Does your dog need to eat raw meat or will a vegan diet do?
The age-old debate is still on-going – Are dogs carnivores or omnivores? Can dogs survive on rice, vegetables and fruits alone? Do they need to consume a purely meat-based diet? What did their ancestors eat? Are dogs and wolves considered the same species? Did dogs and wolves have the same diet? Can a dog have a vegan diet?
People have very polarized views on these questions, which causes a lot of confusion to raw feeders, especially the ones who are just starting out and doing their own research. Dogs, for the past century, have been fed “dog food” i.e. kibble in a bag. Does this mean dogs were meant to eat this food their entire lives? This needs to be looked at objectively.
What is a carnivore?
A carnivore is any animal that that feeds only on the flesh of other animals / meat as its primary source for survival. These animals cannot survive without consuming meat. Examples of carnivores are lions, tigers, crocodiles, lizards etc. You will never see a lion or a tiger in the wild casually looking for and eating bananas, carrots, or grass for survival. The key word is “survival”. They may consume some grass once in a while, but they will not be able to survive without meat. If they do not find other animals for food, they will simply perish.
Dental structure of Carnivores:
Carnivores have very short intestines, about 1.5 to 3 times their body length and an acidic digestive system to easily digest meat. Moving on to the teeth, carnivores have large, pointed canines and sharp incisors designed to tear the flesh of their prey. They have largely pointed molars and fewer in number since they do not have the necessity to chew or grind as much as their herbivore or omnivore counterparts. Carnivores rip, tear, and swallow the meat whole; they may chew on large pieces of flesh or bone to break them down in more manageable chunks. However, they do not show any grinding movement of their mouth while eating. The jaw movement is up and down.
What is an herbivore?
Animals like horses and cows are entirely different. These are herbivores. They survive on and will only eat plant matter; grass, grains, herbs etc. They do not consume any flesh or meat in their lifetime. They have teeth that are highly specialized for chewing and grinding plant matter. Since plant-based foods are harder to break down, herbivores generally have much wider and flatter molars as compared to carnivores or even omnivores. The grinding action facilitates easier digestion as a lot of the breakdown happens in the mouth.
Herbivores incisors are large to allow for tearing the plants but their canine teeth are not prominent. Animals like goats and deer have incisors only on the lower jaw, and the rigid upper jaw helps in tearing down plant matter. The jaws of herbivores are capable of moving sideways (grinding motion). The intestines of herbivores are much longer (some upto even 20 times their body length) since plant matter takes longer to digest. These animals also rigorously chew their food (mastication) for extended periods of time before they swallow.
What is an omnivore?
Humans are classic examples of omnivores – we are capable of eating and surviving on both plant matter and meat. Apart from us, animals like chimpanzees, black bears, pigs and birds like crows, hens etc. are also omnivores. The dentition of omnivores is a combination of that of an herbivore and a carnivore. They have large flat grinding molars along with slightly shorter sharp canines for tearing. Every omnivore has teeth that have specifically adapted to the diet primarily consumed. This is why the teeth of a human being look different from that of a black bear, even though they’re both omnivores. However, the large molars along with moderately sharp canines are signs of an omnivore.
Now look at your dog’s teeth and see which category they would fall into! Does your dog have large, square, flat molars? Does your dog have blunt canines? No. Dogs have sharp long canines and pointed molars. Dogs belong to the class “Carnivora” and are considering “scavenging carnivores”. This essentially means that they are meat-eaters, but can survive on plant matter, if necessary.
Why are these questions important from a raw feeder’s perspective?
Some people believe that dogs are pure carnivores, which means that they consumed whole prey and nothing else. Such people do not believe in feeding their dogs any part of a vegetarian diet, including vegetables and fruits. The dog’s diet would consist solely of the entire prey, fur, feathers, skin included. These people also state that dogs or even wolves, in the wild, did not consume the stomach content of their prey and so ingestion of plant matter was almost non-existent.
Carnivores and grass:
On the other hand, there are people who believe that dogs are omnivores. Such people feed their dogs vegetables, fruits
, and some other vegetarian sources of food for supplementation along with the meat. The food would consist of about 40-50% meat and the rest being vegetables, herbs etc. There are also people who believe dogs are in fact carnivores but did consume a very small amount of grass, herbs, and grains. When dogs eat the intestines of their herbivore prey, they indirectly consume all the digested plant matter as well.
Unfortunately, there are also a few people who believe that dogs can survive on a completely vegetarian or vegan diet. While it is true that dogs consumed a small amount of vegetation (directly or indirectly), it is cruel to feed a dog a fully plant-based diet. Even if the carnivore vs omnivore debate is not conclusive, one thing is certain – that dogs should not be fed a vegan diet or vegetarian diet if the intention is to improve longevity and quality of life for your pet. A dog’s teeth look very similar to that of many carnivores; they cannot be fed a diet without meat.
Biologically appropriate diet:
Diet plays a very important role in letting the body thrive and increase longevity in any living being. Consuming biologically appropriate foods will allow the body to reach its highest healing potential. If animals are fed a diet that does not fit their biological system, they will simply not be able to thrive or in most cases, they would just die. Since dogs are highly resilient and strong, they have suffered enough nutritional abuse and still managed to survive and adapt their system to new environments.
Carbs? are they bad?
A very good example of this is a case of any dog that is fed a high carbohydrate diet including rice, wheat, corn etc. While this is not biologically appropriate, the digestive system of a dog manages to produce enough amylase to break down the starch to allow for survival. This is not an ideal scenario, as consuming a large number of carbohydrates is not what dogs were designed for and this puts a high physiological stress on their organs. While they can survive just fine, the body just degenerates due to an inappropriate diet such as this.
Difference between PMR Diets and BARF Diets:
Raw feeders must note that while there is a lot of confusion regarding this topic, it is clear that dogs (just like their close ancestors – the wolves) consumed primarily the flesh of other animals. While this was unavailable, they survived eating tiny amounts of fruits, vegetables, and grass and in some cases, for supplementation. Broadly, there are two types of raw feeders –
Prey Model Raw (PMR) feeders – These people feed their dog primarily “whole prey”, meaning the entire carcass of animals like rabbits, chickens, ducks etc. including the fur, feathers, and skin. They do not believe in supplementation with vegetables, fruits, herbs or any other source of food apart from protein and fats from the prey.
BARF feeders – The acronym BARF has many different variations including Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, Bones And Raw Food, and Basic Ancestral Raw Food. These people believe in feeding a high amount of meat including muscle meat, organ meat, meaty bones, along with a small amount of vegetables, fruits, or herbs and occasionally supplements. These may include mineral supplements, multivitamins, digestive supplements etc.
Understanding the dentition, digestive system and the differences in physiological processes between carnivores and omnivores is important for any raw feeder to decide which way to go. A high protein diet primarily consisting of fresh, whole meat is certainly a major contributing factor that allows dogs to thrive in any environment.
Why is a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet not acceptable?
While humans make different dietary lifestyle changes, they will need to note that dogs are very different from them. It is unacceptable to force your dog to eat a vegetarian/vegan diet only because you made a choice for yourself. Many raw feeders are vegetarians or vegans who have consciously made a choice to feed their dogs a species appropriate diet with meat.
The digestive tract of animals:
Dogs have a short and simple digestive tract, which is also very acidic. The acidity of the stomach is designed to move food very quickly through the tract. Any vegetarian diet requires a longer processing time to be efficiently broken down and utilized in the gastrointestinal tract. This is why herbivores have a much more complex and longer intestinal design. If you have ever noticed your dog eating, it is very different from what a cow does. Dogs do not chew to “grind” the food, they only chew to break the food into smaller pieces and simply swallow. This is normal, and what they were designed to do. Dogs did consume the feces and stomach contents of herbivores, but that constituted less than 20% of their total diet.
Enzymes and Carbs:
Dogs also do not produce the necessary enzymes in their saliva to break down carbohydrates or starches, like other carnivores. Carbohydrates are in abundance in vegetables, rice, corn etc. This means that while your dog may eat that bowl of rice that you gave him/her, most of it is probably not even getting digested. Such dogs are nutritionally deprived and will not flourish. Dogs also do not produce an enzyme known as cellulose, which is used in breaking down the fibrous cell walls of plants. When dogs are fed an entirely plant-based diet, the pancreas suffers since it needs to produce enough amylase during digestion to compensate for the lack of salivary amylase and cellulase.
Risks of a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet for dogs include:
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (such as B vitamins, phosphorus, calcium, iron). All of these are ideally provided by meat or another animal products.
- Inadequate protein intake, causing significant physiological stress on the dog’s internal system. This promotes degeneration of the body.
- Amino acid imbalance and essential fatty acid deficiency. Dogs have a high requirement for Omega-3s such as EPA and DHA. Plant-based Omega-3s are mostly ALA, which dogs cannot efficiently use, leading to a deficiency.
- Long-term risks of such diets include serious and irreversible medical conditions including organ failure, cancer etc. Deficiencies can lead to reproductive failure, inadequate growth, and eye issues.
As a dog owner, it is your responsibility to feed your dog an optimum diet. Also please spend time on adequate research to educate yourself and provide a better life for your dog!