NZ dog diet study a wake-up call for animal nutrition

Embargoed until: Publicly released:
Dog owners can improve the wellbeing of their canine companions by serving up a high meat diet rather than the “human-like” fare favoured by many, a new study shows.

Journal/conference: Life, Bio and Health Sciences

Organisation/s: AgResearch, Massey University

Funder: New Zealand Premium Petfood Alliance

Media Release

From: AgResearch

Dog owners can improve the wellbeing of their canine companions by serving up a high meat diet rather than the “human-like” fare favoured by many, a new study shows.

The independent New Zealand study – only the second of its kind in the world – found the high meat diet is easier for dogs to digest, means more nutrients are able to be absorbed, and resulted in higher levels of bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion.

These higher levels of bacteria demonstrated a dog’s gut is biologically designed to digest a diet high in meat.

Led by AgResearch and Massey University, and co-funded by the New Zealand Premium Petfood Alliance (a collaboration between leading NZ Petfood manufacturers Bombay Petfoods, K9 Natural and ZiwiPeak) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment through the Outcomes for Science Targeted Research Fund, the study also shows there may have been too much reliance on research into the diets of humans or other animals in the past when it comes to the best diet for dogs.

“We already know dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates in their diet, so this study looked at the role different bacteria play in a dog’s digestion system to help us work toward a clearer picture of what the optimum diet for dogs is,” said study co-lead Dr Emma Bermingham of AgResearch.

“Understanding how bacteria works in the gut is vital because of its links to digestion, diseases such as obesity, and even how it affects mood and behaviour.”

The study found:

-High meat diets are more digestible for dogs
-More nutrients from a high meat diet are able to be absorbed
-Dogs on a high meat diet had higher levels of the bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion
-Dogs on a high meat diet had smaller poo and better fecal health

Study co-lead Associate Professor David Thomas of Massey University said finding high levels of the bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion was particularly exciting as it demonstrated that a dog’s gut is biologically designed to digest high meat diets.

“Up until now science has looked at studies on nutrient digestion in human, mice and rats and assumed the same is true for dogs in terms of digestion and what is good and bad bacteria in the gut. This study shows this may not the case and much more needs to be done to understand the digestive system of dogs and the long-term health consequences of feeding different diets.”

New Zealand Premium Petfood Alliance spokesperson Neil Hinton said the study findings support the view the pet food manufactures behind the Alliance have been advocating for a long time.

“While dogs are considered members of the family, they are carnivores so shouldn’t be fed a humanised diet containing high levels of carbohydrates. The study supports our long-held view that dogs need to be fed a high meat, low carbohydrate diet best suited to their biological makeup.”

Mr Hinton said there is growing interest from pet owners about biologically appropriate diets that lead to healthier and happier pets.

“To date there has been hardly any published research, so this study is a significant contribution to the international animal nutrition field. A lot of diets on the market have been designed to ensure a dog survives, but this research shows that high meat diet is the best to help a dog thrive.”

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