Do Dogs Need To Eat Plants?
In the raw feeding community there is intense debate about whether dogs should be eating fruit, vegetables and other plant foods. On one side there are the “Prey Model” feeders who only feed meat, and on the other the “BARF” feeders who add plants to their dogs diet.
There is so much mis-information (and dogma!) out there that I wanted to give my perspective as a canine nutritionist.
CAN A MEAT-ONLY DIET BE NUTRITIONALLY COMPLETE?
To answer this question I formulated several diets using only animal proteins. I used my comprehensive formulation spreadsheet, which utilises USDA and vendor nutritional data. This calculates all the relevant nutrient values to 1000 kcal, as well as giving Ca:P and fat balances.
For this exercise I tried beef, lamb, chicken (with bone), kangaroo, organs and fish in numerous combinations. The most nutritionally complete recipe I could create contained beef and chicken, organs and fish.
And the results…?
The best meat-only diet is deficient in:
I can only conclude that a meat-only diet does not meet the nutritional standard and therefore may be harmful. This is far from the optimal diet we strive to feed our dogs, and certainly something I do not recommend.
So what happens when you add some plants?
By adding fruits & vegetables, grasses and seeds in the correct amounts the nutritional gaps in the diet are completely filled up. The addition of a plant source of Omega-3 helps to push the fats into balance.
This same recipe (with plants) now meets AAFCO and NRC nutritional guidelines!
DOGS NEED PLANTS
According to my analysis, dogs are better off if they have some plants in their diet. That certainly doesn’t mean feeding them a huge amount of vegetables - or a vegan diet for that matter (please don’t do that). Feeding too much plant matter is almost certainly worse than not feeding any at all.
Like most things in nutrition, it’s all about balance. Having a healthy mix of the right ingredients provides the best diet, and the ideal conditions for a healthy dog.
Plants provide a good source for many nutrients, as well as other elements in a healthy diet. Because of this there are many other reasons to feed plants beyond basic nutritional needs.
Benefits of feeding vegetables:
Source of vitamins and minerals
Source of fat
Functional foods have additional health benefits
HOW TO FEED
While clearly beneficial, dogs can’t easily break down plant matter without some help. Ancestrally they would be getting most of their plant food as the contents of their preys stomach, which is already partially digested. We need to imitate this to help them get the benefits into their diet.
The solution is simple: Blitz it!
You need to break down the cellular wall in order for it to be easily digested. The easiest way to do this is to mince it or put it through a food processor/blender. Another option is to lightly cook, although this can reduce the nutritional content for some fruit & veg.