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Top Dog Tips - The Low Down on the Paleo Diet for DogsThe current trend in the pet food industry is to follow the trends in the human food industry. As pet owners jump on the health food train, they want their pets to eat healthy too. Dog food manufacturers are removing GMOs, artificial preservatives, fillers and other harmful ingredients from their products. Trending diets including the raw food diet, organic diet, vegan diet and paleo diet are growing in popularity in the pet industry as well.

This week I was able to chat with a team of experts from Only Natural Pet Food, makers of Paleo dog food, about the Paleo diet for dogs, the health benefits, the drawbacks to the diet, and how their line of pet food was created. My questions were answered by Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM, on-staff veterinarian for Only Natural Pet; Eran Cohen, Chief Customer Experience Officer at PetSmart; as well as Marty Grosjean, founder of Only Natural Pet.

First of all, you're probably wondering why I spoke with a representative from PetSmart. Only Natural Pet is exclusively available at PetSmart stores. Typically my interviews happen between me and one other person, but in this case it was nice to get the point-of-view of many different experts on the same topic. It was also great to hear from someone who is involved in each step production.

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Paleo Diet for Dogs
Photo: onlynaturalpet.com

Only Natural Pet is a comprehensive, vet-formulated pet food line made of honest ingredients including meats blended with whole fresh fruits and vegetables. The products are manufactured in small, artisanal facilities using small-batch production processes and human-quality ingredients. These ingredients include cage-free chicken, fresh turkey, free-range lamb and beef, as well as low-glycemic carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans and real fruits and vegetables like apples, cranberries, celery, pumpkin, broccoli, cabbage and more.

The Low Down on the Paleo Diet for Dogs

I've done a bit of research on the Paleo diet for dogs, but Dr. Hofve explained much more about the practice. I learned that the Paleo diet for cats and dogs is based on the same principles as the Paleo diet for people. It seeks to imitate, as best as possible, the ancestral diet of the species. In layman's terms, it's a diet based on what the animal evolved to eat in the wild.

As you can probably guess, this means no processed foods, no artificial ingredients – nothing that you wouldn't be able to find in nature. Paleo diets are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than traditional pet foods. They contain fewer additives and no chemical preservatives, and they are less processed.

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According to Dr. Hofve, while cats and dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, their internal workings and physiology are not that different from their wild ancestors. Dr. Hofve told me that dogs and wolves are 99.5% genetically identical; cats’ DNA differs from wildcats in only 13 out of some 20,000 genes. The differences are important in physical appearance and certain behavioral traits, but have very limited effects on the animal’s physiology.

I learned that in particular, dog and cat digestion is quite similar to their wild counterparts. And so, the Paleo diet is based on the idea that it makes sense to feed our pets as the meat-eating carnivores that they are. Because Only Natural Pet food is aligned with the prey model and very high in protein.

Paleo Diet for Dogs
Photo: onlynaturalpet.com

Only Natural Pet products deliver the benefits of raw diets as well, with ingredients that have never been cooked, which also tracks with the prey model. The company uses a minimal processing method and dehydrated, freeze-dried and air-dried methods. Most of the products are raw and provide the nutrition benefit of raw food for pets without the hassle of thawing and the health risks of harmful bacteria.

So what are the specific health benefits that will you notice by switching your pet to a Paleo diet? Dr. Hofve explained that when animals are fed in accordance with the needs of their species, the first thing most people notice is an improvement in skin and coat health. Your dog will have more and more stable energy as you transition him to the diet.

Dr. Hofve said that pets on a Paleo diet feel better, and that reflects in a better mood and behavior. Eliminating synthetic preservatives and other chemicals commonly used to visually appeal to pet parents—and fool the pet’s taste buds—helps reduce the toxic burden our pets.

Our dogs already carry the burden of air, water, and electromagnetic pollution. Eliminating synthetic preservatives allows the body to function better overall, and to heal more efficiently and completely. And as a bonus, there is typically less waste for you to clean up!

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There are so many diets available for our pets, but they all have their drawbacks. In order to fully understand the Paleo diet, I asked Dr. Hofve what the drawbacks to the Paleo diet were. I got a very thorough answer!

I was told that not all pets can eat a purely Paleo diet.  Many pets need, at the very least, a very gentle transition to allow their bodies to adapt. Animals that have been fed heavily processed food their whole lives may not be able to develop the capacity to fully utilize Paleo-inspired foods.

With any new diet, of course, it’s important to watch the pet’s skin and coat quality, energy level and weight, to make sure they are digesting and absorbing the new food properly. – Dr. Jean Hofve

A few dogs seem to do better on a diet with more starch. Some need extra digestive help, such as extra probiotics and digestive enzymes. Some breeds have sensitivities that require very carefully crafted diets. For example, Dr. Hafve told me that Dalmatians often do best with a diet that's very low in certain proteins, and many Bedlington Terriers cannot handle even normal levels of copper.

Paleo Diet for Dogs
Photo: onlynaturalpet.com

The Paleo diet sounds interesting, right? But what about Only Natural Pet?

It was about this time that Eran Cohen gave me some insight into Only Natural Pet. I was interested in learning about how the company got started and how their products have changed the pet food industry. Cohen explained that the brand was born in Boulder, Colo., which is well known for its natural, healthy lifestyle and as an entrepreneurial hotbed for natural product innovation in the human grocery and pet specialty industries.

Only Natural Pet is the first dog food brand to deliver a paleo-inspired diet for dogs, and Cohen said that PetSmart is tremendously pleased to be the first national retailer to carry the brand. Only Natural Pet is also a founding member of the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition and is committed to sustainability and “green” business practices with 100-percent wind power, carbon-neutral shipping, sustainable packaging and a zero-waste facility.

Cohen told me that Only Natural Pet is unique among the competition and an innovative natural pet lifestyle brand. He told me that Only Natural Pet is a leader in driving the changes in the industry including offering feeding solutions for Paleo diets and the prey model, as well as its human-grade ingredients, commitment to no artificial ingredients and sustainable manufacturing processes. In an ever-changing industry, this is key!

Marty Grosjean told me that the company offers a wide variety of dog food products including dry kibble, canned, raw dehydrated, raw freeze-dried, and air-dried. In all cases they have formulated them to be as close as possible to the optimal “prey model” which specifies high-meat protein, healthy fats, and minimal carbohydrates. They work closely with Dr. Hofve to create all their products in order to maximize the health benefits according to these guidelines.

Paleo Diet for Dogs
Photo: onlynaturalpet.com

Different types of food have different constraints related to these goals – for example freeze-dried raw food can have protein levels over 50%, whereas dry kibble must have some carbohydrates due to the extrusion process with which it is created, so in that case Only Natural Pet uses low-glycemic carbs that are as healthy as possible.

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Unfortunately, the Paleo diet for canines isn't very well-known yet. I wondered if Only Natural Pet spent any time educating pet parents about the benefits of the diet? Grosjean explained that they have articles on their website about the Paleo diet and lifestyle for pets. He also told me that the company regularly publishes educational information in their email newsletters and on their blog as well.

He told me that the growing popularity of raw and grain-free food (now at 30% of pet food sales in pet stores) shows that the trend is growing. That's great news for companies like Only Natural Pet. Grosjean said that for now, the company will continue to focus on Paleo-inspired pet food and they expect to expand their product line with new flavors and types of food in the near future.

He said that this will include some new recipes in the dehydrated line, specifically working hard to maintain the extremely high-quality and rigorous standards that they already focus on, while also making the product even more affordable and accessible for pet parents so more people can embrace this way of feeding their pets.

Speaking of price, you can purchase a 7-pound bag of Beef & Sweet Potato EasyRaw Dehydrated Dog Food, which makes 40 pounds of food, for about $80 on the company's website. Obviously, that is outside of most dog owners' budgets, but you're definitely getting what you pay for.

It may cost more, but this food is healthier than virtually any other dog food on the market. Hopefully, Mr. Grosjean is right and we'll be seeing a more affordable options in the future.

Grosjean left me with a bit of advice that I felt was very important to pass on to you all as well. He said:

“Well, I would say that regardless of whether you choose Only Natural Pet as your brand, if you want to optimize your dog’s health you should look for food AND treats that are high in meat protein and low in carbohydrates.”

He told me that another important aspect of the Paleo diet is that you want the ingredients to be as fresh and minimally processed as possible, so that they maintain their nutritional value, since it is diminished by heat, pressure, and other manufacturing processes. Thus the ideal type of food is raw dehydrated or freeze-dried, where the ingredients are fresh, human-grade, and never cooked.

No matter what type of dog food you choose to feed your pet or what diet he is on, you should consult your veterinarian for advice. Your vet knows your dog's specific health needs, special breed requirements and about how many calories your pet should take in each day. They will be able to guide you to pick the dog food that will provide your pet with optimal health and nutrition.