Recently my 14 year old canine Chrissie was diagnosed with kidney disease. She has been fed a high quality diet for many years and this latest diagnosis has sent me in search of what nutritious food is needed to keep her healthy. Chrissie doesn’t act like a 14 year old dog as she still plays, runs in the backyard, trees the squirrels and has a lot of puppy like characteristics. Quality of life is most important to me when it comes to Chrissie. In my research I have been reminded or have found new information to help me to make the correct choices for Chrissie. This will begin a series of blogs on nutrition for cats and dogs.

There continues to be a debate between whether a dog is omnivores or carnivores, there are many facts that we can look at to see dogs have a natural carnivorous bias.

First and foremost are the dog’s teeth. Dogs have sharp, long, pointy teeth and they are designed to tear and swallow or to puncture. Dogs do not have flat teeth and they cannot chew from side to side. Their jaws move in an up and down, chop-chop motion. Perfect for cutting meat into smaller chunks. They don’t chew like a dairy cow (herbivore) or like humans (omnivores). Cows have flat back teeth and they are broad. Humans have boxy back teeth and both do sideways grinding motion. The flat, boxy teeth are what is ideal for grinding.

Secondly, we can see a difference in one of the aids to digestions. Salivary amylase is a specialized enzyme that most herbivores and omnivores produce in their saliva. This aids in the breakdown of starchy carbohydrates into simple sugar before they enter the stomach. Carnivores do not produce the amylase in their salivary glands but the enzyme is added further down the digestive tract—in the pancreas and small intestine.

Thirdly, we find the difference in the digestive anatomy. Carnivores consume fewer and larger meals, so their stomachs are bigger than their grazing and plant eating counterparts. Meat eating animals have a higher concentration of stomach acid which aids in faster digestion of animal protein. The stronger acid kills the disease causing bacteria that is abundant in decaying meat. Dogs have a short intestine which is designed to move food fast and efficiently. Herbivores have an unusually long gastrointestinal tract which is needed for consuming a plant based diet.

Dogs were predators and they would catch small prey animals. They would eat all they could right away then rest to digest. Since the dog is a predator they could go a long time between eating. This “empty” period allows the digestive and elimination organs a time to completely clear out and rest.

A good note to remember is predators fast when they don’t feel well in order to clear and cleanse their bodily systems. This is a natural process.

So what does all this mean? Dogs need meat (preferably raw) muscle and organ meat. If raw is not your choice then human grade canned food is second best to a raw diet. If not feeding a raw diet then you would want to add probiotics and enzymes. Something I never thought about is with canned food or if you feed kibble the nutrients found in blood is missing. You would also want to add some vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts. These were eaten from the stomach of the prey.

I do want to point out that a raw diet does not mean a piece of chicken or steak. It needs to have more nutrients added to make it complete. Things such as bone to balance the muscle and organ meat, fatty acids and vitamins designed for carnivore’s system, and raw bones for healthy teeth and gums. Add vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts. Please research and get guidance if you want to feed a raw diet.

One other fact I would like to discuss is that dogs come from all over the world and so their nutrition is breed specific. The Chihuahua from Mexico would eat differently than a Saint Bernard in the Swiss Alps, or the Northern breeds such as the Siberian Husky and Malamute, or the Schipperke and Portuguese Waterdog who lived on the water. For our northern dogs they would need meat high in fat like salmon, buffalo or venison, for the water dogs fish would be appropriate in the diet. When determining a diet not only what areas your canine originate from you want to take into consideration age, activity and stress level.