Editor’s Note: Food is a controversial subject here at Dogster. It’s only natural: we care about our pets and want to give them the absolute best. In our list of Dogster Values, we note that we believe in feeding your pet the best food you can afford; if that happens to be kibble, we won’t judge you for it.
The post below is NOT a sponsored post — it is the author’s opinion, which we’re publishing (as we regularly do) in the spirit of debate. You can agree or disagree, but please be civil. And please tell us what you feed your dog and why you do it in the comments area below.
I find it strange how nervous I can get just talking about what I feed my dogs. The topic of whether to feed wet or dry, organic or conventional, raw or cooked seems to have reached a fever pitch, especially online. And I assure you, I am not here to try and change anyone’s mind. We all have to look at the information available and make our own decisions for our dog and our household. But I thought I would say a little about how I chose the dog food that I buy.
I want to use a dry food for two main reasons. One is that my older dog has some worn and broken teeth and my younger dog has a congenital issue that causes plaque intolerance, which requires that I keep her teeth very clean. I use a water additive and brushing but still find a dry food is a good idea for maintaining the dental health of both. The second reason is that it is convenient and easy, and I think it is better to admit that is a factor rather than pretend that it is not.
One of the biggest concerns with kibble is that it is quite high in carbohydrates like starches from foods such as grains and potatoes. Wolves clearly would not have eaten very much of those materials at all, just trace amounts from the stomach contents of prey animals. So the question is, just how different are dogs from their wolf ancestors? Is eating a diet relatively high in carbohydrates bad for them?
Erik Axxelson and a team of researchers completely sequenced the genomes of wolves and dogs, and what they found is that dogs differ in two main area: 27 genes that affect the brain and nervous system, and ten that affect the stomach. The changes in the genes of the dogs allow them to be much more efficient in breaking down carbohydrates like starch all the way to glucose, so that it can be absorbed. So, good news for my conscience, dogs have evolved to be able to use plants sources of nutrition. But that is not really the whole story.
Another study led by Adrian K. Hewson-Hughes showed that when dogs are given the choice, they want to get most of their energy from fat and protein and only seven percent from carbohydrates. Most studies find that animals given naturalistic choices have what is called “nutritional wisdom,” and will tend to pick the foods that are best for them. And these dogs selected a diet much closer to the ancestral wolf diet and well out of the range offered by most dry diets.
One reason for kibble being high in carbohydrates is that they are an ingredient necessary to be able to extrude and dry a stable dry pellet of food, so making a low-carb kibble is actually quite difficult. Formulations are unlikely to get much below 20-percent carbs, and they lower they go, the more they are going to cost. Now, in my case, the days where I had to decide between buying dog food, human food or gas some weeks are fortunately in the past, so I can go for the bigger-ticket brands if I think there is a good reason to do so.
Also, my dogs don’t have any health concerns known to be aggravated by a high-carbohydrate diet, so all I am trying to do is to balance my reasons for feeding dry, which I have already mentioned, with the dogs natural tendency to eat a low-carbohydrate diet (which is probably optimal for them). So my own personal decision has been to stick with dry diets, but to choose ones with relatively low levels of carbohydrates to try and balance the issues that concern me.
Other people make other food choices for their dogs, and I think it is important that we respect each other’s choices when they are made responsibly and for good reasons, especially because each dog is going to have different health and nutritional needs. And even when we disagree, a civil conversation is going to be more helpful than a polarized debate.
We are discovering new things about dog nutrition all the time, and new products are coming on the market constantly. It seems to me that so long as we can share the information we have discovered and we all are trying to make the best decisions, we as dog owners will be able to help one another make the best decisions possible for our dogs. And that is the most important thing.
What do you think about my decision to feed my dog only dry food? Do you agree with it? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
About the author: Emily Kane is a New Zealand-born animal behaviorist of the throw-back radical behaviorist type, albeit with a holistic-yuppie-feminist-slacker twist. She spent many years as an animal behavior researcher and is now more of an indoor paper-pushing researcher. Her early dog-related education came from Jess the Afghan Hound and Border Collies Bandit and Tam. It is now being continued by her own dogs and extended dog family and some cats (and her three aquatic snails Gala, Granny and Pippin — they think of themselves as dog-esque).
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