Today, most canine owners in western countries feed their dogs. However, home-cooked food is a model of feeding more linked to the “natural” concept and is gaining ground.
Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Which is better: home-made dog food or dog food? In this post I will try to give you weighty arguments so that you can decide for yourselves.
Before discussing the “evils and goodness” of dog food and the “evils and goodnesses” of home cooking, I would like to clarify some key concepts that have to do with the biological origin of the dog and its anatomy.
Dogs, wolves and differences in the digestive system
The dog and the common wolf share 99.8% of their genes and, today, taxonomists (the experts in biologically classifying animal species) consider the dog as a subspecies of the wolf and not as a separate species.
However, the differences between wolf and domestic dog are obvious:
- Different morphology: although some dog breeds may be very similar to the wolf, nobody doubts that a Chihuahua, for example, has a very different appearance to that of its wild ancestor.
- Different behaviour: there is clear evidence of behavioural differences between wolves and dogs. To cite just one of the many references, I would say that studies have shown that wolves and dogs born and raised from puppies in the same human environment develop very different behavioural patterns, for example in their way of relating to people.
- Different energy expenditure: at this point I am going to refer to the prototype of a domestic dog that lives in the nucleus of a human family. Clearly, its energy requirements can never be the same as those of a wolf, which sleeps outdoors and needs fat to protect itself from the cold of winter, hunting, travels long distances and moves in a territory of several square kilometers that must protect from possible intruders.
Although these three major differences are undeniable, physiologically there are no differentiating characteristics relevant enough between dogs and wolves to consider them different species and that physiological similarity is essential when talking about their diet. Both the nutritional requirements and the capacity of digestion of nutrients depend on physiological processes.
The dog, a carnivore “not strict”
The dog, like the wolf, is what in biology is called a non-strict carnivore. That is, it needs a diet whose main ingredient is meat but has a digestive system prepared to tolerate ingredients of non-animal origin in small quantities. Never as the basis of your diet.
As a carnivore, the dog has teeth designed to eat meat: large tusks to hold the prey and tear its meat, premolars and molars with serrated edges to cut the meat or grind bones, and small incisors that are not specialized in cutting plant material such as those of herbivores.
As Natuka’s proponents explained very well some time ago in a presentation on home-made dog food, the differences between the digestive system of a carnivore such as a dog and that of a herbivore (a cow, for example) or an omnivore (a person) are clear:
- Shorter digestive tract: because proteins, which are the main component of meat, are digested more quickly than starches and cellulose, present in plant-derived ingredients such as cereals.
- Small blind: because the digestion of animal matter does not require as much fermentation as that of vegetable origin. Herbivores have a much longer blind to ferment better.
- More acidic stomach pH for easier digestion of meat and bones.
- Lower density of bacterial flora because dogs need to digest a smaller range of food than omnivorous animals such as humans.
- No salivary amylase because dogs do not need to start digesting food in the mouth.
However, we cannot ignore that the process of domestication (from wolf to dog) has caused some changes that have affected the digestive system…
The dog is no longer a wolf. When it comes to digestion, neither are
In 2013, the prestigious scientific journal Nature published a study by geneticist Erik Axelsson, of Uppsala University in Sweden, comparing the genome of 60 dogs of 14 different breeds with that of 12 wolves. The study found that dogs are genetically more capable than wolves of breaking down starch in their digestive system.
Starch is present in multiple foods of non-animal origin such as cereals.
This could be explained, from an evolutionary approach, if we take into account that the first wolves that would later become dogs began to feed on the waste from human settlements. And from then until now, many dogs have been fed leftovers of our food.
Homemade dog food yes, dog food no? It depends…
Natural food is not just a matter of “fashion”. Natural foods are healthier and safer than processed foods, but processed foods can also have their advantages.
On the one hand, natural foods do not incorporate artificial chemical additives (preservatives, colourings, flavourings and antioxidants), which can aggravate the symptoms of a food allergy. On the other hand, natural ingredients are richer in nutrients as the extrusion processes used to manufacture most dog food involve cooking at very high temperatures.
This is done to eliminate the risk of the presence of bacteria such as salmonella and other dangerous micro-organisms. But of course, with heat, many nutrients are lost along the way.
However, there are also cold-pressed dog feeds that seek to apply less aggressive thermal processes. These are called “pelletized” feeds. This article from Tiendanimal is not bad at all for understanding the difference between extruded and cold-pressed dog food.