Are you sick of conflicting information about plants in a raw diet?
Nothing is more confusing to raw feeders than the debate over fruits and vegetables in a dog’s diet.
The raw feeding community agrees on the exclusion of grains in a canine raw diet. But they’re divided when it comes to the use of plants. And this is where the raw feeding ideologies take different paths.
Do dogs need fruits and vegetables for optimal health?
Most commercial pet food companies and “BARF diet” raw feeders believe fruits and vegetables belong in a dog’s diet. But “Prey Model” feeders advocate as carnivores, dogs have no need for plant matter.
Let’s get to the bottom of this debate right now.
Why This Post Has Changed
It was long overdue for an update.
The previous version no longer supported what I believe today.
What’s more, it left out important pieces out of the puzzle. Pieces you need to make an educated decision about fruits and veggies in your dog’s raw diet.
Today you’ll learn:
- Viewpoints from both sides
- New research to consider
- Tests to determine if plants make your dog healthier
Once you know all the facts, you can make better decisions about which ingredients to include in your dog’s diet.
First, let’s tackle the age-old question.
Do Dogs Need Fruits and Vegetables?
Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates along with other foods like:
Because fruits and vegetables are the healthiest choice in the carbohydrate category, this leads dog owners to question:
“Do dogs need fruits and vegetables?”
It’s important we emphasize need. This has nothing to do with your dog’s preference for plants. Or, if feeding fruits and vegetables makes you feel better.
What we’re asking is:
- Do dogs need fruits and vegetables to survive?
- Are carbohydrates required for good canine health?
The answer is NO.
Both the National Research Council and the Association of American Feed Control Officials confirmed this.
- In a 2006 committee on Animal Nutrition, the NRC confirmed dogs have no nutritional requirements for carbohydrates.
- In their 2010 Pet Food Nutrient Profiles, the AAFCO concluded carbohydrates are not essential to a healthy canine diet.
- Leading canine nutrition textbooks agree as well.
This makes sense. As facultative carnivores, dogs don’t have a physiological requirement for carbohydrates.
NOTE: See this free eBook for a complete discussion on the classification of animals and whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores.
But can plants play a role in supplementation?
Many in the industry believe so. Today, information suggests plants can be a healthful addition to the modern dog’s diet.
Let me explain.
The Canine Ancestral Diet
Ancestral nutrition is the premise of a raw diet.
It’s modeled after what your dog’s ancestors ate in the wild. Since your dog is a descendant of the wolf, raw diets are based on the natural diet of the wolf.
While this is the foundation of a raw diet, it splits into two opinionated groups of thought:
This approach tries to mimic the wolf’s diet as close as possible. Prey Model feeders do not approve of:
- Heavy supplementation
- Plant matter (herbs, fruits, and vegetables)
- Or anything they feel is not species appropriate.
This is a flexible approach to raw feeding with a focus on what works for domestic dogs today. While BARF is modeled off the wolf’s diet, BARF feeders choose to improve upon a raw diet by including:
- Plant material: fruits, vegetables, herbs
- Additional supplements
- And even dairy
BARF supporters feel a strict Prey Model approach limits the potential of a dog’s diet. What’s more, it doesn’t take into account the nutritional landscape of modern day.
Most raw feeding debates stem from these two opinions. So let’s hear them.
What Do Wolves Eat?
Through scientific study, we’re certain wolves are classified as carnivores and are hunters and scavengers.
Carnivores survive on other animals, consuming:
- Muscle meat
- Edible bones
- Organs and offal
- Connective tissues
- Skin, hide and fur
Here’s where it gets tricky:
Some wolves eat plant matter and some don’t, which has created an open debate on the topic. This plant material in question includes:
- Fruits (like berries, apples, and pears)
- Other leafy vegetables
- Some nut and seeds
The Dispute Over Plant Based Foods in a Wolf’s Diet
Prey Model supporters claim plant based foods are not natural food items. What’s more, they’re of no interest to wolves.
They cite renowned wolf researcher, David L. Mech.
In Mech’s Book “Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation,” he states:
“Wolves usually tear into the body cavity of large prey and … consume the larger internal organs, such as lungs, heart, and liver. The large rumen is usually punctured during removal and its contents spilled. The vegetation in the intestinal tract is of no interest to the wolves, but the stomach lining and intestinal wall are consumed, and their contents further strewn about the kill site.”
“To grow and maintain their own bodies, wolves need to ingest all the major parts of their herbivorous prey, except the plants in the digestive system.”
BARF supporters claim the opposite:
Wolves choose to eat plant material to supplement their diet. Plants are scavenged from their natural environment. Or, they’re obtained through the predigested plants within their prey’s stomach.
There’s research to back up these claims as well.
In “The diet of feral carnivores: a review of stomach content analysis” both Landry and Van Ruining state:
“The staple diet of carnivores living in a natural setting includes other animals, carrion, and occasionally fruits and grasses
And from Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution by Coppinger R, Coppinger L, the following is said:
“Scraps of meat, bones, pieces of carcass, rotten greens and fruit, fish guts, discarded seed and grains, animals guts and head…”
In “What a wolf eats: research on wild candids can help inform dietary planning for dogs,” Puotinen can be found saying:
“Their preference is freshly killed meat, but when that’s not available, they’ll eat anything that could remotely be considered edible”
And now we circle back to David L Mech. In the same book quoted earlier, he says:
“Perhaps because of the greater availability of fruit, wolves in the southern portions of Eurasia may feed on plant material more extensively than those in North America…. Fruit may provide vitamins for wolves in the summer, as even in North America it is not uncommon to find seeds from raspberries….”
“It also feeds on all the other animals in it’s environment, scavenges, and can even eat fruits and berries”
“Because wolves may consume fruits such as berries, sweet taste receptors would be adaptive…”
Closing the Plant Based Food Argument
Both parties’ arguments hold some weight. Research findings support that some wolves eat plants and some don’t.
The natural diet of the wolf varies and may depend on factors like:
- Availability and vulnerability of prey in the area
A single strict diet for all wolves does not exist.
If both sides were present, they’d bicker over the reasons for plant consumption. It’s not worth hearing out; we won’t ever know why wolves choose to add plant-based foods to their diet.
- Is it food scarcity?
- Do plants settle an upset stomach?
- On an instinctual level, is the animal is seeking out extra nutrients?
Let’s move on to the next series of arguments.
Can Dogs Digest Plants?
Many question if dogs are efficient at digesting and absorbing nutrients from plants. This leads to the following claims and rebuttals:
Prey Model Argument: “Dogs Are Inefficient at Digesting Plant-Based Foods”
Dogs have a short, simple, and acidic GI tract.
Passing foods with high pathogen loads through the digestive system quickly. Often, this digestive expressway causes food to exit looking similar to how it entered.
This raises the questions:
- If plants are not fully digested – are the vitamins, minerals and enzymes being absorbed?
- If nutrient absorption is sub par, why include these ingredients?
Because dogs are inefficient at digesting plants, BARF feeders puree fruits and vegetables. Prey Model feeders disagree with this practice. They believe foods that must be predigested before feeding are not natural food items.
BARF Feeders: “Dogs Benefit From Predigested Plants In Their Prey’s Stomach”
BARF Feeders agree:
Dogs have a carnivore’s digestive tract. Their internal piping is inefficient at breaking down a plant’s tough cell wall.
BARF feeders puree fruits and veggies before giving them to their dogs. Why?
- It mimics the the predigested plant matter within a prey animal’s stomach
- It make fruit and veggies easier to digest
Now, we may never 100% replicate the plant material in a prey animal’s stomach. It’s chewed, mixed with amylase and other enzymes, contains probiotics, and other beneficial bacteria.
But we can do our best.
More importantly, by pureeing plant material, we assist in breaking down the tough cell wall of the plant to make it easier for our dogs to digest. This may not be a perfect approach but it’s a good start.
BARF feeders believe the gut content of prey animals is not inconsequential.
Instead, it’s important to the health of the modern dog. Plants provide beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and phytonutrients not found in meat.
Prey Model Argument: “Dogs don’t have salivary amylase”
Dogs lack salivary amylase. It’s responsible for breaking down carbs and starches before they enter the stomach.
Prey Model feeders claim:
Salivary amylase handles the majority of starch digestion. And dogs lack the specific bacteria that aids in the break down of cellulose and starch.
BARF Argument: “Dogs have more copies of the amylase gene than wolves”
BARF Feeders understand dogs lack salivary amylase.
But they point out:
Dogs produce the enzyme later in the body through the pancreas and small intestine. And what’s interesting is dogs have a greater amylase capability than wolves do.
A study concluded:
- Wolves had 2 copies of the gene responsible for the production of amylase
- But domestic dogs had a range of 4 to 30 copies of that gene.
The research also indicated dogs produced a different type of maltase gene from the wolf. FYI, Maltese is another carbohydrate digesting enzyme.
What does this mean?
Some breeds may be genetically better adapted to digest starch than others.
Prey Model Argument: “Fruits and Vegetables Are Hard On A Dog’s Pancreas”
Many Prey Model advocates claim:
Fruits and vegetables are difficult for a dog’s digestive system to break down. The pancreas has to work hard to produce amylase to aid in the digestion of those foods.
Over time, the pancreas can become overworked, inflamed, or worn out. This can result in illnesses such as diabetes and pancreatitis.
BARF Argument: “Fruits and Vegetables DO NOT Harm the Pancreas”
According to many raw feeders, this is a myth.
The original source of the information is unknown. Plus, there are no studies or research to back up the claim. Just the opposite, the starch study above indicates dogs have evolved to be able to digest plant material.
Rather, this is an assumption. It’s based on the differences in a carnivore’s digestive system, not fact.
Pet nutrition blogger and filmmaker, Rodney Habib, has attempted to bust this myth. Not only has he interviewed the world’s top researchers, he’s met with owners of the oldest living pets in the world.
What they ALL had in common had been: diversity in their diets.
And renowned veterinarian and raw feeding supporter, Dr. Karen Becker agrees. Habib relays her response in the following quote from this video:
“If vegetables, let’s say hypothetically, were hurting a dog’s pancreas…Purina would be responsible for death by pancreatitis of 20 billion animals on the planet just from the vegetable content they put in their foods.”
“It makes total sense:
“96% of the world’s population feeds processed food. And we know that a huge category required to put these processed foods together are vegetable/starch components. (Now, I’m not saying those are good and of course, we know what starches can do for cancer…).
But dogs would be dying in exponential rates of pancreatitis all over the world if vegetables were destroying dog’s pancreases.”
The “Plant Digestion” Argument Summarized: It Can Depend on YOUR Dog
Dog’s are individuals, like us.
Each dog handles ingredients in a fresh food diet in a different manner.
For example, in the starch study we discussed earlier:
- Certain dogs resembled the limited starch capabilities of the Wolf
- Others showed the potential for a much greater capacity.
The truth is:
Some dogs do better with more plant material in their diets and some don’t.
And as a dog owner, that’s for you to figure out.
How? Don’t subscribe to one side’s arguments and remain blind to the other. Read, research, and test.
The good news:
We have more research to inform us and it’s changing what we’ve always thought as raw feeders.
An Interview With Rodney Habib
Rodney is a pet nutrition blogger.
He’s traveled all over globe interviewing the world’s top experts on diet and nutrition. Rodney has met with 100s of canine and human health experts on a variety of topics.
I knew he’d bring some fascinating research to the table so we sat down for an informal mind jam.
But first, I want to share how Rodney started his raw journey.
Believe it or not, Rodney began as a Prey Model feeder. He switched to BARF after he started analyzing his dog’s diets. What he found was they were deficient in several key nutrients.
Around the same time, he was also treating one of his dogs for cancer. Despite help from the best minds in the raw feeding and natural health communities…
Those darn tumors kept growing.
Once Rodney set out on a quest for answers from the world’s leading researchers, he learned the benefits of plants to fill in the gaps in today’s foods.
Today, Rodney is still an avid raw feeder and provides his dogs a meat-based diet. But now he enlists the help of plant material and other fresh foods as supplementation
Update: Rodney has not only halted, but reversed the cancer in his dog. He mentions it here.
The moral of the story
We’re always learning new things about nutrition. Never stop testing, analyzing, experimenting and learning with your dog’s diet.
Let’s review the research Rodney shared. It might help guide you on the matter of fruits and vegetables in your dog’s diet.
The Purdue Study
In 2005, Purdue University conducted a study using fresh vegetables in canine diets. The goal was to see how they affected incidences of bladder cancer in dogs.
Using Scottish terriers, one group received only dry kibble. The other group received dry kibble plus different vegetables 3 times per week.
The results were shocking.
Dogs that ate green leafy vegetables had reduced the risk of developing bladder cancer by 90%. And dogs that consumed yellow or orange colored veggies reduced their risk by 70%.
Poor Farming Practices & Soil Depletion
Conventionally raised animal proteins are coming up short today. CAFO and factory farmed animals:
- Live in dark, tiny and unsanitary conditions where diseases spread rapidly
- Are loaded with chemicals, drugs, antibiotics, and hormones
- Don’t receive enough sunlight. They lack vitamin D which helps with immunity and other biological processes
- Eat unnatural foods
- Have an imbalance of omega 6 and 3 fatty acids contributing to inflammation in the body
This creates nutritionally weakened food sources.
And it’s hard to avoid; 99% of farm animals in the US are raised on factory farms.
What’s more, the soil is depleted too.
Modern, intense agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil.
Crops grown decades ago (and the animals that ate them) were much richer in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients than the varieties most of us get today.
A 2004 study showed “reliable declines in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C over the past half century.”
Luckily, healthier meat and produce options exist today. Like grass-fed, free-range, organic, and non-GMO.
But the truth is:
The best meat and produce options today don’t compare to their counterparts 50 years ago. And the same foods can be like night in day in nutrient content. For example, the nutrition in a chicken breast can vary from state, region, and even country.
Don’t panic, the point is:
While there’s no such thing as a perfect diet, you must understand the limitations in today’s foods and adjust for it.
According to Steve Brown, renowned dog nutrition expert:
“Vegetables provide essential nutrients, including fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Without plant matter providing those nutrients, an all-meat diet would need supplements.
Nutritional analysis can show where any homemade raw diet is falling short. Though is seems as if more and more dog owners and experts are pointing out greater deficiencies in meat-only diets.
In this article, Brown cites beef and bone-in chicken recipes with and without vegetables. In the chart included, you can see the nutritional deficiencies.
The bottom line:
Dogs are carnivores and should eat a meat-based diet. But plant foods are helping raw feeders to fill in the gaps in their raw diets today.
Inside an animal’s intestinal tract lives trillions of diverse microorganisms. They help with:
- Protect the body from harmful bacteria
- Influence immune response
- And do tons of other amazing things.
We call this “ecosystem” of bacteria the microbiome.And researchers are learning it has a lot to do with health, immunity and longevity.
Research has determined:
Humans and animals living the longest today have double the gut bacteria in their bodies.
Some forms of gut bacteria can even help prevent disease. Researchers triggered obesity in lab rats by eradicating four species of gut bacteria. What’s more, those with health issues like obesity and cancer lack a diversified microbiome.
Here’s something else to consider:
Research is uncovering that the microbiome drives genetic expression. This means it can turn genes on or off depending on which microbes are present.
And we know dogs are the animals most prone to genetic disorders. Thanks to excessive inbreeding.
Research also suggests the microbiome may be one of the preeminent factors determining longevity.
The big takeaway:
Diet is key. It’s about more than getting specific nutrients from food…
A healthy diet improves the quality of the gut bacteria and supports a healthy microbiome.
This leads us back to fruits and vegetables.
Did you know specific microbes specialize in fermenting soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables? The byproducts from this fermentation activity help nourish the cells lining the colon. And they can help prevent inflammatory disorders as well.
Your dog’s diet can make or break their microbiome.
Foods that help the microbiome flourish are:
- Raw foods
- Fermented foods
- Foods high in fiber
- Nuts and seeds
Foods that impair the microbiome are:
- Processed foods
- Meats from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs)
- Foods high in sugar
- GMO foods
Again, this doesn’t mean we should avoid meat. Dogs are facultative carnivores and are built to consume a meat-based diet. But plant material can increase the microbiome diversity of our pets. And according to research, this could prevent or reduce the likelihood of:
- Genetic disorders
- Lead to stronger immunity
- And a longer life.
From a biological perspective, the role of any animal is perpetuating their genes.
It may seem grim but cell replication, reproduction and death is what we’re designed to do. We exist to ensure our species lives on in the next generation.
To achieve longevity then:
We must understand these cellular processes and look to slow down cell manipulation.
It stands for the mammalian target of rapamycin. Let’s break this down:
- Mammalian – happens in the body of mammals
- TOR – it’s a “nutrient-sensitive, central controller of cell growth and aging.”
MTOR is one of the most important nutrient-signaling pathways in the body of mammals. This is what you need to know:
- It’s implicated in many diseases like cancer.
- Stimulating the mTOR pathway promotes growth– including cancer cell growth – rather than regeneration.
- mTOR activation inhibits cellular and mitochondrial autophagy.
It means “self-eating.” And it refers to the process you or your dog’s body uses to clean and destroy:
- Damaged cells and mitochondria
- Decreases inflammation
- Slows down the aging process
- Optimizes biological functions
“Greater autophagy taking place in tissue should mean fewer damaged and disarrayed cells at any given moment in time, which in turn should translate to a longer-lasting organism.”
How do we boost autophagy?
Experts recommend a ketogenic diet – high fat, moderate protein and low carb. This helps to avoid activating mTOR.
Eating more protein than the body requires will stimulate mTOR. This can speed up the aging process and increase the risk for cancer and other diseases. When protein is limited to only what the body needs, mTOr remains inhibited. Obviously, protein needs are animal-specific. Dogs will require more protein than people will.
It’s also wise to restrict non-fiber carbs. These are the sugary and starchy heavy foods that quickly convert to sugar in the body.
But fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, along with increasing healthy fats can be beneficial. These foods do not carry negative metabolic effects.
The main takeaway:
Macronutrient (protein, carbs, fat) manipulation can help activate or inhibit mTor.
For a healthy dog, this might not be a much of a concern. But dogs with cancer and other health concerns may benefit from macronutrient manipulation. This often includes adjusting the plant content of their diets.
Making Sense of Everything
Don’t stop feeding meat.
Your dog is a carnivore and should consume a meat-based diet. This article exists only to share the thoughts and opinions on fruits and veggies in a raw diet today.
More and more dog owners are choosing to supplements with plants to:
- Provide a greater variety of nutrients
- Fill the gaps in today’s foods
- Increase the diversity of the microbiome
- Help to slow aging
- Assist in preventing or slowing illness and disease, especially cancer.
Do You Recommend a Prey Model (no plants) Diet?
Yes, I support all forms of raw diets.
I used to feed Prey Model so I have a ton of respect for the approach and the philosophy behind it. What I disagree with though is a strong stance against plant matter.
No single, strict ancestral diet exists. We have enough data to make a conclusion that wolves scavenge for plant material in the wild. Even if that amount is small.
But I do agree:
Even without plants, Prey Model diets can be complete, balanced, and nutrient dense. Plus, they’re unarguably authentic.
The problem I notice is that some raw feeders can’t locate or afford enough variety in the diet. They tend to feed:
- 1-2 protein sources
- A narrow or select grouping of muscle meats, edible bone, and organs.
Over time nutritional deficiencies may creep in.
Wolves in the wild consume a vast range of nutrients even if they eat the same prey (or protein sources) all the time. They devour 90-95% of a prey animal including:
- Fur, hide, or feathers for fiber
- Eyes, brains, tongue and other random parts
- Just about all organs and glands (more than the typical raw feeder provides)
It’s difficult to replicate this at home. Some of the best examples of a varied Prey Model diet come from those who feed whole prey. Whether it’s purchased or hunted. But hunting and whole prey feeding isn’t for everyone…
Don’t get me wrong:
Plenty of people excel at feeding Prey Model. They’re a dedicated bunch that provides an impressive variety of foods for their dogs.
It’s possible to give your dog everything they need with a Prey Model diet. But not all raw feeders succeed at this. Prey Model diets are for the dedicated. It’s for the people who can afford, locate, and get this kind of variety.
Consider using cold, hard facts to help you make a decision.
Test Your Dogs Diet With and Without Fruits and Vegetables.
Use data to come to a conclusion, instead of assumptions.
If you’re a Prey Model feeder, test your dog on their normal diet. Then try a BARF diet and test your dog again. The same goes for BARF feeders.
Compare and see which diet produces a healthier animal on paper and in person.
Available worldwide, it’s an accurate hair test for mineral deficiencies and toxins. With this test you’ll see what minerals are missing in your dog’s diet and can detect levels of harmful heavy metals.
This a microbiome-screening test that provides detailed and accurate information about gut health. It’s doctor ordered so make sure you ask your vet to request one.
Pet food Analysis
Fire up Google and find a company that can analyze your dog’s homemade raw diet.
Or click here, for a list of pet food testing laboratories in and outside the US. I recommend you contact the lab for pricing and shipping instructions.
Analyze your dog’s homemade raw diet often as you can afford. Maybe that’s quarterly, once a year or every couple of years.
With ingredients coming from different sources – your local grocery store, an online retailer, and a local co-op – it may never be exact.
But nutritional analyses could offer some helpful insight into what your dog is eating day in and day out. You might find some areas you’re falling short that are worth supplementing.
And that could make all the difference in a healthy and long-lived dog.
Now, it’s YOUR Decision
When it comes to fruits and vegetables in raw diet, a winning side may never emerge.
The truth: this stuff is complicated.
But at least you’ve heard both sides of the argument, along with interesting research to consider. With this information, you can come to an unbiased conclusion.
Do what you think is best.
Or better yet, test both approaches and choose the one your dog flourishes on.
One last thing:
Share this with other raw feeders struggling with the same question.
Let’s open up a fresh and objective conversation on the topic. Tell me if you think plants should or should not belong in a canine diet by leaving a comment below.