You are what you eat.” A saying that rings true for humans, as well as for dogs. Unfortunately, many commercial dog foods are not as nutritious as we’d like them to be. Andi Brown, author of The Whole Pet Diet and a pioneer of holistic pet products, says, “If you’re eating a steady diet of fast food every day, you’ll look and feel one way, and if you eat healthfully and thoughtfully from your own kitchen and garden, you’ll look and feel a whole lot better a whole lot longer. It’s the very same thing with animals on a commercial diet.” She continues: “Just because a dog food is labeled ‘holistic’ or ‘all-natural’ doesn’t mean it’s necessarily any better than anything else out there.”
So what makes a canine diet healthy? Unfortunately, 95 percent of homemade dog diets studied by UC-Davis researchers didn’t meet dog’s nutritional needs. “You need a meat and vegetable diet, generally a 50-50 blend, with little to no grains or starches,” Brown says. “No byproducts, no fillers, no preservatives, no artificial chemicals.” Freshness, she adds, is very important: “It provides more flavor and more nutrients. After just a few days, your pet will look and feel much healthier!”.
Here are some of the benefits you can expect from a natural, fresh diet like the new dog food brand Ollie:
“In my 30 years of experience working with thousands of animals, I’ve seen that many disease symptoms can be turned around very quickly when the animal is given the right nutritional support,” Brown says. Just like with humans, a diet rich in antioxidants and high-quality protein helps ward off several ailments. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association backs this up with a study finding a link between lower rates of canine urinary bladder carcinomas and eating green, leafy and yellow-orange vegetables three times a week.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is well within your control, for the most part. In fact, a survey published in the Preventive Veterinary Medicine Journal, reports that just three percent of obesity cases seen could be attributed to genetic factors or illness; 97 percent of these cases could be traced to how owners fed and played with their pets. So how does commercial dog food fatten up dogs? Simple: It’s too heavy on starches, Brown explains. “Many pet foods contain fillers so that the manufacturers can [spend less and therefore] make more money; corn, wheat, rice, potatoes are very inexpensive,” she says. “It’s exactly the same as for humans: A diet heavy on starches leads to weight gain.”
In one paper, dogs fed a homemade diet lived for 13.1 years, on average, while those fed commercial, canned dog food reached an average of 10.4 years. The starch, dyes, preservatives, and synthetic nutrients in many commercial dog foods eventually take a toll on a pup’s health, while steering clear of them sets a dog up for many years of health. Brown adds that nutritional issues ring true with youth: “When you’re young, you can eat anything. But as the body gets older, you need to support it with the right food.”
Healthier GI Tract
Think of it this way: Out in the wild, a dog would take down a small animal—say, a rabbit, bird, or squirrel—and consume the contents of the prey’s stomach, too, Brown explains. The small animals are generally herbivores, so the dog would be consuming meat, plus vegetables that provide nutrients and fiber, which helps keep the digestive system humming smoothly. “When you switch from commercial pet food, the digestive system will be clean and clear,” she says. “When the pet moves it bowels, you’ll see well-formed stool, and you’ll notice that the quality of what goes in will reflect what goes out.”
Another benefit of a healthy digestive system: Your dog will sleep better at night. “If your animal gets up in the middle of the night, sighing, breathing, switching positions, that’s a sign that the digestive system is upset,” Brown says. “When you’re putting the right ingredients into the body in proper proportions, the dog’s rest is pure and restorative.” And just like humans after a good night’s sleep, your dog will feel better and be healthier overall.
A healthy diet can improve canine cognitive function! Research points to a study where old, cognitively impaired dogs fed an antioxidant-enriched diet had higher levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which may slow cognitive decline. It’s much like how a diet rich in antioxidants (i.e., fresh, colorful produce) is now recommended to help prevent cognitive decline in humans. Even in younger dogs, a natural, wholesome diet fuels learning and alertness.
Skin problems are prevalent in dogs – they’re the #2 most commonly seen condition in the vet’s office – and this includes everything from itching to rashes to scabs. Often, dogs with itchy or scaly skin are treated with cortisone shots and reaction-reducing steroids, which come with their own side effects. “Pet owners are told it’s an allergy when it can be a deficiency,” Brown explains. Because of the way commercial dog food is cooked and processed, dry food especially can deprive dogs of the healthy fats and oils dogs need for a lustrous, moisturized coat and skin. Within a few days of switching your dog to a fresh, natural, balanced diet, “shedding, itching, scratching, dry skin, a rough coat, and other skin problems will start to correct themselves,” she says. “You’ll really notice a difference.”