There has been much debate whether a raw meat/bone diet is better for dogs than a basic grain based diet. While there are ample studies supporting both approaches, my research and personal insights as a healthcare professional may shed light on this confusing issue.
Why is it confusing? Everything regarding dogs, from a genetic standpoint, is confusing. While it may be easy to do a DNA test to determine what type(s) of breeds your particular dog may have come from, it is generally accepted that dogs and wolves are virtually identical from a genetic standpoint.
Why is genetics important regarding the issue of diet? Because everything that had to do with the domestication of the dog springs from one major gene and that gene appears about 14,000 years ago. That gene that either came about from mutation or was already there but dormant, was switched on as the dog began to eat more and more starches found at early human agrarian villages. In other words, as the human population moved from hunters to agricultural based communities, so too, did the dogs that they kept, ate the same foods. The more human culture switched to grains, the more they feed grain scraps to their dogs.
As human agricultural communities grew, the domestication of dogs occurred in a similar pattern. Humans moved from a hunter-gatherer meat based diet to a grain based diet and it is at this time in history that we start to see the emergence of grain related disorders such as diabetes. The same holds true for canines. Ultimately, those breeds of dogs that found their place in human communities, developed the ability to digest starches just like the humans did.
Interestingly, wolves also have genes to digest starches but where domesticated dogs may have anywhere from 4 to 30 related starch digesting genes, wolves have a mere four. The difference may be owing to the fact that, while wolves and dogs are both omnivores, since they primarily eat meat, the genes remained dormant and only the few they do have are functional to digest grass or other wild plants they might eat.
So what does this have to do with our Malamutes? Malamutes are a pariah breed (ancient dog). They are virtually unchanged in their reported 17,000 year history. Their evolution stemmed from an ancient dog and not wolves but their genetic profiles are virtually identical. It is said that of all the ancient breeds (9 total), the Malamute is the most wolf-like and it may be due to interbreeding with wolves early in the breeds evolutionary history.
As we are all aware, Malamutes are an unaltered breed. Their lineage has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years because they were perfectly suited for the environment they lived in. They hunted in a harsh, cold environment where plants may or may not have been available. Their diet was almost entirely meat based. So when they started to hang around human settlements in the same area, their diets remain unchanged since human settlements did not develop agriculture due to the harsh environment. Like the Malamute, humans ate a diet that was predominately meat based. This remained unchanged up to the past 200-300 years when food processing allowed a wider range of foods to become available. The same held true with other pariah breeds, such as the Samoyed, Akita Innu, and Siberian husky, that arose in similar harsh environments.
So while the majority of other breeds continued to thrive in the agriculturally based human communities, so too did the genetic expression of the starch digesting genes. Those breeds common to those communities such as Border Collies, Terriers, and Poodles developed the ability to digest grains with few problems. Malamutes never developed those abilities and like the Wolf, cannot properly digest starches which causes a host of grain related illnesses.
Common problems with grain based diets are the obvious allergies and gluten sensitivities. Just as humans present with gluten toxicity (Crohn’s disease), Mals also present with a canine version of it. Also, dermatitis and skin rashes are not uncommon. Diabetes is definitely a grain based issue as is some types of arthritis.
Improperly digested grains can create neurological issues in Malamutes also. Hyperactivity, aggression, and depression can be associated with grain allergies and intolerances. Also, Malamutes are susceptible to allergies to grain mold toxins such as Aflatoxin and Vomatoxin, which can be fatal.
Can a Malamute survive on a grain-based diet…absolutely. Will they do well on it? Probably not. The Malamutes genetic ability to digest some grains is not efficient enough to derive proper nutrition so they will be ill and more shortly-lived than those fed a meat based diet.
For those Malamutes who have been grain fed and have developed illness, the transition back to a meat based diet can be difficult and even dangerous. Much like the transition of humans from a carbohydrate diet to a meat (or fat) based diet can cause some degree of illness during the transition, so too, will many Malamutes experience difficulty. Making the change suddenly can throw the dog into a nutritional crisis so it must be done properly. Changing your Malamute to a neutral diet as an intermediate step can alleviate much of these problem. Also, there are some products that have specific ingredients to condition the digestive tract to handle the change in diet and reduce the inflammation that is always found with grain based diets. One such product is Wysong’s, Anergen. For more information on this particular product I have placed a link at the end of this post where you can get more information directly from their site.
So the hard truth of the matter is that all dogs can eat a meat based diet but few breeds can eat a grain based one. Of course there are exceptions within each breed based on individual genetic and metabolic differences, much like the variations we humans exhibit.
The question over raw or processed meat based diet is secondary to whether your Malamute can handle any grains at all. Moving them into a quality meat based, high protein/grain free diet will do much to alleviate some of the health issues you may have now and possibly prevent them in the future.
Happiness Is A Healthy Mal! Photo by Craig Richards of Richards & Co. Photography. Go to Craig's site here.