Adequate Nutrition vs Proper or Optimal Nutrition
By Dr. Jeannie Thomason
Here is where we start to have confusion and controversy.
We all want to feed our dogs in the very healthiest way possible. We want our dogs to thrive, not just survive so what is the best diet that contains optimal nutrition for them? What is the very best diet for our dogs? Is there one “diet” better than all the others on the market? Are dogs really carnivores or are they omnivores?
Be aware, the Carnivore or Omnivore debate will continue as long as marketing campaigns continue to use it in an attempt to sway you into a belief about how a dog should be fed.
This where the rubber meets the road. You must be convinced in your own heart and mind what is truth. You have to look at the facts for yourself. Don’t ever just take someone’s word for anything – always check and weigh the facts for yourself and if you have questions, don’t be afraid to do some research on your own and ask those hard questions.
Everything in the dog’s anatomy and physiology prove they are truly carnivores. From their teeth and jaws to their lack of digestive enzymes in their saliva and extremely high stomach acid and rapid digestion. In spite of all their genetic diversity and how we have been able to create different breeds suitable for different jobs, from the tiny Chihuahua to the Great dane, the hairy Pomeranian to the rare, hairless Xoloitzcuintli; they all have the same carnivore anatomy and physiology as the wolf. They were designed to thrive on a diet of raw, meat, bones and organs.
Bioavailability of Nutrients
“The term ‘bioavailability’ attempts to include in a single concept the effect of a sequence of metabolic events, i.e., digestibility, solubilization, absorption, organ uptake and release, enzymatic transformation, secretion and excretion.”1 Nutrient bioavailability, but broadly it refers to the proportion of a nutrient that is absorbed from the diet and used for normal body functions. 2
The key to optimal/proper nutrition for any species is bioavailability.
Bioavailability is very different from digestibility – digestibility studies measure the amount of input (food consumed) and amount of output (fecal matter). Digestibility studies do NOT address whether or not the food source’s nutrients are readily available and usable by the body. The key to good, proper nutrition is not nutrients per se, but is rather, the usefulness of the nutrients in the food.
Please note, “Adequate” nutrition should never be mistaken for “proper or good” nutrition.
A commercial “dog food” can be analyzed by a chemist and assessed as having “adequate” nutrition for survival and possibly even some growth but it will not be able to maintain thriving, optimal health in the dogs fed that particular diet. Why? Two reasons really. One is that pet food companies are not concerned with the actual “food” or ingredients used in the product they make, rather it is the laboratory nutritional analysis which matters, so they simply spray on a synthetic nutritional formula before sealing the bag of dead, processed garbage. Synthetic vitamins or so called nutrients are not recognized by the body as vitamins or nutrients though, they are seen as toxins. Therefore, they are not nutritious – they are of no use to the body.
If the nutritional elements in the food are synthetic or if they are not from sources which are bioavailable to the dog/carnivore, (raw, meat, bone and organs are readily digestable and are easily assimilated) even though they are technically present in the food in what have been assessed by the pet food industry to be adequate amounts, dogs being fed this food will not thrive and much more often than not, they will become malnourished and obese.
One prime example of the importance of species specific or appropriate bioavailability can be seen in the use soybeans in pet food. Soybeans are very high in protein. However, that protein is not bioavailable to carnivores! Dogs have the short digestive tract that is typical of carnivores. Their digestive system makes them unable to digest soy with any degree of efficiency. Therefore, even though the protein in the soybeans is in sufficiently large quantities to technically meet or exceed the amount protein a dog requires, it is unavailable to the dog.
The above is also true of all grains AND vegetables. Dogs can’t and simply don’t digest grains or vegetables any better than they do soy. In addition, the proteins contained in these items are not complete proteins for the nutritional requirements of the dog.
The proper digestion of grains requires three things which dogs do not have:
- an enzyme called amylase in the saliva which starts a predigestion process
- true, flat molars for grinding
- the long digestive tract required to hold, ferment and fully digest grains.
While these three things are common to you and me as omnivores, they are definitely not part of our dogs’s physiology or anatomy.
Therefore nutrients contained in grains, simply are not bioavailable to dogs.
The same principles apply to vegetables being fed dogs – they simply do not contain bioavailable nutrients for the carnivore.
Dogs or any carnivore for that matter, also lack the enzyme: Cellulase which is necessary for breaking down the cell walls in vegetables making any nutrients available to them. Again, they lack the grinding jaws and molars needed to grind the vegetables to make any nutrition available, causing the pancreas to work over-time in an effort to digest and assimilate any thing from the vegetables. Even pulverizing the vegetables before adding them to the food, is not enough to make enough nutrients available to the dog. They simply are not designed to require grains or vegetables. These are not foods they would ever have access to in the wild and while they may supply trace amounts of some nutrients – considered adequate by the pet food industry, they are not proper nutrients for thriving, only for surviving and not for very long.
If the dog isn’t being fed a proper species appropriate (SARF) diet, many of the dog’s systems will NOT be able to function at optimal levels. Evidence for this lies in the fact that dogs fed on the “convenience” diet of processed pet food, will always need far more medical intervention and “artificial” aid to survive with all the ailments that come from a weak immune system due to improper or poor nutrition.
Carnivores metabolize their energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting exclusively of animal flesh, bones and organs. This is called a species appropriate or SARF diet. More on that in Part 3
For more in-depth information about carnivore nutrition take a look at the online certificate course available at the American Council of Animal Naturopathy.
- Bronner F. Nutrient bioavailability, with special reference to calcium. J Nutr. 1993 May;123(5):797-802. Review. PMID: 8487089
- Aggett PJ (2010). Population reference intakes and micronutrient bioavailability: a European perspective. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91(suppl):1433S-1437S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.28674C