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NYT on Dog Food Research

Check out "They Eat What We Are," by Frederick Kaufman in the Times Magazine, who is disturbed by the research on dogs that he witnesses, but is quickly comforted knowing that other dogs might some day be helped. The final couple of lines, an exchange between vivisector Dr. George Fahey and Kaufman, are chilling. And yes, I saw the part about how dogs can do fine on a vegetarian diet. But I didn’t need Fahey to torture dogs to figure that out.

Note also the implication that people want fewer grains in their dog’s food so they can leave the house all day and not risk the dog having to relieve himself in the house. There is a huge movement toward grain-free dog food, the reason being that dogs wouldn’t eat grains if they were in the wild, and their digestive tracts aren’t made for grains. And one of the main selling points is tiny, infrequent poop (and I can attest to that result, as I have fed my greyhounds a raw, grain-free diet). Meanwhile, as we all know, dogs on vegan diets poop frequently and the volume is much greater.

I’m not sure when or why people were sold on the idea that dogs shouldn’t be pooping. Do we think we should have to strain and shake and produce chalk-like, pebbles? (That’s what happens with dogs on raw food diets that have no grain.) Would we consider that healthy for us?

I know this isn’t exactly dinner conversation, but dog food is like anything else we buy. It’s a consumer product and there are trends that corporations decide will be trends and proceed to find ways to sell you them and convince you you’re doing the right thing. And because our dogs cannot tell us what makes then feel better mentally and physically, we must guess based on our observations and evidence they provide us with, such as stool, breath, coat, eyes, weight and energy level. And if we don’t trust our observations, we must trust the "experts."

I understand the idea behind grain-free diets, from a marketing perspective as well as from an evolution perspective. But the evolution people don’t take the idea to its natural conclusion. Dogs have evolved and been domesticated into companions who don’t live in the wild, have their meals handed to them, and eat regularly. To give them the diet of a wolf, regardless of whether they came from wolves, makes no sense.

I have found "experts," all of whom are veterinarians, to support the prepared raw food diet, only raw food that is not already prepared (this would be the true Bones and Raw Food, or BARF diet), raw meat with grains and veggies, cooked meat with grains and veggies, grains, fruits, and some dairy and eggs, and several varieties of vegan diets. Trust me, you can find an expert in this area to support practically anything (after all, dogs are scavengers, so they can survive on just about anything).

I look at my dogs as individuals. I look at what they like to eat and all of the evidence they give me after they’ve eaten. And if I ever purchase dog food that is already made rather than home cook, I make sure that the company does not test on animals. I call them or e-mail them and ask for their policy. And if they don’t give it to me, I assume they do test on animals and I don’t buy their products.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ellie #

    Also Mary, even if the idea is to emulate the diet of wolves, I think wolves probably eat some grains, grass, and other vegetation in the digest of herbivores. From what I understand, this is the priviledge of alpha wolves, who get first choice in eating prey. I've read that wolves occassionally eat berries too.

    Like yourself, I trust my dogs to show me what they want. When people start controlling their dog's poop, I think it's adding insult to injury.

    September 3, 2007
  2. Ellie,

    Yep. The alpha wolf took basically whatever she wanted, and the others were often left with, say the stomach with its partially digested grains, grasses, veggies, berries, and whatever else. I found the full-on BARF inadequate for both of my dogs. But that's my dogs. Meanwhile, one is perfect (i.e., bloodwork and everything else) as a vegan (I home cook with all organic ingredients) and was okay at first, but then sort of deteriorated and then recuperated when I revised his diet to include some raw meat and bone.

    And my gentle wonderful Violet is an alpha dog, and if she has a bone she will become Cujo before your very eyes if you attempt to take it from her. Anyone who thinks dogs aren't natural (though not obligate) carnivores haven't seen their dog with a raw chicken neck or turkey neck. They never touch it with their paws, and they have a magnificent, natural system for grinding the bone, tearing off chunks, swallowing and regurgitating and swallowing again if the chunks are too large, and no one has to teach them how. It's not pretty, and I'm not recommending anyone do it, but anyone who says dogs are omnivores just like people, should try to do the same thing with a turkey neck.

    September 3, 2007
  3. Ellie #

    I agree, Mary, dogs are very much like us, but not when it comes to food.

    September 5, 2007
  4. Thanks for the shout out! I've kindly noted your comments in

    October 10, 2007
  5. Ellie #

    Mr. Kaufman, I'm glad you mentioned the profit incentive of pet food companies, as I don't think this research is done on behalf of dogs at all. The companies that sponsor it have profited from starving dogs to removing their kidneys. If they cared about dogs, as they claim, they wouldn't use them as lab tools.

    As whether other dogs benefit, some dogs can't survive without a special diet, and I think they should have what they need– but that doesn't excuse this research. It's still wrong. For the sake of all dogs, they're obliged to use alternative studies.

    October 10, 2007

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