We all want our dogs to be happy and healthy, and one of the most critical aspects of achieving this goal is providing our dogs with a balanced and nutritious diet.
Whether you have a high-maintenance dog breed, a dog competing in dog agility or a sofa pet - their diet is of paramount importance.
Many commercial dog foods are packed with fillers, artificial preservatives, and low-quality ingredients with little nutritional value. As a result, most dog owners are turning to natural foods to provide their dogs with the nutrients they need to thrive.
There are four different varieties of dog food sold in the canine industry; dry foods, wet foods (cans, pouches and tubs), fresh food or raw food (including freeze-dried feed).
Dogs are omnivores who require 37 essential nutrients to stay in a healthy condition. There are 6 main nutrient groups; water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
In the UK alone over £1.6b is spent on dog feed each year, however, with costs increasing in the UK by more than 15% in the past 12-months more than a quarter of dog owners now look to make their own dog food. With this comes important warnings, with organisations such as the PDSA advising against this growing movement.
In the USA alone over $8.5b is spent on wet and dry dog feed each year, however, with costs increasing many dog owners now look to make their own dog food. Natural dog food in the USA was by far the top-selling specialised dog food with sales exceeding $7b in 2021, with dehydrated and freeze dried feeds producing $290-$240 million - a clear indication of the vast amount of dog owners who choose natural dog foods. (Taken from Statista.com)
Some dog foods may contain low-quality products that have been heavily processed or contaminated with chemicals or pesticides. Choosing high-quality dog foods that use whole ingredients and avoiding foods that contain artificial additives, fillers, and by-products is crucial.
This article will explore which natural foods are best for our dog's health and wellbeing.
Most common types of feed used in dog food
We look at the most common ingredients used in feeds for dogs.
Cooked or raw meat used in animal feeds
Many owners like to feed their dog with raw or cooked meat. Raw meet feeds are becoming more popular but do represent a few issues.
Traditional dog food contains cooked meets. Meets are extremely useful in any dogs diet as they are generally good sources of protein and contain essential fatty acids, iron and some B-group vitamins - all important to the overall health of your dog.
Commercially prepared raw dog feeds are now available in most pet stores. Raw meet feeds normally contain a combination of raw meet and uncooked ingredients such as vegetables or rice. Commercial producers will normally be using meet designed to be eaten raw, as opposed to supermarket meet which is on sale to be cooked and may have higher levels of bacteria. Human by-products are also now used by the pet industry and are regulated to be safe for raw consumption.
The problems in feeding your dog a raw meet diet, especially when prepared at home, is that dogs require a mixed and balanced diet and simply feeding your dog a sirloin steak will not be providing the nutrients and minerals they need. Raw meet contains pathogens, parasites and bacterias that are killed in any cooking process; when fed raw these may cause a problem to your dog and other members of the family.
The benefits of raw feed over traditionally cooked feed has not be clinically proven and many of the arguments for feeding your dog raw feed are based on anecdotal experiences of other dog owners.
Organ meets are one of the most nutrient rich foods you can feed your dog and contain significantly higher levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients than lean muscle meet. Chicken and beef hearts, livers, green tripe, pancreas and brains are all now widely available.
Dairy products and eggs used in dog feeds
Dairy products, including eggs, are widely used in dog feeds to provide calcium and a number of important vitamins. These can contain milk, eggs and cheese.
Fish used in dog feeds
Fish contain a high source of quality protein and are rich in iodine and as the fishes bones are frequently ground within dog feed production they can contain good volumes of calcium and phosphorus. Fish also contain an important mix of vitamins A & D and Omega-3.
Fruits and Vegetables in dog feeds
Vegetables provide your dog with a mixed variety of vitamins, fibres and minerals. It is important to research any fruit or vegetable before feeding it your dog though. There are many fruits and vegetables which your dog cannot and should not eat, many of which are highly toxic to your dog.
Avoid feeding your dog leftovers from your own dinner plate because of this. Onions, leeks, garlic, potatoes and green or unripe tomatoes are all toxic to dogs. Equally grapes, citrus fruits, rhubarb and cherries are also toxic to dogs.
Soybean by-products are some of the best natural foods for your dog's health and well-being and are often used as a primary ingredient. Soy meal is made by grinding defatted soybean flakes to produce a high-quality source of protein.
Soybean by-products are now a popular choice in animal feed for several reasons. For one, soybean meal is a highly digestible protein source that contains all of the essential amino acids that dogs need to maintain good health, while soybean oil is a rich source of omega-6.
In addition to their nutritional benefits, vegetables and soybean by-products are relatively inexpensive and readily available, making them a cost-effective choice for dog food.
Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are packed in fresh fruits which help sustain your dog's immune system and minimise the likelihood of long-term diseases. As such blueberries, cranberries, apples and bananas are commonly added to dog feeds.
Coconut water is an electrolyte-rich natural source that can help dogs who are dehydrated or have digestive issues.
Cereals and whole grains in dog feeds
Cereals commonly used in dog feeds usually contain grains such as corn (maize), barley, rice or wheat - these can be a good source of carbohydrate which is an easily digestible source off energy.
Whole grains, like brown rice, lentils, and grains, can provide essential nutrients and fibre for your dog's digestive health. They are also a good energy source and can help regulate blood sugar levels.
Fats and Oils in dog feeds
Important for joint mobility, kidney function, reproduction and helping your dog have a healthy and shiny coat - fats and oils provide a rich supply of energy and contain a mix of fatty acids including Omega-3 and Omega-6. Some fats added to dog food also contain good sources of vitamins A, D, E and K. Salmon, flaxseed, and coconut oil are all excellent sources of healthy fats.
Sodium and Chloride in dog feeds
Sodium (salt) is an essential nutrient within a dogs diet, unlike with humans where excessive sodium quantities in our food can create health issues, dogs have the ability to excrete sodium through their urine. Sodium and chloride provide an important fluid balance in a dogs body.
Sugars in dog feeds
Dogs have the ability to convert sugars into energy through their general digestion system. Many natural sugars (fructose and glucose) are found in fruits, vegetables and cereals. In some dog foods processed sugars (sucrose) are used to increase the palatability of the feed. They can provide a good source of energy but are widely used alongside cooked meets to help brown the meet and produce additional natural sugars.
Fermented foods in dog feeds
Fermented foods are a quick and easy way to promote healthy bacteria in your dogs gut, helping to edge out harmful bacteria. Many owners now adopt probiotics into their dogs daily diet. Kefir, Kimchi, buttermilk, kombucha and various yoghurts all provide probiotic benefits to a dogs diet.
How Much Protein Does a Dog Need?
The amount of protein a dog requires depends on various factors, including species, maturity level, weight, level of activity, and their health status.
Being carnivores by nature, dogs and cats require a higher protein intake than many other species. Adult dogs need at least 18% protein in their diet on a dry matter basis (meaning the protein content of the food increases once the water is removed), while adult cats as an example need at least 26% protein in their diet on a dry matter basis.
Some dogs, however, may require more protein, especially if they are very active, pregnant or nursing, or suffer from certain medical conditions. It is critical to consult with your vet to determine the appropriate amount of protein for your specific dog.
Assessing The Quality of Natural Dog Food
There are several key factors to consider when assessing natural dog food quality to make sure it meets your dog's dietary needs and supports their general well-being and health.
With many options available on the market, as well as making your own, selecting which feed to give your dog can be a challenge.
Here are some key factors to consider:
Look for natural dog foods with high-quality, whole-food ingredients such as animal protein and whole grains. It is advisable to avoid foods that contain artificial preservatives, colours, and flavours.
2. Organic and Non-GMO Components
Non-GMO and organic components can be a great indicator of a higher quality organic dog food. These ingredients are grown using no synthetic pesticides, fertilisers, or genetically modified organisms.
3. Meat Meal
Look for organic products that list specific animal protein sources such as "chicken meal" or "salmon meal" rather than just "meat meal." Specific protein sources indicate that the food is of higher quality.
4. Guaranteed Analysis
Check the guaranteed analysis on the dog food label to ensure it meets the minimum nutrient requirements for your dog's life stage.
Price isn't always a good gauge of quality, but higher-quality natural dog foods are generally more expensive.
To summarise, the foods we feed our dogs can significantly affect their health and well-being.
Incorporating natural foods into your dog's diet is a great way to ensure they get the nutrients they need to support their immune function and aid digestion and cognitive function. A balanced diet can help your dogs mobility and limit the risk of developing joint conditions such as canine dysplasia or dog arthritis.
Please consult your veterinarian about the proper diet for your dog, and making healthy dietary choices can help them live longer and lead a happy and active lifestyle.