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Natural dog food and diets - what to look for when buying your dog's food

Today, more and more pet owners are choosing to opt for a more natural dog food for their beloved companions. But, what exactly is ‘natural’ dog food? Below we talk about both the benefits of natural, non-artificial ingredients and also what a ‘natural’ diet for a dog in the wild is and how it compares to the food we commonly feed our domestic dogs. Read on to learn more about how you can better your pet’s life with natural food!

Quality, natural foods and ingredients for dogs

When most people look for natural dog foods they’re looking for foods that use natural, organic or free-range ingredients. But what does ‘natural’ mean in this context? Primarily, a natural ingredient is one that appears naturally – in nature. It is fed or included in the diet in a form as similar as possible to how it naturally occurs in the wild state – this means that meat is raw, or minimally processed, that carbs are presented as whole grains rather than refined and milled flour or meals, and that vegetables and fruits are fresh, pulped, or air dried.

The second part of ‘natural’ is that they would naturally be found in the animals diet – so this eliminates hydrolysed proteins, soy extracts, synthetic vitamins and minerals, thickeners, emulsifiers, food colourings, additives and preservatives.

Natural ingredients are important for three reasons:

synthetic or artificial ingredients don’t have holistic health benefits – often synthetic ingredients are added to dog foods to tick a specific box like making sure there’s enough of a particular vitamin or that the food binds together. While these are obviously useful, sometimes they may not be as easily digestible or assimilated by the pet, as compared to natural, biologically appropriate ingredients. A synthetic version of ascorbic acid for example might be a good source of vitamin C but a natural source like cranberries can also provide fibre and other antioxidants.

quality matters for good health – often natural ingredients are more nutritional than their synthetic counterparts. Looking for dog foods that contain free-range or wild-game, human-grade or organic ingredients or those from countries with a history of great quality, natural produce can all help deliver a healthier, more nutritious meal in your dog’s bowl.

they can be environmentally kinder – ingredients that are responsibly and sustainably grown can often have lower environmental impacts than large-scale, industrial farming processes.

Its also important not to be misled by the names of the ingredients on the packs and to do some research. Lots of ingredients that sound artificial are often from natural sources and are very beneficial – for example, oligosaccharides are great prebiotics that help feed healthy gut bacteria while mixed tocopherols are natural vitamin E preservatives from things like rosemary oil. Similary lots of ingredients that sound natural and great can sometimes come from farms with poor ethical practices and low nutritional value produce.

What is a natural diet for dogs in the wild and why should you care?

As well as considering whether the ingredients in your dog food are natural its perhaps even more important to consider whether a food is suited to your dog’s naturally favoured diet.

As we all know, our dogs are descendants of the wolf. In the wild, wolves are naturally carnivorous animals, hunting and feasting on prey animals and consuming everything from muscle meat to organs and bones. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t also eat things other than meat – they do consume fruit and vegetables, both indirectly from the stomachs of their prey, and they’ve been observed scavenging rotting fruit and berries. Nevertheless, they are very heavy meat-eaters and their physiology – meat-eating teeth, acidic stomachs, lubricating saliva even – is adapted to eating meat.

Now, your little Chihuahua or Bichon Frise is certainly not a wolf, and domesticated dogs typically live longer than wolves, so why should you care what a wolf eats? Well, simply because there are lots and lots of similarities in their digestive systems (they are still 99% wolf); the principal one being that all dogs are descended from carnivores and so still thrive on a high-meat diet. Their short intestinal tracts, naturally acidic stomachs and lack of amylase in their saliva all point to the fact that they get the most out of a high-meat diet.

There are of course important differences between domesticated dogs and wild canines too. In the process of domestication dogs have become quite versatile eaters. As omnivores they can digest and metabolise a whole range of foods including fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates (starches and grains), and they can even survive on a vegan or vegetarian diet without meat to survive. All of which means you can feed your dog lots of different diets, but their bodies are not necessarily going to be able to get everything they need from it..

Feeding your dog an all natural dog food!

So what is a natural diet that is appropriate for a dog’s biology? Here are some key points:

1. Quality meat and high protein diet: Now, this is a big one! Canines are designed to thrive on a high protein, high-fat diet. You can’t just choose any type of protein, for instance plant protein varies considerably compared to animal protein. Additionally, lower quality protein will often have a poorer bioavailability and may not be easily digestible.

2. Keep the carbs to a minimum: Yes, it is true that dogs can eat and digest a fair amount of starch and sugars. But, still most dry dog foods tend to contain a lot more carbohydrates that needed. And, this is what often causes diabetes, obesity and cancer in pets. So, keep carbs to a minimum and choose quality grains for your pooch. Some pawesome options include fresh sweet corn (no cob), brown rice, and quinoa!

3. Complete and balanced: there are a number of nutrients dogs need to survive and thrive – the US pet food regulatory body, AAFCO, outlines requirements for 37 nutrients for a ‘complete and balanced’ dog food, but there are arguably many more that will help your dog thrive (76 for optimal health in fact). A high meat diet alone won’t provide everything they need, but organs, bone, fruits, vegetables, minerals and ‘superfoods’ will all help boost levels of necessary nutrients.

4. Minimally processed: avoid feeding your pet foods that are over processed. Cooking and heavy processing often destroys some of the ingredients’ nutritional value. Raw, air dried, freeze dried and minimally processed foods retain more of the ingredients natural nutritional value. This is especially important for sensitive nutrients like amino acids and omega 3 essential fatty acids.

It’s also important to consider whether your dog has particular dietary requirements. Many Dalmatians for example require low purine diets, some dogs have food intolerances (a common one is gluten), some dogs may benefit from supplements to help with skin allergies, obesity or joint issues, while dogs with medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, pancreatitis and kidney disease will have specific dietary requirements. It’s always best to consult a vet if you suspect your dog might have specific nutritional requirements.

Occasional fasting

In the wild, wolves or even stray dogs may be limited on regular food. For example, a wolf will not be able to catch every prey they stalk, and so they may have to go many hours or even days on an empty stomach. Well, this is roughly where the idea of occasional fasting a pet came from. And, it has shown to actually be quite beneficial for metabolic repair and weight control!

There are many reasons why a pet parent should consider intermittent fasting. So, here we have listed just a handful of benefits of intermitted fasting for dogs!

1. Boost your dogs ability to respond to pathogens! One of the biggest benefits seen with intermitted fasting is that it increases your dogs macrophage activity. Macrophages are cells that are recruited during an immune response. They’re job is to simply locate, consume, and destroy a pathogen.

2. Intermittent fasting can kill bacteria faster in your dogs blood! Before a macrophage reaches the site of inflammation, it must first travel through the blood. It is during this stage, a macrophage is called a monocyte. Like macrophages—a monocyte is able to locate, consume, and eliminate any foreign material in the blood! Yes, this includes harmful bacteria too.

3. Fasting your pooch can decrease they’re chances of obesity! Pet obesity is without a doubt, one of the major reasons why a dogs life span may be shortened! Well, with a restricted diet, you’ll decrease any risk of your pooch packing on those extra pounds. Fasting activates the fat burning processes in the body.

4. You decrease the chances of metabolic disorders! Dog foods tend to contain high levels of carbohydrates. When you feed your dog a few meals a day, then this will cause multiple insulin peaks. Remember, insulin regulates blood sugar activity and fat storage! Intermittent fasting (and once a day feeding) thus will decrease the likelihood of your pet developing diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and even arthritis.

The health benefits of a natural, holistic diet

Holistic nutrition goes beyond thinking about food as simply a vessel for energy but considers its impact on your dog’s health and wellbeing overall. There are many benefits to feeding your pet more fresh and natural foods that cater to a dogs biology and physiology! These can include:

• Less digestive upsets • Better stool quality • Increase in energy! • A healthy weight • Less chances of developing allergies • Better skin and coat condition, and • Best of all a longer life expectancy!

So what’s the best natural dog food for your pooch?

As pet lovers we naturally want to choose the best natural diet for them and that means, one that has few synthetic ingredients, uses high-quality whole foods that are minimally processed, and one that mimics a natural doggy diet – high in meat and low in carbs.

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