The most important factor in choosing the best food for your dog is insuring that the diet is biologically appropriate. Domesticated dogs descend from wolves, which means they are biologically carnivorous and, as such, should consume foods that fit into their ancestral predator-prey model.
The biologically appropriate model for domestic dogs look like this:
- Meat. As much as possible.
- Zero grains. No wheat, soy, corn, or rice.
- Limited carbohydrates.
- Some fruits, veggies, and herbs at balanced and appropriate levels
The Biology of Your Dog
Believe it or not, the same goofy dog that sticks its head out the window of your car is very much a descendent of the strong and fearsome wolf. Yes, that goes for chihuahuas like my Maps, too. He’s a tiny, adorable wolflette.
A common argument against the necessity of meat-heavy diets contends that dogs were domesticated as omnivores by following around human camps 10,000 years ago. It’s true— BUT, that didn’t change their physiology. It didn’t change their digestive systems, their teeth, their jaws. Sure, we bred them for size and for various work and activities, but that didn’t change what they are on the inside.
Dogs are Carnivores
They are physiologically built for eating and digesting meat. When your dog is satisfied by anything else, it is operating as a facultative omnivore. In other words, in desperate situations they will eat diets comprised more of plant materials if meat is in short supply. They’re just doing what they must to survive.
1. Dogs have short, simple and acidic digestive tracts.
Omnivores, like us humans, have medium-length, more complex systems. Herbivores, such as cows, have very long digestive tracts with even multiple stomachs to better equip their bodies for using plant matter.
Shorter, acidic digestive tracts, like those found in dogs and cats, are more conducive to digesting proteins and fats with chemical digestion. Long and complex digestive systems utilize mainly mechanical and bacterial digestion, and therefore are better suited for grains and grasses.
2. Carnivores have sharp, pointy teeth.
These teeth are designed for ripping and tearing, not for gnashing up corn. It’s for shredding meat up and gulping it down.
Omnivores like us have some sharp teeth (they’re called K9’s for a reason *hint hint*) and some flat teeth for grinding. Herbivores just have the flat and square molars for grinding up plant matter in their mouth to help facilitate digestion.
3. Carnivores do NOT have amylase in their saliva.
Salivary amylase is an enzyme that is present in the saliva of animals that help digest grains and carbohydrates while still in the masticating (fancy word for chewing) process.
Science Corner: Enzymes
When a compound ends in the suffix “-ase” it usually denotes an enzyme. Helicase, amylase, lipase. Amo, amas, amat. Enzymes act as catalysts for specific biological reactions.
Most mammalian herbivores and omnivores have this enzyme produced in the mouth because they are made for a heavy grain diet. Dogs, and carnivores in general, don’t. Now remember, all of the starch digestion doesn’t begin in the mouth— that’s just the beginning of the digestive process. Dogs can still digest carbohydrates, just not nearly as effectively as organisms who developed evolutionary capabilities, such as salivary amylase, to do so.
How does all this biology stack up to your dog food?
Dogs should eat meat to not just survive, but thrive. This doesn’t necessarily mean steak fillet for every meal. I’m talking about premium kibbles with more meat, dehydrated diets with more meat, even raw diet formulations with more meat.
Dogs should eat as much meat as we can afford for a balanced diet.
Not everyone can afford to feed their dogs premium 95% meat dog food patties every day. That’s okay. The more of their nutrients that are sourced from meat, the better. Here’s why:
Meat proteins have higher biological value to dogs than plant proteins.
Dogs digest animal sourced proteins much more readily and easily than plant protein sources. These meat sourced proteins contain all the essential amino acids.
SCIENCE CORNER: Amino Acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Some can be created by the body itself, and the ones that can’t are called Essential Amino acids because they must be supplemented in the diet for an animal to live healthily.
Dogs can use the protein and fats sourced from animal meats more easily than from plant sources.
That’s what their bodies are made to do! While carbohydrates can be digested for quick amounts of energy, these types of sugars in the blood stream just cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a rapid drop. A sugar high. These types of sugar highs usually result in excess sugars being converted into fat, leading to possible insulin resistance and diabetes.
Carnivores are made to source their energy from proteins and fats. In other non-carnivorous animals, protein is generally the last nutrient (out of carbohydrates, fat, and protein) to be used for energy, depending on the energy level.
The best dog foods have the most meat.
It all comes down to meat content. Check your dog food label to see just how much your pets are getting out of their diet. Ideal kibbles contain 80–90% meat, and the same goes for raw diets.
Some of our favorites include: Orijen, Acana, Grandma Lucy’s, and Stella&Chewy’s.
Major benefits of high meat content diets include:
- A noticeable increase in energy
- Weight loss/stabilization
- Improved overall joint and muscle health
Let us know your thoughts in the comments— how has your dog benefitted from a high meat content diet?