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The Complete Guide to Why Dogs Need to Eat Meat

Anna Bain

Author: Anna Bain

The Complete Guide to Why Dogs Need to Eat Meat

For a dog to truly thrive, they should eat meat. In this blog, we will share all you need to know about why dogs need meat broken down into the below topics, we explain the vital dog vitamins and minerals found in raw dog food that your best friend needs to thrive. If you want to know how to feed your dog a raw diet, then check out our raw feeding guide and explore our full grain free dog food range.

Is meat one of the most critical components of a dog’s diet?

Dogs need meat to experience optimum health, a fact supported by canine nutritional science, yet so many products marketed as “dog food” contain a very low real meat content.

Did you know, for instance, that for a kibble food to qualify as suitable dog food, it requires only 4% actual meat content. Scary, isn’t it? As such, we encourage dog owners to check the ingredients lists on their dog food purchases and question what it is made from.

Another topic gaining attention recently is whether vegan/vegetarian diets are suitable for dogs. This is a hotly debated subject in some circles, not least among owners who themselves are vegetarian or vegan, as it would be a wonderful world if their dog could also share their dietary/ ethical preferences. One crucial factor is often overlooked in these dialogues, however: dogs are different to humans! Dogs are carnivores, while humans are omnivores.

While many nutritional studies support the anti-inflammatory benefits of a plant-rich diet for humans, this does not mean that the same goes for dogs. The canine anatomy and digestive system work very differently to humans. In his book Feeding Dogs, Dr Conor Brady sums up the research available on the topic in his quote:

“It is currently neither possible nor advisable to feed a meat-eating animal vegetarian/vegan products long term. For maximum health benefits, we must feed them the food they evolved upon. For dogs, this means fresh meat and bone”.

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Can dogs thrive on quality proteins and healthy fats?

The old saying ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’ gives a significant clue.

Butchers dogs are typically fed raw meat, bone and offal: components of a diet repeatedly shown to help a dog thrive [1]. Complete and more bioavailable proteins, as well as healthy fats, often come from good quality animal produce. 

The emphasis here is on the phrase ‘good quality’. Unfortunately, over the last 60 years, the widely accepted norm for pet foods has been highly processed foods. Somewhere along the line, real food became overshadowed by products cleverly marketed as good for dogs while promising consumer convenience. Yet, many processed products marketed as ‘dog food’ contain a very low, quality meat content.

Did you know that the terms ‘animal derivatives’ and ‘meat meal’ could encompass any part of an animal: claws, beaks, feathers, teeth and not necessarily nutritionally valuable parts, so beware of products with those terms listed.

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What are the most obvious signs dogs are built to eat meat?

1. A dog has the teeth and jaw mechanism of a meat-eater

Dogs’ teeth are designed to tear into meat. In total, a dog has 42 adult teeth. Each tooth contributes to helping a dog hunt and defend themselves and rip apart and break down their food:

  • Incisors – smaller teeth at the front of the mouth that are used for scraping.
  • Canines – tear meat apart; coincidentally, the word “canine” comes from the grouping term Canis, encompassing known meat-eaters, including wolves, coyotes, golden jackals and, of course, dogs.
  • Premolars – used to shred food. The 4 premolars are known as the carnassial teeth, and they are used in a slicing action as they work back and forth against each other.
  • Molars – break down hard foods; wolves use theirs to crush large prey bones.

Dogs don’t have teeth that grind from side to side – this is the action required for plant-eaters. They also don’t have amylase in their saliva, which is used to break down the carbohydrates found in plants. This is largely why dogs tend to gulp everything down – all of their digestion takes place in their stomachs.

2. A dog has the anatomy of a meat-eater

In addition to strong teeth and jaws, which are the tools needed to deal with a raw, meat-based diet, dogs also have a rapid digestive system with stomach acid so strong it would burn the flesh off your fingers. This acid is produced to break down meat and bones rapidly.

The gut flora (good bacteria) produced in a dog’s digestive system and is critical for a healthy immune system is designed to process meat as the main staple of a dog’s diet. However, it should be noted that while dogs do not need a large quantity of plant-based additions, the micronutrients delivered by plants means that including some vegetables and fruits does also have health benefits. In nature, wild dogs and wolves will eat the stomach contents of their herbivore prey as their way of obtaining their dose of plant-powered nutrients.

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Is meat the best source of protein for dogs?

Meat is the most complete and bioavailable (easily absorbable) source of protein for dogs. And, of course, protein is vital to life! By no means is this an overly dramatic statement; protein is what all body cells are built from (for humans and dogs). Tissues, bones, hair, organs, joints are made from protein; cellular regeneration, the production of hormones, enzymes, antibodies, all require protein.

The optimum protein level for your dog’s diet is 60% plus from a quality meat source. Many processed dog foods don’t contain anywhere near this level of protein. Unfortunately, industry guidelines have minimised the importance of protein, and the bare minimum requirement of 18% seems to have become the standard.

A good-quality complete raw dog food meal will surpass this, often containing 80% upwards of quality animal produce. The difference between these two protein percentage levels is the difference between thriving and surviving[2].

Many owners tell us, “My dog seems okay on a processed diet”, and yes, they will be “ok”, dogs are adaptable, so they will adjust to what they are fed.  But would you like your dog to just be okay, or would you love for your dog to be living their best life and experiencing life to their full health potential?

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What about plant protein for dogs?

Plant-based protein dog protein supplements are an excellent addition to a dog’s meat-based diet; they can deliver extra nutritional reinforcement and support in the development, repair and maintenance of lean muscle, which can be especially helpful for dogs recovering from injury or illness, or those simply requiring healthy weight gain or weight maintenance. But supplements should be just that, a complement, an addition, to a fresh, natural raw meat and bone-based diet.

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Do dogs need carbs?

It’s not what we have been led to believe by pet food corporations, but, in fact, dogs physiologically have no requirement for carbohydrates. Increasing scientific studies[3] indicate an overload of carbs is responsible for many inflammatory and metabolic disorders in our four-legged population. 

When dogs are loaded with carbohydrates, as found in many processed foods, unnecessary strain is put on the digestive system and other organs such as the pancreas. This can lead to systemic inflammation[4] and a host of ailments such as digestive disorders, pancreatitis, kidney issues, cancer, allergy symptoms and immune dysfunction.

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What is the best meat for dogs?

Dogs can enjoy and benefit nutritionally from several types of meat, including turkey, chicken, beef, lamb, duck, venison, pheasant, and rabbit. A varied diet is essential as each protein offers different benefits. Some meats are higher in calories and fats than others, for instance, and they have a different vitamin and mineral profile, so it is essential to always to feed as much of a range as possible.

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Is raw meat good for dogs?

Science-based evidence indicates that a natural raw diet is the one that nature intended for our dogs. And we only need to look to their wild ancestors to see just how valid this is. Processed foods such as kibble have only been around since meat shortages in the second world war when a cheaper alternative was required. So that’s approximately 80 years – not the 4 million years that dogs and wolves have been roaming the planet. We are misinformed that these heavily processed and mass-manufactured low-grade foods are what our dogs should be eating despite the number of health concerns they can cause to a canine. A dog is simply not built to cope with a man-made, carbohydrate-laden, intensively produced synthetic diet.

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Does meat provide all the nutrients a dog needs?

It is important to include different cuts of meat, organs and bones to ensure your dog receives vitamins and minerals from across the whole nutritional spectrum. Muscle, sinew, bone and offal are all parts of an animal that should be included in a raw diet for dogs. 

Bone is not only a great source of nutrition and valuable to the digestive system, but it also helps to keep the teeth clean and the breath smelling fresh. Bones are a great way to exercise the jaw and upper body, stimulate the dog to avoid boredom. And being nutrient-rich, bones are an important source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, essential amino and fatty acids, vitamins A and D, copper and iron.

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Introducing your dog to a raw diet could be the best health protection that you provide

The great news is raw feeding is no longer the time consuming, messy way to fuel your dog that it used to be. You no longer need to take the DIY approach. Raw food producers such as ProDog provide complete raw dog food meals, frozen and ready to feed.

The “raw food effect”

Of course, this isn’t a scientific term! The “raw food effect” is a term we coined at ProDog based on real-world feedback from our canine customers living a raw fed life. It sums up the range of raw dog food benefits a dog experiences when eating as nature intended, such as: 

  1. Balanced energy 
  2. Fresher breath and cleaner teeth
  3. Improved appetite, learn more
  4. Reduced body odour
  5. Pick-up-able poop
  6. Improved mobility
  7. Reduction in allergy symptoms
  8. Glossier coat and improved skin condition

There will always be a transition phase while your dog’s digestive system adapts to any change in diet. For some dogs, it’s a breeze. Others may need a slower, steadier transition over a few days. All good raw food producers will offer advice and guidance to help you make the switch.

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  1. Guido Bosch.,Esther A Hagen-Plantinga.,Wouter H Hendriks.,(Jan 2015),Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: insights for optimal dog nutrition? Br J Nutr. 113 Suppl:S40-54. doi: 10.1017/S0007114514002311.
  2. J.M Craig. (Dec 2019), Raw feeding in dogs and cats. Companion Animal  Vol. 24, No. 11
  3. K F Elliott., J S Rand., L M Fleeman., J M Morton., A L Litste.r, V C Biourge., P J Markwell., (Aug 2012), A diet lower in digestible carbohydrate results in lower postprandial glucose concentrations compared with a traditional canine diabetes diet and an adult maintenance diet in healthy dogs. Res Vet Sci 93(1):288-95. doi: 10.1016/j.rvsc.2011.07.032.
  4. Alessio Fasano. (Jan 2020), All disease begins in the (leaky) gut: role of zonulin-mediated gut permeability in the pathogenesis of some chronic inflammatory diseases. Version 1. F1000Res. 2020; 9: F1000 Faculty Rev-69. Published online 2020 Jan 31. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.20510.1


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