Holistic Nutrition for our Four Legged Friends!

Jan 29, 2023 | Nutritional Information

Nutrition plays a huge role in the health of your pet, and with the rising costs of veterinary services and medications, it’s wise to learn about how we can support the health of our dogs at home using holistic nutrition.

Canine nutrition differs somewhat from that of humans, but there are many overlaps and there are basic principles to follow. A whole foods diet of fresh meat and fish, organ meats, bones, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits is the best way to prevent chronic disease. Read more about the benefits of the raw diet for dogs as well as natural remedies that can help your dog be his healthiest.

A Dog’s Traditional Diet vs. Diet of Today

Traditionally, dogs have been fed whatever owners could spare, like table scraps, vegetables, fruits, breads, and fresh proteins such as horse meat (1). The first commercially prepared dog biscuit was introduced in 1860, and from there, the production grew into dry kibbles specifically formulated for dogs, with canned dog food being introduced in the 1920s (1). Historically speaking, kibble is relatively new!

Kibble is supposed to be nutritionally formulated to meet the needs of dogs including proteins, grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, fats, and added vitamins and minerals. The main issue with dry kibble is that it is processed food, and its production compromises the quality of the product for our canine friends. The lowest quality foods are often used in producing dog food. Synthetic vitamins and minerals are often added as well, and many of these kibbles rely on fillers, such as starches. 

Why is this a problem? Well, low quality kibble exposes our pets to a lot of toxins such as GMO foods, pesticides and damaged fats (leading to loads of free radical damage!). Filler starches in kibble can also cause health issues, as dogs do not have the same carbohydrate needs that humans do. After weaning from breast milk, they have virtually no need for simple carbohydrates, but they do need a variety of fibre from whole foods. In fact, the over-consumption of starches can lead to canine diabetes (2). Starches are commonly used as fillers in kibbles such as potatoes, and grains like rice, wheat, etc. 

How do Dogs Digest?

Dogs digest their food much more quickly than humans. Their saliva contains antibacterial properties, and their stomachs are much more acidic as they are designed to destroy harmful bacteria from raw meat in the wild. They can digest their food in as little as 4-6 hours for raw food, and 10-12 hours for kibble (3) (as opposed to healthy humans, who take around 12-24 hours to digest a meal) . Although the thought of raw food seems initially scary, dogs’ stomachs are literally designed for it. In the wild, they would eat a range of wild meat, bones, organ meats, berries, etc.

The Ideal Diet for Dogs

Although kibble is extremely convenient for a lot of pet owners, it is processed food. Long-term, it does not provide our dogs with optimal nutrition. Freeze-dried dog food is certainly a better choice, but can be even more expensive than feeding raw. 

A raw diet is far superior, and there are a few tips below on making it more convenient and affordable. It can be expensive, but a holistic argument in favour of the raw diet is that in the long-term, it leads to less vet visits, medications, and an overall healthier dog. 

The general rule of thumb is to feed your dog 2-3% of their weight in pounds, depending on their level of activity and weight goals. Ex. a 60 lb adult active dog could eat 1.5lb per day (2.5% of her weight). If you have an overweight dog, scale it to 2%; if your dog is extremely active, underweight, or otherwise needs to gain weight, feed more for the short-term, then bring it down to account for their ideal weight. Puppies can eat 2-3% of their expected adult weight (4).

A raw diet should consist of the following:

  • A variety of proteins, preferably lean, including muscle meats, organ meats, eggs, wild fish, shellfish and ground bones. Ex. chicken, turkey, lean beef and pork, salmon, chicken hearts, beef liver, etc. The diet must include muscle meat along with organ meat like liver and heart.

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits (can be frozen first) which are low-glycemic. Ex. broccoli, kale, carrots, beets, apples, blueberries, and sea vegetables are some of the most beneficial ones. These will provide loads of fibre for healthy digestion. Note that grapes and avocados are toxic to dogs, and onions and garlic can be hard for them to digest. 

  • Healthy fats: dogs will require omega-3s in the diet, and the best source of this would be wild fish about 2 times per week. Seeds can also be used for additional omega fats such as ground pumpkin and hemp. Total fat should only make up about 10% of the dog’s overall diet. 

  • Fermented foods in moderation: things like plain sauerkraut or other plain fermented vegetables are great for gut health. A small amount on a regular basis provides additional probiotics to the diet.

  • Bone broth is helpful for the joints and skin and can easily be made at home.

  • Grains, legumes: these tend to be allergenic foods for some dogs, but if your dog can tolerate them, small amounts of things like oats, rice, and beans on occasion are likely fine. Dogs do not have need for these starchy foods, however, so stick to vegetables and fruits for fibre. They can be inflammatory for certain dogs, so use your judgment here (5).

Speak to a holistic vet on the proper ratio of protein-fat-veg/fruit for your dog. A common one is the BARF diet (6), which follows these ratios:

  • 70% muscle meat, 10% bone

  • 5% liver, 5% other organ meats

  • 7% veg and fruit, 2% seeds/nuts, 1% fruit

Supplements for Dogs on a Raw Diet

  • Ground bones: if you are making your own dog food and are not feeding bones (which can be dangerous), you can purchase ground bone powder to sprinkle over food. Dogs require bones for necessary minerals like calcium and other trace minerals.

  • Probiotic: this will promote overall health and support digestion, as well as protect them against some pathogens that they encounter in their environment or on their food. Dogs battling chronic diseases will likely struggle with digestion.

  • Omega 3s: unless you are actively feeding fish multiple times per week, an omega-3 supplement is advised for dogs. Remember that total fat content should only be about 10% of the total diet.

Tips for Convenience/Affordability

  • If not switching to a raw diet fully, consider feeding one meal of kibble, and one with raw, fresh food. If this isn’t possible, consider toppers. This would mean “topping” your dog’s food with fresh food like berries, eggs, ground seeds, sauerkraut, broccoli, etc. It provides some fresh enzymes and antioxidants and is affordable if you must feed kibble.

  • Shop at superstores and buy meat and eggs in bulk; store in the freezer. Buy fruit and vegetables in season when prices are lower, and stock up in your freezer to retain freshness.

  • Prepare your own dog food using muscle and organ meats, plus pureed vegetables, fruits and bone powder. There are many recipes online to follow to ensure balance.

  • Research available pre-made raw dog food available in your area and compare prices to find the most affordable and high quality product. Ideally, choose a retailer that awards points and discounts.

  • Buy meat on sale, which as a bonus provides the dog with more variety.

  • Use things like eggs, oatmeal, pumpkin purée, frozen fruit and vegetables, etc to fill out the meal a bit more and help with affordability. 

  • Give dogs leftovers that would otherwise be composted (as long as all ingredients are safe for them – ex. extra servings of vegetables, plain rotisserie chicken meat, day-old grains, etc).

Herbal Medicine/Homeopathy

Many herbs are safe to use with dogs, while others are toxic. The recommendation is to consult a holistic veterinarian or homeopath, but in the absence of that, a good rule of thumb would be to only use products specifically designed for dogs for specific conditions.

You can feed your dog herbal teas, tinctures, treats that contain these herbs, and even sprinkle the fresh herbs over their food. Always consider their weight in dosing. Examples of herbs that are safe for dogs, especially when using short-term, are:

  • Chamomile (calming; good for digestion)

  • Rosemary (great for overall health)

  • Cinnamon (blood-sugar balancing)

  • Turmeric (anti-inflammatory, so good for pain)

  • Ginger (for digestion; anti-inflammatory)

  • Parsley (great for the urinary tract)

When it comes to homeopathy, these medicines can be extremely effective at achieving homeostasis for your dog, but a holistic vet or homeopath would be helpful to consult as homeopathy is usually meant to be used long-term.

Alpha Vet Science

Nutrition Dispensary carries this line of natural pet products. Alpha Vet Science formulates natural products for dogs made from herbs, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. They have products specifically for things like liver support, immune system function, adrenal glands and chronic stress, and more. These can be added as a “topper” to kibble if needed, though herbs are often most effective on an empty stomach. Some examples are:

  • Antitis VM: helpful for everyday pains and aches

  • Anzio VM: calming for anxiousness, hyperactivity, etc

  • Hepato VM: supports liver function with loads of antioxidants

  • Immunine VM: immune system support for dogs as well as stress support

  • and others

Exercise and Play

Of course, we would be remiss to forget the importance of exercise and play for dogs. Active dogs tend to be healthier because exercise benefits the whole system. It promotes overall health by improving circulation and lymphatic flow, allowing for healthy detoxification, and prevents obesity. Exercise also benefits mental health which contributes to longevity. Who doesn’t want a happy, healthy dog?

For most healthy dogs, two sessions of daily exercise is a good goal. This can include higher intensity activity like running, mixed with lower intensity activity like walking. Giving your dog more activity will also help them to release pent up energy, especially if you spend a lot of time away from the house. Examples of great exercise activities for your dog include:

  • On- and off-leash walking

  • Swimming

  • Hiking

  • Playing fetch

  • Obedience sports

  • Hide and seek, tug of war, and scent games (indoors if desired)

Your veterinarian can give you guidance on the best forms of exercise for your dog’s particular health situation. 

for more information or to order any of these products, click on the product links in this blog or contact us at info@nutritiondispensary.ca