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Feeding the Dog

One small thing in our universe that shouldn’t be as difficult as it is, is feeding one’s dog well. There’s plenty of evidence it didn’t used to involve much choice. Dogs simply ate the leftovers of humans.

But innovation and the industrial complex produced efficiency, ease, and also sowed confusion. Somewhere along the line there became a separate product: dog food, which was said to be better than what dogs had always eaten, which then became “table scraps” and was now claimed to be bad for your dog. You were only supposed to feed dogs dog food, from specially marked bags or cans.

And for the same reasons that people usually buy the same clothes detergent their mom bought (evidenced in some study), most people grow up to buy the same pet food their parents bought. We will naturally gravitate to the familiar packaging and brands when confronted with the bewildering options in the pet food isle.

Maybe your family sometimes treated your dog with canned food, mixed it in with kibble on special occasions. Our family did.

But

I’ve come to the conclusion that feeding my dog (and myself) real food has been a tremendous boost to our health — more easily noticed in the dog….

In my omnivorous diet, I now make an effort (with my wife’s gentle prodding) to cut back on the percentage of calories derived from meats, while the only really significant difference between the mammals human and dog is that a carnivorous dog performs optimally with around 80% of their calories coming from meat.

A dog’s digestive system is relatively "fast," with a short digestive tract, whereas humans on average take twice as long to process food (and absorb more nutrients from it). This evolutionary speedy and acidic canine digestion has a lot to do with how dogs and wolves are able to eat a rotten carcass and long buried bones without getting sick.

But dogs still require most of the same minerals and vitamins as people, horses, bats, etc., with the exception of vitamins A & C — which, to be clear, isn’t bad for them, dogs just don’t need them as much as other species. Dogs make their own vitamin C, which is water-soluble, and any excess is discarded. And fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E, & K, would be difficult to accumulate in excess by foods alone.

My dog, Sean, has grown to be especially robust and fit with a slightly varied diet of simple raw meats, fruits and vegetables, and a dash of oil such as cod liver oil. It was the addition of fish oil, in fact, that finally ended Sean’s torment of summer dry skin — a common condition in his breed, Australian Cattle Dog, Heeler mix.

I have tried seeking veterinary input — but frankly, so far it seems many vets are as under- informed as the rest of us, and since Purina and “Big Dog Food” have written the veterinary textbooks and run most of the very few studies done on canine nutrition over the last sixty years, most vets are uninterested in trying anything different from what they learned in vet school, which is to simply trust commercial dog food. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

But of course we know it is broke. Many canine health problems lead right back to their diet, which…hmm, creates a lot of vet visits.

There’s a bit more to feeding your dog a fully rounded, healthy and successful diet than dumping only meaty bones or fortified Cheetos into a bowl. But feeding one’s dog shouldn’t be — and doesn’t need to be, any more complex than feeding yourself. And the food should certainly be what’s best for your critter: actual food.

In the end, it’s not all that complicated. Just like humans, dogs will thrive and live to a ripe old age if fed a diet that’s balanced for them and that is real food.

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