WHAT MY DOG IS MADE TO EAT?
In May 2017, I adopted my first own dog, Altaï, a 2 months Australian Shepherd puppy, full of life. As a lot of dog owner, I am crazy about my dog, he is the cutest, the nicest, just the best and I want the best for him. When I adopted Altaï he was eating supermarket kibble as a lot of dogs. I never really asked myself questions about it, it is so common that when we ask children “What a dog should eat?“, they answer kibbles. But Altaï was never a big fan of his kibbles. My first reaction was to change of brand, but which one? When you make research on kibble you are easily lost, so many references, some for special deceases, age, breed, type of coat… But what really changed from this brand to this one? I met with friends who also had dogs and there was one thing that was coming back all the time. “You should buy grain free kibbles.“ Wait. Let’s just start again. What ingredients there is in kibbles?
For most of the brands kibbles contain from 20% to 80% of grains (wheat, rice, corn, etc) or starch (potatoes, lentils, peas,…), 5% to 20% of bone meal (wheat created from unconsumed part of farm animal, which means, bones, head, hoof, and certain offal), added nutrients and preservatives. Sometimes for the “best“ brands, we can find a bit of dehydrated meat from slaughterhouse garbage. Say like that it makes dream no-one and certainly not our dogs.
So why grain free? Is it better? First, we need to define what’s the natural diet of dogs. If tomorrow our dogs were going back to the wild, what will they eat? If they stay around humans probably our garbage but if they were really in the wild without human influence?
We need to interest dog physiology. How their body works and how they digest. These last years dogs have been reconsidered into the classification of species. For a long time, dogs have been considered firstly as a unique species, then as a wolf cousin with an ancestor in common and now it’s has been proved dogs are a subspecies of wolf. Canis Familiaris became Canis Lupus Familiaris. This is an important fact, if we’ve seen many differences is social behavior, as we can see between zoo wolves and wild wolves, we can’t say that biology system has many differences.
From inside your chihuahua have everything of a wolf, everything of a carnivore. They have a vertical chewing common to every carnivores from cats to lion passing by wolf and dog. At the opposite, us as omnivore has a vertical and horizontal chewing process. Omnivores as Human have amylase in their saliva, this enzyme is used to help digestion of grains. Dogs, cats and all carnivore do not have this enzyme. So why there are grains in kibble?
Let’s continue a bit, dog stomach is acid, this was made for digestion of raw meat, to kill any bacterium. Finally the stomach and intestine are really short to make digestion the shorter possible to still avoid bacterium infection. Again, it’s physiological facts common to every carnivore. This is here general facts but the University of Toulouse went deeper and compared
tooth between wolves and dogs and found many similarities. However, the University of Toulouse also highlighted the fact that Canis gender have also many differences in the same species depending from regions of the world they come from. All these species and subspecies completely adapt to different ways of living contrary for example to horses who all around the world share more similarities. The fact that wolves and dogs can have a fertile posterity also proof that these two animal have really close genetics. For Jane Unter in 1787 the wolves, dogs, and jackal are the same species and for Darwin dogs were born from half a dozen different wild species but admit that we could never really know dogs origins with certitudes. It’s why we now need to understand the domestication process.
Domestication process has been studied during the XXth century. The Russian geneticist Dimitri K. Belyae passed 50 years studying the domestication process.
First, we need to define domestication and taming. Taming is at the scale of the life of the animal and on one animal, domestication is at the scale of a species on several generations.
Belyae took silver foxes in natures for his experience, hundred of them. He used to touch them every day with gloves and only reproduce the “nicest“ ones, so the one who was not scared or trying to bite him. He continues his experience on the next generations, always allowing to reproduce the nicest ones.
After a few generations, silver foxes were physically changing. However it was always pure silver foxes, he never crossed them with dogs. He see appear more colors, the hears and queue became a bit smaller and foxes started to act like dogs. They were answering to their name, move the queue when they were happy, liked playing etc. From the first generation to the last one in less than 20 generations foxes changed radically, only by selecting them on their personality. Belyae analyzed their genetics and found first that color appears because foxes were less scared, felt security and so they do not need to hide in nature with a specific color.
Some years later the same experiments were made on rats and the same result was found, from all grey or black rats scientist finished with white or two-colored rats by selecting on personality.
These experiences explain us a lot on how our dogs became so different from wolves. The difference in the reality of what happened to dogs, is that if we first selected them only on personality, then we also selected different physical capacities for hunting, shepherd, for fight etc. This selection was the base of the many breeds we can find today and also explain why there is so much diversity in the same species. Thousands of years of domestication radically change a species, when we see that only 50 years with foxes changed them, we can realize how much dogs changes. However there physiology and digestion system stayed the same. Indeed, kibbles are quite recent about 70 years but before dogs were eating rest of hunt or of meal who most of the time contain a lot of meat and bones. So if from outside and from their behaviors dogs changed they are still a carnivore inside. Well, if our dogs are wolves, what is a wolf diet?
Wolves are what we called opportunist carnivores. This mean that their main resources is prey that they hunt but it case of starvation they can eat rotting carcass and berries.
So what’s for dogs? It is the first time that I heard the word BARF, this means Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding. This way of feeding your dog was developed by an Australian Vet, Ian Billinghurst, with the idea of rebuilding a prey as in nature. This diet is composed of 45% of pure muscle meat, 45% of bones with meat around, 5% of leaves and 5% of another offal. All of this should be raw and we can add as an extra, a teaspoon vegetable mix by 10kg of dogs, and salmon oil if we do not give fish. More and more dog owner propose this diet and saw many differences in their dogs. Camille Fouard, a whistleblower on quality of pet food, started BARF for her dog Mc Jackson and her cat Harley nearly one year ago “The first results appeared quickly. The biggest difference I noticed was the color of my dog's hair, which went from a dull orange to an extremely bright white. The smell of his hair has also disappeared: people think that the smell of dogs is normal; actually, a well-fed dog does not emit such a strong smell. And the raw diet proves it! It is important to underline that the benefits of this diet are accentuated in the long term: less obesity, fewer cancers and other diseases that affect so many animals in the world…“
From my personal experience, Altaï is fed this way since July 2018, I also could see a much more beautiful and strong coat, more energy, more appetite and an impressive development of my dog muscles who is now perfectly fit. He was not fat or fin before just normal with some fat in certain parts of his body but now as my friends say “He looks athletics.“ However, he does not make more sport than before.
If many dog owners could see the same evolutions, what scientists think of it? It’s been a few months that we could see pop-up many “science“ article on the topic. These science research for most of them are asked by pet food companies. If the reports are not false they deliberately avoid or hide facts which can completely change the meaning of the study. The Guardian recently published an article about how raw meat diet contains dangerous bacterium as Salmonella or E Colie. This is a true fact however the article does not precise that dogs and cats as carnivore have no risk to eating this kind of bacterium, indeed remember their stomach is much more acid than ours. If the piece also highlights the fact that it can be dangerous for us, as when we cook raw meat we need sanitary precaution. In the end, this study avoid a really important fact that change the result of this, why? Because this study was financed by kibbles companies, who have no interest to see the market of raw feeding increase. Camille Fouard as a whistleblower often faces lobbies. “It's no longer a secret today, Pet food industrialists are omnipresent and they are commercially aggressive in a huge potential market. The FEDIAF (Federation of kibbles manufacturers) is making amendments in Brussels to defend the economic interests of industrial pet food; studies on health/nutrition links are funded by these brands; The veterinary schools work in close collaboration with these large groups, but not only that: The breeders, the vets, the organizers of animal events ... All maintain close ties with the big brands of kibbles. The well-known personalities of the veterinary world have relations more or less close to this environment, which poses a real problem of integrity. We find in the world of Petfood, a typical pattern of lobbying. Today, far too few independent scientists/nutritionists are heard.’“
Dogs Risk research at the University of Helinski had been the first independent study to compare kibbles and raw feeding. Johanna Anturaniemi, PhD in animal science, DVM student at Dep. of Equine and Small Animal Medicine who work on Dog Risks explain: “In the diet intervention study which we did in 2014, we had 46 Staffordshire bull terriers, of which half were Fed dry food and half raw food for 3-5 months. We analyzed vitamins, trace elements, Basic blood values, gene expression and metabolites from the blood, gene expression from the skin and also gut microbiota from the feces. Then we compared them between dry food fed and raw food fed dogs. In addition, we are doing an epidemiological study on the associations of diet and diseases using a questionnaire for Finnish dog owners. It has been on the internet for 10 years and we have 12,000 dogs in the data at the moment. We are currently writing papers about the association of the diet on atopic dermatitis and hip dysplasia based on that data. In my doctoral thesis, I compared the basic blood values between the dry food and raw food fed dogs and found out that blood cholesterol and one liver value (alkaline phosphatase) were significantly higher in the dry food fed dogs. In addition, I compared the skin gene expression between those groups and it seems that raw food activates the immune system in the skin. This might be beneficial in puppies and young dogs since we know that for example, allergic diseases are partly due to the defective immune system. We also saw a huge difference in blood and urine metabolites between the dry and raw food fed dogs.“
This research is a real important hope for knowing more about our dogs' diets and the study continue “We are now concentrating on the epidemiological data which could give us some hypotheses for the future diet intervention studies. We are also following some litters from 7 weeks old until the death and collecting blood samples and feces every year, to find out how the diet and environment could affect a different kind of diseases. In addition, we are all the time writing scientific papers from the data that we already have and try to get all of them published as soon as possible.“ Johanna Anturaniemi adds.
Camille Fouard, her, created Priminstinct “Today, we are the first company in France which offers real BARF meals in chunks, fresh, with quality French products. The concept of Priminstinct is to make the BARF diet more accessible, and offer people a real alternative to kibbles.“
Even if nowadays studies are young and few, raw feeding seems to be more and more considered as a real alternative for independent scientist and vets. The power of lobbies is probably, for now, the main brake to it. Every scientist who studied dogs as in the University of Toulouse admit they are carnivore and domestication do not change this fact, even if for them it’s still hard to admit that kibbles are not a good diet. For Altaï, I’m convinced that this is the best for him, he is healthy and happy since I made this choice, so I do not have any regrets.