As we consider what sort of diet to feed our furry domesticated animal companions, it’s vital that we understand their innate anatomical and physiological characteristics. Is it possible that the best dog food is homemade? Is making cat chow even realistic?
It’s these qualities that determine, to a very great extent, the kind of food their bodies were naturally designed to eat, many eons ago, by Mother Nature.
Feeding our pets a species appropriate diet, which is based on the kind of raw, animal-based foods nature created their bodies to consume, provides our pet cats and dogs with the best opportunity to thrive, enabling them to live the longest, healthiest lives possible.
All Cats Are Obligate Carnivores
There’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever, scientifically speaking, that all felines on the planet – whether they be huge cats like lions and tigers, or smaller ones such as ocelots, servals and yes, domestic house cats — are what are known as obligate carnivores.
Obligate carnivores are “true carnivores,” meaning these animals’ bodies are specifically designed to consume the flesh and bones of other animals. Such carnivores are virtually solely dependent upon the nutrients found in animal based foods, which they absolutely require to maintain their good health.
Felines are among the most successful predatory animals on the planet, and their anatomy and physiology are very clearly that of a hunter. As such, cats have virtually no need for plant based food or carbohydrates, although they may consume small amounts of plant based materials occasionally, usually as a medicinal to induce vomiting. In fact they have so little use for dietary vegetative matter, that their digestive systems actually lack the physiological ability to effectively either process or assimilate any plant based foods whatsoever.
Please bear this in mind the next time you look at the ingredients list on a bag of commercial kibble and see things like soy, corn, rice, wheat, or other plant based items on that label!
Dogs Are Carnivorous Gray Wolves on the Inside
Regardless of variations in their size, coat texture, ear shape and/or other superficial, external differences, all breeds of domestic dogs are members of the same species, and are known as Canis lupus familiaris.
All domesticated dogs are direct descendants, and are also technically a sub-species, of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. As a result, internally, in terms of their dentition as well as their internal digestive anatomy and physiology, dogs are essentially identical to gray wolves.
Both dogs and wolves are members of the Canidae family of the mammalian order Carnivora, which means they are meat eaters, or carnivores.
Gray wolves are predatory animals whose primary preferred prey are large ungulates such as deer, elk, caribou and other large herbivorous creatures. However since they’re not obligate carnivores like cats, gray wolves along with their domestic canine counterparts are opportunistic carnivores. This means that when large game is unavailable they have the ability to subsist by consuming a modicum of plant matter. However it’s important to understand that doing so is an emergency survival mechanism, and that these animals’ bodies were truly designed to thrive on the consumption of the raw meat, bones and organs of herbivorous prey-type animals, most particularly those of large grazers.
Characteristics of Carnivorous Canines and Felines
There are a number of anatomical and physiological qualities that are shared by all mammalian carnivores, including domestic cats and dogs. Familiarizing ourselves with these characteristics can help us better understand the reasons why it’s so important to feed our pets a diet consisting of whole, raw, animal based foods. These are the sorts of foods their bodies were truly designed many millions of years ago to consume, and it is upon such a diet that they best thrive.
Below is a list of some of the most important and relevant carnivorous characteristics common to both cats and dogs:
Very sharp teeth — which are designed for grasping, ripping and tearing raw flesh and crushing raw meaty bones.
Premolar and molar teeth called carnassials — the uppers and lowers of which come together when the jaw closes like the sharp blades of a scissor to very effectively shear, slice and dice raw food into pieces that are just small enough to fit down the animal’s throat.
Jaws that move exclusively up and down in a vertical plane — including a lower jaw that is utterly incapable of moving side to side (unlike the lower jaw of an herbivore such as a cow or sheep, which moves side to side horizontally, contains large, flat molars, and is made for lengthy and often repeated chewing and grinding of plant matter.)
Extremely strong stomach acids — designed to quickly and effectively neutralize any potentially harmful bacterial loads that might be found on raw meat.
Relatively short digestive tracts — designed to quickly and efficiently extract the concentrated nourishment found in animal based foods.
Rapid digestive transit time — for minimizing the amount of time bacteria laden raw food remains in the body, thereby reducing the chance of any potentially harmful bacterial colonization.
Some other traits shared by dogs and cats that earmark them as carnivores are their keen senses of smell, hearing and vision, their forward facing eyes, their intelligence, and their innate predatory instincts such as stalking, chasing and pouncing.
Feeding our pets a diet of whole, raw, animal based foods has myriad benefits, most particularly including the promotion of excellent oral health.
The many benefits of feeding a diet of whole raw foods to our pets will be the subject of my next guest post here on The Healthy Home Economist.
Sources and More Information
Choose Another Pet Food if Yours Has These Ingredients
How to Switch Over to Raw Pet Food
Fast and Easy Fix for a Stinky Cat Litter Box
Dirty Secrets of the Pet Food Industry
When I go deer hunting can I use this meat to feed my dogs and cats even if I freeze a lot of it in thought out when I’m a dog and cat food is that healthy for them
Our Small Hours
I have loved this series about pet diets. I really appreciate it. I’m reading Pottenger’s Cats, in addition.
Our food budget is tight, but I have been able to move our pets to a grain-free (although, still cooked, dry pet food) diet. It’s one manageable first step.
I also give my dog the leftover bone/other scraps from making bone broths and the excess cream cheese from making whey. She loves it.
Since switching them to grain-free food, both my overweight dog and our one cat who was overweight have lost weight.
If your dog won’t eat raw immediately, try searing the meat in a hot pan just enough for it to brown (and leave the inside nearly raw). The smell of the meat will make them gobble it up.
On a side note, I usually feed my lab raw pastured meat, but 1-2 times a week, I do as above for variety. I usually give her pastured chuck roasts cut up into medium sized cubes. Chuck is supposed to be a tough meat, requiring long cooking times in water. But, if you can get past the inside being nearly raw, it comes out incredibly tender and nice–I eat it myself.
My dog’s taste for other things vary, but she generally LOVES coconut oil, likes fermented cod liver oil (unflavored) and any type of raw dairy. Interestingly, she turns her nose at store bought “milk”, as did my last lab.
I have been feeding my 3 dogs raw for about 8 years now. They are all in great shape. The 14 year old Belgian Tervuren can still jump into the back of my truck and seems to float into it. His teeth are not as good as the Bernese Mountain dog (4yrs) who has been eating raw since before he was born. They love it and I could almost put the dishes back in the cabinet they lick them so clean. 🙂
Can I just say, that is an absolutely ADORABLE puppy in the picture. 😀
What is your take on vaccinations for pets? I just received a reminder from our vet for rabies vaccination for my dog. Are vaccines for pets as bad for them as vaccines for humans are for us?
After many years of research and investigation into this subject, my best understanding is that vaccines do more harm than good.
Please see my comments and links to resources on this subject in a previous response above.
Great article and thanks for building awareness around this topic. I know many people who are pro-actively trying this approach on feeding their dogs, I’ve heard mixed reviews about it, mainly due to their dog reacting to some of the new food being introduced.