AN ABC DAY FOR DRY, CANNED, AND FROZEN FOOD FEEDERS
One day a week is all I ask. Make one day a week an ABC day and with about ten minutes of preparation, you’ll significantly improve the overall nutrition of your dog’s food. It’s easy to do and these three steps will address the major weaknesses in most commercial dog foods:
Add high-quality protein with hearts, eggs, and sardines
Balance the fats with sardines
Complete the nutrition with hearts, eggs, sardines, and vegetables
The ABC day plans
I have developed two ABC day plans depending on what you currently feed your dog. ABC1 is for those who feed traditional dry foods that typically provide less than 30% of calories from protein. The ABC1 plan for traditional dry foods adds protein and fat, thereby reducing carbohydrates. ABC2 is for those who feed the higher fat, higher protein dry foods (e.g., Evo™, Barking at the Moon™), most super-premium puppy foods, high meat content canned foods, and frozen raw diets. Foods in the ABC2 group already have sufficient amounts of fat, the plan therefore adds protein and helps balance the fats without increasing the fat caloric contribution (the percentage of calories coming from fat).
Tables 4.1 and 4.2 below list the ingredients and amounts to feed based on your dog’s weight for the ABC1 and ABC2 day plans respectively.
Table 4.1 ABC1 plan, for most dry dog foods
Table 4.2 ABC2 plan, for higher fat and protein foods
One day a week, replace what you normally feed with the appropriate ABC day plan, making it a grain-free, commercial food-free day. If you want to feed treats on the ABC day, use nuts, pieces of meat, or small pieces of vegetables and fruits, but no grains.
These plans make enough food to feed typical adult dogs for one day, providing 14% of the weekly caloric needs of typical adult dogs. Active dogs will need more food—increase the amounts of the ABC plan accordingly. Double or triple the listed amounts for young puppies and lactating moms, but do not feed more than once per week. These recipes are not for full time feeding—so if you get excited about this and want to switch to a full time feeding ABC plan, please see Chapters 5 and 6.
If your dog is not accustomed to a variety of foods, introduce fresh foods slowly over a couple of days. For example, add 1 oz of hearts on the first day, an egg on the second day, and sardines on the third. The next week try the full ABC day as shown in the charts above. When feeding an ABC day, there is no need to add other vitamin, mineral, or fatty acid supplements to your dog’s food, even on the non-ABC days, unless advised to by your veterinarian.
ABC day ingredients and preparation
Sliced beef hearts are readily available (especially if you ask), are relatively inexpensive, high in protein, low in fat, and are a great source of:
• Coenzyme Q-10.
• Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
• Gamma linolenic acid (GLA).
• Trace minerals.
• And other nutrients.
If you can find them, choose grass-fed or pasture-raised beef hearts. If you can’t find beef or other ruminant (lamb, buffalo, deer) hearts, you can substitute chicken or turkey hearts, or beef kidneys. You can also substitute liver for up to 50% of the heart, but not more than 50% to prevent an excess of vitamin A. I usually specify organic filtering organs (liver, kidney, spleen) because organs from organically raised animals should have fewer toxins than those from commercially raised animals. Kidneys are a good source of carnitine and contain an amino acid-type nutrient, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is reported to be a brain and eye nutrient.
Beef hearts are a great source of taurine and carnitine. Cut the beef heart into small pieces and serve raw or lightly cooked. While I serve the hearts raw to my dogs, lightly cooked—leaving the center raw, is certainly okay. Light cooking kills any pathogens that may be present. (If they are present, pathogens are usually on the outside surface area of the heart, not within the heart.) I emphasize lightly cooked only because high heat processing reduces taurine and carnitine bio-availability, destroys the enzymes, and reduces the overall nutrient value of the hearts.29
Just as taurine was an overlooked nutrient in dog foods for many years—and dogs suffered as a result—canine nutritionists are now learning that lack of carnitine (another amino acid-type nutrient) may be a contributing factor to heart disease and obesity in dogs. Has lack of carnitine in dry foods shortened some dogs’ lives? Probably, just as the lack of taurine in some lamb and rice diets shortened the lives of many dogs. The ancestral diet contained ample carnitine from fresh, raw meats, but processing removes significant amounts of it.30 Some dog food manufacturers are now touting “added carnitine” to entice people to buy their foods, but this is at best a band-aid approach, even if the added carnitine is stable in opened bags of food. Taurine and carnitine are two of probably hundreds of amino acid-type nutrients found in fresh raw meats, most of which have not yet been studied. I’m sure next year we’ll learn about other nutrients that dogs need to be at their best, but extrusion processing and long storage times destroy. Dogs need some fresh meat, no doubt about it.
Sardines in water with no salt added are the best for dogs. Those in olive oil are also acceptable, but, for the healthiest fat balance, avoid sardines packed in soy or other omega-6 rich oils (see Table 8.2). If the plan calls for 1¼ cans of sardines, it is okay to feed two cans in one week of the month, and the other weeks feed just one can. Use up the can of sardines within two days after opening it so that the DHA does not go rancid.
Sardines and other fish are the best way to add the long-chain omega-3s, including DHA. Many of the studies showing the significant body and brain benefits of EPA and DHA have been conducted with fish oils; good fish oils are effective, but I prefer sardines for many reasons.
Sardines are a sustainable fish with low mercury loads. When added to your dog’s diet, they provide highly-absorbable, defended-from-oxidation DHA, EPA, arachidonic acid (AA) and other fatty acids. Sardines are a great source of protein, and they provide a complete range of trace minerals including iodine and natural forms of zinc, a full complement of vitamins including D, B12, and E (including gamma tocopherol and the tocotrienols), antioxidants and other known and, I’m sure, unknown nutrients. The triglyceride and phospholipids forms of DHA found in sardines are more absorbable and stable than the ethyl ester forms in most fish oils, and may be more effective than fish oils for improving brain functions and preventing cancer.31, 32 (Some of the more expensive brands of fish oils have revised their processes so that most of the DHA is in a triglyceride form; look for these if purchasing fish oils.) In the ancestral diet, the DHA and EPA were primarily in triglyceride and phospholipid forms; I think it’s wise to keep it that way. In short, whole foods are almost always more nutritious than refined products.
You can substitute canned wild Alaska pink salmon (the bones are edible), oysters (a great source of zinc, especially important for pregnant and lactating females), and other fresh, frozen, or canned wild fish for sardines. Pacific oysters are probably better than gulf oysters, which may have too much mercury, and certainly safer than canned oysters from China. Some pet food manufacturers provide fresh frozen ground sardines; these are great when fresh, but the grinding accelerates the oxidation of the fats, so the shelf life is limited. Never feed raw salmon or trout, especially Pacific salmon, because it may contain a microbe that can kill dogs. Pacific salmon often carry a worm, called a trematode, which itself carries a microbe, Neorickettsia hilmonthoeca. The trematode lives in the intestine of many fish-eating birds and mammals (including cats), with little ill effect. Dogs, however, can get very sick and die from the microbe within the trematode. Deep freezing kills the trematode; however I am not sure that deep freezing kills the microbe and therefore I recommend not feeding raw salmon to dogs.33
If you or your dog do not like sardines or other seafood, feed the hearts, eggs, and vegetables once a week, and add a recently-produced (look for expiration dates) fish oil plus three ground almonds for every gram of fish oil. The vitamin E in the almonds is necessary to help protect the DHA in the dog’s cells from oxidizing (see Chapter 5 for more information). Without the sardines, the caloric content of the ABC boost is reduced by 185 kcal per can of sardines. To make up for the loss of calories, add about ½ cup of dry food. One gram of fish oil and 3 almonds adds 30 kcal.
I recommend using commercial eggs for ABC feeding. However, eggs from true free-range chickens are usually more nutritious than commercially raised eggs, with better fat balances and more vitamin E.34 It’s not necessary to use the more expensive omega-3 or DHA enriched eggs, because we’re adding the DHA with the sardines and therefore enriched eggs are probably not worth the extra cost.
The plans differ mainly in the use of egg whites and yolks. In ABC1, I use the yolk and whites, while in ABC2, to reduce fat, I use the whites and only a fraction of the yolk. To compensate for the calories provided by the yolks, I increase the amount of hearts and vegetables in ABC2. For ABC1, you can serve the eggs raw or lightly cooked, but for ABC2, with more egg whites than yolks, I recommend lightly cooking the whites by placing the eggs in the shells in hot water (just short of boiling) for 30 seconds, light poaching, or cooking the egg sunny side up. Keep the yolks raw and whole, not scrambled.
Note that there is no consensus of opinion on the best preparation of eggs. Some researchers are concerned with a substance called avidin contained in egg whites. It is thought to interfere with the body’s absorption of some of the biotin in the yolk. Cooking egg whites prevents this problem, but changes the structure of the proteins in the cooked egg whites. Other researchers believe that it is not necessary to cook the whites because the yolks have more than enough biotin to overcome the biotin losses, and therefore the eggs should be served raw. While dogs have no reported problems with cholesterol, if you scramble and cook the yolk, the cholesterol may oxidize. Oxidized cholesterol, like oxidized fats, is not healthy for dogs. Cooking the yolks also significantly reduces the lutein content. Lutein is an important nutrient for the eyes.
Try to scrape the inside of the shell so you can use the membranes. These membranes contain glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid. These nutrients are reported to help relieve joint and soft tissue pain.
Fresh eggs provide important brain, eye, and body nutrients in natural, unprocessed forms. They should be part of every dog’s diet, especially pregnant bitches. There are four parts to eggs, and we’re going to use three of these parts: whites, yolks, and the membranes on the inside of the shell—but not the shells. Egg whites are the perfect protein and provide riboflavin, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and zinc. Egg yolks contain essential fats, including: conjugated linoleic acid, phospholipids, choline, lutein, vitamins D, and (along with the sardines) a full range of natural vitamin E compounds, including cancer-fighting gamma tocopherol and the tocotrienols. Egg membranes contain nutrients that can help relieve joint pain. While eggshells provide a source of calcium when properly prepared (washed and finely ground), we do not need to use the shells with the ABC day plans.
The eggs, along with the sardines and fresh greens, provide a natural source of vitamin K. The 2006 NRC’s Nutrients Requirements of Dogs and Cats considers vitamin K to be an essential nutrient. However, the AAFCO does not, so not all dog foods contain vitamin K. There is some debate about the safety of supplemental forms of vitamin K, so it’s best for your dog to consume natural forms.
Vegetables and fruits
Feeding a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits will provide the best defense against cancer, the number one disease killer of dogs. Finely chop, juice, or lightly cook the vegetables and mix with the hearts, sardines, and eggs.
Most of the micronutrients in dry dog foods come from human-synthesized vitamins and minerals. Take a look at the last 20 ingredients on almost any dog food and they normally consist of synthesized nutrients. Synthesized vitamins and minerals have been shown to prevent short-term deficiency diseases, but they do not provide optimum nutrition, and lack many of the cancer-fighting compounds found in vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits provide hundreds of different types of antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds that are not in most long shelf-life foods.
Here are some suggestions for which fruits and vegetables to choose.
• Dark berries provide nutrients that are important for proper brain development.
• Red watermelon is an excellent source of lycopene, a potent antioxidant that protects the heart and other organs.
• Beets contain powerful antioxidants that help prevent the breakdown of vitamin E.
• Orange foods, such as carrots, cantaloupes, and sweet potatoes, fed raw, provide antioxidants that protect the eyes.
• Spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in trace minerals and contain antioxidants that help the brain, eyes, and body.
• Green leafy vegetables contain boron, another brain nutrient.
• Cruciferous vegetables (especially broccoli) have the most proven anti-cancer fighting properties. Many of these nutrients are fat-soluble; you should therefore feed them as part of a meal that contains fat.
Green vegetables are especially important for dogs who eat dry foods. Dry foods are susceptible to aflatoxin contamination and small amounts of aflatoxin are considered acceptable in most dog foods. (See my book, See Spot Live Longer, for complete details.) Green vegetables contain chlorophyll, which may help delay the onset of symptoms of liver cancer caused from aflatoxin-contaminated grains.
For the most micronutrients for your dollar, feed human leftovers such as broccoli stalks and watermelon rinds. The stalk has about the same vitamin and mineral content—and better fats—than the broccoli flower, and is often thrown away. Watermelon rinds contain citrulline, a newly discovered nutrient that is reported to help the heart, circulation, and immune system.
Your dog won’t be able to take full advantage of the nutrients in the vegetables and fruits unless you juice, finely chop using a food processor, or (with some vegetables) lightly cook them. A rigid cell wall, composed primarily of cellulose, surrounds plant cells. Cellulose is very difficult for dogs to digest. It is the contents of the cell itself, not the cellulose wall that provides most of the nutrition. Unless the cell wall is broken, most of the nutrients are not available.
Raw or lightly cooked? Some nutrients are more available if you feed the vegetable or fruit raw, and some more available if you lightly cook the food. Lightly cooking (steaming for a short amount of time) may help improve the dog’s ability to absorb some of these nutrients. Some research suggests that broccoli should be lightly cooked; the cooking reduces the amount of compounds that block the absorption of nutrients. Cooking tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene that humans can absorb. This is probably true with dogs as well. Other data show that cooking decreases the quantities of flavonoids (including lutein and zeaxanthin) vitamin C, and destroys almost all the polyphenols. If you are cooking the vegetables, the shorter the cooking time, and the lower the temperature, the less the reduction in most of these nutrients.
My recommendation on the cooking versus raw issue here is to cover both bases. Lightly cook some of the vegetables some of the time, and feed them raw some of the time.
What foods not to feed
Avoid onions, which in large amounts can cause a form of anemia. Grapes and raisins, even including those grown with no insecticides, fertilizers, or antifungals, have been reported to cause kidney failure in some dogs, but the reasons why are unknown. Macadamia nuts may be toxic for some dogs, even in small amounts. Chocolate may be a problem for some dogs.
Some dogs are allergic to yeast products. If you give your dog any type of yeast (some people believe that brewers’ yeast and garlic helps repel fleas), watch your dog carefully. Dogs with a history of systemic problems like ear and skin irritations may have an allergy to yeast and should probably stay away from it. As discussed earlier, raw Pacific salmon and west coast trout can have microbes that are deadly for dogs, and should be avoided.
The results: more like the ancestral diet
Just one ABC day per week provides your dog with additional high-quality protein, improves the balance of the fats, and adds hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nutrients that were part of the canine ancestral diet and that are not usually available in commercial dry foods. In other words, you will move much closer to the “gold standard” of high protein, moderate-to-high-fat, low-carbohydrate content diet.
The following three tables below show how the one ABC day improves the protein, fat, and carbohydrate content of the diet for 25-pound dog. For those feeding typical dry foods (Table 4.3), an ABC day increases the protein by 15% and decreases the carbohydrate caloric contribution by 12%, which is significant. Tables 4.4 and 4.5 show the changes when an ABC day plan replaces high protein dry foods and typical raw foods. In all cases, an ABC day makes the diet more like the ancestral diet.
Table 4.3 ABC1 with traditional dry foods, protein, fat, and carbohydrate caloric contributions
Table 4.4 ABC2 with high protein dry food, protein, fat, and carbohydrate caloric contributions
Table 4.5 ABC2 with typical commercial frozen raw chicken diet, protein, fat, and carbohydrate caloric contributions
An ABC day for a 25-pound dog provides 125 grams of high-quality protein by adding three excellent protein sources: egg whites (the perfect protein), beef hearts, and sardines. These foods improve the amino acid balance of the overall diet by providing 1 gram (abbreviated g) of methionine and 3 g of lysine, two of the limiting amino acids with dry foods, and a complete range of protein-type nutrients often not be available in dry foods, including carnitine and an estimated 250 milligrams (abbreviated mg, a milligram is 1/1000 of a gram) of taurine.
An ABC day provides 1.2 g of well-defended-from-oxidation DHA in phospholipid and triglyceride forms, the most stable and usable forms, to improve the fat content and balance in your dog’s diet. Recent research suggests that DHA in these forms may be 9 times more absorbable than the ethyl ester forms found in many fish oils.35 If these studies are correct, 1.2 g of DHA in sardines may be the equivalent of 5–10 g of DHA from fish oil. Since salmon, and most other fish oils, are about 20% DHA, the absorbed amount of DHA in one and one-quarter, 3.75 oz of sardines may be equivalent to the absorbed amount in 25–50 grams of fish oil.
The ABC day also adds 0.7 g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), 0.1 g of docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids; and 0.4 g of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a short-chain omega-3, for a total of 2.4 g of omega-3 fatty acids, all in natural forms.
The ABC day provides 2.7 g of omega-6 fatty acids, including 0.8 g of arachidonic acid (AA), a long chain omega-6 fatty acid, and the primary fat in the brain. AA is important for brain and nerve development, but since it is expensive and fragile (oxidizes readily), it is often not included in adult dog foods. We’ve added 1.9 g of linoleic acid (LA), a short chain omega-6 fatty acid. Other fats we’ve added include conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA) from grass-fed beef hearts.
The ABC day improves the important omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of the overall diet. While the fatty acid composition of commercial dry dog foods varies substantially, on average, most high quality dry dog foods have omega-6 to -3 ratios in the 7:1 range.36 As shown in Table 4.6, ABC day improves the ratio to 4.7:1, putting it in more in line with recommended ratios (2:1 to 6:1) and the ancestral diet.
Table 4.6 Omega-6/-3 ratios
Moving closer to the canine ancestral diet
As we’ve seen, an ABC day each week adds protein, helps balance the fats, and provides a complete range of nutrients not available in long shelf-life foods. And I recognize that for most busy pet owners, doing one day a week will be as much as many people can handle. If you are in this group, give yourself a pat on the back because you are doing a lot for your pet.
For those of you who want to put more time and energy into your dog’s nutrition, there are more benefits for your dog as you try to replicate a “perfect” diet. In order to do this however, you will need to make your own food and feed it to your dog full time. That’s what the next chapter is about.