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What is the best diet for dogs? Raw and a Natural Diet?

Lots, and I mean LOTS of owners wanting to do the best thing by their animals are asking “what is the best diet for dogs”? Yes! This also means we will be answering the question of what is a “natural diet for dogs”. Another way of putting this is to answer the question: what are dogs designed to digest and what happens when they are fed ingredients and substances that they are not designed to eat and digest. That is the heart of the “natural diet” question.

This is a very simple question but a much much bigger discussion. So before I go any further, first of all, thank you for caring for your animal and taking the time to read this article, gather more information about how to improve it’s and hopefully your own life. If you like it please share it and help other pet owners follow your example! Lead by inspiration using your own dogs vibrant health as a “natural talking point”

In this article we are going to cover what your dog has evolved to eat and will THRIVE ON rather than merely survive on. And that last phrase is key to our discussion because our wonderful dogs are extremely resilient scavengers.

Resilience has helped substandard pet foods persist without perhaps either the providers or us owners realising it? In fact manufactured pet foods “got away with this” for generations of dogs before we spotted the trend line for health going down rather than UP!  That is because dogs can eat it and “survive”. Thankfully, very rarely will a dog eat something and simply keel over. However, a dog being “happy to eat something” or “able to eat something” is entirely different to eating something that is contributing to its health and wellness. Entirely.

However, and this is similarly important, there is no such thing as one perfect diet. Before the concept of pet food hit the shelves a hundred or so years ago, there were thousands of healthy dogs all around the world and the one thing we know for certain, is that we not all eating the same thing! They were eating a seasonal varied diet and importantly they were eating whole prey. Quite often whole prey that they themselves caught rather than were handed out of a packet.  Much like we would expect with their not so distant furry ancestors, the grey wolf.

Another thing we have witnessed is that auto immune conditions within dogs within the last 20 years are on the increase.  If you are scratching you head wondering how that is possible with a  “scientifically proven diet off the shelves of your local vet”, then so did we.  Here at Bella and Duke we strongly believe that there is a correlation between dogs eating processed food and these chronic illnesses. We believe that a dog needs to be fed “a natural diet”. Lets be honest, we KNOW IT, I am being polite saying we believe it. You know it too intuitively makes sense.  A natural diet is one that your dog has evolved over millions of years to be able to digest simply and extract the nutrients from efficiently that are essential to its health. A diet that fits with your dog’s “genotype”.

You cannot put petrol in a diesel car and expect a healthy engine.

So before we get into what your dog SHOULD be eating. Let’s have a a few elements that your dogs should, in our opinion, NEVER EVER eat.

Dogs & Cereals

Something  that your dog has most definitely NOT evolved to eat, is Cereals or grains.  In fact, this is totally unnatural for them to eat. If you are in any doubt about the common sense of this fact then think about those doggy forebears the grey wolf. Chasing pheasants, rustling chickens, rarely found hijacking the patisserie or sharing an iced finger bun.

Dogs lack Amylase

Dogs are biologically classed as Carnivores. Meat eaters. They are gulpers rather than chewers, (for examples of chewers or ruminants, think sheep, goats, cows), they have canine teeth for tearing flesh and they have very little amylase. This is the enzyme that breaks down starch. Therefore, dogs are entirely unsuited to vegetarian diets or ones that are high in starch or carbohydrate. Fangs are designed for meat, not corn flakes.

A very common ingredient that has been routinely employed in pet foods (up until now) is grains and starch. Along with soy and other fillers.

I strongly believe : IF you want your dog to be healthy. NEVER feed it foods containing wheat, oats, barley. Any grains in fact. And throw out soy and corn (the latter often referred to as maize). These are mass produced cheap crops, often genetically modified, that are added into some pet foods simply to increase bulk. At best these are difficult for your dog to digest, at worst they are contributing to ill health and disease.

As we covered in the leaky gut articles and itchy skin, grains create inflammation and leaky gut, open the door to food intolerances and chronic autoimmune issues.

Let’s stop that together right now.

So please go and check the labels on any of your dog foods now, including snacks, treats or other and if you see anything that has these in, throw them out.

Adios cereal killers. Hello, healthy dogs.

Processed Foods

Rather than drag “The Why Nots” out, let’s cover the remaining points on processed food in one mouthful and we can move onto the more exciting pastures of “Why Raw”, and more on the “What is a Natural Diet”. It is however super important to understand why not, because when we understand this it makes it easier to make an informed decision. And decisions we are happy with. A long list of “don’ts” is restrictive. An insight into enlightenment is the “Aha moment” that changes the way we look at things. Eureka.

As ever this is opinion based, opinion based on the science, clinical evidence and practical anecdotes (customer feedback – that’s you, so please keep it coming) available at the moment.

So What is the Story with Processed Food

“Processed Food” is often repeated like a dirty word without us really ever discussing the underlying mechanisms that make it so, or understanding what it actually does to us, our pets and all of our lives and longevities.

Processing is simply changing the state of the food that’s going to be eaten.  This can be for the positive.

In fact, certain food benefits from processing. In humans, raw Kale smoothies are contributory to most of the Thyroid cases I see. Heating Kale destroys some of the components which impair thyroid function.

How Bella & Duke Processes Food

Bella and Duke meals are lightly & positively processed. They are checked for quality, the ingredients are measured to ensure they are present in the correct ratios, they are ground up into small enough pieces to be easy on the dog’s digestion and then packaged for convenience, and finally frozen to maintain the goodness whilst neutralising some of the baddies. All of these are processes which benefit us and our dogs. So processing can be positive. 

Why therefore is processed food, as we refer to it, so bad? Throwing all the cards on the table, the above are some of the very FEW exceptions out there. For the most part, processing involves several “state changes” which are highly dangerous, damaging and dubious.

The below are our top five reasons (in addition to the Cereal Killers we talked about last week in Article 1) that processed dog food is best avoided. Spoiler alert. Most of these reasons involve FIRE and the havoc it wreaks.

Why Processing Food is Bad

Vitamin and mineral content.

Processing inevitably involves some sort of heat. This is far from opinion, it is much researched scientific fact (as we know it at present) that heat destroys a substantial portion of the vitamins & minerals within the food.  The same carnivorous portion of food raw will have a greater benefit than its cooked counterpart. Fact.

Detractors & Dogmatics of the cooked food kibble clan will then mention that it also kills the bad bacteria. My gentle rejoinder is that it also kills the good bacteria that enables the dog’s immune system to deal with this.

We can keep those immune systems ticking over tremendously with a regular healthy dose of healthy bacteria. The microbiome in a dog’s gut is a true marvel of evolution.

What about having raw food in the house? Is that dangerous? Good food hygiene in the kitchen as you do with your own raw food is key to a seamless coexistence. And just for the record, I tes human clients for all sorts of bacteria and they NEARLY all carry E Coli. The danger is not that they have E Coli. The danger is not having enough good bacteria to keep these pathogens in check.


are another reason. Heat also kills most if not all of the enzymes found within raw food. These enzymes give the dog’s digestive process a huge healthy helping hand and, will potentially contribute to longevity as their own enzyme supplies are finite. The more they can leverage from the natural bacteria and enzymes in the meat itself, the better.


If vitamin C is a super potent antioxidant then AGES are its dark nemesis. AGES stand for Advanced Glycation End Products. These are created when food is heated at the high temperatures often used in traditional processing methods, or exposed to sugar, present in processing grain. It’s effectively “burnt” proteins and fats that are super sticky and VERY dangerous to health.

Unsurprisingly these burnt protein and fat molecules (AGES) contribute to rapidly accelerated ageing, degenerative disease and anything else FAR from the optimal health we are looking to create here at Bella & Duke. Yes… It’s a little more complicated than this and there’s ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) to consider also. But the net point is. Burnt is bad. Sugar compromises food structure.

Mechanically Recovered Meat (MRM)

Not the most attractive of titles. And like any of the cartoon villains this also has a couple of aliases, Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM) and Mechanically Deboned Meat (MDM).

This is a very controversial, slimy and grey area that involves extracting otherwise leftover or commercially unavailable scraps through high pressure sieves and several additives to make them “viable”.

This is the epitome of the scary side of processed food. I do have a couple of videos but you know, for those of you who haven’t had breakfast yet, or simply want a suite of pleasant images in their heads, I took an executive decision to not post them. For all of our sakes.

Please just trust me that I strongly believe these are not optimal for your dog, or you and they are best avoided.

Meat Glue

Meat glue, aka transglutaminase is an enzymatic glue that “solders” smaller pieces of meat together to create the appearances of larger chunks. Much like above, I could show you a video but simply cannot bring myself to.

What I can tell you is this enzyme which helps create chunks of meat from odd parts, much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is associated with several of the autoimmune like reactions similar to cereals and grains.

Leave it at that. Sounds bad because it is.

Summarising this so we can focus next on all the benefits of raw and a natural diet, and then drill down on what you should be feeding your dog, let’s look at our believed dangers of Processed Food.

Summary of the dangers of processing

  • Can contain cereals or grains that create leaky gut, inflammation and pave the way to food intolerances and auto immune disease
  • Have less vitamins and minerals than the raw versions
  • Are difficult for the dogs to digest being lower in natural enzymes or simply being a food that your dog has not evolved to digest.
  • Contain severely damaged proteins and fats called AGES
  • May contain MRM, MSM or MDM. Least said the better.
  • May be assembled from a jigsaw of different, suspected low quality meats that are glued together with an enzyme which is in itself dangerous.

The Fun Part – How to improve your dog’s diet

This is now the fun part where we get to discuss what WE CAN DO to radically improve our dogs health, support their immune systems, help avoid or minimise the likelihood of arthritis, food intolerances, improve their overall wellbeing, not to mention the quality & shine of their coats. All through diet.

Back to the million dollar question which is “What is the best diet for dogs?”

Whilst we accept that there is probably no SINGLE best diet. We are obliged to use the evidence to play Sherlock Holmes. We strongly believe that there is a “template” which contains certain shared essential components. We previously covered some of these in Article 1, and several of the previous articles on Intestinal Permeability and Itchy Skin.

We have witnessed from an overwhelming raft of anecdotal evidence that an evolutionary template or natural diet is consistently yielding the best results. Simply consult the website or the Facebook page for those success stories that our growing community is sharing.  Feel good? Yes, but much more than that. In effect it is a living and evolving body of research. A one off is exactly that. When this is repeated repeatedly it is worth taking seriously, peer reviewed research being ready for us to digest or not. Informed deduction :  A diet as close as possible to that which dogs would eat naturally in the wild. Whole prey, fresh or as fresh as possible. Somewhat seasonal.

Dogs are carnivores and as such need to be fed a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diet.  Protein that is derived from animal sources as these are far superior in amino acid content to their vegetarian equivalents and importantly, the dogs are able to digest them far easier. At less metabolic cost, meaning they use up less of that finite pool of digestive enzymes. Additionally some vegetable sources of protein can have high lectin AND starch content. And lectins equal inflammation which is a health detractor rather than a health enhancer. Informed deduction : quality animal derived protein rather than plant based protein. Starches deplete the little amylase that dogs have and create a huge working load on the pancreas. 

We also know that fats are essential for hormone production and these are best found within the “whole prey” component of the protein. Whilst leaner meats “can” benefit some very overweight animals, ultimately a dog needs essential fats for heart, brain and hormone health. Informed deduction : Whole prey and quality fats from quality animal derived protein. (is this sounding familiar yet?)

We also can see that a raw diet suits by far and away the larger percentage of dogs (with the exception of a couple of special cases whereby the dogs immune system is very very compromised) It has a higher vitamin and mineral content, higher enzyme content, contains significantly less of the DNA damaging “AGES”. Informed deduction : Raw and the least processed the better. 

We also know that be adhering to a low inflammatory food content that we can lower the stress on a dog’s body and its immune system (see the articles on itchy skin and intestinal permeability). So by avoiding grains, lectins and other “reluctantly” digested foods we are easing the “stress load” on the dog. Informed deduction : Grain free, starch free, lectin free.

Whilst meat, or animal derived protein has a relatively high vitamin and mineral content it may not contain all of the essential minerals and as such a smaller lectin free vegetable component is preferable to “plug this gap”. This is perhaps slightly controversial but the current thinking is this. Vegetables contain vitamins and minerals and ALSO serve as a valuable source of soluble fibre which does 2 things.

  1. Increase motility within the dogs digestive system.
  2. Serve as prebiotic fibre for the friendly bacteria to eat. Thus improving the dogs immune system. Informed deduction : Some lectin free vegetables as a vitamin mineral and fibre source.

Summarising the above, we draw the conclusion that the best diet “template” for a dogs health is one which is raw, minimally processed, based on quality animal (whole prey where possible) protein, some vegetables, soluble fibre as a prebiotic food source and for motility, essential fats and low in inflammatory proteins derived from lectins or grains. It will not have been heated to excessive temperatures (if at all) and remains as fresh as possible.

Now if this sounds like the template we have employed here at Bella and Duke, its because it is. It’s because we believe in our mission to save as many dogs lives as possible and are putting words into action.

Some dog foods are based on a what’s available or commercially viable template. Being totally transparent we have done exactly the opposite and looked at exactly what it is WE BELIEVE a dog should be eating for optimal health. We have ripped up the dogma, ripped up the rule book and followed a niche group of pioneers who believe there is a better way.

In fact, the above discussion could have been taken from a founding shareholder’s meeting where we decided EXACTLY what is is we need to do to help you help your dogs.

SO thank you for taking the time to read this article, care about your dog, be at the forefront of this growing raw feeding community and take similar positive action every time to nourish your pet.

Pawnote : please also know that if the research changes,  evolves or if we simply get an additional insight into this template, then so we will change. We are passionate about our mission and pledge to be at the forefront of health and wellbeing.

Thank you for the vital role you play.

Rowan Sanderson – Practises Functional Health & Medicine at The Modern Sensei and studied in Nutrition, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition and Functional Medicine. He is also passionate about dogs and improving their lives.

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