As health-savvy humans, we have the ability to take our digestive wellness into our own hands. We can consciously think about what we eat, knowing the choices we make will affect not only our digestion, but our overall health. Unfortunately, your dog is not so lucky. As utterly loyal and trusting companions, they’ll eat almost any food you give them, whether it’s good for them or not.
I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve met who are in tip-top shape themselves, but who own dogs that appear to have serious health issues. While those people might have made a commitment to stay away from the doctor by eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, they don’t think twice about taking their pet into the vet whenever their beloved pooch falls ill.
The fact is, you are responsible for ensuring that your dog receives the best possible food you can get your hands on. Combined with a suitable exercise routine and plenty of TLC, cleaning up their diet will ensure they can achieve optimum health, and you’ll ultimately save big on vet bills and worries. Not a bad tradeoff, when you think about it!
Your dog’s ancestors hold the key
Today’s everyday pooch has had about as much time as we humans to adapt to the typical “modern” diet. For most people (and most dogs), that means lots of grains, lots processed foods, and all manner of additives, coloring agents, and synthetic who-knows what. And like us, all of these ingredients are doing them far more harm than good.
Most canine experts now believe that humans began to domesticate dogs around 30,000 years ago. Around the same time that the agricultural revolution was taking place, as it happens. From this point on, the diet of your dog’s ancestors began to slowly but surely change, as those dogs began to eat whatever was available in and around human settlements. Dogs are opportunistic foragers, after all – they’ll eat almost anything, especially if they’re hungry.
The problem is, the digestive systems of domesticated dogs haven’t been able to evolve at the same rate that their diets have changed. Evolution just doesn’t work that quickly, unfortunately! If it did, gluten wouldn’t be an issue for our gut (which would make an estimated 18 million gluten-sensitive Americans very happy), and we could chow down on sugary treats without any ill-effects. The point is, the digestive system of your dog is still designed to process the foods it’s ancestors ate in the wild, rather than the humanized diet he or she receives today.
How to simulate a wild diet for your dog
Obviously, short of removing your dog’s collar, giving it a slap on the rump and watching it grudgingly trot into the mountains, it’d be rather difficult to exactly simulate the diet that your dog’s ancestors ate. There’s plenty of other factors to consider as well, such as different lineages, cross-breeding, and slight digestive adaptations that are bound to have occurred over 30 millennia or so. With that in mind, you need to work with the tools you’ve got, and as usual paleo is definitely best.
Before we dive in, I’d still advise discussing any planned major dietary changes with your vet. They’ll at least be able to tell you whether any of the foods you plan to give your dog are recognized as unsafe for their digestive systems. Best to play it safe, people!
After doing a whole heap of research and examining the eating habits and responses of my own family’s border collie, I was able to get a good idea of what a modern version of that ancestral wild dog diet might look like. Here’s some of the foods that make up the staples of our pup’s paleo diet:
- raw meat (beef, lamb, venison, chicken…basically whatever. Grass fed/pastured and organic is best. This should comprise the bulk of your dog’s diet)
- bone broth (usually around 1/4 to 1/2 cup per day, to maintain healthy bones, joints and skin)
- raw, uncooked bones (beef, lamb and venison bones are best, as they provide a lot more chewing capacity and don’t run the risk of breaking off into sharp pieces like chicken bones tend to do)
- organ meats (liver, kidney, heart, brain, etc. Similar to us humans, eating organ meats once or twice a week can make a big difference to your dog’s health)
- eggs (only occasionally, however. Dogs are foragers, and there’s no doubt that they would have wolfed down the occasional egg when it fell out of a tree. Again, make sure the egg is at least free range, if not organic)
- certain vegetables and fruit (this one is a little controversial, and experts continue to argue about whether dogs should eat vegetables or not. We occasionally give our pooch the ends of carrots, the odd blueberry, and the odd apple core (seeds removed!). She loves vegetables and fruit, and has never had any digestive issues from eating them)
- probiotics (this is purely optional, but it may make a big difference to your pooch’s digestive health – especially if they’ve ever been put on antibiotics)
Keep in mind that the digestive system of your dog is designed to thrive on meat, organs and bones – basically everything they could tear off an animal they hunted down or carrion they came across in the wild. They would, however, have supplemented this primarily meat-based diet with other things, which is where your vegetables, fruit and eggs come in. Once again, put anything wacky past your vet before you give it to your furry friend!
Another thing to remember is that your dog’s stomach might get a little bit upset if you suddenly switch it from a lifetime of processed kibble to just raw food. Start slowly, introducing raw meat into his or her diet a few times a week, then daily, then make the full transition when you think they’re ready. Don’t rush, unless you want to have your carpet ruined!
When in doubt, observe
While we may not be able to ever really know EXACTLY what it was that your dog’s ancestors ate in the wild, we have a fairly good idea. And for any grey areas, there is always the power of observation! I make a point of closely monitoring my dog when she’s sniffing around outside, how she acts in the kitchen when I’m preparing food for myself, and how she reacts to the food I give her. If she runs outside with violent diarrhea after eating something, it’s obviously not good for her to eat. And if she actively seeks a certain type of food out, and makes considerable effort to eat it, that food should probably make an appearance on her weekly food rotation.
A couple of examples:
- we took our dog around to a friend’s place a couple of weeks ago, and she was off like a rocket in the back yard. I followed her over and she’d found a large walnut tree. She then proceeded to sniff out walnuts that had fallen on the ground, artfully crack the shells and eat the walnut flesh inside. Clearly, this was a desirable food for her, and she didn’t seem to react badly to eating them.
- my parents have something of a rabbit infestation on their property. Our dog occasionally manages to catch a rabbit (or find a dead one) and wastes no time in chewing it to smithereens. The only parts she seems to leave are the legs and the ears….she even eats the guts! This to give you an idea of just how much of an animal your dog’s digestive system is designed to eat. Each different part (organ, muscle, bone, skin, etc) would provide different vitamins and nutrients essential to the dog’s health.
Keep a notepad handy, and start watching your dog’s every move when it comes to food. He or she won’t get creeped out, I promise.
Foods your dog should stay away from
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list…once again, if you’re unsure of anything, run it past your vet!
Here’s a list of some of the more common foods that your dog shouldn’t eat. The thing to remember is that their digestive system is very different to ours, so what is safe for us to eat may not be safe for them.
- chocolate (everyone knows that one!)
- avocado (I’m on the fence about this one. Some experts say dogs should stay away from avocados altogether, and others say the flesh might be fine for them to eat. For more on the matter, check out this article.)
- macadamia nuts
- milk and dairy products
- grapes and anything containing grapes (including raisins!)
- salt (apparently they get all the sodium they need from raw meat etc)
Do your research, and know the limitations of your dog’s stomach. It just might save you a costly emergency visit to the vet.
Making your own dog food at home
There’s two ways you can go about ensuring your dog gets the best nutrition: thoroughly researching each manufacturer to determine whether their products cuts the mustard, or making it yourself. For buying dog food, we’ve compiled a selection of paleo-friendly dog foods and treats here. For making your own, it’s up to you what you put in their food – just make sure it is primarily meat-based.
You can also throw a whole lot of ingredients in a blender, then pour the mixture into molds and freeze for later use. Doing it this way, you can prepare as much as a whole month of meals for your dog, and just take them out of the freezer the night before. Here’s a few of the things you could consider throwing in the mix, ordered from most to least:
- raw meat – try to get a mix of at least one red meat (i.e. beef) and one white (i.e. chicken). Don’t be afraid to buy the cheapest, weirdest cuts of meat at the supermarket or butcher – they’re often healthier than the typical steak, breast and ground meat you get for yourself anyway!
- organ meats – again, raw. A little goes a long way here, and try to put a range of different organs in, as each contains different levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
- bone broth
- raw eggs
Each time you feed your dog, observe how they react – and if necessary, change up the ingredients to better suit their digestion. Good luck!
Do you have a super-healthy dog food recipe that you’d like to share? Are there any foods your dog has eaten that didn’t go down so smooth? Comment away, we’d love to hear from you!