The Spring Itch: Part 2 – Is it a Yeast Infection?


In our last blog post we explored the various causes of allergies and itching that your dog may be experiencing. Your dog’s itching can be due to pollen, a food intolerance, use of antibiotics, chemical flea preventatives, high starch and carbohydrate diets, or a combination of factors. 

Tip: Many dogs are sensitive to those scented candles you love, air fresheners and fragranced dog shampoos. 



“About 90% to 95% of all dogs will have a skin problem at some point in their lives. At this very moment, about 15% of all dogs are feeling itchy, losing hair, flaking with dandruff, and so on.” 

– Dr. Adelia Ritchie, PhD 



Aside from making your dog feel utterly miserable and stressing you out, excessive itching causes skin damage. Through scratching, small abrasions provide a home for bacteria and infections to take hold. It’s very easy for allergies to be the catalyst for infections like Malassezia Dermatitis (Yeast Dermatitis). 

Your dog’s microbiome 

Malassezia (yeast) is a naturally occurring microorganism that resides in small quantities on your dog’s skin and ears as part of a happy ecosystem. This ecosystem involves lots of different bacteria and yeast on the skin, keeping each other in balance. Other similar ecosystems inside your dog’s body, like the gut, are home to Candida, a yeast that helps digest your dog’s food. These microbiomes can be delicate and need to maintain a perfect balance of good bacteria and yeast to function optimally. 

What is a yeast infection? 

Humidity, heat, allergies, and a compromised immune system all create the ideal environment for yeast to thrive. Malassezia particularly favours areas such as the ear canal, paws, armpits, tail, belly, backside and skin folds. The overgrowth of Malassezia leads to a rather itchy and uncomfortable yeast infection – Malassezia dermatitis.

Common symptoms of yeast infections include persistent itching, redness, inflamed skin, a ‘yeasty’ corn chip odour, dark discharge from the ear, greasy or flaky skin. Another thing to check for is the presence of tiny dark speckles on your dog’s skin. Breeds with more skin folds such as bulldogs or pugs are particularly susceptible to this type of skin infection. 

How do I treat my dog’s yeast infection? 

It is essential to look for the root cause of the itching, and not just treat symptoms with medications. Otherwise you are simply putting a bandaid on the problem, without ever resolving it. Consult your vet if you do believe your dog has an undiagnosed infection or disease. It is equally important to consider holistic factors, like gut health and the impact of diet, which are often overlooked. 



“The most common reason for a dog to develop a yeast infection is an unhappy skin or gut biome” 

– Dr. Conor Brady, PhD 



Our top tip? 

Goodbye kibble, hello raw meat. Switching to a raw diet can be a game-changer when it comes to addressing your dog’s skin issues, allergies, and yeast imbalances. Raw diets rich in high-quality proteins, healthy fats and essential nutrients help promote optimal gut health and strengthen your dog’s immune system. 

By eliminating highly processed ingredients, starchy carbohydrates and potential allergens found in commercial kibble, you reduce the risk of triggering reactions. Moreover, a raw diet can help restore the balance of beneficial bacteria in your dog’s microbiomes – crucial for controlling yeast overgrowth. The natural enzymes and probiotics in raw foods can aid in digestion and nutrient absorption, leading to improved overall well-being. Remember – what we see externally is a reflection of what’s going on inside with your dog’s health. 



“Remove all high carbohydrates, chemically preserved dry food and treats from your dog’s life. Give your pet a fresh meat and bone diet, free of carbs/sugar. Do not compromise your dog’s gut flora or immune system with anything else.”

– Dr. Conor Brady, PhD 



The Butcher’s Dog’s Kangaroo and Veg is a novel, single protein, low fat hypoallergenic meal suitable for dogs with suspected food sensitivities, or skin allergies. If your dog has sensitivities to beef or chicken, the Turkey and Veg is another excellent alternative with a more mild flavour. 

So much of our dogs’ immune response relies on maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. You can see why we place so much emphasis on your pup’s diet. It is probably the single biggest factor you alone can influence, so they can enjoy a comfortable and itch-free life. 

Read more about your dog’s gut in this post here, by Pet Nutritionist Clare Kearney.

The Spring Itch: Part 1 – Allergies or Something Else?

As the days get longer and the weather warms up, the wattle starts to bloom and those of us with springtime allergies start to feel the dreaded itch at the back of the throat. Similarly, our dogs may start to scratch more than usual, lick their paws, rub their eyes and shake their ears.

For all its magical, sunny afternoons, Spring can be a battleground for those of us who suffer seasonal allergies, and even more so for our animals who can’t tell us what is causing theirs. Because while for us it’s usually a pretty clear cut case of pollen being the culprit, dog “allergies” may worsen in the springtime, but can be caused by a number of underlying issues that are present year round.

In fact, we are hearing more and more from pet owners that their dogs have food allergies. Dr Conor Brady shares in his Feeding Dogs book that in actuality “A food allergy is rare (1-3% of the dog population). It is the inappropriate response by the body to  an everyday allergen. It’s sudden, dramatic, very serious and involves the IgE antibody. It happens in the blood”1

Food intolerance is far more common (we’ll go into more details further below).

What about the products that are “designed” to protect our pets?

Other causes of these ‘allergic symptoms’ can be attributed to a dogs response to over vaccination and too many chemicals like tick and flea treatment preventatives. 

Vaccine bases are derived from chicken embryos and bovine (cow) which we start to give to puppies at a very young age, and then continue annually for many dogs. Now the nature of the vaccines is that they are designed to set up an immune response, so unsurprisingly many dogs end up with chicken or beef allergies. The body has been ‘taught’ to recognise it as a foreign invader and inflammation occurs as a result.

Then there are the combined treatments (for the convenience for us pet owners) that cover everything from heartworm, intestinal worms, fleas and ticks that are being given every few weeks. Just consider the amount of man-made chemicals that are bombarding the dog’s natural immune system and microbiome.

We are not saying you shouldn’t use these to help protect, just to be aware how often you are using them and if you are using it year round “just in case” as opposed to using it when the season comes around.

Being aware (if you can be) of what chemicals have been used on public grass areas is important. Take notice of council notification when weeding of a dog park is being planned as the chemical sprays and fertilisers used on lawns, parks and gardens can cause reactions or irritation to the skin when our dogs are rolling around on the grass. Smaller breeds can suffer more due to their undercarriage being much lower to the ground. 

Of course some dogs are primarily irritated by pollen, much like we are, but others experience issues that are a bit more complex. Some dogs can be allergic to particular grass varieties, which is a terribly challenging problem to have and typically involves lots of wiping down paws and, sadly, avoiding grassy play as much as possible. Naturally this worsens in Spring, but grass allergies can also be exacerbated by an inflammatory diet and, ironically, overuse of medications intended to treat it.

Other causes of allergy-like symptoms?

An inflammatory diet is a common cause of an itchy dog, regardless of the time of year, and is often mistaken for a food allergy. While true food allergies are quite rare and are generally not caused by eating certain foods (rather, eating certain foods triggers an acute allergic reaction), an inflammatory diet can burden the system over time and may present in a number of ways, such as a sudden or gradual intolerance to certain foods, persistent digestive upset, dull or greasy coat, rashes and constant scratching, inflamed paws and paw licking, gunky eyes and irritated ears.


How to determine if it’s an allergy or intolerance

There is considerable overlap between the symptoms of true allergies, intolerance and stress caused by an inflammatory diet, and working out what you are dealing with is half the battle. True allergies can be tested for, but these tests are expensive and not always accurate. A full elimination diet over several months is the best way to get to the bottom of a suspected food allergy or intolerance. If you’re able to determine the source of a true allergy, the solution is fairly straightforward; you must avoid that food forever.

If your dog is experiencing some of these symptoms but has previously eaten similar foods without any major issues, you are likely dealing with inflammation or a food intolerance (or both). 

An imbalance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 can cause inflammation

One cause of inflammation in the body that is related to diet is an unbalanced ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. While both of these fats are essential and deficiencies of either can cause serious health issues, in reality the modern diet (both human and canine) is overflowing with omega 6 and low in omega 3. This is a problem because, when present in excess, omega 6 has inflammatory properties, whereas omega 3 is anti-inflammatory.

Processed dog foods are generally upwards of 50% grain or legume based, neither of which contain digestible omega 3 for dogs, but DO contain absolutely loads of omega 6. Meat in these foods generally comes in the form of meat meal which has been heat treated to the point any natural fat is rendered off and must be added back in later during the cooking process. These fats oxidise and goes rancid quickly, meaning the added omega 3 in processed dog food may actually be doing more harm than it is good. 

This issue of poorly balanced fatty acids is compounded when we look at modern farming methods. Chicken – a common scapegoat for all things inflammation – is naturally higher in omega 6 (and it always has been). However, chickens of the past would have scavenged on pasture for insects and grasses that contain a balanced fatty acid ratio, whereas now they typically eat food based on ingredients like corn, wheat and soybean meal, all of which are loaded with omega 6. 

How a leaky gut can impact on allergies and intolerances

Another major factor linked to allergies or intolerances is intestinal permeability or hyperpermeability. The wall of our intestines have tight junctions that prevent unwanted or harmful substances from passing through into the bloodstream, while allowing water and nutrients to cross over. If the intestinal wall has increased or hyperpermeability, bacteria, toxins and even food proteins may enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation or an immune response. This is often referred to as Leaky Gut Syndrome and has been linked to conditions such as Crohn’s Disease, Coeliac Disease, food allergies, IBS and even diabetes.

This is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation in the sense that individuals with these conditions have been observed to have increased intestinal permeability, but the condition is not necessarily caused by it; in many cases it is the other way around and it is these conditions that compromise the integrity of the intestinal wall. But in some cases it’s both. For example, food allergies can cause increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut, which then leads to food proteins entering the bloodstream and causing an immune response, leading to additional food allergies. 

Similarly, a poor diet can lead to poor gut health, which is linked to intestinal permeability or leaky gut, thus resulting in the manifestation of food allergies triggered by proteins entering the bloodstream. In this case it’s not necessarily the protein (eg. chicken) that caused the food allergy, but rather repeated feeding of a highly processed and unsuitable food containing chicken led to the circumstances that resulted in a food allergy.

Medication can lead to a leaky gut


Another cyclical trigger for leaky gut can be the repeated use of anti-inflammatory drugs, which are often prescribed to treat “allergies.” These have been studied and definitively linked to increased intestinal permeability[1], meaning that it’s essential to try and break the cycle of medication and treat the underlying cause of the inflammation if we are to have any success in resolving it long term.

How to heal a leaky gut

Depending on the severity, these reactions can often be reversed by healing the gut and transitioning to an anti-inflammatory diet (such as The Butcher’s Dog), loaded with digestible proteins, antioxidants, pre and probiotics, and omega 3 fatty acids. If an allergy has taken hold, unfortunately you will need to avoid that protein forever, but this is relatively rare. In some cases it can take some time to reverse the damage and restore the integrity of the intestinal walls, but this can be achieved with patience, good food and support from some gut health targeted supplements. Fortunately, in our experience it’s extremely common that dogs with these symptoms who are eating a processed diet simply get better once the food is changed to a natural, nutritious, species appropriate diet. So enjoy the sunshine, but avoid the temptation to reach for the anti-inflammatories at the first sign of springtime allergies.


  • Dogs can take a human anti allergy tablet like claritine for seasonal allergy
  • Betadine foot baths are great for dogs who chew their paws or have grass allergies.


[1] Brady, C., ed. (2020) Feeding Dogs. London: Farrow Road Publishing



Treats – the good, the bad and the toxic

Dog treats can be an enjoyable part of your pet’s routine, enhancing training and strengthening your bond. Dogs absolutely love them and they are a fantastic tool when selected wisely. And my goodness they’re great to ease dog parent guilt! How many of us fill up a KONG or hide treats around the house as entertainment because we feel bad when leaving them at home?

The Healthy Treat Hunt

Unfortunately the market is flooded with a plethora of dog treats, ranging from wholesome, natural options to those filled with sugar to disguise the bitter taste of poor quality ingredients and make them more palatable and addictive to your dog. These artificial options can be filled with empty calories and chemicals, all in the name of rewarding your dog. As with our own diets, it’s important to carefully consider the choices we make when it comes to dog treats. 

Reading ingredient labels is essential to make informed choices. If a treat sounds like a science experiment, it’s probably not the best choice for your pup. A long ingredient list does not equal better quality. 

Look for products that are made in Australia and contain naturally occurring ingredients such as bone, organs, dried meats and vegetables. Be wary that some treats contain preservatives, chemicals and sugars that can have nasty (and windy) effects on your dog’s tummy. This can often be the case in treats imported from overseas as they are processed in ways we don’t allow here. Look for treats that use 100% Australian meat and ingredients, with no chemical additives and preservatives.

Training with Treats.

Treats are particularly helpful during training sessions to reinforce that good habit and encourage them to repeat it in the future. Puppy training would be even harder without them! However, do be mindful of the portion size to avoid overloading their calorie intake. Many dog parents use a breakable treat such as Liver, as it can be broken into tiny pieces – better for the dog and your wallet! And it’s a bonus because your dog should have liver in its diet – it’s like a multivitamin and many dogs prefer it in the air dried form.

Fussy dog?

Beware of Overindulgence.

Too many treats is often the primary reason for “fussy dogs” at meal times. If your dog isn’t enthusiastic about its food at meal times, consider how many snacks they are getting. 

The stuff that’s hard to hear.

While treats have numerous benefits, overindulgence can lead to detrimental effects and excessive treats can lead to weight gain, digestive problems, and those finicky eating habits.

Remember that treats should only constitute a small portion of your dog’s overall diet. A general rule of thumb is that treats should make up no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake. It’s important to prioritise your dog’s main meal portions, to ensure they are getting the nutrients they need. If your dog seems to lose interest in their food, it may be because they have had too many treats in the day. 

The ones to avoid.

  • Synthetic bone substitutes such as raw hides contain toxic chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process
  • Brightly coloured green chews are full of dyes and synthetic ingredients
  • Deer antlers can break your dog’s teeth if they’re a vigorous chewer
  • Basted, smoked and decoratively tinted treats are full of nasties! 

New to dog treats or looking to add some variety to your dog’s snacks? The Butcher’s Dog has created a range of meat treats, air-dried to retain flavour and nutrition for your dog. The Kangaroo Tail and Beef Spare Ribs make for great dental treats that can help clean plaque from your dog’s teeth and gums as they chew. For training treats, try Lamb Crumble or Liver which can be broken down into appropriately-sized pieces. Like with their food, your dog will enjoy a variety of flavours and textures, so keep a few different treats on hand. 

Our top treat tip : Only feed treats that would naturally be part of your dog’s diet and then try and stick to the 10% treat rule.

How diet can impact a dogs behaviour

Labrador puppy tugs and bites at the leash

How diet can impact a dogs behaviour

The implications of diet on puppy brain development and subsequent trainability and socialisation, cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, when a dog misbehaves or doesn’t seem able to focus, diet is rarely considered.

We know that high-Glycaemic Index (GI) carbs contribute to numerous chronic illnesses and inflammation in dogs, but did you realise that they could also negatively affect brain function, behaviour and trainability? 
Image of processed carbohydrate food i.e. bread. pasta, wheat

What is the difference between high-GI & low-GI foods?

Carbohydrate foods that are broken down quickly by the body and cause a rapid increase in blood glucose have a high GI rating.

Low-GI foods are those that contain carbohydrates that are digested slowly, which means energy is sustained for long periods of time.

Happy puppy dog running on playground green yard

How does this affect my dog’s behaviour?

Have you ever experienced a child who becomes wildly hyperactive shortly after consuming sugary food or drink and then crashes into sleepiness an hour later? High GI foods which contain corn, wheat and starches create similar mood swings in dogs. After ingesting dry foods dogs experience a ‘sugar high’ in the form of hyperactivity (the zoomies) and a resulting lack of focus and negative impact on a dogs behaviour.

Pet parents often mistake this as ill-mannered and uncooperative behaviour when it is actually food related. The high is followed by a low which can cause dogs to become sleepy, lethargic, moody and irritable.
Labrador puppy giving high-five with owner
High glycaemic foods can also lead to hunger-related behavioural problems. Simple carbohydrates digest and absorb fast, leaving dogs feeling hungry again quicker. This effect can lead to undesirable begging behaviours or even munching on inappropriate “foods” such as shoes and furniture.
Labrador pup laying down on belly

Essential amino acids in protein

Tryptophan and tyrosine are amino acids found in high levels in meat proteins, and act as building blocks to neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters play an important role in regulating everything from heartbeat and digestion to behaviour and mood. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that promotes a feeling of calm, relaxation and well-being. It is found in large quantities in meats such as Turkey, which is why we feel calm after Christmas dinner. When Tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier it can double serotonin synthesis in the brain. Insufficient levels of dietary tryptophan have been associated with aggressive behaviour, depression and elevated stress hormones such as cortisol. Tyrosine, the amino acid precursor to dopamine, has been shown to improve stress hormones and is also found in high amounts in meat. Dogs who suffer from anxiety benefit from a raw diet because of the high bioavailability of Tyrosine and Tryptophan in meats such as beef, chicken, turkey, and salmon.

Put simply, dogs are calmer and easier to train when fed a diet high in a variety of quality raw proteins and low in synthetic nutrients and processed starchy carbs.
Labrador puppy urinating on rug

Toilet Training

Dry feed dogs and puppies need to drink significantly larger amounts of water to maintain normal bodily functions this is due to the fact dry dog food can only have 10-12% moisture to help extend it’s shelf life. Where as fresh raw food contains up to 60% moisture. A dog needs to drink 4 cups of water for every cut of kibble to make up the moisture content lost during the production of dry dog food. Dry food also requires a lot of water to be digested and broken down. Kibble is coated with palatability chemicals and salt simply to encourage dogs to eat it. This combined with the lack of h20 in the food increases their thirst.

Raw fed dogs and puppies maintain a higher level of natural hydration as the food they are consuming contains water. This makes it much easier to toilet train puppies as they don’t have their head in the water bowl as often and consequently need to pee less frequently. They also pass less solid waste matter as dry food contains a large portion of indigestible filler ingredients.

Canine Nutrigenomics by W Jean Dodds DVM and Diana Laverdure.
Feeding Dogs: The Science Behind The Dry Versus Raw Debate by Dr Conor Brady PhD.

Kibble – reading the labels, what REALLY goes in it?

Kibble – reading labels, what really goes in it?

In fact, given that you’re probably not an “expert” on pet food, as I suppose I sort of am, this may well have happened to you many times. The fact that it does still happen to me every now and then is testament to just how easy it is to be led down the garden path by canny processed pet food producers, experts of marketing spin.

So, while I do still occasionally, albeit briefly, fall for their marketing sorcery, I have learned a good few tricks along the way to work out what you’re reading, from very basic pointers, to the level of semi-professional label reader. And through doing this, as well as by asking companies lots of questions, by reading Australian Standards from cover to cover, and by heavily researching the topic to the point that it’s actually a bit embarrassing how much I know about processed pet food, I feel quite well placed to explain a few things about it.

Dog food container

Check the ingredients on the pack:

Some kibbles do not even list or name the specific protein they use. Processed dog food is almost always centred around a main animal protein, and we’re led to believe it is brimming with juicy chicken breasts and shiny salmon fillets, as per the glossy photos on the bag, but the reality is quite different.

Although you absolutely should expect to see meat as the first ingredient in any dog food product, there is a little more to it than that. If a company does not name the specific protein they use, this is a big, big red flag. If a business cannot even tell you what animal the meat comes from, there is no possible way they can tell you anything resembling genuine transparency around the supply chain this meat came from, prior to ending up in their food.

There is also a big difference between “meat” and “meat meal.” One is 75% water, the other is basically devoid of any moisture. So while the idea of “meat meal” might horrify you (more on that in a minute), it is almost guaranteed that a food that lists meat meal at the front of their ingredients list actually contains a lot more animal protein than one that lists “meat” in its whole form. This is because ingredients lists are required to be listed by weight, meaning an ingredient that is 75% water is going be far heavier than an ingredient with no water, despite the fact that this water is all removed during the cooking process. Tricky.

female dog owner with dog reading dog food packaging & it's label

What the heck is meat meal?

Meat meal is a shelf stable meat powder that is made from rendering meat and bones not fit for human consumption. It is the same process that is used to separate tallow for making things like soap, whereby the fat and water is split from the meat using very high temperatures. According to their own website, The Rendering Association considers themselves to be a recycling service, above all else, and they acknowledge that plastic ear tags are not removed from heads of livestock before they are rendered to be turned into pet food.

Ingredient splitting is a trick:

Sometimes we see both meat AND meat meal, and this is because of a little thing called ingredient splitting. The function of ingredient splitting is to give the illusion of more protein. In the case of splitting say, chicken, into a fresh version and a dry version, the result is that now it appears twice and, to the untrained eye, looks to be much higher in chicken content (perhaps twice as much) than it really is. When actually it is just water weight and no additional chicken.

The reverse is true of less desirable ingredients like, for example, legumes. Splitting in this context enables low nutritional ‘fillers’ to appear smaller in weight to the so-called core protein. Often we will see as many as four or five different beans and peas, the nutritional value and function of which are incredibly similar, at least in this context. The reason for this is that each serve of the 5 different beans weighs significantly less than the sum total, and also less than the meat ingredient in number one position.

Dog with blackboard that has dog bone illustration of 2 + 2 = 4

How much ‘meat’ is really in there?

We aren’t meant to know! More than likely, if you see multiple very similar ingredients they have been selected strategically so that meat is the first ingredient. You may also see the same ingredient in a few different forms. This is common of things like peas, which may appear as “peas,” as well as things like pea protein and pea flour. All peas. Lotsa peas.

According to the Australian Renderers Association, as well as pet food industry insiders I’ve personally spoken to, it is typical for kibble to contain around 20% meat meal or less, and high end ones cap out at around 30%. This is partly due to the high bone content of meat meal, as well as other things like cost and the functional necessity for starches to tie the ingredients together.

What about all those carbs?

It’s not at all unusual for a dry pet food to be more than half carbohydrate based ingredients, like grains and legumes, which is necessary to form the biscuit dough. This is incredibly high, keeping in mind that dogs and cats have no mandated carbohydrate requirement at all.

image of different types of grains

The problem with starchy carbs is they quickly break down into simple sugars that enter the bloodstream, spiking blood sugar levels. This triggers the pancreas to release insulin, a hormone that tells our cells to absorb the blood glucose for energy. Because this all happens very quickly with highly processed and high GI carbs, dogs can feel hungry more quickly, while also storing excess glucose as fat and over time risking diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Yeast infections and cancer both love sugar too, so the danger here speaks for itself.

What about all the so-called ‘superfoods’ and ‘vitamins’?

Aside from some additional fats (all the fat is removed from the meat meal, remember), kibbles contain artificial flavours (because there is no natural taste, and to make it smell nicer to us), and minuscule amounts of ‘superfoods’ (which sound amazing in the advertising), and a vitamin and mineral premix.

Is it complete and balanced?

Where vitamins or superfood quantities are so small, they don’t even register as a percentage. As a guide, if they are below salt on the packaging, this means less than 1%.

human hand releasing pinch of salt

These vitamins and minerals are usually cheap oxides, sulphates and other inorganic synthetics, rather than actual nutrients as they appear in nature, or even high quality isolates. The bioavailability of these is questionable, but studies have shown they are poorly utilised compared to higher quality synthetics, let alone nutrients in actual food. These synthetic nutrient supplements are essential to meet the required nutrient levels in the standards set out by the powers that be, because the repeated high heat treatment that processed food undergoes degrades any actual nutrients so severely they are largely absent. Importantly, it also enables manufacturers to use the term, ‘Complete and Balanced’…

Once all of these ingredients are mixed into a dough, it is then pushed through an extruder, which uses heat and forms the biscuit shapes. It is then cooked, and often cooked again, before being sprayed with flavours.

The end result is a product that can sit on the shelf for years before your dog eats it. There is no requirement to state a date of production, only a batch ID that is meaningless to consumers, and a used by date. Due to the self regulated nature of the Australian pet food industry, as well as the seriously relaxed guidelines in the Australian Standard that governs the marketing of its products, the label on a bag of food can be designed in a way that conceals much of what we’ve just discussed.

But the packaging looks great!

Bags often contain images of foods so premium we might eat them ourselves, emblazoned with a featured animal protein name, and sometimes even a bold claim of as much as 70 or 80% meat. When the reality is that this number includes a ‘rehydration factor’ of x4…remembering they can call meat meal ‘meat’.

pet food packaging
These marketing tactics are governed by the voluntary Australian Standard for the Manufacture and Marketing of Pet Food (AS5812), and it acknowledges that dry pet foods are “typically cereal based.” Despite this, the standard permits food to be named after a meat protein while only containing as little as 5% of the named protein, and it doesn’t actually have to even be the main meat protein if the word “with” comes beforehand. If you’ve noticed the recent trend of referring to a food as being with REAL beef, this is why. The “real” is a distraction from the “with” – because really, what other sort of beef would it be?? This standard also states that “justification of content claims, when using dehydrated ingredients, shall be calculated on a reconstituted basis using a recognised conversion factor.” In layman’s terms, what this means is that a claim such as “contains 70% meat,” will have had a rehydration factor of x4 applied to any dry meat ingredients, meaning that in fact it contains only 17.5% of a highly processed and heat treated scrap meat powder. It is totally permitted, arguably encouraged or even mandatory, for them to multiply this portion by 4 and advertise a hypothetical rehydrated percentage, even though it never actually existed in this food.

This would be sort of ok with me if everything was calculated using rehydration factors and we were comparing apples with apples. But they’re not.
bowl of raw food and bowl of kibble

And that brings us to the nutrient panel. You’d be forgiven for looking at the nutrient panel on a bag of kibble and thinking “26% protein! Amazing.” But what we need to remember here is that this percentage refers to the finished, dry product, so it is a very concentrated figure on account of all the water having been removed – as opposed to the claim on the front, which has had all the water added back in using “rehydration factors”. These companies pick and choose how they will inflate figures in the way that best suits them and makes their product look better, and as a result risk totally deceiving consumers. Best of both worlds, eh?
Because it is not normal for food to be completely dry, these nutrient panel values are not really comparable to what we are used to seeing. As a result, they often seem high, while actually being very low. While a fresh meat product might advertise a seemingly meagre 15% protein, the dry matter equivalent of this (ie. the percentage of protein once all water is removed) may be as high as 50%. Almost double the actual protein content of the processed food. Another thing to note is that there is no requirement to list a carbohydrate percentage, so most pet food brands choose not to, and many will decline to tell you if you ask (which I did, many times).
There is much more I could say on this topic, but the key point to takeaway is that these foods are almost always labelled and marketed in a way that intentionally has pet owners in a tail spin trying to navigate them, when ultimately the vast majority are extremely similar.

In summary:

The lack of transparency in the processed pet food industry is something I find deeply problematic, and is compounded by a complete lack of mandatory regulations. A few things are certain though; these foods are all made from ingredients that are totally unsuitable for dogs, they are all heavily processed and repeatedly exposed to high temperatures, they are all supplemented with synthetic vitamins and minerals in order to show they contain ‘adequate nutrition’, and they are all permitted to sit on a shelf for as long as 18 months before being fed to your pet.

No amount of labelling gymnastics will change these facts, and this is really all you need to know.

(In this article I refer to “processed pet food,” “dry dog food” and “kibble”, by which I mean the typical, biscuit based dog food that we find at the supermarket.)
Butcher's Dog food on platter

The importance of gut health

The importance of gut health

By now, those of us with even a passing interest in nutrition have no doubt heard the expression “gut health.” If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ve probably read about it here or heard me talk about pre and probiotics. It has become so entrenched in the vernacular of nutrition – both animal and our own – that we tend to gloss over it as simply a necessity, without paying too much attention to the details.

When we talk about “the gut” in gut health, it’s not just the tummy or stomach that we’re referring to. The gut incorporates the entire gastrointestinal tract, which begins at the mouth and goes all the way through the body to the bum. It incorporates a good portion of the body’s organs and it is responsible for some very critical bodily functions, which is why it’s SO important that we ensure its health. The primary job of the gut is to digest food, breaking it down into a form that can deliver nutrients to the bloodstream. Pretty straightforward, right?

But within the gut is the gut microbiome. This is an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria – both good and bad – fungi, viruses, and other microscopic critters that reside mainly in the large intestine. They also live in other parts of the body, such as in the mouth, on the skin, and even in the vagina. These good bacteria are what we mean when we say probiotics. And the good ones don’t just help to digest food and absorb or produce nutrients – they play an important role in fighting infections such as dental disease, food poisoning, or urinary tract infections, they assist with regulating weight, they play an essential role in the health of the immune system, and they can even affect mental health, the heart and the likelihood of developing diabetes.

Gut bacteria assists with regulating weight and can influence the onset of diabetes.

When the bacteria in the gut is in balance, the presence of good bacteria outnumbers bad and is sufficient to defend against illness and disease. If the gut is out of balance – or experiencing dysbiosis – it can mean there has been a loss of “good” bacteria, an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria or a reduction in the diversity of the microbes in the gut (or a combination of all three).

The more diversity present in the gut microbiome, the greater the positive influence on health, and especially intestinal health. Numerous studies (in humans) have linked gut dysbiosis to inflammatory intestinal conditions such as IBS, and a 2017 study on dogs also linked gut microbiome diversity with intestinal health. Immune cells also live in the gut, with as much as 70-80% of the immune system thought to reside here, so its role in health really can’t be understated.

The gut microbiome develops very early in life, possibly even in the womb, and the health of the gut may be impacted by many factors, including some we have no control of, like genetics, whether the birth is vaginal or by cesarean, or whether we (or our dog) are breastfed. The health of a mother’s gut microbiome likely informs the benefits obtained through birth and breastfeeding, as well as in utero development of the microbiome.

There are also lifestyle factors that we have limited control over and which impact the health of the microbiome, such as environmental toxins, and essential medications like antibiotics in times of illness. But then there are lifestyle things we can do to improve or preserve the health of the gut, and (unsurprisingly) my favorite one is diet.

The single best way to support the health of the gut is to feed a diet of fresh, living nutrients, that suits the digestive capability of your pet.

This food will be naturally brimming with probiotic goodness and digestive enzymes that will aid the digestive process, but they also offer bigger-picture benefits. A diverse and varied diet, as opposed to a monotonous processed diet, offers a wide variety of different strains of probiotics (like the Lactobacillus acidophilus made famous by yogurt commercials in the 90s), which builds diversity in the microbiome. Fresh foods that suit the carnivorous mouth of our pets (like meaty bones) provide a defense that helps to prevent pathogenic bacteria from building up in the mouth, unlike starchy foods that offer no dental or bacteria-fighting benefits.

As we discussed in this post, preventing dental disease is integral to preventing disease all through the body.

Heavily processed foods that are repeatedly heat treated and sit on shelves for months simply cannot offer the same living enzymes and good bacteria as fresh foods.

While some are targeted to intestinal health, they are still brimming with heavily processed, unsuitable ingredients and synthetic nutrients, they offer no comparable dietary diversity and they are cooked within an inch of their life (or arguably beyond it, RIP). It simply does not pass the test of common sense that such food could be offering a positive impact on the health of our pet’s oh so important gut, and the ever-increasing amount of kibble fed dogs with IBS, skin conditions, ear infections, yeast infections, gas, and cancer frankly make it a hard sell for me. And in fact, a study conducted in 2017 that compared kibble-fed and raw-fed dogs found that bacteria associated with diarrhea and irritable bowel disorder was higher in kibble-fed dogs, while raw the fed dogs experienced “improved apparent protein and energy digestibility, reduced fecal weight and better fecal consistency.”

With the ever-increasing amount of kibble-fed dogs with IBS, skin conditions, ear infections, yeast infections, gas, and cancer, frankly kibble is a hard sell for me.

The gut microbiota can change very quickly—as fast as a matter of just days from dietary changes—but this doesn’t necessarily mean that poor gut health is an easy fix. It’s not uncommon for people to try fresh foods and find they don’t help, or sometimes even seem to make things worse, so they quickly revert back to processed food and things stabilize. Anyone who has ever eaten a whole foods diet and then a meal from McDonald’s (or a beige diet and then a plate of broccoli) will be able to attest that sudden, major dietary changes are not pleasant. Regardless of their health status, if your dog has a gut microbiome that is optimized (and I use that word loosely) to digest a carbohydrate-based kibble, it will look very different to a dog whose microbiome is optimized to digest raw meat. If you add to this gut dysbiosis or even leaky gut syndrome (a condition where the lining of the gut is degraded and allows particles of food into the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response), you are probably facing a little bit of a battle to restore equilibrium, and this will take time. Please don’t give up.

There are things we can do to make this process go more smoothly, and a big one is to go slowly. Another is to offer things in the diet that are specially targeted to gut health, such as fermented foods. Fermented foods are ancient remedies that we can either make at home, or buy in the form of doggy-safe choices like sauerkraut and other facto-fermented veggies, kefir, or raw dairy like goat’s milk (this isn’t actually fermented, but loaded with the good stuff nonetheless). These can be paired with prebiotics for rest results, which are indigestible fibers that feed the good bacteria in the gut, helping them to stay alive, grow and multiply.

Prebiotics generally come from plants, and some good choices are listed in this post here.

Alternatively, The Butcher’s Dog stocks a range of biologically appropriate probiotic supplements for dogs.

If you suspect your dog’s gut health does need an overhaul, they may require a course of probiotic supplements to restore the equilibrium.

Some areas that can be affected by poor gut health or indicators that your dog’s gut health may not be as good as it could be, include skin conditions, dull fur, really “doggy” smell, excess shedding, greasy coat, itchiness, tummy issues, bad breath, diarrhea, joint pain, poor immune system, food intolerances, yeast infections, recurring UTIs, IBS, and even behavioral issues.

Probiotics also don’t just come from food. They are present in the soil, in the grass, in puddles, even in the poo of other animals, which explains why some dogs insist on eating it. While I definitely don’t recommend coprophagia as a strategy for good gut health, it does sort of explain why some dogs participate in this pretty gross habit. What I do recommend is that we trust our pet’s instincts and let them be dogs, by allowing them to obtain the enormous health benefits of a species-appropriate, fresh diet that supports the health of their microbiome.

And dig, roll in the grass, drink out of puddles. Be good, healthy dogs.



Bones and Dental Health

Bones and Dental Health

Why has the incidence of dental disease skyrocketed?

So why is it then, that up to 80% of dogs over the age of two years old (veritable babies!) have dental disease? And 70% of cats! Modern processed dry diets have played a huge part. The sticky film called plaque forms on teeth when bacteria in the mouth mix with starchy foods. This build-up is something we don’t tend to see in raw-fed dogs and cats. Partly because raw food doesn’t contain starches and sugars, and the mechanical scraping of the teeth when bones are gnawed. It also needs to be remembered that dog dentistry is a relatively modern phenomenon and is not without risk itself, as your dog is under anaesthetic for the procedure.

In recent years there has been an outpouring of doomsday messaging about the dangers of bones and how we simply must not feed them under any circumstances. Cracked teeth, choking hazards and splinters! The risks so greatly outweighs the benefits that we simply must not facilitate an act that our pets evolved over thousands of years doing, but instead feed these certified synthetic starch sticks and routinely spend hundreds, if not thousands of our hard earned dollars on teeth cleaning procedures.

The black and whiteness of the differing schools of thought within the animal care industry is something I have always struggled with. Bones in particular seem to divide, and I dare say that no one suffers more from this argument than our pets.

The risks of feeding bones

There are risks to feeding bones. If we feed inappropriately large and hard bones, it’s possible that a tooth may crack. A dog could choke on a bone (like literally any other thing they chew like sticks and balls ) and cooked bones can splinter. These are all genuine risks and it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge them. But they are risks that can be mitigated, and they should be weighed up against the benefits. But there are also other health risks to consider.

The risks of not feeding bones

The statistic that 80% of dogs over the age of 2 (or 3, according to some sources – but shocking nonetheless either way) require dental treatment is so widely circulated in both pro and anti-bone circles that it can not be ignored. In fact there are a number of peer reviewed studies that support it. This is extremely troubling, not only because it is a condition that inevitably causes a life of pain, but perhaps even more worryingly because it is linked to the progression of “renal, hepatic and cardiac disorders,” a claim that is supported by a study conducted at Purdue University, which concluded “systemic diseases where an association with [periodontal disease] has been documented include chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, endocarditis, interstitial nephritis, glomerulonephritis, and hepatitis.”

Dental disease causes systemic disease.

This is the risk we simply cannot ignore. While the scientific evidence of the dental health benefits of gnawing on a bone are unsurprisingly scant, there is literally thousands of years of lived experience, and an infinite mass of anecdotal evidence supporting bones as a natural method of ensuring the dental health of species that are physically designed to eat bones. There is also evidence to support the preventative nature of natural chews like cow hooves on periodontal disease in dogs, a conclusion that is drawn form the same study referenced above, implicating dental diseases in a host of other systemic illnesses.

I will add to this and say that my nine year old dog has eaten meaty and recreational bones his whole life and has shown no signs of dental disease or cracked teeth at his routine vet check ups – performed by his raw feeding vet who also feeds her own dogs bones! My one year old monster, however, has a cracked tooth from jumping into a sewer when she was a puppy, and her (human) dad has an endearing chip in his front tooth from an incident with a basketball. Life is full of risks, and as guardians it is our responsibility to weigh them and choose a path that we believe offers the best possible health outcome for those in our care. If you decide this is not bones, then that is more than ok. If you think they are worth a crack (no pun intended), then there are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure they are fed safely.

Pick a dog a Bone

The first thing is to select which kind of bones you want to feed. There are two main types: meaty and recreational. Meaty bones are nutritional and consumed entirely as part of the main diet, and include things like a chicken neck or wing. They offer many health benefits in addition to dental, such as a naturally balanced source of calcium and phosphorus, when fed as part of a complete diet. The other is a recreational bone, which is the more traditional “dog bone” and is offered usually as an enrichment tool. When we say “give a dog a bone” we think of this type, well-utilised to both keep busy minds at bay and pearly whites sparkling.

Size Matters

In each situation it is wise to err on the side of larger, as this means they are unlikely to be swallowed whole and pose a choking hazard. In any case, it’s essential that you get to know your own dog, monitor their chewing style and work out if you need to first teach them how to safely consume bones. Some dogs will carefully crunch and gnaw until the bone has been reduced to a size suitable to safely swallow, whereas others will attempt to swallow everything in sight immediately. I personally have one of each. For the more gung-ho, it’s important that you guide your dog and teach them how to consume bones safely. Hold it in your hand and force them to gnaw.

Bernese mountain dog about to eat raw bone

Avoid competition at meal time

Feed them alone so there is no competition or urgency. You can try giving them more than they can physically swallow and allow them to consume some, then take it away when they’ve had enough and before it gets too small. In the case of very large dogs, if you trust your dog and feel comfortable to (as I do), you can actually feed small bones like chicken necks, and they will likely be swallowed with almost no chewing at all (as the dog is really designed to do), and they will at least obtain nutritional benefit, if not dental. Most importantly, always supervise.

Selecting the right bones also extends to the animal the bone comes from. If a bone is very, very hard—such as those that weigh bear for very large animals (eg. cow legs), it is significantly more likely to crack a tooth. If a bone is very hard but small (such as a beef short rib), it can be swallowed whole but not digested, or it may get stuck in the roof of the mouth or in the digestive tract. For this reason it is best to choose physically larger bones but that are not from huge animals. Bones from a turkey or a lamb, or bones that don’t carry a lot of weight, such as a neck from a pig or a tail from a kangaroo, are good examples of much safer choices.

No, never, nada.

And most importantly, never ever ever EVER feed cooked bones of any description. While most raw bones are actually quite soft and spongy and can be safely digested by the gastric juices of healthy dogs and cats, cooked bones are dried out and hard, and therefore are much more likely to splinter, causing the injuries we’re quite rightly warned about.

Also stay away from synthetic bone substitutes such as raw hides ( toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process ) brightly coloured green chews (full of dyes and synthetic ingredients) deer antlers ( responsible for a lot of broken teeth in vigorous chewers), basted, smoked and decoratively tinted products, (full of crap).

Senior dogs and ageing gracefully

How could this be? My shiny, playful, cheeky pal who seems as spritely as he did the day I adopted him, which feels like only yesterday. Well, it turns out that dogs over the age of just SEVEN are considered senior, and he is going on nine. Seven seems to me incredibly young to be considered a senior (perhaps because by this rationale I myself am a senior!), but alas I don’t make the rules.

It would never occur to me when Tex was seven that he was in any way elderly; he was honestly as fit as the day I brought him home. However, something changed at eight, and I was forced to face my dog’s mortality. What changed, you ask?

Tex relaxing on bed

We got a puppy. Much like the signs of our own ageing perhaps go unnoticed until all of a sudden they don’t, introducing a bubbly young puppy, who wanted to play absolutely non-stop, made me realise my older boy actually had slowed down a bit. He slept more, he moved less and a bit more slowly, his breath wasn’t quite so fresh, and he’s not as regular as he once was. When he was younger you could set your watch to the routine of his number twos, whereas these days at times it’s bit more effort.

He’s also a grumpy old shit, but to be fair he always was so I don’t think that’s age related.
If we look at the website of a popular veterinary chain, the key areas of interest for pet owners with an ageing dog are: mobility, lumps and bumps, changes in appetite, thirst or weight, and dental health. As the owner of an ageing dog, I can attest that these are all things I have monitored and attended to in the last 12 months. Don’t get me wrong, Tex is still incredibly active and is often confused for a puppy by admiring strangers, but this is because of my close attention to his diet and overall wellness, not in spite of it.

Contrary to what many sources will tell you, dogs’ nutritional needs do not change as they age. There is no separate set of nutrition guidelines for older dogs, and no evidence based reason for them to require totally different food. But that’s not to say there aren’t things we can do to support them in their twilight years, and that includes through food.
Tex looking out open door

I took Tex to our wonderful holistic vet about a year ago because I thought he needed to be put under for nail trim. He is extremely fear aggressive about having his nails trimmed, and after many attempts through many different avenues, multiple different professionals have advised me that sedating him is presently the only way to do it without traumatising him further. Much to my delight, our vet told me that his nails weren’t medically an issue and didn’t yet need to be tended to. Much to my dismay, she said the reason for the change in his front paw movement was not due to long nails, but rather to cartilage degeneration from age, which would likely one day progress to become arthritis. Great. To combat his current symptoms and prevent further deterioration, we now use a plant and marine extract-based veterinary supplement to support the cartilage generation in his joints, and we focus on an anti-inflammatory diet with loads of omega 3-rich and gut-supporting foods. He gets plenty of fresh oily fish, high gelatine bone broth, cartilage dense foods like trachea and chicken feet, and a balanced whole foods, species appropriate diet to keep him at a healthy weight and thus support his joints.

I also had his routine checkup tests done in this appointment and the vet commented that his urine was very concentrated. Distraught, I queried why this would be, immediately presuming he had some sort of devastating kidney disorder. But upon relaying that it was a morning wee, that he can easily go a whole day without a toilet break and that he isn’t a big drinker, she assured me that it was no cause for concern. She did recommend, however, that I ensure he gets plenty of water so his ageing urinary tract doesn’t need to work overtime. But how?! He’s the most stubborn dog I know! Add it to his food, she replied. Sometimes the answer really is that simple and just staring you right in the face. Make sure your ageing dog stays hydrated, and add water to their food if they don’t drink a lot. Check.
Tex with towel wrapped around head

Like humans, dogs can be more prone to constipation as they get older, and this can pose a challenge for a species that is not designed to eat plants. I started adding more vegetables to Tex’s diet when I noticed this change, but the gas that comes out of this boy when he eats veggies is something else. To combat this, I give him a digestive enzyme when he eats veggies, because dogs don’t produce the enzyme amylase in their saliva like we do, which is necessary for digesting carbohydrates. It helps, but I also don’t like feeding him foods that he’s not well equipped to digest, so I also now feed him more muscle meat and less bone than I used to, which also helps. He kept regular treats and bones with fur, which is nature’s answer to fibre for carnivores, and sometimes I do also give him some oats of a morning, which contain lots of both soluble and insoluble fibre, and assist with bulking stools and keeping us regular.

To combat the issue of his morning breath, I regularly feed recreational bones, as well as food and treats that require gnawing and ripping. Tex’s teeth are actually in great shape for his age and he has no dental disease at all (according to regular vet check-ups), but this is definitely something we aim to prevent through species appropriate foods, rather than treat with veterinary intervention. He’s never had his teeth cleaned and I fully attribute his good dental health to his lifelong species appropriate diet, but this is certainly something I’ll monitor closely now that he’s older. There is a species of brown kelp—specifically Ascophyllum nodosum—that has also been shown in studies to combat dental disease and, combined with foods that contain antibacterial properties, like parsley, mint or coconut oil, may help either as a food topper or a homemade toothpaste. We’re yet to try this (see my previous point about grumpiness), but we will soon.
Tex chewing on raw whole fish

Dogs can also be prone to a slowing of the metabolism as they get a bit long in the tooth, so it’s important to watch their portions and keep them at a healthy weight, which will both support their joints and help to avoid any of the vast number of diseases related to obesity. You can do this either by reducing their portions, or by selecting leaner foods in the same rations. This also isn’t the case for all dogs, and I have actually found I need to feed Tex more than I did when he was young, although this may be partly due to his spritely sister keeping him active through the day, when previously he spent hours sunning himself in a lap of luxury.

And as for the lumps and bumps? My advice is to regularly check your dog over when you’re giving them affection, and get any new lumps vet checked right away. Once you know they’re nothing serious, embrace their new, unique weirdness and enjoy the rest of the precious years you have left together.

The top five plants to feed your dog

The top five plants to feed your dog

Today I want to discuss some of my favourite choices when it comes to selecting suitable plant based foods for dogs, and the nutritional benefits they offer. My approach to introducing plant based ingredients is to always do it thoughtfully and with intention, so your dog can obtain the most benefit from the food they eat. This is actually my approach to all foods for our pets, but it is especially so with plant based foods, as they are generally not things that would have featured in the ancestral, species appropriate diet of a dog. Pretty much all animal based foods will offer nutritional benefits, whereas plants can be a bit trickier to navigate.

Unfortunately processed pet food is, for the most part, absolutely brimming with plant ingredients that are not at all suitable for the nutritional needs of dogs, like wheat, corn and soy. Conversely, some of the ingredients in traditional commercial pet foods are wonderfully nutritious in their whole form, but are processed within an inch of their life to become kibble, so little benefit remains in the bag. This confluence of somewhat contradictory messages means it can be extremely challenging for the everyday pet-parent to discern what is truly beneficial, and what is best avoided.

Never fear! Your friendly pet nutritionist is here to help. Start out by adding some of my top five plants into your dog’s diet, and let us know in the comments how you go!
raw meal in bowl surrounded by capsicum, cucumber, broccoli, brussels sprouts, blue berries, egg, kale and herbs


Pumpkin is an easy one to begin with because we all know and love it. It has a mild sweetness that most dogs love too. Despite its humble place in the typical vegetable crisper and in winter soups, pumpkin is actually extremely nutritious, partly owing to a good amount of fibre, which plays an important role in managing digestive upset. Pumpkin is higher in soluble fibre, which dissolves in water and forms a gel, slowing the exit of food from the digestive system and managing diarrhoea. But it also contains insoluble fibre, which adds bulk to stools and can speed up digestive transit, assisting to relieve constipation. To top this off, pumpkin is an excellent source of the cancer fighting antioxidant beta carotene, and immune system-loving vitamin C. Magic. Steam, boil or bake and add to your pup’s meals for digestive health.
Dog laying down next to a pumpkin

Sunflower seeds and oil

Sunflower seeds are a fantastic, concentrated source of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an important nutrient in your dog’s diet and one of the most commonly deficient in a fresh food diet. This is because, while it is abundant in plant based food sources, it is unfortunately not plentiful in animal protein based foods, which we know dogs are best suited to eating.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from free radical damage to the cells, tissues and organs, and thus fights and protects from all sorts of diseases. Long term vitamin E deficiency can also cause serious health issues, such as muscle degeneration. If you choose to feed seeds, make sure they are crushed to a meal consistency so they can be effectively digested, or try a sunflower butter from your health food store. Alternatively, you can use a high quality sunflower oil for an easily absorbed source of vitamin E. Avoid the ones in the supermarket and shoot for a cold pressed option that lists the vitamin E content to ensure you’re not just buying empty calories.


Papaya is one of my faaaaaaaaave choices for doggy fruits. Part of the magic of papaya is its good dose of digestive enzymes, particularly papain. Papain is a form of protease, which is the type of enzyme that facilitates the digestion of proteins. Super handy for dogs who eat a high protein, species appropriate diet! Papaya is also a prebiotic fruit, which means it works to feed the good bacteria in the gut during digestion. A study in 2013 showed that papaya extract helped to alleviate the symptoms of constipation and IBD (in humans). A little fresh tropical papaya in your dog’s breaky goes a long way.
Butcher's Dog meal in a bowl with vegetables next to it including papaya, carrots, herbs and broccoli

Sea Vegetables

Sea vegetables are a fantastic source of trace minerals like selenium, and one of the richest sources of iodine on the planet. Unlike a lot of other plant material, sea vegetables are easily digested by dogs, so the nutrients present are well absorbed. Particularly notable benefits of sea vegetables are their ability to assist with thyroid function. Without the addition of sea vegetables in your dogs diet, it is highly likely they’re not meeting their iodine quota. They do need to be fed in careful moderation though, as they’re very potent and too much iodine can have the opposite intended effect on the thyroid.
Certain varieties of kelp, namely Ascophyllum Nodosum, have been clinically studied and proven to fight dental disease. It does this through a combination of preventing plaque from being deposited on the teeth and preventing bacteria from adhering to the tooth, while at the same time inhibiting tartar. The mouth is the gateway for disease to enter the rest of the body, so its health is absolutely paramount.
Kelp powder


I could go on for days about the wonderful rainbow of nutritious plant foods we can add to support the health of our pets, but I’ll finish up on a high note: blueberries. Not just the universal symbol of summer arriving, berries are also powerhouses of nutrition. Blueberries in particular are a stand out because they are, by weight, one of the best available whole food sources of antioxidants. Clinical studies have shown promising results when looking at the impact blueberries have on cholesterol, breast cancer risk, and bone health. Truly amazing little things. Other choices like blackberries and raspberries also contain super high amounts of vitamins C, K and antioxidants. The flavonoids in these berries that are responsible for their antioxidant benefit are called anthocyanin, which also gives them their vibrant colours. It could also be argued that berries are the most species appropriate choice for dogs, as wolves are known to scavenge for berries – perfect for the ancestral diet loyalists among you!

So there you have it. My top five plants to feed your dog for nutritional benefits and long term positive health outcomes. There are loads of other choices too, just make sure that you prepare any plants in a way that makes them easily digestible. This means grinding seeds, cooking starchy veggies well and blitzing up fibrous plant matter. Your dog and their tummy will thank you for it.



To feed your dog vegetables or not? That is the question.

To feed your dog vegetables or not? That is the question.

If you’ve been hanging out in the world of doggy food and nutrition for any length of time, you will probably be aware that one of the most hotly debated topics is whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores. One of life’s great mysteries.

Well. Sort of. Not really.

In theory, I have no major issue with classifying dogs as omnivores, because technically it would not be strictly incorrect to do so. Dogs and their wolf ancestors are well documented to scavenge for some plants. But so are many other carnivores, and these “grey area” creatures are generally considered to be facultative carnivores, based on a number of other physiological features. Being omnivorous is really more of a spectrum, and there is no defined point of meat to plant ratio where a species stops being a facultative carnivore and becomes an omnivore. And regardless of whether you consider dogs to be carnivores or omnivores, it shouldn’t change the food they eat.
White buckets with leafy greens, zucchini, carrots and pears

Because omnivore and carnivore are just words.

I personally favour referring to dogs as carnivores with some opportunistic omnivorous tendencies. The reason I favour this label is that, in my experience, when people or pet food companies aggressively insist that dogs are omnivores, they then use this classification as the basis of feeding them a whole lot of unsuitable and nutritionally bereft ingredients that NO animal should eat, regardless of their nutritional status.

Dogs carry all the physical markers of being a carnivore. Like most predators, their eyes are set forward for depth perception, and without the wide-ranging peripheral vision that prey animals possess. Their jaws are hinged to open widely, which allows them to pull down prey with ease, and consume large feasts after a successful hunt. Conversely, their jaws don’t have the capacity to move sideways, a motion reserved almost exclusively for grinding plant matter (did you just move your jaw?). Their teeth, including their rear molars, are sharp and almost jagged, for ripping and tearing, and are not suitable for grinding and mashing. Their stomachs are up to 100 times more acidic than ours – akin to battery acid – and their digestive system is short to expel pathogens quickly, not long for fermenting plant matter. They do not produce the enzyme necessary for breaking down starches in their mouths like we do, although they do now produce a little in the pancreas to account for the changes in diet that domestication has brought around. This single evolutionary marker is heavily relied upon to make the case that dogs have evolved to become omnivores but, really, they have just evolved to compensate for the fact that we treat them as if they are. Clever cookies.
vegetables in mixer

Despite all of this, as a nutritionist, I generally advocate for the inclusion of some plant matter in a canine diet, whether it be in the form of fruits, veggies, seeds, oils or powders. This may seem confusing after I have just explained in detail why I believe dogs to be carnivores, but it needn’t be. I don’t advocate for willy-nilly, nutritionally redundant or heavily processed plant matter in large amounts, like you might find on your local pet food shelves. Hell no. I advocate for the inclusion of thoughtful, functional whole foods that offer nutritional and digestive benefits, and just so happen to come from plants.

Because while a dog’s physiology might clearly indicate that they are designed to eat a prey-based diet modelled on their ancestral food sources, I can almost guarantee that even the most seasoned raw feeder isn’t truly providing this. See, dogs in the wild didn’t eat 80% lean beef mince, export grade kangaroo fillets and plucked chicken wings. They ate fur, feathers, eyes, sinew, bums, hooves, blood guts and gore. And everything animals in the wild do is for a reason.

You’re unlikely to find these at your local butcher, but these foods all served a metabolic purpose in the diet and it is our responsibility to replicate that as closely as possible. So, unless your butchers sells unwashed rectums and testicles (jealous if they do!), we need to find alternate sources of nutrients like manganese and vitamin E, and we need to ensure we’re providing things like prebiotic fibre, probiotics and digestive enzymes in a manner that facilitates good gut health and thus the overall health of your beloved Fluffy. And the easiest way to do this… you guessed it. Plants.

Dog running through grass towards camera
In our next post, we’ll go over some of the best choices for adding nutritious, functional plant matter to your dog’s diet and some of the benefits they can provide.