We used to say, ‘You are what you eat’. Nowadays we more accurately say, ‘You are what your microbiome eats’. The same is true for our dogs.
The food our dogs eat is broken down by teeth, stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Their intestines absorb fatty acids, amino acids and sugars into the bloodstream and so into organs and tissues for growth and repair. A large proportion of ingested food, though, is acted upon, eaten and transformed by the bugs all dogs have in their guts.
Modern microbiology, genetic engineering and PCR technology allow us a much greater understanding of the microbiome. The bacteria, viruses and Protozoa that make up the life-giving bacterial gloop that lives within us all is slowly revealing its secrets.
We know that at least four pathways link gut bugs with brain function. We know that IBD, food allergies and intolerances in both dogs and man are incredibly debilitating.
We also know that disruption of the cell-cell junction (so-called Leaky Gut Syndrome) can lead to terrible whole-body immune reactions like atopy (itching), polyarthritis and organ failure.
In contrast, we know that if you feed species-appropriate food to a dog, you will encourage a more normal and flourishing microbiome.
So, to have a healthy gut and microbiome, to help canine behaviour, gut function, skin, joint and organ health, it makes sense to feed a diet that dogs have evolved to thrive on; raw food.
We know that raw or lightly cooked food is better than ultra-processed kibble. If you take a dog on dry kibble and put it on raw, a very high proportion of those animals will show improved teeth, breath, coat and all manner of health parameters. If you do the switch the other way round, you will see a gradual worsening in most dogs’ health.
Dog’s are carnivores. Or, at the very least, very carnivorous omnivores. Modern dry kibble diets contain 30–60% grain or starchy carbohydrate. Dogs are not meant to eat this quantity of grain/vegetable material; they’re not cows! They’re not like cats either. Felines are true ‘obligate’ carnivores, designed to eat mice, birds and rabbits.
If you think about it, wild canids have, throughout history been carnivorous scavengers. Studies show they will out-compete even vultures in their territory if there are dead and rotting carcasses to be had. Unlike cats, dogs eat berries in the autumn, intestinal contents containing grasses, vegetation and herbs, eat horse, sheep and rabbit poo for a snack and each other’s poo given half a chance. Dogs are the ultimate adaptable eaters. Second only, perhaps, to their human contemporaries.
Feeding dogs for gut health is pretty simple, really. Feed dogs like dogs, cats like cats and humans like prehistoric humans if you want optimum gut function. Ultimate gut function will give ultimate health. You are what your gut bugs eat, after all.