Conventional, veterinary nutrition is based on modern-day research. This sounds well and fine except for the fact that the vast majority of the research is sponsored by pet food companies. Many studies have shown that industry-sponsored research often results in biased findings. Let’s face it; if every pet food company has research indicating that their food is the best, then there must be something wrong with at least some of the research.

The modern approach veterinary nutrition embraces the arrogant assumption that we know enough about nutrition to formulate a balanced diet with ingredients that the particular species has never been exposed to throughout millions of years of evolution. You will commonly hear those in the conventional pet food industry say, “It’s the nutrients, not the ingredients, which are important when formulating pet food.” The problem with this view is that diets formulated with an incomplete understanding of the required nutrients, are themselves incomplete. Mother Nature is smarter than the smartest veterinary nutritionist.

One corollary to the simplistic notion that pet food ingredients are irrelevant is that all calories are equal. In other words, it does not matter whether a dog gets his calories from proteins, fats, or carbohydrates. All that matters is the number of calories he eats. This is a misguided idea for many reasons.

  1. Most studies indicate that calories from fat and protein are better at satisfying hunger than those from carbs. A pet on a high protein diet is less hungry and will eat less food. Thus, he is more likely to maintain a healthy body weight.
  2. We also need to consider the epigenetic effects of foods. Certain nutrients turn off or on particular genes. For example, carbs in the diet turn on genes that increase the production and release of insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Both of these are known to directly stimulate cancer cell growth and cancer’s ability to invade neighboring tissue.
  3. A final problem with the idea that all calories are equal is the thermogenic effect of food. This is a measure of the amount of energy it takes to digest a particular food. For instance, protein and carbs are equally calorie dense – they both provide 4 calories per gram. But it takes on average 2-3 times more calories to digest protein than it does the same amount of carbs. So the net gain in calories from protein is less than that from carbs.

The bottom line is that different food ingredients have different effects on the body and pets benefit from diets low in carbs. And yet, when I directly asked a nutritionist from a major pet food company what the ideal level of carbohydrate is for pet food he told me that dog food should consist of 40-50% carbohydrate and cat food should contain 30-40% carbohydrate on a dry matter basis. This is a much higher level of carbohydrate than our carnivorous companions were designed to handle.

Fifty-three percent of dogs and fifty-eight percent of cats are over weight to obese. I am sure that the sedentary lifestyle  of pet owners is part of the problem but I am also confident that inappropriate pet food ingredients (too much carbohydrate) is the more important factor.

Have you had trouble getting your pet to lose weight?


12 replies
  1. Sandy McDowell
    Sandy McDowell says:

    My one male cat does not seem to eat that much, but he is getting fatter and fatter. I would like to see him slimmer, but that is a dream. He has to have his treats in the morning and evening. He will eat a can of Fancy Feast (I see, but he may be eating more from the other cat’s bowls). He sleeps a lot. When I go on vacation, he seems to lose a little.

    • Dr. Doug
      Dr. Doug says:

      If he has the freedom to eat from the other cat’s bowel then his intake is not being controlled. Under those conditions you are right, it is a dream to think he will somehow become slimmer. I would recommend you feed each cat separately a set amount of food, twice daily. Give them 1/2 hour to eat. Whether or not they eat pick up the bowel and do not give more food until the next meal time. They will quickly catch on to the feeding schedule. If they complain and you give in then you are just rewarding that complaining behavior. You are in control. His condition is your responsibility. Sorry for the tough love.

  2. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Hello, I adopted a 7 year old Beagle /Bassett mix about 10 months ago. At the time he was underFed and gorged on feces. We immediately switched him to raw and he has gained over 22 lbs. Now he is to fat ( 40lbs). In the beginning I was guessing at how much he was eating now I weigh it out to 10 oz a day split in two meals. Recently I caught him trying to eat poop again. Is it possible he is hungry and I should add more or is it a habit. We pick up immediately after each dog but sometimes he is quicker. I feed various meats (chicken bone in,goat,beef,Turkey and green tripe,carrots,celery,green beans and alfafa). Do you think he may he missing a vital nutrient?

  3. Linda
    Linda says:

    My 10.5 year old spayed female Greyhound is not losing weight despite all of the standard weight loss recommendations. She is currently 68 pounds, eats 12 ounces of raw protein, approximately 2 oz of bone, approximately 1/2 cup steamed veggies divided into two meals. She is walked 4 times per day for a total of approximately 2 miles and runs at the dog park on weekends. Her skin in extremely flaky, although since switching to raw a year ago, she is much less “itchy”. Supplements include 2 grams of salmon oil per day. Treats are few and far between. Have tried cutting her food back even more but she ends up with a gurgling tummy and vomits bile. What would you suggest?

  4. Deborah Daquila
    Deborah Daquila says:

    Dr. Doug,\\What do you think of Wysong’s starch free kibble. I think there are at least 2 that are starch free. Epigen and ? I go between to locations 2 x a week and it is sometimes difficult to stop and get frozen(Primal Turkey and Sardine) I would like to supplement his Primal with something that I can use alone in an emergency.

    • Dr. Doug
      Dr. Doug says:

      If I remember correctly Wysong’s starch-free kibble is loaded with gluten – I think I’d rather have starch. You might want to consider having one of the freeze-dried raw products on hand.

  5. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    I’m thinking of getting a puppy soon. I haven’t had one in over 15 years. My other dogs eat raw, dehydrated food, some canned, and homecooked food. Is the raw food enough to meet the nutritional requirements of the puppy? I plan on feeding her the same diet as my 16 pound dogs but unsure of how much she will need. She weighs around 6-8 pounds. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Dr. Doug
      Dr. Doug says:

      Whether or not the diet meets the nutritional requirements of a puppy depends on exactly what diet you are talking about. Just because the food is raw does not mean it is balanced for puppies or any dog. (The calcium to phosphorus ratio is especially important for puppies). Answers raw food is my favorite and I do not hesitate to recommend it for puppies. The amount to feed depends on the food and the age and breed of the dog. I would consult the pet food company for that information.


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