When you think about your dog’s food, you probably picture more meat than potato. But a new study suggests that as humans transitioned from hunter gatherers to agriculture about 10,000 years ago, some wolves developed the ability to digest starches in order to share human food scraps. That evolutionary adaptation helped fuel their domestication and transition to modern dogs.
Dogs are one of the most successful species on the planet, over a billion strong, because of their opportunistic eating habits. They can live off almost anything for long periods of time, including lots of refined carbohydrates. But just because they can utilize the starches, should they?
The cost of a carb-rich diet
According to the National Research Council, NO carbohydrates are nutritionally required by a dog to sustain life, just protein, fat and certain minerals. Yet carbohydrates are the dominant nutrient in most canine diets. In reasonable amounts it can be a useful source of energy. In larger quantities, it leads to overweight, high blood sugar, inflammation (root cause of a host of diseases) and even behavior issues. Using the dog’s ancestral diet as a model, the total amount of carbs consumed by early dogs was dramatically less than what is typical for today. Dogs are still mostly carnivores, needing a meat rich diet for optimum health.
Crowding out the carbs with protein and fat
Carbs are abundant and cheap, and make kibble possible by acting as a binder to hold the nuggets together. We don’t hate carbs — we just think they should comprise less than 40% of the diet, and sometimes far less for purposes of weight management, blood sugar control, cancer recovery, and many other health issues. In fact, most dogs thrive on a mostly meat and vegetable diet with few starches ever.
One problem is that we as consumers are usually in the dark about how much carbohydrate our dogs are getting because only protein, fat, moisture and fiber content are label requirements. Very few companies publish carbohydrate content. So instead, you have to add up the protein and fat and assume that everything else that’s not water is carbohydrate*. The higher the sum of protein + fat, the lower the carb level — useful for comparing similar types of food, like dry to dry. Canned or raw food, with up to 80% moisture, will have much smaller percentages than dry even though they are generally lowest in carb content.
*there’s also mineral content, called “ash”, not more than 8% in dry food or 2% in moist food.
Improving the numbers
Most dogs eat dry food – that’s a fact. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For general purposes, we prefer the higher protein/fat formulas because there are fewer carbs. Serving high meat foods alongside or at other times of the day will decrease your pooch’s total carb intake. We like giving raw meaty bones, adding canned or frozen food, liberally spiking the diet with freeze-dried foods or just giving a lot of yummy meat-based treats. Because our dogs are very deserving of the best we have!
And now….about cats
Everything we’ve said about dogs is doubly true for cats. Cats are obligate carnivores who never acquired the ability to utilize starches for metabolic purposes, yet most dry cat foods contain more than they should. When we see a really overweight cat with a dry, brittle, shedding coat, skin eruptions and smelly litter box — that is a high-carb kitty! A moist, meaty high quality diet will correct all those deficiencies!
For carb-lowering options, check out our July 2013 promotions: Stella & Chewy’s 95% meat freeze-dried entrees for dogs and cats. They are complete diets, also good for traveling and treating. Tripett and PetKind cans for dogs are also on sale…..great additions to any dry food.