There is no doubt, that our dogs are meat eaters. Dogs have the digestive system of carnivores. This makes their digestion completely different than ours, even though many of us do so enjoy a juicy steak more often than not. Since dogs historically don’t cook their food, their digestive system is made to deal with the benefits and disadvantages of raw food. Dogs cannot chew as well as we can, their jaw does not move sideways and their teeth are made to rip off flesh of a bone. If you have a dog, you may have noticed that often they do not take the time to work their food in tiny pieces – instead they literally ‘wolf’ down as big parts as they possibly can. This may well be an explanation why they only have about 1,700 taste buds as compared to our whooping 9,000! Cats, who are true carnivores, have even less – they have to make do with just about 470. The dog’s saliva acts as lubricant and helps them to swallow big pieces of food. It also lacks the enzyme which helps us breaking down our food already while we chew. Once the food reaches the stomach, a very strong gastric acid helps process it. The gastric acid of a raw fed dog is normally stronger than ours and is partially the reason, why bacteria on food such as salmonella are not as big an issue with healthy dogs as it is with us. In the wild, dogs don’t only eat fresh kill but also food that has been laying around for quite a while. In fact, many dogs bury their food and eat it a couple of days later. I have observed my dogs doing that – not something for our noses, that’s for sure!
Dogs have a very short digestive system. It takes about 8 hours for them to digest food whereas we need between 24 and 72 hours. Their large intestines are only about 8 inches to 2.6 feet long, depending on the size of the dog, where as ours is about 4.9 feet long. When you look at true herbivores, such as cows and goats, theirs are even longer. Plant matter is much more difficult to break down and does take more time. And it makes sense to pass food that may rot, like raw meat, through the system much faster, while plants are less delicate.
So, is a dog strictly a meat eater? While meat should be the main ingredient in a dog’s diet, our canines absolutely benefit from different food sources. Many dogs like fruits, such as berries, apples or bananas. Leafy foods, such as herbs and veggies should be prepared in a food processor, frozen or blanched to make them adjusted for a dog’s digestive system. Feeding raw meat to healthy dogs can be great for them, but you may have to be extra cautious when handling it as we are more susceptible to things like salmonella. Dogs can lead healthy and long lives without being fed raw meat, but given their digestive system, they are made for it. Ultimately, it will depend on what you are comfortable with feeding your dog. And there is nothing wrong with that.