At the office I pussy-footed around the subject of: can a dog be a vegan? (I read The China Study two years ago, see below.)
"Do dogs need to eat meat?" I asked.
The vet, who tends to scoff a lot (I was hoping to forestall scoffing), gave me a look. "What do you mean, meat?" he said. "Do you mean raw meat?" He looked like he was fixing to scoff.
Raw meat, as I discovered yesterday, shows up frequently on websites devoted to dog nutrition. I haven't learned why as yet.
"Well," I said, "sure. Raw meat. Or cooked meat. Or just meat in general. Should I be giving Surfer real meat?"
"Dogs aren't obligate carnivores," he said.
What? Dogs aren't carnivores? (And what's obligate?)
I was gobsmacked.
An "obligate carnivore," it turns out, is a cat. A cat has to eat meat or it will die, hence the term "obligate." Cats are obliged to eat meat. Dogs are not obligate carnivores, and they are not obliged to eat meat. They just like to eat meat, same as people, but a dog can be a vegetarian. The vet actually used the word "vegetarian" himself, which is a lot better than me saying "vegetarian" and getting scoffed at. If I remember correctly, and I think I do, the vet actually said, "A dog can be a perfectly healthy vegetarian."
So today Surfer ate Amy's lentil soup, diced tomatoes, olive oil, and a boatload of fish oil. He was a pretty good sport about it, but I don't think he's going to be too thrilled when the cruciferous vegetables show up.
From The China Study:
...I decided to start an in-depth laboratory program that would investigate the role of nutrition, especially protein, in the development of cancer....I chose to do this research at a very basic science level, studying the biochemical details of cancer formation. It was important to understand not only whether but also how protein might promote cancer....
What we found was shocking. Low-protein diets inhibited the initiative of cancer by aflatoxin, regardless of how much of this carcinogen was administered to these animals. After cancer, initiation was completed, low-protein diets also dramatically blocked subsequent cancer growth. In other words, the cancer-producing effects of this highly carcinogenic chemical were rendered insignificant by a low-protein diet. In fact, dietary protein proved to be so powerful in its effect that we could turn on and turn off cancer growth simply by changing the level consumed.
Furthermore, the amounts of protein being fed were those that we humans routinely consume. We didn't use extraordinary levels, as is so often the case in carcinogen studies.
But that's not all. We found that not all proteins had this effect. What protein consistently and strongly promoted cancer? Casein, which makes up 87% of cow's milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process. What type of protein did not promote cancer, even at high levels of intake? The safe proteins were from plants, including wheat and soy.
But how much protein is too much or too little? Using rats, we investigated a range of 4-24% dietary protein....Foci did not develop with up to about 10% dietary protein. Beyond 10%, foci development increased dramatically with increases in dietary protein.
The most significant finding of this experiment was this: foci developed only when the animals met or exceeded the amount of dietary protein (12%) needed to satisfy their body growth rate. That is, when the animals met and surpassed their requirement for protein, disease onset began.
This finding may have considerable relevance for humans even though these were rat studies. I say this because the protein required for growth in young rats and humans as well as the protein required to maintain health for adult rats and humans is remarkably similar.
According to the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein consumption, we humans should be getting about 10% of our energy from protein. This is considerably more than the actual amount required....What do most of us routinely consume? Remarkably, it is considerably more than the recommended 10%. The average American consumes 15-16% protein....
[D]id it make any difference what type of protein was used in these experiments? For all of these experiments, we were using casein, which makes up 87% of cow's milk protein. So the next logical question was whether plant protein, tested in the same way, has the same effect on cancer promotiona s casein. The answer is an astonishing "NO." In these experiments, plant protein did not promote cancer growth, even at the higher levels of intake....Gluten, the protein of wheat, did not produce the same result as casein, even when fed at the same 20% level.