One More Time: Dogs are not Wolves!

Most everyone knows that dogs are descended from wolves. Anyone who has ever seen a dog and a wolf also knows that more than 10,000 years of active and passive selection by humans has had a dramatic transformative impact on the anatomy and physiology of the dog. Ancestry is not destiny, and the fact that dogs have wolf ancestors does not mean we should think of our pets as wolves or treat them as such.

I have made the point here many times that dogs are not wolves and that the notion of feeding them as if they were wild carnivores is lacking both sound logic and real evidence. A new study adds a small piece of additional evidence to the discussion.

Comparison of the fecal microbiota of wild wolves, dogs fed commercial dry diets and dogs fed raw meat diets. A. Sturgeon, C.M. Jardine, J.S. Weese. University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada.

In this study, the authors looked at the microbial flora of 15 dogs (10 fed commercial kibble and 5 fed a raw meat-based diet) and 10 wild wolves and classified the types and proportions of bacteria present. The flora of the GI tract is a reflection of both the diet and the inherent biology of a species. The findings, not surprisingly, were that the flora of wolves and dogs were quite different. Wolves had a more variable flora than dogs, likely due to a more inconsistent diet. It is worth noting also that feeding dogs a raw meat-based diet did not alter the microbial flora to make it more like that of wolves.

As I have said many times, I don’t believe we have sufficient evidence to make strong claims about what is the optimal diet for dogs overall, much less for individual dogs with their own unique circumstances and needs. Conventional commercial diets are clearly sufficient to avoid obvious nutritional deficiencies, and millions of dogs live health, happy lives eating them. However, it would not surprise me at all to find that changes in these diets, or even a switch to a markedly different way of feeding our canine companions, would improve health and longevity in our pets. Science is a process which is never finished and in which all knowledge is provisional and subject to re-assessment.

However, we do our pets no favor by making dramatic changes in established feeding practices based on unsubstantiated theories or hunches without adequate evidence. As far as raw diets are concerned the theory behind them is weak, and there is currently little evidence concerning their health effects. More work will need to be done before it makes sense to claim these diets have benefits which outweigh their risks. The argument that we should be feeding these diets to our dogs because they are fundamentally wolves inside is not supported by the existing evidence, and it is not a sound reason to experiment with our pets’ health.

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37 Responses to One More Time: Dogs are not Wolves!

  1. Nigel AKA Sandymere says:

    This is an interesting area and this study would seem to link nicely with recent genetic research bringing us nearer to understanding he truth re the evolution of the dog, and ourselves in this shared story, as you say, so far it seem to shows that what they are is not what the were.

  2. Christy says:

    Thank you for posting this. Raw Food dogma seems to be everywhere I look lately. I recently adopted a new dog and found a trainer who uses science-based positive methods. We even watched a video the first day of class detailing why they don’t used dominance-based methods partially because the science it was based on turned out to be faulty. The video itself specifically stated that dogs are NOT wolves. Yet this same trainer pushes raw food while denigrating commercially prepared diets such as Hills.

    I’m also a member of a Facebook group that encourages turning away from dominance-based training and have found the same thing there. They insist on training their pets based on science but hate it when you try and point out how woo-filled their ideas on medicine and nutrition are. I don’t get it. I will probably link this post there, maybe it will help somebody.

  3. kitty says:

    It’d be interesting if someone tried the same experiment with cats e.g. compared them to their closest wildcat relatives like Near Eastern wildcat or European wildcat.

    I also wonder how evolution applies to cat given as for most of the time of their domestication they were mousers in a barn and eating whatever they can catch.

    Mind you, I feed my two tabbies regular cat food given as I’ve not seen any evidence that raw diet is any better. Just curious if anybody plans to do the study on cats.

  4. mocha says:

    I wonder how many of the dogs feed a raw meat diet steal bread or rolls. we have had three dogs in our family) and every single one of them was a bread thief given half a chance (that and paper). also, have those people missed the studies about dogs evolving to digest starch?

  5. “It is worth noting also that feeding dogs a raw meat-based diet did not alter the microbial flora to make it more like that of wolves.”

    one’s bacterial flora is predominantly gained from the dam post-partum
    it would therefore be expected to take a number of generations of exposure to a diet for the resident bacterial population to change significantly.

    “Conventional commercial diets are clearly sufficient to avoid obvious nutritional deficiencies, and millions of dogs live health, happy lives eating them”

    agreed – but the plethora of prescription diets for nutritionally-induced or nutritionally-responsive diseases suggests that they are not leading such healthy lives.
    Either that or prescription foods are con. Both may be true too!

    “The argument that we should be feeding these diets to our dogs because they are fundamentally wolves inside is not supported by the existing evidence”

    Do they not share the same digestive tract structure, the same dental structure, the same fundamental behaviour patterns? (just a bit more accentuated in wolves) One enzymatic difference does not make a carnivore into a grainivore! Of course we have gross phenotypic differences as a result of breeding practices, but I would suggest that feeding a carefully formulated prey-based diet has a lot less “hunch” than a diet of soya protein, maize gluten and the rest.

    Pete

  6. skeptvet says:

    one’s bacterial flora is predominantly gained from the dam post-partum
    it would therefore be expected to take a number of generations of exposure to a diet for the resident bacterial population to change significantly.

    Initially, one’s flora comes from one’s mother. The content of one’s microbiome, including in the gut, at any given time is influenced by genetics, by exposure to the microbiome of other individuals, and by diet (e.g.). So while changing the diet would certainly the gut flora, there is no evidence that changing a dog’s diet to raw food alters the flora in a way that is 1) more like wolves than other domestic dogs or 2) beneficial in any way. This is not something that you can assume or accept just by “common sense” but something you must demonstrate scientifically. The evidence in this study suggests that such a simplistic relationship is probably not true, though the existing research has only scratched the surface of a complex issue.

    the plethora of prescription diets for nutritionally-induced or nutritionally-responsive diseases suggests that they are not leading such healthy lives.

    No, the presence of these diets indicates that ongoing research in nutrition is identifying ways to manage diseases nutritionally. It shows that science is making progress in better understanding how to support health with diet. The fact that we are able to produce diets that, in at least a few cases, clearly improve health is not evidence that commercial diets are unhealthy, and this interpretation only illustrates your own biases.

    prescription foods are con

    In general, I don’t think the evidenc eis very good for many of these diets. But that is due to the same problem exhibited by proponents of raw diets- extrapolation from theory and basic science to actual feeding recommendations without adequate clinical studies.

    Do they not share the same digestive tract structure, the same dental structure, the same fundamental behaviour patterns? (just a bit more accentuated in wolves) One enzymatic difference does not make a carnivore into a grainivore!

    The point is that the evidence suggests multiple significant differences, so the evolutionary relationship and superficial resemblance does not justify the idea that the nutritional needs are the same. We share a close evolutionary relationship and numerous physical similarities with gorillas, but that doesn’t mean a leaf-based diet is optimal for us. The changes due to breeding and the selective factors associated with living with humans for ten thousand years are significant. The similarities are certainly significant as well, but the key to finding the optimal diet is in a thorough, rigorous scientific exploration of the details, not in simply assuming that the similarities matter and the differences don’t.

  7. pete coleshaw says:

    “So while changing the diet would certainly the gut flora, there is no evidence that changing a dog’s diet to raw food alters the flora in a way that is 1) more like wolves than other domestic dogs or 2) beneficial in any way. This is not something that you can assume or accept just by “common sense” but something you must demonstrate scientifically”

    so if our raw-fed dogs have not been exposed to wolves, or dogs with a carnivore’s microbiome, where do they get the bugs from to change their flora? The wolves’ gut microflora will have developed over millenia.

    because something cannot be proven (by double-blinded etc etc) doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – nor that it does happen, as I sure you will agree.

    “No, the presence of these diets indicates that ongoing research in nutrition is identifying ways to manage diseases nutritionally. It shows that science is making progress in better understanding how to support health with diet.”

    now let me be skeptical now. What relevance do you place on industry-funded research? No-one is going to fund research into proving a raw pray diet is a safe and desirable way of feeding a domestic carnivore. So there will never be “scientific” evidence to back up the practical experience of those of us who feed raw.
    Virtually everyone who does nutritional research has been through the industry brainwashing programme.

    “No, the presence of these diets indicates that ongoing research in nutrition is identifying ways to manage diseases nutritionally

    No, it indicates that there is money to be made from prescription/lifestage diets – nothing more. Sure, these diets will manage these diseases – but they have mostly been created to address issues created by the substandard diets the pets have been fed on in the first place. And each ‘alphabet’ diet addresses one specific deficiency or dietary impropriety. For example a ‘dental diet’ may increase dental abrasion – but increases glycaemic carb intake and may pre-dispose to obesity.

  8. skeptvet says:

    so if our raw-fed dogs have not been exposed to wolves, or dogs with a carnivore’s microbiome, where do they get the bugs from to change their flora? The wolves’ gut microflora will have developed over millenia.

    Dogs are exposed to microbes that can colonize the body, both GI tract and elsewhere, all the time from birth onward. The particular population that gets established is influenced by genetics, which microbes they encounter (which means who they are exposed to) and the diet, since specific compounds in the diet can alter the relative numbers of different components in the GI population. The gut flora is enormously complex and poorly understood, but it is at least clear that a large variety of factors combine to determine the particular population in any individual.

    What you are assuming is that somehow having a GI flora more like wolves is better for dogs, which is just a guess, and that feeding raw food will shift the microflora in this direction, which is also just a guess. My point was that you can’t just assume these just because it seems to you like they ought to be true.

    because something cannot be proven (by double-blinded etc etc) doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen – nor that it does happen, as I sure you will agree.

    Right. But until something is scientifically demonstrated, we can have very little confidence in our beliefs about it. Just because something seems like it ought to be true to you doesn’t mean anyone else is obligated to take that claim seriously without evidence. At best, we can say it is unproven, which is what I’m saying. I’m not asserting it is false, only that there is no evidence it is true, but since you are saying it is true, the burden is on you demonstrate this.

    What relevance do you place on industry-funded research? No-one is going to fund research into proving a raw pray diet is a safe and desirable way of feeding a domestic carnivore. So there will never be “scientific” evidence to back up the practical experience of those of us who feed raw.
    Virtually everyone who does nutritional research has been through the industry brainwashing programme.
    This is a common cop out for every therapy not backed by scientific evidence. Sure, industry funding is a source of bias that has to be considered in evaluating the evidence. But a well-controlled, properly designed and conducted study funded by industry is still less biased than haphazard observations by individuals. If you want to make a claim, you need to provide the evidence for anyone else to take that claim seriously. If you can’t afford to generate the research to do so, then the claim has to remain unproven. The fact that nobody wants to invest in studying something may not mean it’s false, but it doesn’t mean it’s true either. No evidence is no evidence regardless of why there isn’t any.

    Besides, the claim that we can’t study these things because there is no money to be made in them simply isn’t true. The pet food industry went from non-existent to ridiculously profitable in a generation, and before that time nobody would have thought people would pay money for scientific research into pet food. But now they do. And companies are already making money selling raw commercial diets and all sorts of other unconventional diets. If these companies are making a profit doing this, they have some responsibility to apply real science to their products. So I don’t buy the argument that we should throw up our hands and give up on knowing if the kinds of claims you believe are true or not and just decide what to believe on some other basis.

    No, it indicates that there is money to be made from prescription/lifestage diets – nothing more. Sure, these diets will manage these diseases – but they have mostly been created to address issues created by the substandard diets the pets have been fed on in the first place.

    Again, this is just your cynical opinion of the pet food industry, not something you get to claim without showing it’s true. What evidence, beside your belief in the evil machinations of industry, do you have that prescription diets exist to treat diseases caused by commercial diets? You’re free to believe what you like, but I will say it again, no one else has to believe you are right until you provide some objective evidence to back up your opinions.

  9. this is where I really struggle with EBM – the idea that unless double-blinded trials have been performed then nothing can even be assumed! At the sharp end of veterinary practice we have to make day to day decisions based upon ‘evidence’ given to us, along with our own experiences. EBM suggests that the latter is of little or no value.

    In practice, food trials are conducted by commercial food companies
    drug trials are done by pharma companies
    GSK anyone?
    if we only accept their ‘evidence’ we are playing right into their hands and not taking on board real happenings that have not yet been corroborated by ‘science’

    As a voice of EBM you are obviously very familiar with every departure from your accepted evidential framework – and it is very easy to counter any statement anyone makes by saying ‘prove it’
    this applies all the way down the line – every clinical paper quotes previous papers which may also be subject to bias, poor methodology etc – it’s quite a ponzi scheme whereby weaknesses in the foundations become manifest higher in the structure.

    “What evidence, beside your belief in the evil machinations of industry, do you have that prescription diets exist to treat diseases caused by commercial diets? ”

    How about a diet that contains soya and which makes an obligate carnivore suffer chronic enteritis, which resolves as soon as the soya is removed. Was the diet not causing the disease? How do I prove that to an EBM practitioner?

    It is scientifically ‘proven’ that putting CRD cats on Hills KD prolongs their life – and so we should all prescribe it (sic). Prolonged compared to what though? Compared to a non-physiological diet of low grade rendered animal protein and vegetable protein perhaps? I understand that no-one really understands why KD helps renal cats. Where is the science there?

    “so the evolutionary relationship and superficial resemblance does not justify the idea that the nutritional needs are the same. We share a close evolutionary relationship and numerous physical similarities with gorillas, but that doesn’t mean a leaf-based diet is optimal for us.!

    So tell me, how do we try and create a good diet for a domestic cat? They have a very close evolutionary relationship, & numerous physical similarities and gut structure to wild cats. Is that not a good start? Either anatomical and physiological similarities are significant – or they are not! The large hind gut of a gorilla is very different in capacity to our own – suggesting that hind-gut vegetation digestion is important to them. The evidence is there in the anatomy. Why does this not apply when looking at wolves and dogs?

    Lets switch the species to cats and avoid the futile ‘dogs are omnivore/carnivore’.
    Do you accept that on the basis of close relationship, interbreeding, anatomical and physiological similarities that a good starting point for formulating a good diet for domestic cats would be one matching their wild peers?

  10. skeptvet says:

    EBM doesn’t require we make no decisions without RCT-level evidence. But it does recognize that we understand the limitations of every kind of evidence. The problem is when we place unjustified confidence in evidence that does not have the probative value we give it. Sure, I make recommendations based on clinical experience alone when the need to intervene outweighs the uncertainty about the outcome of intervening. But in doing so, I clearly inform the client about the limitations of the evidence and the degree of uncertainty so they can make an informed decision, and I don’t fool myself into thinking my clinical experience is as reliable as controlled research just because we don’t yet have that research.

    My problem with the assertions made about diet is not that since there is no RCT evidence we aren’t allowed to speculate or try to address problems through nutrition. My problem is that firm statements are made about the cause of disease without real evidence to support them. You are assuming the soy is contributing to the enteritis and then confirmation bias leads you to suppose that the resolution of the symptoms with diet change is because the soy has been taken away. That’s no different from praying to get better and assuming, if you get better, that God did it. It’s no different from believing that since autism shows up about the time many kids get vaccinated than “toxins” in vaccines cause autism. yet such assumptions have proven wrong so many times it should be obvious that they are unreliable.

    If we are forced to make a decision based on weak evidence because the need is urgent and the evidence isn’t there, fine. But let’s not take the next, unjustified step of claiming we’ve figured out what’s going on or we can confidently claim our decision was the right one.

    It is scientifically ‘proven’ that putting CRD cats on Hills KD prolongs their life – and so we should all prescribe it (sic). Prolonged compared to what though? Compared to a non-physiological diet of low grade rendered animal protein and vegetable protein perhaps? I understand that no-one really understands why KD helps renal cats. Where is the science there?

    There is extensive evidence that renal diets prolong survival and reduce morbidity. It is not perfect evidence and it has limitations, but again it’s a lot better than the evidence that raw diets are healthier than conventional commercial diets.

    Vet Rec. 2005 Aug 13;157(7):185-7.

    Retrospective study of the survival of cats with acquired chronic renal insufficiency offered different commercial diets.

    Plantinga EA1, Everts H, Kastelein AM, Beynen AC.

    Author information

    1Department of Nutrition, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

    Abstract

    A retrospective study was carried out on the efficacy of seven commercial diets designed to be fed to cats with chronic renal failure. The median survival time of 175 cats that received conventional diets was seven months, whereas the median survival time of 146 cats given one of the seven diets was 16 months. The cats on the most effective of the diets had a median survival time of 23 months and those on the least effective diet had a median survival time of 12 months. The composition of the seven diets was comparable, except that the most effective diet had a particularly high content of eicosapentaenoic acid.

    J Small Anim Pract. 2000 Jun;41(6):235-42.

    Survival of cats with naturally occurring chronic renal failure: effect of dietary management.

    Elliott J1, Rawlings JM, Markwell PJ, Barber PJ.

    Author information

    Abstract

    Fifty cats with naturally occurring stable chronic renal failure (CRF) were entered into a prospective study on the effect of feeding a veterinary diet restricted in phosphorus and protein with or without an intestinal phosphate binding agent on their survival from initial diagnosis. Twenty-nine cats accepted the veterinary diet, whereas compliance (due to limited intake by the cats or owner resistance to diet change) was not achieved in the remaining 21. At diagnosis, both groups of cats were matched in terms of age, bodyweight, plasma creatinine, phosphate, potassium and parathyroid hormone (PTH) concentrations, packed cell volume and urine specific gravity. Feeding the veterinary diet was associated with a reduction in plasma phosphate and urea concentrations and prevented the increase in plasma PTH concentrations seen in cats not receiving the diet. Cats fed the veterinary diet survived for longer when compared with those that were not (median survival times of 633 versus 264 days). These data suggest that feeding a diet specifically formulated to meet the needs of cats with CRF, together with phosphate binding drugs if required, controls hyperphosphataemia and secondary renal hyperparathyroidism, and is associated with an increased survival time.

    So tell me, how do we try and create a good diet for a domestic cat? They have a very close evolutionary relationship, & numerous physical similarities and gut structure to wild cats. Is that not a good start?

    Yes, it’s a reasonable hypothesis to start with. But we can’t end there. It is reasonable to assume that low carbohydrate diets should improve weight status and management of diabetes in cats too. But it turns out many of the low-carb diets created in response to this theory were high fat rather than high protein and led to an increase in weight and diabetes risk. First, you generate a plausible theory, then you test it experimentally. All I’m saying is advocates of novel diet strategies seem to want to stop at the theory stage, often with the kind of bogus rationalizations like “we’ll never have money to study it anyway” already offered in this thread. that isn’t good enough, and it leads to bad medicine.

    Why does this not apply when looking at wolves and dogs?

    For all the reasons I’ve already detailed in my posts on why dogs are not wolves and why this theory doesn’t hold up.

    Do you accept that on the basis of close relationship, interbreeding, anatomical and physiological similarities that a good starting point for formulating a good diet for domestic cats would be one matching their wild peers?

    Natural history does provide a starting point for theorizing about appropriate diets. But in addition to the caveat that you have to go beyond theorizing to actually testing the theory, it is important not to fall into the naturalistic fallacy. What occurs in nature isn’t what is “optimal,” it’s only what is the best that the species can do within the constraints of the environment. Almost all species live longer in captivity, if properly cared for, than in the wild because nature is full of dangers- inadequate nutrition, parasites, disease, predation. So what cats eat in the wild is, to some extent, a reflection of what they have adapted to eat. However, it is also a reflection of what they have available and can catch, and often it is not as healthy as a consistent and nutritionally adequate “artificial” diet. One more time, the key is to test the hypotheses with actual research before accepting or rejecting them

  11. “I don’t fool myself into thinking my clinical experience is as reliable as controlled research just because we don’t yet have that research. ”

    because I do?

    I don’t fool myself into thinking that just because there is a study performed by a pharma or food company ‘proving’ a fact means that it is true.

    “You are assuming the soy is contributing to the enteritis and then confirmation bias leads you to suppose that the resolution of the symptoms with diet change is because the soy has been taken away”.

    You may be very clever with semantics but this is simply a means to discredit clincal evidence. A practicing vet cannot resort to RCT to prove everything to EBM standards (even if this were the ultimate arbiter) and has to make sensible conclusions. Otherwise the profession becomes one of automatons who can remember and regurgitate every clinical paper (so often sponsored by food and pharma companies)

    I can devine water. I cannot prove how it works. I can do it blindfolded, and teach a 9 year old so that they can find the course of a running drain which neither party knows about beforehand. I will therefore use the evidence of my own eyes and experience – and this IS valid.

    “There is extensive evidence that renal diets prolong survival and reduce morbidity. It is not perfect evidence and it has limitations, but again it’s a lot better than the evidence that raw diets are healthier than conventional commercial diets. ”

    They do indeed show that quality of renal diets have an importance – there are better and worse. Please can you tell me from this ‘evidence’ what makes a good and a bad renal diet – ‘proof’ not ‘suggests’ please.

    Now show me the evidence that commercial diets are better than a properly formulated prey-model diet. Why does the onus of proof always have to fall in one direction?

    When I found your website I thought I had come a refreshing change – someone who was skeptical because of an open mind. What I am finding is very clever use of arguments used to supress constructive and critical thought.

    “Natural history does provide a starting point for theorizing about appropriate diets. But in addition to the caveat that you have to go beyond theorizing to actually testing the theory, it is important not to fall into the naturalistic fallacy. What occurs in nature isn’t what is “optimal,” it’s only what is the best that the species can do within the constraints of the environment. Almost all species live longer in captivity, if properly cared for, than in the wild because nature is full of dangers- inadequate nutrition, parasites, disease, predation. So what cats eat in the wild is, to some extent, a reflection of what they have adapted to eat. However, it is also a reflection of what they have available and can catch, and often it is not as healthy as a consistent and nutritionally adequate “artificial” diet. One more time, the key is to test the hypotheses with actual research before accepting or rejecting them”

    You are making so many assumptions here. I do test my theories, I monitor the responses. I learn as much as I can from everyone else who believes in Darwinian evolution. You do recognise that domestic pets live longer because of reduction in predation, nutritional variation etc but the fact that in lean times their diet may be suboptimal in no way endorses the adequacy of feeding an artifical diet. If you are starving then any artificial diet is better than none. And the lean-times diet in no way discredits their evolutionary adaptation to their natural diet. I accept that animals may live at the extent of their evolutionary-adapted position (eg north south, edge of forest for forest dwellers) but there are plenty of ways of deducing good health such as by reproductive maxima.

    “Virtually everyone who does nutritional research has been through the industry brainwashing programme.
    This is a common cop out for every therapy not backed by scientific evidence. Sure, industry funding is a source of bias that has to be considered in evaluating the evidence. ”

    how can you evaluate that evidence if you are only given the results of the trials that give the desired answer?

    “But a well-controlled, properly designed and conducted study funded by industry is still less biased than haphazard observations by individuals.”

    Prove it! I come back to GSK – and they are not alone. How do you or I know that trials are not fraudulent. And this is not cynicism on my behalf as you imply. It is a well-reasoned question.

    pete

  12. skeptvet says:

    I can devine water. I cannot prove how it works. I can do it blindfolded, and teach a 9 year old so that they can find the course of a running drain which neither party knows about beforehand. I will therefore use the evidence of my own eyes and experience – and this IS valid.

    No, dowsing is a clear example of thoroughly discredited nonsense and this illustrates quite clearly that you do in fact let your personal experience fool you into thinking you know things you don’t really know. The fact that we cannot practically do a clinical trial on every hypothesis doesn’t change the fact that until we do we are guessing. Clearly you think guesses are reliable knowledge, which is problem that is unfortunately all too common and which misleads many people in making medical decisions.

    Now show me the evidence that commercial diets are better than a properly formulated prey-model diet. Why does the onus of proof always have to fall in one direction?

    The burden of proof for a claim is always on the one making it. There are clinical trials showing that commercial renal diets improve quality and length of life in patients with kidney disease who eat them. If you want to claim that the diet you suggest is better, you have to conduct a trial to show this. You are the one making claims without evidence.

    As for the difference between “suggests” and “proof” this is all about how science works. Absolute proof is not a scientific concept, it is a feature of faith-based reasoning. The strength of the evidence can vary, from meaningless to very convincing, but we don’t “prove” anything in the sense that no further evidence could ever change our minds. I am quite open-minded about you hypothesis, I simply don’t have any reason to believe it’s true until appropriate research evidence is brought forward. But whenever I suggest that, you fall back on conspiracy theories about evil companies brainwashing vets and rigging the studies, which is not itself evidence for your hypothesis even if it were true, which I don’t think you’ve proven anyway.

    Trying something and waiting to see what happens isn’t science, it’s personal experience, and it is clear that is a much weaker kind of evidence which can support absolutely anything. I could claim that commercial diets are fantastic because I have fed them exclusively to my own dogs and they have all lived well beyond the average for their breeds. But you would dismiss this evidence and, as it happens, I agree it is no more convincing than someone who says they have fed raw or BARF or whatever and the fact that their pets are healthy proves these diets are better. No one gets a pass on doing the work of generating the evidence, it just seems like you are asking for one and dismissing any scientific evidence I refer to, which seems pretty much like a rigged game to me.

  13. Now then Mr Skeptvet, I commend you on your very clever reasoning – don’t address issues, just attack the logic of the respondent. That way you can put them down without addressing the real issues! For every point a respondent makes you can say ‘prove it, the onus is on you’ It is much like the adversarial nature of human courts where the opposing teams play legal games finding loopholes in arguments, whether of not the plaintif is guilty

    • “Clearly you think guesses are reliable knowledge, which is problem that is unfortunately all too common and which misleads many people in making medical decisions”
    • “But you would dismiss this evidence”

    Now who’s making assumptions?

    Let’s get back to the title of this topic – ‘a dog is not a wolf’. Will you answer my question??

    “Either anatomical and physiological similarities are significant – or they are not! The large hind gut of a gorilla is very different in capacity to our own – suggesting that hind-gut vegetation digestion is important to them. The evidence is there in the anatomy. Why does this not apply when looking at wolves and dogs??

    A a prey-based diet to me seems a more-rational starting point than a diet of maize, soya, and animal derivatives.

    As you say, science is not isolated static facts – it’s an ever-moving flow of opinion. I too have my own well-considered opinions which I have formulated over many decades, testing hypotheses, rejecting, reformulating, with an open mind to both the veracity of my beliefs and their limitations. I relate these to the client as opinions, along with the reasoning behind them.

    You say that I am not addressing the points you raise – not correct. Your quoted papers on renal diets simply show that the diets tested were an improvement on the diets they were compared against. Personally I would not feed my cats on basic commercial kibble in any case – far too dangerous to their health in my humble opinion. Look at all the blocked cats we all see! RCTs show that urethral obstructions are hugely higher in cats fed dehydrated diets compared to moist.

    If I had one of my cats develop renal disease, would there be any benefit switching them from a diet containing high biological-value proteins and high amounts of animal fats? How would I advise clients in the same position? Where is the proof that a renal diet will help such cats? Let’s see the evidence.

    Health claims for renal diets should include the qualification that they may improve longevity in cats currently fed on the same formulation/s of kibble as fed in the trial. Any other use of these diets would fall foul of your EBM rules. Is there any evidence in these papers to show that a cat fed on moist (normal) food is better fed on dry KD when it develops CRD?

    As for all the varied life-stage diets, prescription diets, etc, why is the onus on me to prove that they are not beneficial. Why should it not be on the food company to produce evidence that they are beneficial – and in what circumstances? Should a renal diet be fed to a cat losing weight for example? As you say, it is for the one making the claims to substantiate them.

    And just as you quote ‘scientific facts’ that have become discredited over time, so we have diets that have done the same – high fibre carb-based diets for diabetic cats being one example. Do we believe that all these prescription and life-stage diets really do what they say (or suggest!) on the pack?

    Now don’t get me wrong, I have every agreement with the principles of EBM, but only if any RCTs are performed by independent bodies, not those with a vested interest.

    It seems that EBM is the perfect partner to the petfood and pharma industries. Undergraduates taught to EBM standards will be only taught ‘facts’ derived from industry-sponsored trials of foods and drugs. The time required to think and explore laterally excludes anything but regurgitation of these ‘facts’ both in exams and subsequently when they move into practice.

    Another important point is that undergraduates are not taught pure nutrition – they are taught the science of artificial nutrition – a very different subject altogether. Certainly in the UK there have been (and almost certainly still are) cosy relationships between the pet-food companies and universities that exclude other companies and other points of view (fact not fantasy). Raw-meaty-diet proponents have offered to present a different nutritional perspective to students, and apart from one student debate, this ongoing offer is never taken up. Surely a balanced education should include raw nutrition if only to give vets enough info to enable them to engage with clients who choose to feed their pets this way?

    Currently most raw feeders don’t discuss their feeding regimes with their vet through fear of being ridiculed and of being told to feed a diet that they believe to be fundamentally wrong. I have had clients formulate their own diets and get into trouble eg nutritional osteodystrophy – and they now feed raw food safely and effectively further to appropriate veterinary advice.

    A friend has a nice conspiracy theory – that EBM is a product of big business, ensuring that dissentors are silenced. So I looked at the EBM soc and emailed them to ask who funds the association. I have yet to receive a reply.

    I would be very interested to see if our own EBM-based Nottingham Vet School has a preferred pet-food sponsor.

    Are your website costs and time replying to the likes of idiots like me sponsored in any way, directly or indirectly by any pharma or food company? Is the EBM?

    No one gets a pass on doing the work of generating the evidence, it just seems like you are asking for one and dismissing any scientific evidence I refer to, which seems pretty much like a rigged game to me.

    Absolutely not –you are assuming again. I don’t make my comments lightly and without careful research. I am not dismissing your evidence – I am applying critical thought on the validity of the information I come across including yours. I feed raw, I encourage clients to feed a better class of whatever food they are feeding – or to move to a more-physiologically appropriate class, eg from kibble to moist for cats. If they are happy to feed raw, I assist them. I observe the conditions that respond to various therapies and diets, and when I see a cat that has had 4 years of unsuccessful treatment and diagnoses for IBD resolve within 4 days of going to raw, I know that my observation has validity (with its inherent limitations) – without an RCT in sight.

    Pete

  14. Jackie says:

    So let me see if I understand you correctly. After…how many millions of years of canine evolution (I’m no scientist) and fifteen thousand years of domestication, you think sixty years of commercial junk dog food means Purina is proven to be all a dog needs besides love?

  15. simba says:

    For how many of those fifty thousand years were dogs eating mainly meat?

    Humans aren’t that effective as hunters, and even in those cultures where people depend on domestic livestock for most of their food, much of that is in the form of milk and is often supplemented with grains or plant based foods.

    Meat is difficult and costly to get, either farmed or hunted. Just because it’s cheap now doesn’t mean it always was. There’s a reason ‘fat as a butcher’s dog’ is a phrase- not everyone could afford meat for themselves, let alone for their dogs. In my reading on this, and from talking to older generations, the standard diet for dogs pre-‘commercial junk food’ was scraps which were mostly potatoes or grains.

  16. Jackie says:

    Dogs were eating mainly meat for many millions of years. They didn’t rely on humans having enough money to buy it; they procured it for themselves.

    All farm dogs ate (and still eat) a ton of animal products that humans would otherwise throw away. To this day, my cowboy friends feed their stock dogs whatever animals have injured themselves or died. They rarely feed their dogs wheat, corn, or potatoes.

  17. AJ Schott says:

    I think there can be good and bad in both commercial diets, homemade diets, and raw diets. But, I also think common sense will tell you that dogs are going to be healthier eating a diverse diet that is meat-based as opposed to wheat or corn. No need for logic or evidence there. When you say “Conventional commercial diets are clearly sufficient” I think just like us dogs can survive eating most anything – but “sufficient” doesn’t even begin to equal “optimal”. So pet owners are looking for healthier options and sometimes relying on common sense isn’t a bad idea – I mean, when was the last time your dog attacked a corn stalk? Even though dogs have consumed grains throughout history – should we really buy commercial products that use grains as cheap fillers? Should we consider “sufficient” as being good enough?

  18. skeptvet says:

    Sorry, but you’re basically saying it is common sense that commercial diets are less healthy than whatever you mean by a “diverse diet that is meat-based” (which, as it happens, describes most commercial diets). Common sense, unfortunately, is often wrong and doesn’t count as evidence for a health intervention. What dogs choose to eat also isn’t that relevant, since while they may not attack corn stalks, they swallow an awful lot of socks, rubber balls, rat poison, and lots of other things that aren’t good for them either. Pet dogs live longer, healthier lives than wild dogs, other wild canids, or strays scavenging and catching their own prey, so it is really hard to ignore this and assume that commercial diets are as terrible as some here suggest. What we need is not just endless back and forth of empty theorizing but actual research to answer the question. If some comes up with appropriate studies to show that particular homemade diets are better than current commercial diets in terms of health, I’ll be happy to recommend them. Until then, definitive conclusions either way simply aren’t justified.

  19. AJ Schott says:

    No, what I’m saying is that regardless of whether you feed kibble, raw or homemade – a dog can still have a bad diet. Therefore you can’t lump “commercial diets” into one pot and say they are “sufficient”. Some are terrible and some are good and if you choose a bad one and feed it to your dog everyday… then the chances of the dog getting appropriate nutrition are reduced. Which ones are good versus bad, unfortunately is open to debate mainly due to a lack of regulation in the pet food industry.

  20. skeptvet says:

    you can’t lump “commercial diets” into one pot and say they are “sufficient”.

    Perhaps it will help to be more specific. When I say “sufficient,” I mean the diets meet established NRC and AAFCO standards shown, by good evidence, to prevent known deficiency diseases. I certainly don’t think we know what the optimal or perfect diet is, but we do know what is necessary to avoid many known nutrient deficiencies and excesses, and diets which meet AAFCO standards meet this, admittedly weak, minimum standard. The problem with most homemade diets is that they don’t meet even this minimal standard.

    The idea that feeding a mixture of diets or rotating diets reduces the risk of nutrient deficiencies or excesses makes sense, but it too is an unproven hypothesis. As for what constitutes a “good” and a “bad” diet, I’m not sure how you are defining that. It seems unlikely that any such a broad, black and white classification scheme is going to be accurate or very useful.

  21. skeptvet says:

    Here’s a nice reminder of why a “natural” diet is not necessarily a good thing for our pets!

    A surprise has turned up in the fight against Guinea worm: In Chad, more dogs have it than people do — and fish guts are apparently to blame.

    Thus far this year, according to the Guinea Worm Wrap-Up issued Sept. 17 by the Carter Center, worms have emerged there from nine humans, one domestic cat, one wild cat — and 96 dogs. It is limited to 35 villages on the banks of the Chari River, which shrivels in the dry season, leaving pools in which fish are trapped. Villagers wade in and grab thousands to cook; dogs eat the raw entrails that are thrown on the ground.

  22. Jasper says:

    2 excellent blogs in one day! I’m definitely bookmarking this site =)

    I have been feeding my pets (4 cats and 4 greyhounds) a BARF diet for the past several years. Although I can say that their health (shown by blood panel, fat loss, energy, longevity, inflammation, etc.) had greatly improved, I know that my personal experimentation cannot be considered scientific research and I therefore will not be pushing it as truth.

    I have also been party to claiming “dogs are wolves,” but that is coming from a genetic perspective I received from researchers at the University of Colorado — the differences in the genetic structures between dogs and wolves apparently pertain to their physical appearance characteristics (short/tall, eye color, tail length, etc.), not the digestive tract. I haven’t seen the conclusive evidence, though, nor was I given any resources. I am getting a Weimaraner puppy soon…so I really want to get the lifestyle choice down within the next 2 months.

    Since the raw BARF diet is becoming more and more popular, have you heard of any new studies being done? It is said that it will be hard to find at a University, as their animal nutrition departments are typically funded by kibble companies (truth??)…so who else might spend the time and $ on the research?

    Thanks for you input!

    ~Jasper

  23. skeptvet says:

    Actually, there are genetic differences between wolves and dogs that affect digestions. A study published in Nature in 2013 showed a number of differences related to the ability to digest starches, likely a response to the selective pressure of eating human food waste rather than killed or scavenged prey. So the theoretical rationale for the BARF diet doesn’t have a robust scientific basis.

    As for the old issue of “who pays for the research,” it’s a valid question but doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not the research is needed before making claims about the relative merits of different diets. For what it’s worth, since the raw diet fad has caught on, companies are selling such diets. Someone can always find a way to make money off of something people want to buy, and commercial dog food companies are just as likely to sell raw diets as kibble if the evidence leads people in that direction (or, sadly, even if they go there without evidence). Big Pharma is selling herbs and supplements, and Big Kibble or whatever would certainly move in on the raw food market if there is money to be made. SO I don’t find the implication that we can’t get the evidence because there’s no money to be made in doing the research and creating a marketable product convincing.

  24. Rachel says:

    While I agree with the fact that there is no science behind it, and being a veterinarian and a scientist I too struggle with embracing such an approach, I have to disagree with you.
    I do believe for most dogs kibble is and will always be the best solution. Just like for dairy calves artificial milk is the best solution. That is because of practical and economic concerns from their owners/farmers. But to say a meat-based diet is not the best for a dog is like saying milk is not the best diet for a calf!
    And while I do expect the big companies to get into the business of raw meat diets eventually, I can tell you they will fight it as long as they can. You cannot compare the money you can make by mixing grain residues with animal by-products and some proteins and selling it by the price of meat (or even more expensive), with the money you will make by actually selling raw meat.
    I was very skeptical, and was unconfortable with the idea of taking my dogs off kibble. I actually kept them a long time with morning kibble meals and evening homemade meals. But the more I read about it, the more convinced I became, and the angrier I got that no one had ever discussed any of this during vet school. They just brainwashed me into not seeing the anatomical and physiological evidence.
    They not only convinced us that the kibble was cheaper and practical – they convinced us that it was NECESSARY for a dog’s good health – and that it just plain wrong.
    My dogs are now on a grain-free homemade diet, sometimes cooked, sometimes raw, and they are healthier and happier for it.
    I do not believe it is something most owners can do – not without some level of support. If it’s going to be a choice between hamburger with rice, or kibble, I still will advise for kibble. But I will never agree it is THE best way to feed a dog. It is a valid way to feed it if you don’t have the time or the will to do better – nothing else.

  25. skeptvet says:

    I think the only point on which we disagree is whether we can truly know the best diet without controlled scientific research. You “know” your dogs are happier and healthier, but really that is just an uncontrolled observation, and if these were truly reliable reflections of reality, we wouldn’t need science at all. I’m not saying kibble is the “best” diet at all, just that we don’t know what the best diet is until we compare different diets experimentally. My guess is that a properly formulated fresh home-cooked diet would be the best, but I tend to agree that most owners won’t be able to do this and that some kind of standardized commercial diet will be better for many. I am even open to the possibility that raw diets are better than cooked diets, I simply don’t see any real evidence to support that claim yet.

    We cannot just extrapolate from what makes sense or seems intuitively reasonable to what is actually true–we need data. The flatness of the earth makes more sense and is more intuitively reasonable than the truth, it just doesn’t happen to be true. So the most reasonable position in the absence of real data is to avoid definitive statements about the truth and settle for more nuanced claims that reflect the underlying uncertainty.

    And no, I don’t feel I was brainwashed at all in vet school. I don’t recall ever telling owners that commercial dog food was the optimal diet for dogs, only that there is reason to believe it is healthier than haphazard table scraps, which is what most dogs were fed prior to the emergence of the commercial pet food industry. Extreme confidence either for or against commercial kibble is just a manifestation of the same problem- opinion-based rather than evidence-based reasoning.

  26. Andreas says:

    Hi there,

    talking about evidence (though I don’t necessarily want to disagree that there are differences both anatomical and physiological between dogs and wolves): without reading through the mentioned paper in detail, there’s a few weaknesses to it and it’s claim wolves and dogs have distinct microbiota:
    1. the comparison ist between Canis lycaon, the Eastern Wolf, and the dog. C. lycaon is recognized as a distinct species from the Grey Wolf and dog (C. lupus lupus and C. lupus hominis, resp). With no comparable data of the Grey Wolf, I think the information of this inter-species comparison is of little use;
    2. there is no information, for how long the dog’s had been on their respective diets. It is well imaginable that the duration of feeding a given diet will have an impact on the microbiota;
    3. the statistical power of the study is limited due to the small number of animals;
    4. captive wolves showed microbiota similar to both some wild wolves and dogs, which would indicate that the lifestyles wild and pet play some role in the microbiota, with captie wolves in the middle.

    In conclusion I would think, all is not quite as clear as you make it appear in your post.
    I think we can agree that the final word is not yet spoken (probably never will be 😉 ) and that a lot more good quality, independent research would be necessary. Though I lean more to the other side of the (raw) meat table for dogs (and even more so for cats). 😉

  27. skeptvet says:

    There is no question the paper has significant limitations. And I agree that the body of evidence as a whole does not definitively answer the question. This study does, however, undermine the presentation as an obvious fact that raw diets must be healthier because dogs are effectively wolves in all relevant respects. This is a hypothesis which is itself unproven and against which there is some evidence, such as this paper.

    The “final word,” to the extent such a thing exists in science, really would require long-term, prospective, controlled comparative feeding studies. These can be done, as they have been for calorie restriction and other nutritional hypotheses, and they would carry a lot more weight than vague arguments from phylogeny.

  28. Andreas says:

    I certainly do agree that good quality studies are very desirable.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see them coming. I would not be surprised if I missed something, but over the last 8 years or so, the only trace of a study into (potential) benefits of raw feeding was an interims report, but no final.
    I think it is a bit much to ask practicing vets or the general dog/ cat owning public to perform this studies, and as most nutritional research is either done by pet food manufacturers, or sponsored by them (even the “classical” textbooks about nutrition are produced or sponsored by the pet food industry, e.g. Hand/ Thatcher et al, Small Animal Clinical Nutrition is basically from Hill’s), I don’t see them coming any time soon.
    The way the research into feeding dogs, especially regarding raw feeding goes, is to me quite clearly not objective, but rather heavily biased towards finding negatives for alternative (i.e. non-commercial, though having said that, the raw food sector is nicely commercialising as well these days, and produce a fountain of very bad literature) feeding regimes. Over the last 8 or 10 years the quality of research, as far as it is accessible to me, has improved, but I find it still lacking.

    Comparing dogs and wolves:
    I do think this has more credibility then you grant it.
    On the one side, with all our exotic pets, the general recommendation is to feed them as close as possible to what their wild relatives eat. I don’t see why this recommendation should not hold true for cats and dogs.
    On the other side, wolf biologists frequently use the dog as a model for the wolf, claiming that for all the differences they are similar enough to give valid results and zoos use nutritional knowledge about dogs (and dog food) to feed their canids. The AZA Large Canide (Canidae) Care Manual mentions explicitly, that the requirements for the maned wolf might differ from dogs and wolves, because he his highly omnivorous.

    I do think comparing dogs and wolves is fully justifiable until we have more objective data.

  29. skeptvet says:

    The fact that there are barriers to performing the research doesn’t mean we can draw confident conclusions without it. This is a common excuse for unproven health claims of all kinds, and it doesn’t work. If the research isn’t there, for whatever reason, then we have to admit we don’t know the answer.

    Companies are already profiting from selling raw diets based on unproven claims about them, and they bear some responsibility to do the work needed to prove these claims. Despite the bad press given to existing commercial diet makers, they invest a great deal of money and talent in doing nutrition research. While some potential for bias is certainly present in this work, it is not merely a marketing tool or rubber stamp, but legitimate research, and it is has advanced animal health. And the risk of bias is no less for those promoting alternative approaches to nutrition, so that caveat cuts both ways.

    It is not too much to ask people who make claims bout how awful commercial diets are or how great raw diets are to produce some real evidence to back those claims up, and there’s no reason they should be excused from demonstrating their claims through something more than anecdote and vague theorizing.

    As for comparing wolves and dogs, you use an argument from analogy and then ignore all the nutrition research and data from the last 50 years that has gone into the design of commercial diets. You also ignore the quite dramatic and obvious morphologic changes selective breeding and association with humans have made and the implications this has for functional phenotypic changes, including those related to nutrition. The analogy only generates a hypothesis, it doesn’t validate it.

  30. Amy Johnson says:

    I just want to say that skeptvet responses and articles are very logical. You are a true skeptic. I totally agree with you on all of your articles.

  31. Andreas says:

    I do agree, it would be desirable if companies profiting would contribute to research. That doesn’t take other institutions like vet schools out of responsibility though.
    First, profitable companies in raw feeding are a comparative recent development and they are usually still working with comparative low budgets, as far as I am aware. There was and is no decades and billions of dollars available yet, unlike the traditional pet food industry. Before that, there were mainly private enthusiasts and some vets interested in the knowledge, and I simply can not think of any argument that will convince me, that it is not cheeky from professional researchers to argue that there is no scientific evidence while at the same time not mentioning that there is no research. That’s a parlour trick, as many people will interpret „there is no scientific evidence“ as meaning there is evidence to the contrary.
    Second, research is actually happening as we speak, but as you certainly are aware, this will take time.
    Third, I personally would prefer independent research, for the simple fact that independent research tends to be much less biased.

    I do not ignore evidence from research, not as far as I can access the relevant papers full text, anyway. Unfortunately, not working in research anymore, accessing relevant papers is a major roadblock and I simply could not afford to buy every paper that interests me.

    What I do, though, is obviously evaluate the evidence differently and probably a bit more sceptically then you seem to do.
    First, industry sponsored research tends to be biased towards positive results in regards of the sponsors interests, and I think we can agree that probably most research into pet nutrition is mainly sponsored or conducted by the big companies and that showing benefits of raw feeding is against their interests. For the same reason I’d rather have independent research into raw feeding then have the raw food companies conduct it.
    Second, the pet food industry is not above posting misleading if not outright false information.
    Third, we simply don’t know what kind of research has not been published because it produced the wrong kind of information.
    Fourth, while every critic of raw feeding doesn’t tire of emphesizing that we don’t have scientific evidence of the benefits of raw feeding, they use warnings of some risks allegedly associated with raw feeding without direct scientific evidence – I don’t see in why anecdotal evidence is enough to sustain claims of risk, but not of benefits.

    And to quote yourself: „The analogy generates a hypothesis, it doesn’t validate it“. That is, indeed, true. What it does is provide a starting point and food for thought. By the same token, a different morphology does not validate the assumption of a different physiology. Nobody expects a chihuahua to gnaw on a cow’s thigh bone. But that doesn’t mean there should be problems with an adequately sized type of bone.

    And finally: AAFCO standards themselves are largely based on „educated guesses“ rather than scientific evidence and even though the NRC has updated its nutrient requirements for dogs and cats in 2006, the AAFCO has not followed suit, still using recommendations based on the 1990 NRC profiles.

    The conclusion I gather from research over the last decades is that the nutritional waters are rather murky and largely not as clear cut as either the „traditional“ nutrition advocates nor the raw feeding advocates would like them to be, and that „evidence based“ gets mainly used as a tool to defend a traditional system against new thoughts.

    If there is interest, I’m happy to elaborate even more than above and to cite the relevant papers (or the lack thereof).
    Sorry my reply took so long, I got sidetracked with other things. 😉

  32. skeptvet says:

    First, profitable companies in raw feeding are a comparative recent development

    Sure, but this misses the point that the evidence should come before the profit. You don’t start selling a product with claims of health benefits and then, maybe, get around to doing the research proving those claims true because that isn’t ethical. If companies want to sell raw diets without evidence that they are safer or healthier than conventional diets, they should be honest about the speculative nature of any benefits and they should not make the kind of strong claims for these benefits that such companies often make. The same is true for enthusiasts and anyone else promoting the diets. It’s fine to say, “Here’s why we think they might be beneficial, but without controlled research this is just a hypothesis.” I wouldn’t object to that, but that isn’t how most raw advocates talk about these diets. Claims should be proportional to the available evidence, regardless of the nature of those claims.

    not working in research anymore, accessing relevant papers is a major roadblock and I simply could not afford to buy every paper that interests me.

    I feel your pain. This is a tremendous problem for all of us interested in a science-based approach to health, and one of the major areas of activity by the EBVMA and other groups trying to promote evidence-based medicine. Very frustrating!

    First, industry sponsored research tends to be biased towards positive results in regards of the sponsors interests, and I think we can agree that probably most research into pet nutrition is mainly sponsored or conducted by the big companies and that showing benefits of raw feeding is against their interests.

    I half agree. There is evidence that industry-sponsored research tends to be biased towards findings that support that industry. However, this financial bias can be effectively reduced by proper research design and conduct, pre-registration of clinical studies, farming out of aspects of the research to independent contractors, grants for academics to do research with no direct involvement of industry representatives, etc. We can’t just write off the value of any research in any way connected to industry, we have to manage the problem and evaluate every specific study in terms of risk of bias.

    And we can’t forget that not all bias is financial. All researchers have bias, which is why controlled research exists and is so useful. Ideological bias, confirmation bias, validation of one’s public statements, and many other kinds of bias have just as much influence on results as financial interests. If a dedicated raw food activist conducts a research project on raw diets, this will be just as biased as a study conducted by a company that sells commercial kibble. The same methods for limiting bias and managing the risk of it have to be applied to all research. Truly “independent” research would require a researcher with no opinion on the subject and no knowledge of the arguments or existing data, and that sort of person wouldn’t be qualified to conduct a good study! So bias reduction is all about using appropriate bias reduction tools for ALL research. It is problematic when we selectively dismiss results from a particular source that happens to disagree with us on a subject if we aren’t focusing on the methods used to control bias in the specific studies.

    Where I would disagree is that it is not in industry’s interests to find benefits to raw food. Big pharma and other large industries have jumped on plenty of “natural” and “alternative” bandwagons and made a profit out of them. Boiron makes millions on homeopathy, and plenty of pharmas also make heaps of money on dietary supplements, vitamins, etc. Pet food companies have the resources and knowledge to dominate a commercial raw diet market if they wanted to, and if the evidence does start showing real benefits to raw diets, I predict they’ll do exactly that. Such companies hedge their bets, and they have made marketing hay out of “grain free,” “organic,” and plenty of other evidence-poor or outright mistaken beliefs about pet nutrition already. The “it’s natural and so doesn’t make anybody any money” argument does hold up to reality.

    Second, the pet food industry is not above posting misleading if not outright false information.

    Agreed. And neither are advocates for raw diets and other alternative practices. That’s a huge part of what this blog is about. Again, it cuts both ways.

    while every critic of raw feeding doesn’t tire of emphesizing that we don’t have scientific evidence of the benefits of raw feeding, they use warnings of some risks allegedly associated with raw feeding without direct scientific evidence – I don’t see in why anecdotal evidence is enough to sustain claims of risk, but not of benefits.

    Anecdotes only demonstrate the possibility of an effect. They generate a hypothesis to test. The anecdotes of raw food proponents don’t prove benefits (nor do their anecdotes about commercial diets prove these are harmful). And anecdotes don’t prove raw diets are harmful, only that there is a possibility they may be. If the evidence is poor for both risks and benefits, as it is, then there is no basis for a firm conclusion that raw diets are either harmful or beneficial. However, since anecdotal evidence is provided in mountains to convince people they should try raw diets, it is fair to provide the same level of evidence about risk to suggest people be cautious about making this choice based only on anecdote.

    The conclusion I gather from research over the last decades is that the nutritional waters are rather murky and largely not as clear cut as either the „traditional“ nutrition advocates nor the raw feeding advocates would like them to be,

    I agree

    evidence based“ gets mainly used as a tool to defend a traditional system against new thoughts.

    I disagree quite strongly here. The pro-raw food advocates largely ignore evidence because there is almost none, and they feel comfortable making strong claims in the absence of it. Most skeptics emphasize that there is little evidence and that strong claims in either direction are not justified in this context, which is my position. That is not a defense against new thoughts but simply the most appropriate application of scientific method to judging the merits of health claims.

  33. mimi says:

    Dogs are very different behaviorally from wolves. See dr.brian hare’s studies of dogs understanding human signals. They had, most likely a convergent evolution with us. This is what makes our relationship with them so phenomenal. This does not mean that their physiology is not that of a carnivore. Jaws, teeth, digestive tract is that of a carnivore. I think behaviorally, they are omnivorous. They enjoy other foods like fruits, some veggies, a human snack food, pizza, etc.

    Commercial food has only been around for about 60 years. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years and lived with people, ate, for instance what farmers gave their dogs. And it wasn’t kibble.

    Vets don’t get much nutrition education in school. They do get something from companies like science diet or purina, including their nutrition education. Go figure.

    I think many of the health problems we see today in our dogs are related directly to poor nutrition. I don’t trust the government over-seers who say that cereal is good for dogs. I trust what I feed my dogs and the proof is in the pudding. What evidence do people need that a balanced, species specific diet is good for dogs? My healthy dogs could be performing great feats of athleticism in front of some peoples’ eyes and they’d still insist that commercial, processed, grain based kibble full of artificial crap is the healthiest, most natural food for my dogs. And what canines eat and have been eating for thousands of years until about 60 years ago… is all of a sudden bad. No thanks. Wild canids don’t eat kibble. Domestic dogs aren’t physiologically different where digestion is concerned. My toy breed dogs crush a raw chicken bone to smithereens, rip, tear, chew the meat and get chewing satisfaction….no dental problems and are full of vitality. I need no other “evidence.”

  34. skeptvet says:

    1. You are simply assuming that despite all of the physical and behavioral differences we can still view the optimal diet for dogs as something like what wolves eat. Apart from the fact that there is not direct evidence to show this is true, we forget that wolves don’t eat an optimal diet, they eat what they can get. Sure, they are adapted to their environment, including food sources, but evolutionary adaptation is imperfect and “natural” conditions often include a great deal more disease and poorer health and longevity than “artificial” conditions, so this is a bit of a fallacious appeal to nature argument.

    2. Antibiotics and vaccines have also not been around long compared to how long humans have existed, yet they are clearly dramatically effective healthcare interventions. The length of time commercial diets have existed is irrelevant to their nutritional appropriateness. What humans ate “naturally” for thousands of years didn’t change the fact that we mostly died in childhood, rarely lived past our 40s, and suffered many nutritional and infectious diseases unheard of in developed nations now. Sure, we still suffer a lot of nutrition-associated disease from poor choices, but that doesn’t mean the mythical past when we did what was “natural” was better. It clearly was even worse.

    3. It is a false cliché that vets know little about nutrition and that what they do know is merely industry propaganda. It also begs the question why do you think people who question commercial diets, including alternative medicine vets and pet owners, know more about nutrition despite having no more formal training in the subject? Just reading up on something using the internet and popular books doesn’t make someone an expert. A board-certified veterinary nutritionist is clearly going to know more about pet nutrition than anyone else, and it is just another type of bias to dismiss their conclusions as bias when you disagree with them.

    4. You just substitute anecdotes and opinion for evidence here, which doesn’t work. My pets have always eaten commercial diets and lived long, healthy lives. So now we have two anecdotes which disagree, and we are no closer to the truth. There is lots of research on the nutritional needs and effects of various diets on dogs, you will likely just ignore it all because a lot of it has been funded by pet food companies. Even if there is a risk of bias in that, though, it doesn’t mean anecdotes or opinions are better evidence.

  35. Mimi says:

    I like to feed my dogs whole, fresh food rather than processed stuff in a can with artificial ingredients. It’s just like I avoid too much processed food and choose whole, fresh foods for myself and family. I feed in such a way that they receive all the nutrients they need to live long, healthy lives, with lots of vitality and bright-eyed and bushy tailed. This isn’t about your kind of so called, scientific “evidence” for me. It’s about what I see in front of my eyes. Call it anecdotal if you like. If my own dogs have good vet exams, where their good health is remarked on by the vet, good blood tests, can work, run and play all day and live long lives, what more can I ask for? Their teeth are amazing too! They’re sure more vibrant than a lot of dogs, including some of my past dogs.

  36. skeptvet says:

    As always, it’s great that your pets are doing well. So are mine, though, and the vast majority of my patients, none of whom are on such a diet. Tough to make much use of such observations, so hopefully will get some solid science on the kibble vs fresh food subject in pets eventually.

    The subject is really quite different in human nutrition since so-called “processed food” is nothing like commercial pet food. Human packaged food clearly fails to meet established nutritional standards, with more sugar and salt and fat and so on that recommended by science-based guidelines, and the goal in making it is to make it appealing, not nutritious. SO of course such food is less healthy than fresh food. Commercial pet food, on the other hand, is designed and tested with nutritional standards and goals in mind, so it’s misleading to equate kibble with twinkies or potato chips. Again, what we need is some real, rigorous research.

  37. Mimi says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9DTzDfYMxo#action=share

    Commercial dog food companies do not have our dogs’ best interest at heart. It’s a multi billion dollar industry and they didn’t get that way by putting our dogs’ interests first. Making money comes first. Most commercial foods are made up of cereal and a lot of artificial crap. I most certainly is worse than human junk food. I will never feed my dogs food that I don’t have any control over again. There are so many reasons to feed a natural diet to dogs and all I need for evidence…all millions of people who feed a balanced, prey model diet to their dogs need is right before our eyes. The comparison between my past kibble fed dogs and my dogs on a species specific diet is remarkable and apparent in their health. And that’s all I can say really. Thanks.

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