“My dog eats all natural diet because it’s the best”… Pretty common to hear and seems very obvious statement to use too, right? Now stop and think. Cyanide is natural too… But would you eat or feed your dog a diet if it was laced with cyanide? I doubt it. Yet the substance could be a part of an all natural diet by definition. Let the drama unfold…
What does the “natural diet” actually mean? According to AAFCO guidelines, “a feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to psysical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced or subjected to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic, expect in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”
In other words, any dog food labeled as “all natural” should not contain anything synthetic apart from certain vitamins, minerals, and added amino acids.
Natural dog food is most definitely a better choice than anything made with synthetic colourings, artificial flavourings and E numbers (note – not all E numbers are necessarily bad, but many aren’t good for living beings and those are the ones I mean when saying “E numbers”) and something I would feed my pups. However, I am a person of “buts” and my “but” for the all natural dog food is what it is made of.
It is very easy to assume that choosing a natural dog food will be beneficial for your pooch. Most people would trust the manufacturers for doing all the hard work of prepping, testing and getting “the best of this” and “the best of that” awards. Because most people are normal and don’t manically check every word on a label like I do.
And this is where the problems start. Suddenly a dog on “all natural” diet develops an odd diarrhoea or tummy aches. He may start to itch. Or simply look off colour. The caring parents take him to the vets who struggle to identify the exact cause of the symptoms and do their absolute best to help the dog recover. Sometimes it involves medication, a battalion of tests, and – as one of the last resorts – a change of diet.
Other pet parents skip the vet and seek advice online. Which usually leads to turning to a completely different type of diet because “it totally cured” other dogs’ symptoms, or natural aids to avoid “toxic drugs”
And yes, some dogs do feel better because ultimately their symptoms are either helped with by medicine or, and this is the bit that requires attention, the alternative food is free from an ingredient that caused the chaos and discomfort.
The biggest mistake that can happen at this point is that the pet parent will likely blame the chicken, beef or grains because he’s been told those were the worst offenders. As a result the dog is put on a grain-free diet or veterinary formula (as those are the easiest to digest and absorb), which he seems to be ok with… If he isn’t ok, another diet is introduced.
Any loving pup parent will do their absolute best to stick with “all natural” diet that may or may not send him to the point of bankruptcy because dogs rightly deserve the very best.
And yet very few people will pause during this entire gastronomic adventure to examine the full list of ingredients. It would be a very un-natural thing to do for an all-natural practically perfect formula, right?
But what if I asked you not only read the list in full, but check every single ingredient against the list of poisons and the database of toxic and harmful plants? I do it every time I come across new pet brand, formula or a novel ingredient, or see a dog who suffers from symptoms that came out of nowhere.
To give you a few examples here are a few ingredients that I casually found in some of the most popular dog foods made by reputable pet manufacturers… Are there anything you could find in a formula or treats you feed your spaniel right now?
Angelica plant contains araliin. It is toxic to dogs and causes skin irritation, excessive salivation, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Avocados contain persin that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and damage to the heart.
Almonds (especially the bitter ones) are a source of cyanogenic glycosides or cyanide compounds that are toxic to dogs. They can also cause diarrhoea, vomiting, discomfort, bloating, gas, lack of appetite and lethargy and if the nuts (rather than low fat skins) are used, the excess fat can increase the risk of pancreatitis.
Saskatoon berries are another source of cyanogenic glycosides and can cause problems, especially when berries are used whole and contain seeds.
Any citrus fruit can irritate the gut and some can also be high in psoralens.
Chamomile contains bisabolol, chamazulene, anthemic and tannic acids that can lead to skin irritation and allergy-like symtpoms, vomiting and diarrhoea. Using chamomile long-term can increase the risk of internal bleeding.
Cinnamon is praised for being really good for dogs, however it can cause mouth irritation, breathing difficulties, digestive issues, vomiting, liver abnormalities and changes in heart rate. If cinnamon is replaced by cassia (fake cinnamon) it can be even more problematic. Cinnamon is not considered toxic because it is not fatal to dogs and an average dog would need to consume quite a bit to become unwell, but I am not convinced and don’t see anything that can give my dog liver issues or skin irritation as particularly safe either.
Garlic can cause formation of Heinz bodies and lead to fatal Haemolytic anaemia.
Glycerine also known as glycerol (which was originally used in the 1800s to make dynamite) can be found in dog treats and some food that are marketed as “natural and junk free”. However it has been linked to bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, frequent urination and even symptoms of kidney failure. There isn’t enough research to support these claims, so all I can say at this point is that my dogs did react to chews made with glycerine, it is documented that glycerol has laxative effects, available studies say that “the long-term use cannot exclude side-effects” and “clinical correlations in puppies are unknown”, so I am cautious.
Lavender‘s active ingredients linlool and linalyl acetate can cause nausea and vomiting.
Leeks are a part of Allium family (same as garlic and onions) and may cause blood abnormalities and haemolytic anaemia.
Marjoram isn’t fatal to dogs, but it is toxic and leads to gut irritation, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Parsley seems innocent enough. It can be beneficial in small quantities and is a good source of vitamin C. However, the herb is a source of furanocoumarin, can cause problems in dogs with kidney problems and should never be given to pregnant bitches.
Spinach and kale are a source of oxalic acid and can increase the risk of kidney stones in dogs as well as reduce absorption of calcium from the diet.
Yucca is a source of saponins and can cause vomiting and diarrhoea because it irritates the gut. Chia and quinoa are also rich in saponin. Chia can also lead to intestianl blockages.
Now imagine what can happen when a pet food contains not one but several of the above ingredients? Even though some can be used in very small quantities, it does not make them less harmful. Remember that the toxic effects can build up over time and only appear when the problem is already quite serious.
So please, always check the tiny writing on your dog food label. It may take time to go through the whole list (I advocate basic foods, with a limited number of ingredients – it’s simple, it’s less likely to harm), but once you do you will learn, remember and avoid mistakes in the future. For your dog’s sake.
Also remember that all reputable ingredient supplies and pet food companies should be registered with PFMA. Is your dog food brand listed there? Worth a look.
If you want to be thorough it is worth checking any alerts and reports on food recalls too.
If you need more information, there are pages and pages covering dog nutrition and specific ingredients in my books, Perfect cocker spaniel and Beyond the Doughnut.