…”species-appropriate“, to be specific.
This morning I am amazed yet again at how many people feel that “species-appropriate” is the main aspect of nutrition that needs to be considered when developing or choosing a canine diet. I know, I can come across a little strident on these matters – and when it comes to laypeople I hope to avoid that. But, I hold the bar a little higher for those aspiring to advise others on diet. “Species appropriate” is of course important – we don’t want to feed your dog as if he’s a llama or a parakeet – but, is it really the most important element? Years of experience, research and study suggest to me, it’s really only a very broad starting place.

I’ve talked at length about the dog as Preferential Carnivore;  probably more than you wanted to know. One can always cite aspects of their anatomical and metabolic  makeup and assert  things like “dogs don’t secrete salivary amylase, and they have short intestinal tracts, ergo they should all eat _____ -fill in the blanks, usually it’s “all-meat-and-bone”. . Well… considering those aspects do of course provide us with important clues about how the species evolved;  and we might well conclude  – theoretically, anyway – a good diet should optimally consist of mostly protein and fat,  with *some* fiber and carb. So far so good – but, it really does go much deeper than this; dogs – just like humans – are all individuals, and they carry within a whole set of unique traits, idiosyncracies and tendencies.

Just on the topic of digestive individuality, I could write a book. Did you know that the range for total dietary fat is between 1.8 and 10.8 grams per unit of metabolic weight? Many of my clients’ dogs with cancer are eating diets close to the high end; if the dog has pancreatitis, we’re below the lower number, if that’s what it takes.
And those are clearcut cases of nutritional indication by illness; healthy dogs are individuals, too.  I’ve cited before my own two dogs,  both Ridgebacks and both of a similar weight, but metabolically so different. Danny eats about 50% carb, not because I think that’s “ideal for all dogs” but because it’s what has worked for him. Tina gets more like 25% carb and the remaining 75%  is of course, protein and fat. She’s a cast-iron-stomach dog who can eat  just about anything – but those levels help keep her from gaining too much weight. I’ve noticed a little slide into fat sensitivity as she nears her twelfth birthday; we may be taking that one down soon.

Daniel on the left can eat huge amounts of food, needs a lot of dietary energy – but  can’t have beef, lamb or too much fat. Tina can’t take in a lot of calorie, but she thrives on a varied diet with higher fat and protein content.

The takeaway message from this post is, there are all kinds of theories about how to feed dogs and some are much better than others. When deciding what to feed your dog, please see him or her as an individual. While some core guidelines should always be taken into consideration – and I’ve made a start here discussing some of them – your dog is a unique being. Perhaps you might look at your sister, husband or wife, best friend, yoga instructor and ask – do we all metabolize the same way? Well – of course not. My partner can consume endless amounts of carbohydrate while I need to hover around about 30%, and keep them glutenfree and low glycemic. Many of my friends can eat a lot more calorically than I can, and are slimmer – but I have better cholesterol and blood sugar levels than they do precisely because I have to watch what I eat so mindfully.
We are all individuals and what serves our needs – outside of the essentials that everyone must take in or pathology develops – there is huge variation. Dogs are the same. Please don’t look at him and see a “species”.  He’s much, much more than that.