When Too Good is Bad...
From the desk of Mogens Eliasen - first published: May 12, 2007
An element of feeding that is often overlooked is the question about making the food easy for our dogs to eat and digest. We would, out of simple care for our dogs, want "the best" for them. But there are unpleasant long-term consequences of not challenging them, also on a daily basis, and also when it comes to food and feeding... The problem is equivalent to the problem we experience ourselves, for instance in the area of transportation: when it is easier to drive a car than taking the bicycle or walk, we do not get the exercise. We will then have to look for other ways of keeping our bodies in shape - which most people fail to do. The health consequences are well-known. Dogs are the same. The will naturally accept the pathway of least resistance - and the effects can be devastating, if we ignore them and do not compensate for them.
An element of feeding that is often overlooked is the question about making the food easy for our dogs to eat and digest. We would, out of simple care for our dogs, want "the best" for them. But there are unpleasant long-term consequences of not challenging them, also on a daily basis, and also when it comes to food and feeding...
The problem is equivalent to the problem we experience ourselves, for instance in the area of transportation: when it is easier to drive a car than taking the bicycle or walk, we do not get the exercise. We will then have to look for other ways of keeping our bodies in shape - which most people fail to do. The health consequences are well-known.
Dogs are the same. The will naturally accept the pathway of least resistance - and the effects can be devastating, if we ignore them and do not compensate for them.
Can food be too good to be good?
The answer is "yes".
It is a well-documented scientific fact that physiological processes obey Nature's fundamental rule, "use it - or lose it". We all know how this applies to muscle strength. But it also applies to endocrine processes, such as production of hormones and enzymes, used for all kinds of important body functions. The classic example is Cortisone, an adrenal hormone that is successfully synthesized and used as medication. It is known to reduce the pain and irritation of many joint problems and thus support the healing of an inflamed joint. This makes it a powerful medicine against "tennis elbows", for instance. But the use is subject to a serious warning: if you take this hormone from external sources for too long (= a few months), the adrenal glands will shut down the body's own production, possibly forever. And with that goes also the production of a whole bunch of other important and related chemicals that are not included in the synthetic version of this hormone, but certainly in the production of the adrenal glands...
In other words, the body is lazy. And it does not want to work, if you do the work for it. But it does not understand that humans can isolate and produce just a single component of a complex biochemical production. So, it will shut down its own complete production of related chemicals, when continuously exposed to just one of the output components of that production.
For those who want to know the background of this, it is a natural consequence of the fundamental chemical mass-balance law, which is as fundamental as gravity and Newton's laws. Even though you might not fully understand it, you serve yourself best by not disputing it.... But who would dispute Newton's laws?
Let's look at some of the possible consequences of it, as they relate to food and feeding.
Examples of important nutrients that do damage when in oversupply
The Calcium/Phosphorous balance is well-known to be important for dogs. It is unfortunately less well known that what matters for this balance is not the ratio of Calcium atoms to Phosphorous atoms in the food - which is what we can measure with relatively inexpensive chemical analysis (and find in all kinds of public reports and tables). The details are explained in the article "Balancing the Calcium/Phosphorous ratio in a raw diet for dogs". The conclusion of that article is that adding too much Calcium in the form that is available for the body to easily absorb will block the uptake of other minerals - and cause serious deficiencies of those! The dog's body needs the Calcium in a form that does not provide a huge concentration in the stomach of free Calcium ions, but a steady supply in a low concentration. This is exactly the case when Calcium is supplied from bones, where the Calcium is strongly bonded to phosphates in the bone structure that does not dissolve spontaneously in the stomach.
So, Calcium is essential, but too much easily available Calcium is dangerous.
Vitamin A is another well-known example of a life-sustaining nutrient that turns toxic when present in too large quantities. Although those "too large quantities" are much higher than what anyone can achieve through any kind of sensible feeding regime, it is technically possible to kill with vitamin A. More details and further references are available from "The Dangerous Vitamin A". Modern research suggests that we can expect similar effects of just about any other synthetic vitamin added in large quantities, way above the natural supply levels.
Again, vitamin A is required - but too much can kill.
Water is a surprising example for most people. But it nevertheless remains a fact that ingestion of too much water will lead to death in less than half an hour. All it takes to achieve this fatal result is that the human body is forced to ingest two days' need of water in less than 30 minutes. Fortunately, we have strong natural mechanisms in place that will stop this from happening on a volunteer basis, but this is a documented method to kill...
Even water, one of life's most important necessities, is deadly when consumed in too large amounts...
When food is too easy to eat....
For people who have seen a wolf pack work on a kill, it is easy to appreciate the enormous amounts of energy going into the tearing and chewing processes that are part of turning a prey into food. Also dogs that are given a whole piece of meat or tripe, or a large bone, will show behaviors that are quite a physical challenge, to put it mildly. Serious exercise for jaws, paws, and neck!
It should be quite obvious that a dog that never uses those muscles, because it is fed ground food that requires no tearing, no chewing, and no physical work at all, will experience a deterioration of those muscles in a matter of just months. At this point, it will no longer be capable of eating a meal that call for the use of those muscles...
A human parallel is often found from alcoholics who literally eat very little food - they get most of their energy needs covered by the alcoholic beverages they consume. A classic result is that their teeth completely degenerate.
A less obvious example: cooking
Cooking is most likely a relevant candidate for the same kid of effect here. Although no specific research has been done to specifically document this effect of cooking, it is a fact beyond dispute that cooking to some degree does the same to food as enzyme digestion does: it breaks large complex molecules down into smaller fragments. Some of those fragments are identical to some of those generated through natural digestion, typically through enzyme activity, and others are not. For more details on this, please refer to the article "Why Cooking of Dog Food Can Cause Allergies and Malnourishment...". But it remains an important question to ask, "what about those enzymes we make redundant by serving a cooked diet?" Nature's fundamental rule says that such production will go lost, when there is no use for it.
Is this an acceptable outcome? I think not...
First, cooked foods have long been known to contain fewer valuable nutrients than raw food, simply because the heating process destroys a lot of natural molecules, as already mentioned. It is a double-edged sword: makes some nutrients more easily available, but destroys others. Pottenger's legendary cats provide an outstanding and well-documented example that does not need to be repeated, except for dummies that are ignorant to the information already available. Even though we now have some chemistry to support our understanding of what at least some of those critical chemicals are, it is blatantly naive to think that we know them all. "Fortifying" cooked foods with the destroyed known nutrients is a Band-aid, at best, not a cure.
But the other aspect that is more relevant for this discussion is what happens to those enzymes that now no longer are required in the digestion process.
As per Nature's rule, the body will lose its ability to produce them. This, in turn, means that these dogs will no longer be capable of digesting raw foods, as they should.... And, the longer we keep them on artificial foods, the worse it becomes.
Could this be a reason for all the many cases of IBS (= Irritable Bowel Syndrome) we observe in dogs shifted from a kibble-diet to a raw diet? I seriously believe so, although other factors cannot be excluded to also have an influence, such a genetics, and possibly vaccination and poisoning. But this is the only way we can explain that IBS did not exist among dogs 50-60 years ago. It is a completely modern phenomenon, I have never heard of it for dogs that have been fed raw food all their lives, and kibble is 100% cooked....
We all need glucose, a simple carbohydrate, for energy. Dogs are no exception. But dogs are not naturally dependent on the glucose coming from more complex carbohydrates, primarily from vegetable matter. They have excellent internal processes available that will convert fats and proteins into glucose, even at a scale that is sufficient to supply enough energy for a hunting wolf even months after its last meal!
Truly amazing. There is no way any human could maintain a high level of physical activity without external supplies of carbohydrates at least within the last couple of days...
But what happens to these processes and the enzymes that take care of them if/when we feed a dog with food that contains an over-abundance of 2/3 carbohydrates, compared to the extremely sporadic amounts of carbohydrates in the wolf's natural diet?
Well, Nature's rule is brutal: "use it or lose it"...
But that's not all. When we replace the main fraction of the diet's natural protein and fat with carbohydrates, we not only destroy the processes that are required for digesting fat and protein and for converting those into glucose for fuel; we also stress the functions in the body that are required for dealing with such a huge, unnatural amounts of carbohydrate!
One of those is the pancreas's production of Insulin. Dogs are not naturally equipped with a pancreas that is particularly powerful at producing Insulin. They never had a need for that, during evolution or domestication. Increasing the body's demands for Insulin 10-100 times above a natural level is doomed to have consequences.
Is this a possible reason for all the cases we now see of diabetes in dogs, a disease that was unheard of for canines 50 years ago?
Although this isn't "proof", it is something that should be researched and proved "highly unlikely" before anyone should dare to recommend feeding dogs with a diet that consists of 2/3 carbohydrate... The onus of proof is not on Nature. It is on those who want to deviate from her rules.
Our brilliant all-knowing science
This really wouldn't be too bad if our modern knowledge of nutrition truly was as complete and trustworthy as claimed by the pet food manufacturers. Assuming this knowledge to be "as good as Nature", would imply that those employed scientists really knew "everything that is worth knowing". This, in turn, would mean that there would be no reason to continue research. So why are all those scientists still employed? Is that just to spare them for having to support their families through some other activities? Or could it possibly be because Nature actually is too complicated for us to have a complete picture yet?
Well, if you ask any reputable scientist, you will get the answer that research might provide answers to some of our questions, but for each answer, we are also faced with a multitude of new questions.
In other words: we do not know everything we need to know in order to provide a fully artificial man-made replacement of what Nature designed as an adequate food for our dogs.
This, in turn, implies that any unnatural diet has a likelihood of 100% of being deficient in multiple ways, compared to what Nature designed. And we will not even know how to identify or measure those deficiencies... And this goes regardless of what kind of match we possibly could obtain between chemical analyses of natural food compared to man-made food. Analytical chemistry is limited to the questions you know to ask - and to your budget. It does not answer the questions you did not ask.
The conclusion of this is that we are arrogant beyond blasphemy by assuming that we can create an artificial food for our dogs that is as good as a natural food, no matter how much science we throw behind it.
How genetics make it worse
If the commercial man-made foods were so bad that our dogs would get ill and die in a matter of months when fed such unnatural foods, we would not have a problem. People would learn the lesson and abandon such large-scale irresponsible experimenting with our dogs' health.
Unfortunately, those foods are not that bad.... The effects are not obvious to the individual owner. They come sneaking in with time - many years later. This makes it very difficult, for layfolks as well as scientists, to establish a simple correlation between the enormously increased vet bills and the general deterioration of our dogs' health and life expectancy - and the crappy foods we feed.
And, in the meantime, the bomb continues to tick underneath us....
We breed our dogs, and we already have an extremely limited gene pool, because of all kinds of self-imposed restrictions that rarely have anything to do with health. And we select the breeding pairs on a whole bunch of criteria that have absolutely nothing to do with the ability of these dogs to digest natural food well! We simply don't test it - because very few breeders feed a natural diet.
The consequence of this is that those properties will go lost!
At the same token, we failed to invent a worthy substitute for natural food. The net result is that the health of our dogs deteriorates systematically because this kind of ignorant breeding - and it will get more and more challenging to reverse this trend, the longer we let the damage perpetrate throughout our breeds!
The result is that we destroy the health of your dogs, and we systematically destroy our possibilities of making good again on the damage we are doing. Genes that are gone lost are like dinosaurs: extinct. And "extinct" means forever.
A very heavy price indeed to pay for believing in commercial advertising instead of listening to Nature.
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