When raising our dogs, we all want to ensure that we're giving them the best life possible, with social interaction, exercise and diet all vital aspects of a dog's day to day life.
With a seemingly endless number of dog food brands on the market today, it can be difficult to know which one is the right fit for your dog. Are they 'small', 'medium' or 'large'? And what about 'young', 'adult' and 'senior'?
Once you've made your mind up on that, there's also the question of what type of food they should be fed, with various brands advertising 'all natural', 'grain free' and 'home cooked' varieties. The list goes on...
What Type Of Diet Is Best For Dogs?
A recent study by researchers from the Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois has found that fresh, raw diets could bring about a range of health benefits for dogs - and there could be quite an obvious reason for that...
Domestic dogs are a subspecies of the grey wolf, which typically lives out in the wild and is, consequently, a natural born hunter. Whilst the two are significantly different in many ways, they can still interbreed and produce viable, fertile offspring, making them great subjects to study.
Studies of wolves in Yellowstone Park, US, has highlighted the variety in their diets, based upon environmental and seasonal factors. The studies found that the wolves' diet consisted of small rodents, birds and invertebrates, as well as elk and mule deer, plus a significant amount of plant matter.
A major difference between wolves and dogs, however, is that dogs have long been domesticated, meaning that they have adapted genetically to the general domestic diet.
A study conducted in 2013 found that dogs produce an increased amount of amylase, the protein that helps the body to digest starch, with dogs 5x better at digesting starch than wolves. Starch is commonly found in foods such as grains, beans and potatoes, meaning that dogs can thrive off a similar diet.
Could A Vegan Diet Benefit Dogs?
For many owners, their choice of diet for their dog is a massive decision and, oftentimes, will reflect their own ideals and desires for their dog. Vegetarian owners, for example, may prefer to feed their dogs a similar diet, whilst the same may be true of vegan owners too.
The diets, however, have come under much scrutiny, causing a fair amount of controversy between dog owners.
On the one hand, both diets are possible, albeit a little tricky. A vegetarian diet is the simpler of the two options, as the benefits of meat can be easily substituted in it's absence. Eggs, for example, are an excellent source of protein for dogs - they have, in fact, the highest biological value of all protein sources commonly found in dog food. This kind of diet, therefore, isn't all that tricky.
The only issue that may occur, however, is one of acceptance - as with all of us! Dogs will, inevitably, recognise the lack of meat in their food and begin to question this. So, the trick is to do it gradually. Start to introduce the new food slowly and, as the quantity of this increased, reduce the old food accordingly.
Vegan diets can be more difficult. They are, however, possible, but will take a little more planning and preparation. Beans, corn, soy and whole grains can still provide all of the amino acids that a dog needs, if given in the right balance.
What Are The Risks Of Vegan Diets For Dogs?
Whilst these kinds of diets can be effective for dogs, it is important that they are done right and that the dogs are closely monitored to help avoid any mishaps - which can happen quite easily.
As omnivores, dogs should be able to adapt well to commercially available vegetarian dog foods on the market, as they are composed with the necessary balance of nutrients that a dog needs. There are, however, very few studies published about the use of vegan diets on dogs, with little research into the positive and negative effects of such.
Research into home made vegetarian diets for dogs has proven them to be quite risky, with a study of a study of 86 dogs in Europe finding that over half of them were deficient in protein, essential amino acids, calcium, zinc and vitamins D and B12. It is thought that the risks of a vegan diet could be even greater.
Whilst vegetarian and vegan diets are entirely possible for dogs, we'd always advise owners to be cautious and to only prepare home made diets with the assurance that they are safe and provide the sufficient nutrients that dogs need. If you are considering changing your dog's diet, we'd always suggest seeking veterinary advice first.
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