Eat fresh whole foods and get plenty of variety; limit your intake of processed foods: standard advice for anyone wishing to eat healthy. Yet when it comes to feeding our dogs, many of us have been convinced that providing them with the same highly processed concoction day in and day out is the pinnacle of canine nutrition.
Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth.
Holistic veterinarians have observed increases in canine degenerative diseases, dental problems, and skin conditions whenever use of processed dog food becomes more prevalent in a country.
The Problem with Commercial Dog Foods
Have you noticed that the guaranteed nutritional analysis on your kibble's information panel lists the minimum amount of protein and fat the food contains, but not the minimum amount of carbohydrates? Ever wonder why that may be? The answer is simple: Dogs have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates. None. Zero. Zilch. Why, then, does your commercial dog food contain about 50% grain?
Commercial pet food in general and kibble in particular is primarily a convenience food. The pet food manufacturer's goal isn't to provide optimal canine nutrition--though their advertising campaigns do their best to convince you otherwise. Instead, the focus is on offering convenience at a low price, and what could be more convenient than opening a bag of kibble and pouring it into a bowl? The food doesn't even require refrigeration! Grains are cheaper than animal proteins. So what if they offer incomplete amino acid profiles and dogs are limited in their ability to digest them?
Dog food manufacturers are allowed to list the amount of protein and fat their product contains in crude form, not in digestible form. How much of that protein and fat is actually available to your dog depends on the ingredients used.
Dog Food Ingredients as Food Waste Products
Brewers rice, soybean meal, beet pulp, corn gluten meal, wheat middlings, wheat gluten, poultry and meat by-products: What are these ingredients and what are they doing in your dog's food? These ingredients--and several others like them--are waste products of the human food industry. They haven't been selected because of their formidable nutritional value--most of these ingredients offer very little in the way of nutrition--but rather because the major dog food manufacturers and the human food production companies are owned by the same conglomerates.
Commercial pet foods provide these corporations with an excellent opportunity to "recycle" their waste products. And the poor nutrient profiles of these ingredients aren't a problem anyway. Kibble is processed at such high temperatures that most vitamins are destroyed. That's why dog food manufacturers must add so many synthetic vitamins to their products.
However, the lack of variety, questionable nature of certain ingredients, and high heat processing aren't the only problems with kibble.
Your Pit Bull Is a Carnivore
Even if the quality of the ingredients and the processing weren't an issue, a diet so high in grain and plant matter still would not be in the best interest of your pit bull. That's because your dog--all pet food industry propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding--is a carnivore, not an omnivore. As such, his ability to digest and assimilate plant food is limited.
Let's take a look at what happens when an omnivore--you, for instance--ingests grains or other starches. Your large flat molars allow you to effectively grind up the plant matter you've consumed. As you're chewing, the enzyme amylase is released by your salivary glands and begins breaking the starch down into sugar. Once you swallow, the food passes through your esophagus to the stomach and then into the small intestine where digestion continues and the nutrients are eventually absorbed into the body. This is a slow process which is essential because proper digestion of complex carbohydrates takes time.
Now contrast that to a dog consuming grains. Your pit bull's molars are pointed--great for quickly crushing bone and ripping through cartilage--but ill suited for slowly grinding up plant foods.
Moreover, carnivores do not produce salivary amylase and dogs are no exception. This means that grains are swallowed more or less whole and digestion cannot begin in the mouth. Finally, the short and fast digestive tract that makes dogs and other carnivores so resistant to food borne pathogens does not allow for sufficient time to properly digest a large grain meal.
What Is Species-Appropriate Nutrition
The goal of feeding a species-appropriate diet to your pit bull is to approximate the diet canines evolved on and continue to consume in the wild. What does such a diet look like? Raw meats and bones, fish, eggs, and very small amounts of greens, herbs, veggies, and fruit.
In the next part of this series, we'll take a closer look at how to safely feed your pit bull a species-appropriate diet.