Dr. Bonnie Franklin: Making Sense of the Menu of Dog Food Options | Four-Legged Friends and More

Dog food … oh, my, what a discussion. Maybe I should say dog nutrition or the advertised lack of nutrition.

We spend more than $44 billion a year on pet food in the United States. If you haven’t noticed, there is a dog food war out there.

Each company is claiming that they are the cat’s meow, or should I say the dog’s bark.

Are our dogs wolves or a sub-species of wolves or a separate species of canines that are lovable companions and members of our family? Should our dogs eat commercial kibble and/or canned food, raw diet, homemade diets, vegetarian, vegan, keto diets, fresh pet food, lightly cooked diet, whole food diet or prescription diets, to name a few?

Let’s first look at the urban legend that our dogs are wolves. White Fang, the wolf in Jack London’s book, was befriended by a man. A wolf dog that was born wild and becomes more dog-like.

He travels from the Yukon Territory to California with his human friend. The story ends with White Fang relaxing in the sun on an estate in California with the puppies he has fathered with the sheep dog Collie.

Well, that is where the comparison between our dog and wolves really stops.

While it’s scientifically true that dogs have evolved from wolves, things have changed over the last 30,000 years or so. Like us, our pets have evolved, and as science-based research into animal biology now shows us, so have their digestive systems.

During domestication, dogs’ genetic makeup changed from their wolf ancestors, allowing them to thrive on a variety of balanced foods, including whole grains and other carbohydrate-rich ingredients. Studies have shown that when dogs have a choice of foods, they choose higher fat foods, not higher protein.

Wow, that sounds like humans.

According to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, a balanced nutritional raw diet is a concern for both commercial and homemade raw diets. The main concern is the risk of contamination with bacteria that can cause disease in pets and people.

There have been numerous recalls of commercial raw pet foods due to pathogenic bacteria despite the use of high-pressure pasteurization, freezing, freeze-drying and other techniques by some manufacturers.

One study showed that dogs fed a single meal of salmonella-contaminated raw meat shed the bacteria in their feces for up to two weeks. Another study demonstrated that even scrubbing with soap, soaking in bleach solution and/or using a dishwasher did not kill a significant number of bacteria on salmonella-contaminated stainless steel and plastic pet food bowls.

Given the lack of any documented nutritional advantages and the strongly documented risks, UC Davis does not recommend feeding raw diets to dogs and cats.

Homemade diets need to be well-balanced for your dog.

In one study from UC Davis, researchers evaluated 200 recipes for home-prepared dog foods, and found that 95% lacked the necessary levels of at least one essential nutrient, while more than 83% had several nutrient deficiencies, many of which could result in serious health issues.

A great resource for making homemade diets is the UC Davis Veterinary Nutrition Service, which can be contacted at [email protected]. They can help you prepare a diet that will be cooked by you using recipes formulated by a veterinary nutritionist created just for your dog’s needs.

OK, I will write a future column, as a follow up, on comparing commercial kibble and canned diets to raw diet, homemade diets, vegetarian, vegan, keto diets, fresh pet food, lightly cooked diet, whole food diet or prescription diets.

Just don’t bite the messenger.

— Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a relief veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from a joint program of Washington State and Oregon State universities, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the U.S. Forest Service. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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