Vegetables, Carbohydrates and Grains

Can you explain the role of carbohydrates?

Dogs evolved as hunters. The structure of their teeth, jaws and digestive system classifies them as carnivores designed to operate on an almost entirely meat based diet. Their natural diet contains few carbohydrates and almost no grain. However, quality carbohydrates, if broken down, and in appropriate quantities, can represent a useful (and cheap) energy source for dogs. 

Carbohydrates are not absolutely necessary in a dog’s diet. This does not mean that they can’t digest and metabolise them. The digestion starts in the pancreas by the production of four major digestive enzymes - trypsin, chymotrypsin, amylase, and lipase. The trypsin and chymotrypsin breakdown protein molecules, the amylase breaks down starches, and lipase does the same to fats and triglycerides. The function of the enzymes is to break down food in the intestine into smaller molecules. Breaking down the molecules of food into smaller sizes is an important part of the overall digestive process and allows nutrients to be absorbed by the cells that line the intestine. The nutrients are then passed from those cells into the bloodstream.

Simple and complex carbohydrates are digested and converted to glucose. The glucose is used as source of energy that is stored in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Any extra left in the bloodstream is then stored as fat. It’s this glucose in the blood stream that creates the demand for insulin made in the pancreas and that in time can lead to diabetes. There has been a dramatic rise in diabetes in dogs over the last 30 years and providing a proper diet can help prevent its onset. Dogs fed a natural diet based on quality meats high in protein and fat can convert these at a slower rate to meet their metabolic requirement for glucose, decreasing the insulin levels in the blood stream and at the same time delivering vital amino acids needed to fuel and repair their organs, muscles and bones.

What is the correct level of carbohydrates?

Dogs can generate energy both aerobically (in the presence of oxygen) and anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen). Dogs can only maintain anaerobic respiration for about a minute and after then only aerobic respiration is possible. Fats (and not carbohydrates as in humans) are the primary (ie preferred) energy source under aerobic conditions. Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diets acknowledge the dog’s evolution and natural diet and contain 60-100% raw, meaty bones, with a maximum of 40% carbohydrates. At Cotswold RAW our adult active range follows the 80:20 rule – 80% raw meaty bones and 20% fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables plus herbs but NO grain. Our recipe for all breeds has slightly more carbohydrate (70:30) and our enhanced formula for endurance has more fat for a higher energy content (90:10).

Why is the level of carbohydrate not disclosed on pet food packaging?

The industry guidelines have been developed to ensure the animal gets the nutrients required if it digests the amount of food it needs for its daily energy requirement. This ensures that the diet provides both energy and nutrients. EU guidelines make no reference to carbohydrates, instead they focus on the protein, fat, vitamins and minerals the dog requires. They recommend that a dog requires 18g of protein and 5g of fat, together with various vitamins, minerals and trace elements per kg of bodyweight. The processed food industry takes these recommended amounts of protein and fat and ‘bulks up’ the food by the addition of carbohydrates (typically grain) by up to 65%.

This results in too much of the dog’s energy requirements being derived from carbohydrates but since there is no recommended daily amount for carbohydrate their content (which is substantial,representing the majority of the food) is not disclosed on the packet.

Why aren’t there any grains in Cotswold RAW meals?

There are conflicting views on the use of cereals or grains as part of a natural diet. Some vets advocate no grain at all but lots of vegetables instead, and some believe a diet based on just raw meaty bones is all a dog needs. Others recommend a small portion of grain in the diet. So what is the truth?

The basic controversy has arisen because of the very high cereal content used in processed pet foods. Many canned and dry dog foods contain up to four times as much cereal content as meat. There is little doubt that grain is the cheapest source of energy for dogs but they are not designed to eat it. Even worse, the cereal used is often poor quality which has little nutritional value.

It is this fact that has led some vets and nutritionists to broaden the issue on cheap cereals to encompass grains in general and to suggest that dogs should not, and in fact, cannot digest grains.

Dogs often ingest grains when they catch and eat live prey,however no canine in nature accesses grain as a significant food source. They do not graze fields of barley and eat the grains. Indeed dogs are unable to digest whole grains. The same goes for plant material and fruit. Dogs have a poor ability to digest intact plant and fruit material as they lack the teeth and saliva enzymes to break down the cellulose plant cell wall.

So the final word on grains and carbohydrates in general. Unprocessed grains have no place in the diet of a dog. Processed grains can have value for dogs with sensitive stomachs or which are sick as they lower the acidity level in the stomach. However, as a standard component of a regular diet even high quality, raw, cracked or crushed vegetables need to be used sparingly. Such quality carbohydrates represent around 20% of our Cotswold RAW recipe. Should you wish to increase the carbohydrate level of your dog’s food just add a few parboiled vegetables to the Cotswold RAW sausages.

Our Cotswold RAW recipes contain fresh seasonal vegetables.

Carrots are the richest source of vitamin A (from β- carotene) among commonly consumed vegetables. β- carotene is also a powerful antioxidant. Carrots also contain vitamins B, C, D, E, K, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, potassium, phosphorus,sodium, and iron. Carrots have repeatedly shown to nourish the optic nerve and significantly improve eye health.

Broccoli is one of the most nutritious foods. It contains vitamin C, β- carotene, folic acid, calcium and fibre and is also a good source of chromium. Like other members of the cabbage family, broccoli has alleged anti-cancer effects, containing phytochemicals and isothiocyanates.

Spinach contains twice as much iron as most other greens and is a rich source of antioxidants. Spinach has long had a reputation of being very high in nutrients. It is a good source of fibre, calcium, potassium and vitamins A, B6 and K.

Is fibre good for dogs?

Dietary fibre is good for dogs and plays an important role in the dog’s digestive process just as it does in humans. However, again as in humans, fibre is very difficult to digest and because the dog’s digestive system is so short the majority will pass into the large intestine. Too much fibre also reduces the dog’s ability to digest and absorb protein which also has an adverse effect on the quality of the dog’s faeces. For these reasons we at Cotswold RAW maintain a crude fibre level of less than 3%.