As hunting dog owners, it’s important that we fuel our dogs to support their active lifestyle. There are a variety of options when it comes to choosing a food for your dog, but when it comes to picking the right one, there’s confusion and debate surrounding what to feed. In recent years, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of dog owners opting for non-traditional kibble diets, such as home-cooked meals or Do-It-Yourself raw diets. There are endless benefits of feeding a species appropriate diet, for pets and bird dogs alike.
With so many convenient kibbles readily available, why choose raw food? Raw food is a biologically appropriate diet that can offer incredible health and performance benefits. When it comes to human health, we are constantly hearing about improving our diets. There is endless discussion on the benefits of reducing processed foods and sugars, while eating as much fresh, whole foods as possible. Yet, every day we scoop highly processed, sugar-filled replica “food” into our dog’s bowls because we’ve been told that’s what is best for them. As more owners turn to fresh, whole food diets for their dogs, they are seeing the benefits of kicking kibble to the curb.
When we take a hard look at the domestic dog, including their ancestry, evolution, anatomy, internal physiology, stomach and fecal analysis, and taste tests¹, dogs prefer meat. There is plenty of contradictory information out there regarding if they are truly carnivores or omnivores, but we need to focus on what they should eat, not just what they can eat. Dogs can survive on even a vegetarian diet, in the same way that I could survive on pizza, burgers and ice cream! Surviving is not thriving, especially specially when it comes to our canine athletes!
From an ancestral standpoint, dogs were designed to eat meat. Dogs evolved from a grey wolf-type ancestor 20-40,000 years ago¹. These wolves were true carnivores, rarely averaging more than 3% vegetation in their diets¹. The domestication of dogs in the presence of humans has given them opportunities for easy access to non-meat food sources, such as scraps and hand-outs from human waste. Living within human communities who relied on agriculture as a main food source for thousands of years has changed their ability to diet digest starch¹, which is frequently referenced in “proving” that dogs are omnivores. A 2001 study using a 13,000 stomach sample of largely dingo hybrids and feral domestic dogs over 30 years found animal protein comprised 97% of their diet.¹ This study shows that when left to their own devices, dogs will eat a primarily carnivorous diet.
Along with their preferences, dogs are carnivores by design. All physiology experts agree that dogs have internal anatomy and physiology of a carnivore¹. Their dentition, lack of amylase in their saliva (to break down starch), lysozymes in their saliva (to dissolve bacteria cell walls), eye position on the front of their skulls, their elastic, highly acidic stomachs with undeveloped cecum and the short, fast intestinal tract all point to the dog being a carnivore¹. Dogs also make their own glucose from protein and fat, which means they have zero need for plant carbohydrate in their diet¹. The fact that most kibble is anywhere from 30-75% carbohydrates and comprised of many non-meat ingredients leads only to one conclusion: we are not feeding dogs for them to thrive as nature intended, but for our own convince and affordability.
“Thus, if we are concerned with optimum health in our dogs, the basics of animal husbandry dictate that we are required to feed them as close to their natural, biologically appropriate diet as possible. In the case of the domestic dog, that would be a diet consisting of a very large amount of fresh animal matter.”¹
When we feed any animal, including dogs, according to their physiology, they thrive. When looking at macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), quantity and quality matter. As discussed, protein should come from meat sources. Many kibbles may include some meat protein, but plant protein, as well. Meat protein has a complete amino acid profile, while plant proteins are incomplete for dogs.² Dogs have no requirement for carbohydrates (sugar, starch, and cellulose)², but most kibble is anywhere from 30-75% carbs. Compare this to the ancestral diet, which is around 0-15% carbs, and you can see just how unbalanced the macronutrients in kibble are². In human nutrition, it is well accepted that processed food consumption is associated with both low-grade chronic inflammation and oxidative stress³. Dogs eating a kibble diet are experience a carb overload, which comes with a myriad of health problems. Since dogs don’t have a requirement for carbs, they get their energy from fat. Fat’s primary role is to supply the body with energy in addition to absorbing and transporting nutrients throughout the body⁴.
Meat should be the primary ingredient in dog food (not just the first ingredient), but often kibble is comprised of mostly plant material. This is due to cost (meat is much more expensive than cheap fillers, such as corn, rice and wheat), but also has to do with kibble needing carbohydrates in order to bind it together in kibble form. Adding up plant based protein, high carbohydrate content and inappropriate fat sources, we end up with a food that is extremely pro-inflammation. The benefits of feeding raw over a highly-processed kibble originate with quality ingredients that are biologically appropriate and don’t contribute to chronic inflammation. In a recent study assessing health markers in dogs fed raw meat-based or commercial extruded kibble diets, it was observed that, “… increased bioavailability of nutrients and reduction of low-grade inflammation could explain the anecdotal results of improved health and reduction in disease states reported by owners.”³
There are a wide range of benefits from feeding raw. Each dog will have their own response to a fresh, whole-food diet, which might include: less inflammation leading to less joint problems, less allergies, and better skin/coat quality, reduced infections (such as ear and yeast), improved digestion including smaller, more solid stool, reduced odor, improved immune functioning and vitality, higher energy, reduced weight and improved muscle tone, cleaner teeth/healthier gums and longevity!
How to Feed Raw
If you are interested in feeding raw, the most important thing to consider is that the diet is balanced. A balanced raw diet is one that meets the National Research Council’s guidelines for nutrients. In the book, “Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats,”⁵ the NRC defines the recommended amounts of macro and micro nutrients for dogs given their age and caloric intake. For example,
Nutritional Research Council (NRC) provides the following protein recommendations for adult dogs 12 months and older per 1000kcal consumed: Minimum: 20g Recommended Allowance: 25g⁶
If you have a two year old dog that eats 1000kcal per day, her protein requirement should fall between 20-25g per day. One reason raw feeding can get a bad reputation is when it’s fed randomly, without a nutrient analysis. For example, kale and blueberries are a valuable part of a human’s diet, but if we ate only kale and blueberries, our diets would be seriously lacking in macro and micronutrients. Therefore, it is imperative that we feed our dogs raw based on NRC balanced recipes that ensure they are receiving all the nutrients they need.
In order to feed an NRC balanced raw diet, you will want to choose a quality premade raw food brand or a DIY recipe that has been balanced to NRC guidelines. Premade raw often comes in a “ground” consistency (think ground beef) where all you must do is thaw it, portion it out for your dog’s energy requirements and serve! It is quite simple, but can certainly be expensive. When looking for a premade brand, I would avoid brands that are: not AAFCO approved, are not balanced to NRC guidelines, or that contain excessive “fillers” or synthetic ingredients. Feeding raw is so beneficial because of the lack of starchy, low quality fillers and synthetic vitamins, so we want to be sure to avoid those to get the real benefits of raw feeding. Premade raw brands that I would recommend are Answers Detailed Formula, Darwin’s Natural Pet Products, The Bones & Co, Small Batch, Viva Raw and Raw Feeding Miami.
If you are ready to dive into DIY raw, you’ll want to work with a nutritionist who creates recipes that follow NRC guidelines. For the past five years I have worked with Ronny at Perfectly Rawsome to create custom meal plans for my dogs. This ensures that each of my dogs have recipes that match their age and energy requirements, take any allergies/special feeding requirements into account, and are created with ingredients that I have access to source. Ronny’s custom meal plans come with two NRC balanced recipes, nutrition analysis, guides to transition your dog from their current diet to raw, a shopping list, and my favorite part: two weeks of email support! These email support has been invaluable to me for peace-of-mind transitioning and feeding raw! You can use my code BLITZ10PINKY for 10% off your purchase with Perfectly Rawsome!
Choosing a food for your pet can be an overwhelming experience. Everyone has an opinion on what the "best food" might be, but the only opinion that matters is nature's. Dogs need and deserve a diet that is comprised mostly of meat. When feeding a diet of fresh, whole foods that is balanced to meet the NRC guidelines, you will surely see the benefits over highly-proceeded kibble.
1. Dr. Brady, Conor. Feeding Dogs: The Science Behind the Dry Versus Raw Debate. Farrow Road Publishing, 2020.
2. Marshall, Amy. Why You NEED to Feed Your Dog a Raw Food Diet: A Complete Introduction for Beginners. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018.
3. Hiney K, Sypniewski L, Rudra P, Pezeshki A, McFarlane D. Clinical health markers in dogs fed raw meat-based or commercial extruded kibble diets. J Anim Sci. 2021;99(6):skab133. doi:10.1093/jas/skab133
4. “Fats & Fatty Acids, NRC Essential Nutrients for Dogs & Cats.” Perfectly Rawsome, 1 Aug. 2021, https://perfectlyrawsome.com/raw-feeding-knowledgebase/nrc-essential-nutrients-fatty-acids/.
5. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The National Academies Press, 2018.
6. “NRC Nutritional Requirements for Dogs.” Perfectly Rawsome, 1 Aug. 2021, https://perfectlyrawsome.com/raw-feeding-knowledgebase/nrc-nutritional-requirements-for-adult-dogs.