From food warnings to snack hazards, there’s a lot to remember about our dog’s diet and nutrition. The scary truth is, a lot of what we believe is actually pretty inaccurate and can be putting our beloved furry friends down the wrong health path!
That's why Pawp spoke to some vets and pet experts about some commonly held beliefs about dog nutrition and they helped us break down what's really true and what's actually just a myth. We take you through these burning pet questions below.
Our pups may wish this was true, but it’s actually not! Sure, there’s no doubt that dogs love meat. That’s why it’s pretty common to think of them as carnivores, but their digestive system and dietary needs are very similar to a human’s system in that they are omnivores – they eat meat and fruits and vegetables. With a few careful differences, of course. “A balanced diet is very important for a dog and their nutritional needs are complex,” said Dr. Jeff Smith, a veterinarian at Danville Family Vet in Virginia.
It takes specialized nutritionists to formulate the best diet for your dog. If you are feeding your dog only chicken or luncheon meat, he may be happy, but he is not getting the nutrition he needs. “If you look at a dog’s teeth closely, you will see that they have molars in the back for chewing and grinding plants,” says Dr. Smith. “If you look at a cat’s teeth, however, you will see only sharp carnassial teeth made for cutting through meat.” Cats are carnivores.
Technically, dogs fall under the category “carnivora” so many consider them carnivores but that doesn’t change that they are actually omnivores. “They are able and willing to eat both animals and plants, many joke and refer to them as “opportunivores” meaning they will eat most plants and foods that are available to them,” says Pawp's lead vet Dr. Laura Robinson. That’s why so many of our dogs enjoy things like carrots, apples, green beans, and blueberries.
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While this one can be considered controversial, it's not actually true. Dogs need grains. “Studies have come out in recent years showing there is a link between grain-free diets and a type of heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM),” says Dr. Robinson for Pawp. Experts believe it’s possible there are various underlying causes for this link, and they continue to do research.
However, there is one cause that is known for sure and is due to a taurine deficiency. “Grain provides dogs and cats with an amino acid called taurine. When grain is taken out of the diet, there can be a taurine deficiency, leading to thinning of the heart walls and DCM,” says Dr. Robinson.
This is a myth and absolutely false. “I do not recommend raw food,” says Dr. Robinson. There is some evidence that cooked fresh food is easier to digest and has more nutrient availability than kibble but, overall, cooked is much safer than raw. “Most kibbles from legitimate companies are completely fine to feed your dog,” says Dr. Robinson, whose favorites are Royal Canin, Purina Pro Plan, and Science Diet.
This is actually true, and something to watch out for and discuss with your vet. “When dogs develop kidney disease, one of the main treatments is to get them on a lower protein diet to help the kidneys not have to work so hard,” says Dr. Robinson. Over time, this excessive protein can negatively affect your dog's health.
This is a complicated topic and there’s no simple answer. It is possible but very difficult to make a completely homemade diet for your dog that's adequately nutritious for your dog. It’s valid that many human foods can be healthy and full of important nutrients; however, we humans also eat some of the worst junk food around.
"You would think dogs would have an iron stomach and could eat anything that you give them, but it is very common for high-fat food to upset a dog’s stomach causing vomiting, gas pains, and diarrhea,” says Dr. Smith. “In severe cases, it can lead to a life-threatening condition called pancreatitis.” Some ingredients, such as macadamia nuts, raisins, and artificial sweeteners in human food can be toxic to dogs. It is best to talk to a vet before experimenting with your dog’s diet.
Not all human food is bad for dogs but some definitely are and some can even be toxic. “It is important to note that some dogs have more sensitive stomachs than others and may need to avoid some if not all human food if possible,” says Dr. Robinson.
Some safe human food for most dogs, says Dr. Robinson of Pawp, includes carrots, broccoli, butternut squash, celery, zucchini, canned pumpkin, apples, blueberries, pears, peaches, white and brown rice, baked russet potatoes, regular cheerios, non-fat plain yogurt, fat free cream cheese, non-fat cottage cheese, sliced fat-free turkey breast, chicken breast, and ham, lean ground turkey, and lean chicken breast.
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Again, this is false. This is a rumor probably created by a meat-loving dog, though! “Dogs who are on all meat diets will usually develop micronutrient deficiencies (i.e. selenium, taurine, vitamin A, vitamin D etc). Dogs need a mix of fat, proteins and carbs, just like us,” says Dr. Robinson. So, sure, your dog probably wants burgers every day — but that doesn’t mean it’s the best idea for their diet or their health.
This is false as well. Raw meat versus cooked actually has absolutely no difference in how digestible it is or its nutrition. “A lot of raw meat can contain non-USDA approved meat, meaning they can contain meat that could include rejected carcasses or medicated animals,” clarifies Dr. Robinson.
We need to be careful how we feed our pets and what we feed them because Dr. Robinson warns there’s a lot of raw meat that actually is contaminated with bacteria, such as salmonella and E.Coli, which can be very dangerous — and also pass on to humans who care for the dogs as well.
Be careful with this one for various reasons, because salmonella is a risk to the whole household and can have serious health consequences. “It can also give you, the owner, salmonella when your dog licks you or when you’re preparing or cleaning up their dog food,” says Dr. Robinson.
This comes with a pretty major red flag warning. Dr. Robinson does not recommend hard bones. “They can accidentally be swallowed and cause an intestinal obstruction or cut into the intestines when they break apart,” they says Dr. Robinson. They can also damage and fracture your dog's teeth.
Dogs love the flavor and crunch of bones, but they can be one of the most dangerous things you feed your dog. "Dogs get so obsessed with a bone, that they will actually break their own teeth in the excitement of eating them," says Dr. Smith. Veterinary dentists will give you this simple test: “If you take the dog bone and whack yourself on the knee with it and it hurts, then it is too hard for your dog’s teeth.”
Natural bones will often splinter into sharp pieces and can puncture a dog’s stomach or intestinal system. Avoid giving bones to your dog and when choosing dental treats, look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) certification label on the package.
It's actually the opposite! While bones are risky for a pet's mouth and teeth, kibble is actually good for it. "The chewing action scrapes some of the tartar and plaque off your dog's teeth,” says Dr. Robinson. Usually this is not enough in itself to take care of the teeth. Teeth brushing and routine dental cleaning are still recommended.
Not all kibble (dry dog food) is created equal. “Some foods are specially formulated with a fiber matrix that is designed to scrape the teeth clean as they eat,” explains Dr. Smith. “Other kibbles just crumble up and get packed along the gum line exacerbating gingivitis.” Dental disease is very prevalent in pets over the age of two years and the bacterial infection of the mouth can spread to other parts of the body causing very serious problems. Oral hygiene is important. Check with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) for a list of approved treats, foods, and supplements for pet dental care.
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Don’t be afraid of byproducts! Many people are scared when they read by-products on the label and they shouldn’t be. “By-products are the products that humans don’t usually eat but are good for dogs. They are basically organ meats and other edible parts of the animal, such as tissue and bone, all of which are very nutritious and healthy for dogs,” says Dr. Robinson.
They are not fillers. It is also better for the environment when we can find use for the discarded parts of the animal that we don’t want instead of letting them go to waste, according to Dr. Robinson.
Totally false. Kibble is fine! “I feed my own dog kibble and I have for 12 years and she’s very healthy,” says Dr. Robinson.
However, not all kibbles are created equal. Some companies are better than others. Look for “AAFCO” approval on the label. “AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials and they establish the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods,” says Dr. Robinson, whose favorites are Royal Canin, Purina Pro Plan, and Science Diet, but there are also more. “All three hire veterinary nutritionists to oversee their production and make sure all the ingredients and recipes are good and safe for dogs. They put a lot of thought and research behind their diets,” says Dr. Robinson.
“Kibble is unhealthy” is a myth perpetuated by pet food companies trying to sell your raw foods and “freshly prepared” meals. There are good quality nutritious kibbles and there are poor quality unhealthy kibbles. There are good quality nutritious fresh foods and there are poor quality fresh foods.
“The beauty and design of kibble is that it is made in huge batches with perfectly balanced ingredients down to the smallest micronutrient,” says Dr. Smith. The food is cooked and dried into a kibble form. “The cooking and drying make the food safer from bacterial contamination and longer-lasting on your shelf,” says Dr. Smith. There is less chance of causing a nutritional deficiency because every meal is the same and perfectly balanced. Fresh foods can be very nutritious as well and simply require more careful handling and preparation.