How Commercial Pet Food Is Killing Your Dog

  • 27/01/2014

Would you feed your family a meal made with condemned beef? Or spray the children’s tea with rancid fat collected from a deep-fat fryer? Or serve biscuits made with empty grain hulls swept from a factory floor?

The unpalatable truth is that if you give your dog processed dog food - dried, tinned or in a pouch - you may be feeding them substances that cause them serious, possibly fatal, harm.

In a Channel 5 documentary this week, I am one of a number of canine nutrition experts who accuse the big dog food manufacturers of knowingly shortening the lives of millions of dogs a year.

The big businesses selling us processed dog food use ingredients unsuitable for human consumption - and unsuitable, in my view, for canine consumption.

They make vast profits from something that would otherwise be thrown away. It is a consumer scandal waiting to happen.

We all know there is a connection between our diet and health. The same applies to dogs, and every other species on the planet. But what is the best, most biologically appropriate diet for dogs?

The diet your dog should be eating is that of a grey wolf in the wild. If you dissect a dog and a grey wolf you’ll find that their digestive systems are identical. The two animals are essentially the same species and so closely related that they can interbreed.

Grey wolves live on prey such as deer, rabbits and mice, and eat everything including the bones, from which they get about a third of their nutrition. They also eat fruit and vegetables.

In short, their diet consists of raw meat, raw bones and raw herbage. This, then, is the diet that allows dogs to achieve optimum health and longevity.

Only recently have dog food manufacturers persuaded us otherwise. I believe nine out of ten visits to the vet are caused by dogs being fed the wrong diet.

The quality of ingredients in most dog food is appallingly low, often including meat that has gone off.

But the worst thing is that it has been cooked and it contains a great deal of grain. The cooking kills off important enzymes - chemicals responsible for thousands of vital metabolic processes - in the food, and alters its structure, making it hard for the dog to digest.

Grain changes the pH (acidity) balance in the dog’s stomach, also causing health problems. When dogs eat grain almost all goes in one end and out the other.

In short, processed dog food has the same effect on dogs as junk food has on humans.

Manufacturers will tell you the canine digestive system has changed over time to be able to derive benefit from grain, but processed dog food came into existence 153 years ago and has been popular only since the end of World War II.

Palaeontologists believe it takes, on average, 100,000 years for a species to adapt to a new diet. Dogs have five types of teeth, but none suitable for grinding food.

Humans have digestive enzymes in our saliva and we need to chew our food before we swallow it to give those enzymes a chance to start breaking down the food.

Dogs can’t chew this way because they are unable to move their jaws from side to side. All their digestive processes take place in their stomachs.

You may think your dog gulps his or her food because they are greedy, but they are just trying to get it to where all the digestive action occurs as fast as possible.

If you believe TV commercials, advertisements and labels, processed food is the only safe thing to feed a dog. It contains nothing but ‘natural goodness’, has been ‘scientifically formulated’ and is endorsed by experts.

But a good way to understand the dog food industry is to study its history. Modern dog food was invented by James Spratt, who launched the first complete dog food - a biscuit made of wheat meal, vegetables and animal blood - in England in 1860.

Mill owners saw its potential as a way of selling their unwanted by-products (basically floor sweepings) and low-cost meat off-cuts at a much higher price than they’d otherwise achieve.

From day one, dog food producers made extravagant claims for their products and paid vets for endorsements. Little has changed in more than 150 years.

doggie-biscuits.jpgThere is considerable British and European legislation controlling the manufacture of dog food, but this quote, taken from the guidance given to pet food manufacturers, demonstrates how little the government cares about the dogs themselves: ‘For pets, the main part of the risk assessment when setting maximum permitted levels for undesirable substances will generally be the extent to which the animal can tolerate them.’

In other words, it is legal to use ‘undesirable substances’ in dog food if they don’t do the animal immediate harm.

Another disturbing quote from the same guide refers to: ‘The material of animal origin used by the pet food industry comprises those parts of animals which are either deemed surplus to human consumption or are not normally consumed by people in the UK.’

This lets manufacturers make their food from by-products such as hooves, tails, testicles, ears and so on.

Take kibble or dry dog food. The ingredients (mostly corn and ground meat) are heated to a very high temperature and turned into a sort of grey mulch. It tastes so foul it has to be sprayed with fat to make it palatable to dogs.

Dogs eating a natural, raw food diet can be expected to live longer and suffer less illness and disease.

Such a diet would include meaty bones, lean muscle meat and internal organs from chicken, lamb, beef, rabbit and pork; eggs; cheese, cottage cheese, yoghurt, milk and butter; and fatty fish such as herring, salmon and sardines.

Also, plants and root vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and parsnips. Fresh and dried fruits - but not grapes - are also excellent components of a raw diet.

Feeding your dog this way will also help with behavioural issues. Processed food (dried, tinned or in a pouch) can make a dog hyperactive, lethargic and irritable.

Dogs on a natural diet are calmer, more attentive, easier to train and generally better behaved. They suffer less disease, live longer, smell nicer and produce less waste matter.

I gave my own dog, Honey, processed food until five years ago, when an enlightened vet told me I was shortening her life and explained what she should eat.

After switching her to a natural diet I was so amazed by the difference in her health I started doing it for friends’ dogs.

Now the company I named after her, Honey’s, feeds 3,000 dogs a month. Today, I would no more feed her processed food than I would let my children have junk food and fizzy drinks for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Truth About Your Dog’s Food is on UK Channel 5 on Thursday at 9pm. Jonathan Self is author of Honey’s Natural Feeding Handbook for Dogs.

You can view our full range of Dog Food Recipe and Dog Nutrition eBooks here ...

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Comments (2)

Duncan Forbes
Said this on 31/01/2014 At 04:31 am

Totally agree with you. I got suspicious when I started to look at the ingredients of the food I was feeding my boys. Even expensive kibble seemed to have a very high grain amount. For the last year they have been fed on a diet of raw chicken, goat, rabbit. Some pre packed mince. Eggs and fish. Not sure about veg as one of them won't touch it.

Said this on 28/01/2014 At 04:04 pm
Totally agree about the processed food, but just on a point, parsnips are also dangerous for dogs as they contain natural arsenic.
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