“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” “Vegetables and fruits are necessary for a healthy body.” Generations of humans have been raised with these or like sayings. The USDA food pyramid is based on this notion. Homemade dog food with fruits and vegetables “looks” healthier to us. But do fruits and vegetables make homemade dog food better?
Why We Eat
Humans and animals don’t need food. What we all need is the energy and essential nutrients locked in food. We would be a thinner world if we viewed our food this way. Our bodies don’t care which food has the energy (calories), essential amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals, only that the sum of our diet provides the necessary amounts of each.
Think of it this way. A present for a loved one costs $50. We can pay for it with 5 tens, 2 twenties and a ten, 10 fives, or 1 fifty. The cashier doesn’t care. She got her $50. Bodies are no different than the cashier.
Good Food, Bad Food
In this age of information overload and fad diets, we have come to label foods as good or bad. This is based on studies that find associations of certain foods with certain chronic diseases. Association studies are not proof that a food causes a disease, only that there might be an association between the two. Many non-food factors, like behavior associated with certain foods, also play a role in these diseases.
What ails the world is not good food or bad food but too much of any food. It is what is in the food and in what amount that is important, not the food itself. We can control the quantity (well maybe not so well).
The Dog Digestive Tract
The carnivorous evolution of dogs has resulted in 2 traits that affect their nutrition. They have a shorter intestinal tract than humans and they don’t chew. This means that complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, have less surface area and time to be fully digested and the nutrients absorbed in the intestinal tract.
Ancestral dogs hunted in packs. Multiple animals fed on the carcass of a kill. It was important to tear away the flesh, gulp, and return for more before the carcass was clean. Chewing would have meant starvation. Today’s dogs still feed the same way. They don’t chew their food.
Fruits and vegetables need chewing to break them down and expose a greater surface area for digestion and absorption of nutrients. Because dogs don’t chew this does not occur. Dogs fed cranberries, a popular “feel good” fruit in homemade diets, pass through the intestinal tract and pass whole in the dog feces (poop). Any nutrient value is absolutely missed.
Fruits and vegetables contain greater amounts of fiber than many other foods. Increased fiber in the dog’s intestinal tract will signal the “fullness” or satiation signal sooner. Dogs that like fruits and vegetables may reach satiation before they have eaten enough food to fill their necessary nutrient requirements.
And the sad truth is many dogs don’t like fruits and vegetables. Refusal to eat won’t increase nutrient levels in the blood stream.
The Role of Fruits and Vegetables in Homemade Dog Food
Dogs need 42 essential nutrients in their food daily. The combination of protein, oils, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals must meet these needs. Because of the anatomical and behavioral characteristics of dogs adding fruits and vegetables to their diets may not guarantee that they receive necessary nutrients.
Ideally, dog owners wishing to feed homemade diets should seek recipes and nutrient supplementation that does not rely on fruits and vegetables to deliver all 42 necessary daily nutrients. That way, fruits and vegetables can be used as low calorie treats and their wonderful nutrients are a bonus.
~Dr Ken Tudor
THE DOG DIETITIAN