How much protein is too much? Should my dog be eating carbohydrates? Education and moderation are important keys when it comes to feeding your dog a balanced diet.
Many of us have lifestyles that leave little time to cater to even our own dietary needs, let alone those of our dogs. But, it’s still possible to rustle up good, balanced meals for your dog no matter how little free time you have. If you’re among the growing number of people who have given up poor quality commercial processed foods in favor of healthier and more natural premium diets, you’re already on the right track. Whatever you feed your dog, it’s important to understand a little bit about the roles of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables in a balanced diet.
Quality versus quantity
Both the percentage and type of protein need to be considered in the quest for optimal health. The historical formula for doling out proportions is the one-third rule. This formula entails feeding your dog one-third each of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates on a daily basis. It’s been around for a long time and has worked well for most dogs.
Nowadays, high protein raw diets are very much in vogue. I’m one veterinarian who believes in high quality protein – but not an overabundance of it. Many people are feeding their dogs raw diets, and that’s great. There are definite benefits a dog can gain from eating raw meat and poultry. Raw diets provide nutrients such as essential fatty acids that are destroyed during cooking. If raw meat is your preference, you can even leave the fat on. Since fat turns into unhealthy grease when heated, however, it should be trimmed from meat before you cook it. It’s a good idea to freeze raw meat for 14 days before you feed it to your dog. This should kill any parasites encysted in the muscles and organs.
While raw meat is an excellent choice, years of study and deliberation have brought me to the conclusion that a diet consisting of only raw meat isn’t ideal. I firmly believe raw diets need added vegetables and carbohydrates, so be sure to look for a product that contains these added ingredients, or else make sure to add them yourself if you’re preparing the diet at home.
Excessive protein and cancer
The China Study is the most extensive study ever done on cancer. Its author, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, was also one of the primary researchers. In this monumental study, 2,400 Chinese counties were surveyed for death rates from cancer. This data then correlated cancer death rates with local dietary habits. The study found that counties housing poor people had little cancer. Their inhabitants could afford little protein, if any. The high cancer areas were among the rich, who could afford much more protein. In other words, high animal source protein levels in food predisposed people to cancer.
While the carcinogens we are all exposed to from the environment alter our cellular DNA, giving the cell the potential to change into a cancer cell, it’s the high animal protein in the diet that tips the balance and kicks off the actual transition into a cancer cell. In defense of raw meat, Dr. Campbell’s study was one in which the participants ate cooked meat. Nonetheless, laboratory studies using raw casein protein still supported the study’s conclusion. It’s also well documented that an acidic cellular environment is more prone to disease and cancer than an alkaline one. High levels of animal protein create an acidic cellular environment within the body – whether canine or human.
Nowadays, about one out of two dogs will get cancer. If changing to a lower protein diet could reduce the incidence of cancer in dogs, it seems to me this is something we should all consider.
Dogs have evolved in conjunction with humans over tens of millions of years. While it’s true that the dog’s wild relatives exist on a diet of raw meat and whatever plant material is in the herbivore’s intestine, it’s also true that our canine companions are exposed to many more additional carcinogens in their environment. My clinical experience indicates that very high protein diets are not preventing cancer in dogs, and that they need the same brightly colored vegetables that help prevent cancer in us.
The importance of vegetables & carbs
There are other reasons why it’s important to add carbohydrates and vegetables to your dog’s food.
• Carbohydrates are needed for the brain, thyroid and liver to function optimally.
• Vegetables provide dogs with essential nutrients they aren’t likely to get from other sources.
• The chlorophyll found in greens serves to flush and clean the liver, an organ essential to your dog’s good health.
• Vegetables and greens can also help maintain a good pH balance, which is thrown off by an excess of protein.
• Essential nutrients, such as the water-soluble calcium found in leafy greens, are readily available to be utilized by the body.
• Again, brightly-colored vegetables also contain phytonutrients proven to help prevent cancer.
If you feed your dog a kibbled food and want to add extra healthy nutrition, you can do it with lower protein by using baked sweet potatoes mixed with finely chopped steamed kale and a bit of butter, rather than cooked hamburger. Steaming or finely grating vegetables makes them easier for dogs to digest.
From one-third to one-fifth
Dr. Campbell’s study and other research have led me to recommend one-fifth protein, rather than one-third. In the case of agility and working dogs, I’d make an exception and recommend one-third protein, since the caloric and protein needs in these dogs are higher.
Whatever protein you feed your dog, it should be high quality. Meats, poultry, eggs and fish are always rich in protein, as are foods like quinoa and lentils. When it comes to carbohydrates, wheat products or high gluten grains are often avoided because many dogs have become sensitive to them. Grains have been selectively bred over centuries to increase their gluten content, and this has backfired on the health of some animals and people. Alternatives such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes and rice are excellent for providing your dog with carbohydrates. If you’re presently feeding a kibble with a high percentage of quality protein, you can add these carbs along with veggies to your dog’s meal.
When you feed your dog a wide variety of different foods, there is no need to make each meal complete and balanced. Over a two-week period, the variety will balance out into a complete and healthy diet, with as many nutrients and immune-boosting substances as possible. The result will be a healthy, happy and long-lived dog.