Ayurveda teaches us that the digestive system is the single most important determinant of health and well-being. This principle is very much true for dogs too. Provide the right kind of diet to a dog and you will see several of the behavioural issues and recurring health issues go away. So it is important to understand what a good diet for a dog is.
I highly recommend fresh food and a varied diet that consists of a high percentage of animal protein (meat, fish, eggs), some vegetables that are safe for dogs and some slow digesting unprocessed carbohydrates like red rice or raagi. I also supplement the meal with a few functional foods like cold pressed virgin coconut oil, raw honey, raw ACV, moringa, turmeric, curds and kefir. When they are unwell I recommend healing bone broth and during summer, I love to give them coconut water and butter milk. I also give them access to several herbs to chew on in my garden. A few seem to be serving them medicinal purposes. Mine like tulsi, basil, lemongrass. I’ve heard a few other dogs like ajwain, barley grass and some other herbs commonly known to have medicinal properties. And lastly, I recommend dogs be given big bones to chew on (not chicken or fish).
Each part that is if it is carefully thought out to specifically serve a purpose. Let me explain each of the parts that I have highlighted above.
These days packaged dry food or kibble is becoming quite popular in India. It was not so when I was growing up. Kibble is convenient. But there is a huge cost to kibble on our dogs lives. Since the introduction of Kibble in the US, cancer rates are known to have shot up to 50%. The quality of ingredients that go into the kibble are often far too disgusting, frequently dangerous and sometimes lethal. Here’s a more detailed blog on the topic, if you want to understand this whole issue a bit better, before making up your mind on what’s right for your dog. But, I suspect this should not be surprising to us in India, because we are a country that loves fresh foods and are in general wary of what goes into packaged foods. If that’s our skepticism around human grade packaged foods, what do you think goes into non-human grade food?
I need to start this section by explaining about something called as gut flora. Gut flora is the good bacteria that lives in our digestive tract. If an organism is on a single kind of a diet for extended periods, this gut flora becomes specific to that food and it is incapable of handling change. So every time the dog eats something accidentally, he is at risk of falling sick. Such dogs frequently have constipation or loose stools or vomiting. To prevent this, it’s important to introduce variety into a dog’s meal. Fresh food automatically tends to vary, because we rarely have access to the same ingredients.
High percentage of animal protein
I work on dog behaviour. But, as I mentioned in the begining, lot of behavioural issues have to do with the diet of the dog. So, I cannot help but discuss diet with clients. I provide them the above explanation. They are with me up until this point. This is where many dog owners in India get upset, because they themselves are vegetarian and handling meat is a big challenge. I understand that. I’ve been there.
But here’s the bad news folks! Dogs are obligate carnivores. What that means is that they need meat. There’s a full article here that explains why dogs need meat, what kinds of meats and some practical ideas for vegetarians. I also discuss the common myth that feeding meat to dogs can make them aggressive. Trust me when I say that your dog’s reaction to his food will totally be the effort you put into figuring this out.
Vegetables that are safe
Yes, veggies are good for dogs. But you cannot give them just about any vegetable. Stay away from acidic vegetables and fruits like tomatoes and citrus fruits. Grape, resins, wine, alcohol, onions, mushrooms and chocolates are not good for dogs. You perhaps know all of this. Spinach, sweet potato, red/orange/yellow pumpkin, carrots, beans, apples (without seeds) are all great to add to dog’s foods. But when adding veggies, remember that they need to be grated and cooked. Dogs cannot really digest the fibres in them. They did not evolve grazing. They evolved scavenging. So, they are unable to digest plant in it’s uncooked form.
There are raging debates about if dogs need their veggies or if they should be eating only. I find that it helps them. If you would decide to feed your dog veggies, remember that they often need it to be cooked in meaty broths. So, it’s best to cook the veggies with the meats.
Slow digesting unprocessed carbohydrates
Veggies often contain carbohydrates. So, do they need any more grains? Well, in my experience, I find that it helps calm them down. These days, most of our dogs are very hyper, which in turn lead to behavioural issues. If a dog is hyper, just feeding rice to the dog is not really then answer. A proper consultation with a behaviour expert is required. However, while you work on getting the dog to get calmer, complex, unprocessed carbs help. I also tell people that when they get a new dog or there is something stressful or exciting that happens, make it a slightly more carb heavy meal for a bit.
Functional foods are these days very fashionably known as “super foods”. They don’t have to get fancy. These are ingredients that we have been using in India for years, for their known medicinal properties. A few are great for dogs too. I frequently use cold pressed coconut oil, raw unheated honey, moringa, turmeric, curds, kefir and garlic. I have a little blog on superfoods for dogs that you might find interesting. What might interest you the most is that most of the foods on that list should ideally be on yours too!
We’ve all seen dogs chew on plants. Often people think it’s because dogs are sick. Yes and no. Sometimes dogs chew on grass because they are stressed or distracted. But sometimes it’s because they are indeed unwell. This much I knew. What I had not learnt until more recently is that they are actually good at picking out what plant is good for them to address which ailment. If I think about this, it’s not really earth shattering information. Most animals know that. Since I have come to realize this, I provide my dogs access to a certain part of my garden where I grow different herbs for my dogs to graze on. I find that my dogs particularly like lemongrass, basil, pepper and tulsi. You could also try coriander, ajwain, barley grass, curry leaves and saunf. If anything works for your dog, do leave me a note. I’d like to know.
Big bones to chew
Dogs love bones. We know that. We’ve always known that. That is why dogs are often depicted with bones. Nature does not have flukes. Nature plans carefully and if dogs love it so much, it’s because mother nature wants them to love it so much because it does something to them. In my experience it does a lot – it cleans their teeth, it hardens their poop, which in turn expresses the anal glands (if anal glands fill up and get infected the dog will need a visit to the vet or groomer to express it), gives them a good source of calcium and glucosamine and calms them down.
I will write up an article on the kinds of bones to give a dog to chew on and why it helps them calm down. When I do, I will link it up here. For now, basic “bone rules”
- No think bones like chicken and fish
- Don’t ever take a bone away from a dog. Let the dog either finish eating it or loose interest in it.
- If you have multiple dogs, do not give them the bones together, this might lead to fights
- Always supervise the dog when starting out on bones.
And that’s that folks. My teacher once pointed out to me (I can’t believe I needed someone to point this out), that it takes very little to make a dog happy. She does not need a Lamborginin or Jimmy choo’s. But a good meal makes a dog terribly happy and I don’t believe I need to give you evidence that a meaty fresh meal would make a dog very happy. Hope you have a wonderful life with your dog.
Old article on this topic on BM: Bangalore Mirror Bureau | May 18, 2015, 10.45 PM IST