muddy. I very rarely bathe them (even after playing in the mud) and they always look beautiful. Most people think the Golden is only about three years old. My goal for my dogs? To be 20 and in vibrant health until their last day.
Wikipedia “History of Dog Food”
Dogs Naturally Magazine
Dr. Karen Becker DVM
Dr. Wil Falconer DVM
Three Little Pitties
Dog Nutrition Naturally
The Truth About Pet Cancer.
Pet Food Advisory
Vince Field Attorney at Law
American Kennel Club
Mike Rowe “Dirty Jobs” Rendering Factories
Kasie Maxwell, SFRaw
Keep the Tail Wagging
Long Living Pet Project: Thomas Sandburg
Keto Pet Sanctuary
Dr. Anna Hielm-Bjorkman researcher for the Dog Risk Research Study
The Association of American Feed Control Officials
Dr Lyn Thomson DVM
Dr. Patricia Jordan DVM
Dog Trainer Leah Twitchell Owner ofCanine Movement Lab