Why wolves and wild dogs never get fat (even when there is plenty of food around)
If you look up dogs in any encyclopaedia you will see that their Latin classification is Canis lupus familiaris and that they are a domesticated form of the grey wolf, aka Canis lupus lupus.
In other words, they are the same species.
The grey wolf has been in existence for over four million years but domesticated wolves (dogs) have only been around for some 8,000–20,000 years.
Whether humans captured wolves and domesticated them or wolves domesticated themselves is not clear. Possibly a bit of both. What is certain is that from early on we selectively bred dogs with a view to developing certain physical and behavioural traits. Thus, over time, we created hunting dogs, retrieving dogs, guard dogs, companion dogs and so forth.
We may have managed to alter the way dogs look and, to a certain extent, think, but physiologically they haven’t changed. There is absolutely no difference (apart from size) between the internal organs and digestive process of a Chihuahua and a grey wolf. This is why they should eat the same diet.
Why don’t wolves get fat?
Why don’t wolves and wild dogs ever get fat? In fact, why don’t you ever see any fat animals in the wild, even when there is plenty of food around?
There are two reasons.
Firstly, and I know I have already mentioned this a couple of times so a squillion apologies for bringing it up again, every species on earth eats a biologically appropriate diet. This ensures that they receive the energy they need and can achieve optimum health. Secondly, with the single exception of humans, all species self-regulate the amount of food they eat. This means that they maintain the ideal weight. When designing the Lucky Dog Diet all I have done is replicate a dog’s biologically appropriate diet and worked out how much food they should be eating every day. To do this, of course, I had to study the canine digestive system. Given that I pretty much slept through biology at school, I was surprised at quite how intriguing canine digestion turned out to be. Indeed, if you love dogs I think you will find what follows fascinating.
The secrets of canine digestion revealed
The bond between humans and dogs is so close that it is easy to forget that, being different species, we have markedly different digestive systems. Dogs actually have the same digestive system as the grey wolf and, therefore, need to eat the same diet. The word ‘need’ is worth stressing. Every living creature on earth must eat a biologically appropriate diet. Some species have a greater tolerance than others, but no species thrives on an incorrect diet and many become ill and die. It is possible for a species to partially adapt to a new diet. Palaeontologists believe that this change takes at least 100,000 years.
Meat glorious meat
Dogs are carnivores. True, they can and do eat vegetable matter, but anatomically they are designed to catch, kill and eat prey. As with other predatory mammals, they have powerful muscles relative to their size, fused wrist bones and a cardiovascular system that supports both sprinting and endurance. And a quick look inside their mouth is all it takes to understand why they are really much, much closer to being carnivores than omnivores.
Your dog’s mouth is a bit like a Swiss Army knife
No matter how sweet and innocent a dog may look, the inside of his or her mouth tells a different story. Dogs have four main types of teeth, which are designed to perform different and precise functions: catching and killing prey, tearing off meat, scraping meat off bones, and grabbing, holding and crushing bones. They also work like scissors cutting sinews and muscles. None of these teeth, however, is capable of grinding food. Indeed, if you gently try to move a dog’s jaw from side to side (necessary for grinding and chewing) you’ll find that it is impossible. A dog’s jaw can only move up and down.
All the action takes place in the stomach
A dog’s digestive process starts in its stomach. This differs dramatically from humans. We use our teeth to grind our food and moisten it with saliva containing digestive enzymes so that the digestive process is well in hand by the time we swallow. Dogs, on the other hand, don’t have any digestive enzymes in their saliva and even if they did it would be useless because they can’t grind their food, owing to having jaws that only open and close. Instead, they gulp their food with a view to getting it to where the action takes place (the stomach) as quickly as possible.
What happens when the food arrives?
The stomach starts to produce digestive enzymes and other chemicals to break it down into small molecules that can be absorbed and used by the body. Some of these enzymes are produced by the pancreas, but many are produced by other small glands in the stomach wall itself. To help the digestive process dogs have extremely strong and corrosive stomach acids. Acidity is measured using something called pH. Neutral is pH 7, but when a dog is digesting food its stomach operates between pH 1 and pH 2. Put in plain English: if you touched the natural acids in a dog’s stomach, you would burn your fingers. Another important point in relation to this is that most enzymes are extremely sensitive to pH and won’t function in the wrong environment. If a dog eats inappropriate food then its digestive system can’t function properly.
Dogs have evolved to eat a lot, quite quickly
Dogs can consume up to 5% of their body weight in an extremely short period. To put this into perspective, it would be like a 10-stone human eating, say, seven pounds of food in a single sitting. The inside of a dog’s stomach looks rather like an accordion with lots of folds. It expands when full and its muscles massage the food to ensure that the digestive juices work properly. Once all the digestible pieces of food have been dissolved, the muscles squeeze the now liquid mass into the intestine for the final stage of the process and for the absorption of the nutrients. A dog’s stomach is designed to finish digesting one meal before being filled again. This process generally takes longer than for humans, although it very much depends on what the dog has eaten.
Why dogs should eat a natural diet
Every species should eat what it is biologically designed to eat, in other words what it would eat in the wild or as close to what it would eat as is feasible. Dogs are, essentially, wolves and, as such, are designed to catch, kill and eat prey. They have a markedly different digestive system from humans and shouldn’t eat the same diet as us, any more than we should eat the same diet as a cow.
What dogs eat in the wild
Dogs are carnivores and the primary component of their diet is prey. This could be small animals – mice, voles, rabbits, birds, insects and so forth – or it could be larger prey caught with the help of a pack. Either way, they eat everything – the internal organs, the meat, the bones… the lot. Dogs aren’t obligate carnivores like cats. They can and do eat vegetable matter.
Wild dogs will search for rotten fruit and will eat the semi- digested contents of their prey’s stomach. Some will dig up vegetables and eat grasses and herbs. Dogs are also scavengers. They eat the leftovers from every animal that is killed or dies. As Ian Billinghurst, a leading proponent of natural feeding, has pointed out, dogs receive ‘valuable nutrients from materials that we humans find totally repugnant. Things like vomit, faeces and decaying flesh.’ With regard to the faeces, incidentally, these contain the dead and living bodies of millions upon billions of bacteria. They are an excellent source of protein, essential fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and fibre.
Not wanting to dwell on an unpleasant subject, but if you have a dog that is on a processed food diet he or she may be eating faeces in order to try to stay healthy (although if a dog is eating canine or feline faeces it will probably be because they contain the undigested flavourings used to make them palatable).
What dogs don’t eat in the wild
Almost as important as what dogs eat in the wild is what they don’t eat.
For starters (as it were), they don’t necessarily eat every day. Depending on where they live, the season, the size of the pack, the available prey and other factors, they may eat as infrequently as every second or third day or even longer without suffering any ill effect. A healthy dog can go a week without food. Second, and perhaps more important, they don’t eat ‘complete’ meals. Dogs meet their nutritional requirements over time. They will eat what they need or seek it out if their body is telling them they need it. This is referred to as the ‘balance over time’ concept. It is crucial to the way dogs should be fed because there is evidence that dogs fed all the ingredients they need in proportion at every meal suffer increased health problems. Finally, dogs don’t eat grain. They can’t digest it properly and, even if they could, they can’t convert it into sugar and store it for later use.
The grain problem
Why shouldn’t dogs be fed grain? The answer lies in its effect on the pH balance in their stomachs. Normally (see above) this is quite low (between pH 1 and pH 2) because only with a low pH can dogs digest raw meat and bones. Grain has the effect of elevating the pH level and weakening the stomach acids. Weak stomach acids mean that proper digestion becomes impossible.
This is why dogs fed a lot of grain (and there is a lot of grain in most processed dog food) produce high levels of waste matter. It goes in one end and comes out the other.
If grain is processed in some way (rolled, soaked, heated &c.) dogs can digest a small amount, which is what dog food manufacturers rely upon.
Even so, there is another issue. We humans can eat carbohydrates (such as porridge or pasta), convert them to sugars and store the energy in our bodies to use later on. Dogs have no capacity to do this. Grain (rice, wheat, corn &c.) is much cheaper than meat and easier to process, which is why so much of it is used in manufactured dog food.
Reduce your vet bills by up to 85%!
Mogens Eliasen, in his book Raw Food for Dogs, quotes a major Australian study on natural feeding. He points out that ‘dogs fed on a natural diet develop a strong immune system that will cause your vet bills to go down, maybe even dramatically’. He goes on to remark that the kennels which switched from feeding kibble to raw food ‘experienced a significant reduction in their vet bills’ with the average saving being 85%! In other words, where they were spending £100 before, they now only spend £15.
Author of the Lucky Dog Weight Loss Plan
For more information and advice on any aspect of canine health and nutrition please contact Honey’s – we’ll be happy to help even if you never, ever plan to become a customer.
Telephone: 01672 620 260