Dog food

© Therese Rodin

Everything that we feed our dog has an impact on its health, be it e.g., painkillers or vaccines, dog food or dog treats.

If we choose to give our dog food that it is not designed for evolutionarily and genetically, it can lead to problems of various kinds, such as problems with digestion, mucous membranes, hormones and skin.

There are several problems with most commercial dog foods on the market. The first is that dry food itself is a problem. Something that the Swedish professor of clinical bacteriology Agnes Wold often points out is that dry food is “sterile” and does not contain useful and natural bacteria that a dog is adapted to ingest. Just like humans, dogs need to ingest a certain amount of bacteria to stimulate the immune system and build up mucous membranes etc. (e.g. Wold in Sandecki 2016; Wold in Carlehed 2022). Anna Hielm-Björkman is a Finnish researcher who has also shown that allergies and hip dysplasia are reduced in dogs that eat raw food. She expresses herself as follows regarding the dog’s need for bacteria:

“It is useful [for dogs] to eat a lot of scrap […] It builds up a good immunity and, in that way, acts a bit like a vaccination against diseases.” (Anna Hielm-Björkman in Gandolin 2015, my translation from Swedish)

Another problem that also applies to dry food, but also to many wet and raw foods, is that the dog food contains far too much fat. The dog is not designed to eat the amount of fat that is found in most dog food, from 14 to over 20% fat. A too high amount of fat is one of the most common reasons why dogs have constant stomach and intestinal problems with diarrhoea, have to undergo investigations regarding food intolerance etc. (Strand 2016, 2017, 2018). Imagine that the dog is evolutionarily and genetically adapted to eat game. Game meat has a fat level that is well below 10%. Reindeer meat contain around 2% fat and elk meat about 5% fat, and white fish contains almost no fat at all. Dog food manufacturers generally see all energy sources as replaceable, and since fat is a cheap energy source, the fat is at a high level, instead of being balanced with e.g., carbohydrates.

I would like to quote here from Anne-Li Strand’s website Hundapoteket to highlight how badly a dog can get sick from commercial food, but also how quickly it can get well from natural food:

“Poppe is my beloved border terrier, who at the age of 5 was in such bad condition that he had to be euthanized. There was nothing more to be done, the vets thought. His stomach had completely stopped working and he was suffering. At that time, he had been in and out of animal hospitals since he was six months old, received all kinds of diagnoses and treatments for his stomach problems, and the veterinary costs were ridiculously high. I remember with horror how he stood still in the middle of the floor, with his back bent, in severe pain. He both pooped and vomited blood. I remember my sadness and despair: ‘Does it have to end like this? Is there really nothing more to do?’

That’s when, in desperation, I decided to defy all veterinary advice, throw away all the expensive special foods and instead start experimenting with homemade dog food based on meat and vegetables. And the turnaround came quite immediately. In just a couple of days, Poppe was a new dog – the vomiting stopped, no more bloody stools, the pain disappeared and he became a happy and energetic dog again.” (Strand, Om Hundapoteket, my translation from Swedish)

Besides the risk for dogs to get stomach problems with foods high in fat levels, the fat also affects the hormones. In all animals there are high levels of hormones in the fat (Bengmark 2018), and when an animal eats another animal’s fat, it ingests the hormones from the prey animal. Dogs’ hormonal systems are overly affected by the amounts of fat in their food, and I personally believe that this may be a reason why so many female dogs in modern society get pyometra, as well as male dogs getting hormone imbalances. (This is a hypothesis I have, and nothing I can prove. I am happy to receive information such as studies, experiences, etc. regarding the issue.) Meat with a low-fat content, and food with no other fats added, thus also protect the dog from the impact on the hormonal system.

Another problem with the commercial foods, be it dry, wet or raw, is that they contain too much protein. If we imagine what it looked like in the wild for the ancestors of our pet dogs, they ate many parts of a prey animal, e.g., skin, tendons, etc., and not just the fine pieces of meat that contain a lot of protein. The stomach was filled with “a little bit of everything”, even sometimes with the stomach contents of the prey. (Cf. Strand (2017: 77, 80) on the need to “dilute” fat and protein amounts.) And in the wild, dogs ate raw meat, which they are still adapted for today. Dogs are not sensitive to bacteria like us humans – their digestive and immune systems are adapted to cope with different kinds of bacteria (see Strand 2017: 101ff.). But of course, we should always give our dogs fresh and freshly frozen raw meat.

One problem that can arise among modern dogs is protein allergy. Just like in humans, an allergy can occur in dogs if they are constantly exposed to the same type of food. In the wild there was a natural variation, and the diet was more varied than many dry foods etc. are today. One way to prevent allergies in dogs is to alternate a little between different types of protein and also among the carbohydrates with which the protein is mixed (see Strand 1917: 80). Game meat is the best not only because it is lean, but also because the animals do not contain antibiotics and other medicines. Meat from natural grazing cattle, where the animals live much like game, is also good.

Examples of meat that suits the dog are reindeer, elk, deer, roe deer, small game and lean fish. A problem with fattier fish is that they contain heavy metals. At the same time, the dog needs some omega-3, but make sure not to overdose. Choose fatty fish from open seas, such as the Atlantic, and avoid fish from lakes and the Baltic Sea, which is a so-called inland sea. Always choose wild-caught fish and fish that are far down the food chain, i.e., mainly eats algae, which is the original omega-3 source. Mackerel and sardines are examples of such fish. The meat is given raw and also the fish if it has been frozen for 24 hours. You can also give algae so that the dog gets some omega-3.

It varies how much energy a dog needs, depending, among other things, on sex, age and how active it is. Below there are examples of food for two different Pugs. One is 11 years old and weighs 6 kg. She receives food amounting to 3% of her body weight. The other Pug is 3 years old and weighs 8 kg and she gets food that amounts to 3.5-4% of her body weight.

The percentage is calculated as follows:

6000 x 0.03 = 180 – the 6 kg Pug eats 180 grams a day.

8000 x 0.038 = 304 – the 8 kg Pug eats approximately 300 grams a day.

The proportion of meat in each portion can be between about 30 and 60%. We give our Pugs 40% meat and 60% carbohydrates, such as well-cooked oats, millet, peas, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes or broccoli. The vegetables are boiled soft and mashed or mixed. We choose not to feed our dogs food that contains gluten, nor do we feed rice. Otherwise, most vegetables can be given to dogs. You can also grate carrots, chop some cauliflower, asparagus, etc. It’s just a matter of trying what the dogs like.

Tips for those who have dogs with skin and/or stomach problems:

– To begin with: all skin problems have their root cause in the gut. Heal the gut and you heal your dog.

– The most important thing is to keep the fat content very low. If you do, you should see a more or less immediate improvement. You reduce the fat content by partly choosing very lean types of meat, and partly by reducing the proportion of meat in the food. (The fat comes with the meat, and if you reduce it, you reduce the fat.) Make sure that the fat content in the meat is down to 2-5%. Additionally, you can make sure that the meat makes up a maximum of 30% of the entire amount of feed.

– Try to avoid foods that can irritate e.g., because of fiber, such as oats and other grains. (Think “natural”: it’s less likely that the dog would resort to eating grains in the wild. Rather, it’s more likely that it would dig up a root, eat a fall fruit, or berries.)

A big THANK YOU to Anne-Li Strand who has helped me get on the right track when it comes to dog food. Here you can read more based on her knowledge and experience:

Example of a daily ration (which can be divided into 2-3 times a day):

6 kg older Pug

About 70 grams of meat, preferably wild game, white fish etc., if calcium is not added to the meat (which it is in several commercial raw foods), you need to add it yourself.

About 110 grams of well-cooked millet and vegetables such as boiled broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, etc. You can mix however you like.

8 kg young adult Pug

120 grams of meat, preferably wild game, white fish etc., if calcium is not added to the meat (which it is in several commercial raw foods), you need to add it yourself.

180 grams of well-cooked millet and vegetables such as boiled broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, etc. You can mix however you like.

Some commercial raw foods contain ground bones. Some dogs can get constipation of that, and more commonly smaller dogs, such as the smaller Pug.

We choose calcium from algae because commercial bone meal has to be heated, and it is not optimal for dogs, who should eat only raw bones.

Note that the same brand can have products of wild game of which some are low in fat whereas others are not. Make sure that you look at the fat percentage on each individual product to get it right.

If you only want to use meat that is not calcium or vitamin enriched, you can add and mix calcium to the minced meat. To optimize nutrition, you can also add vitamins through wholefood supplements for dogs. (We only give our dogs supplements in the form of wholefoods and avoid isolated multivitamins. We give e.g. rosehip powder, chlorella, turmeric, etc.)

If you think it takes a lot of time to do your own dog food, make it as easy as you can. Take only one type of meat and only one type of vegetable and cook for a week on the weekend. Mix everything together into a “batter” and put food for one to two days in a box, store one box in the fridge and the rest in the freezer, and take it out a while before needed. Then you give the food using eye measurements per portion. Vary a little between types of meat and vegetables from week to week/month to month.

Good luck with the new diet for your dog! You are both worth it! <3

Note: this article was originally written in Swedish, and the references are all to Swedish sources. Nevertheless, I hope that it will give you support to feed your dog with food that brings health and happiness!

Sources and further reading:

Bengmark, Stig. 2018. Välj hälsa! Volante.

Carlehed, Anna. 2022. “Agnes Wold, professor i klinisk bakteriologi: ‘Hundar träffar på för få bakterier’”. Hundsport 2022: 8, 20.

Gadolin, Marie. 2015. ”Rått eller torrt – det är frågan”. Svensk Jakt.

Sandecki, Wiktor. 2016. ”Professorn uttalar sig – torrfoder bakom ökad allergi bland hundar”. Sund Hundmat.

Strand, Anne-Li. 2016. ”För mycket av det goda – överutfodrar vi hundarna?”. Hundapoteket.

Strand, Anne-Li. 2017. Min hund vill ha riktig mat: En bok om kostens betydelse för hundens hälsa.

Strand, Anne-Li. 2018. ”Gallkräkningar på tom mage – beror det verkligen på att magen är tom?”. Hundapoteket.

Strand, Anne-Li. ”Om – Hundapoteket”. Hundapoteket.