Nutrition of Dogs

Domestic dogs (Canis lupus familaris) are descended from wolves, beginning their association with humans about 15,000 years ago. The main diet of the wolf is meat: medium to large animals are sought by wolves in packs, while single wolves feed on small mammals. Most parts of the prey are eaten, including skin and fur. During their time with humans, dogs have largely subsisted on waste products and vermin.

Muscle meat on its own, or fish on its own, is not a balanced diet. Feeding a variety of animal-based dog foods will help ensure your dog’s food is enjoyable and healthy, especially if raw foods are included. Cooking increases the digestibility of meat, but destroys precious nutrients. Commercial dog foods (cans, pet rolls, biscuits and kibbles) are cooked, then artificial nutrients are added. Your dog’s health and longevity are likely to benefit if you can minimise unnatural additives including flavourings, colourings and preservatives.

If presented with whole wild game, naïve domestic dogs may not recognise this as food. But if game is prepared as meat they usually find it extremely exciting to eat (e.g. trembling from nose to tail in anticipation before feeding). Domestic dogs that are allowed to hunt usually learn to enjoy this immensely and will eat whole animals such as possums and rabbits (especially the head), often leaving the digestive tract (stomach and guts), or eating this last.

Dogs can digest a wide range of human food including vegetables and starchy foods such as rice. However given the choice, animal protein (meat, bones, skin, offal, fish, eggs, milk, cheese) tends to win every time. Vegetables can help bulk out dogs’ meals to help control weight gain, and there is some evidence that green leafy and yellow-orange vegetables in a dog’s diet can lower the risk of cancer.

There are many human foods that can be toxic or harmful to dogs. These include cherries (the stalk and stone), raw fish, onions, garlic, raw egg white on its own, chocolate (especially dark chocolate), xylitol sweetener (e.g. in some chewing gum), grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, dry cooked bones, excessive bones (more than 1-2 large raw bones/week), excessive milk (more than 20 ml/kg of body weight), excessive liver (feed only 1-2 times/week).

Grass is seemingly relished by many dogs who will graze every day given the opportunity. Strands of soft, smooth, long, luscious grass found off the dog’s property are usually eaten readily. Owners need to ensure such grass has not been spayed. Dogs have a high motivation to eat grass when they are feeling sick so long clean grass should be available at home.