Because dogs are descended from wolves, natural diets aim to mimic what wild wolves eat and what dogs would eat if they were not domesticated. These diets are easily digested, contain no fillers and preservatives and are less likely to cause allergic reactions and other common health problems.
Natural Diet Benefits
Diet is strongly correlated with pet health. According to veterinarian Richard Pitcairn in his book "Dr. Pitcairn's New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats," when dogs eat the diet they evolved to eat, they tend to have fewer health problems. In cocker spaniels, ear problems such as infections and foul odors may be eliminated, and allergic skin and stomach reactions may stop. Cocker spaniels are especially prone to allergies and may have allergic reactions to common fillers such as corn, wheat and potatoes. Natural diets eliminate these unhealthy foods.
For owners who want to switch to a more natural diet but who don't have time to make their own dog food, a prepackaged natural food can be a good alternative. Look for foods that are free of fillers and preservatives. Some of these foods are so fresh they must be refrigerated. Then check the ingredients list. The first few ingredients should be meat or fish, not meat by-product or vegetables. Choose foods that have short ingredient lists containing ingredients you recognize, not long lists of preservatives and food coloring.
The raw diet was first advocated by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. Billinghurst argues that, in the wild, dogs and wolves eat an entire animal, including the bones and stomach content, and the raw diet aims to mimic these eating habits. Though somewhat controversial, some veterinarians and dog rescue agencies have adopted this diet. The Illinois Cocker Rescue, for example, feeds their cocker spaniels a raw diet. The diet consists primarily of raw, meaty bones -- which, unlike cooked bones, are safe for dogs -- and muscle meat such as ground beef. Organ meats such as livers and hearts are usually about 5 percent of the diet. Some owners also opt to give their dogs pureed fruits and vegetables. Dogs cannot digest plant matter that is not pureed. Before feeding a dog raw meat, consult a veterinarian. Always wash kitchen utensils and surfaces thoroughly to avoid contaminating bacteria.
Owners who want to try a more natural diet but who are uncomfortable with raw meat may opt to feed their dogs homemade food that contains cooked meat. Many veterinarians, dog books and websites offer specific recipes. To choose the right recipe, pick a food that is primarily protein, with limited or no plant and vegetable matter. If the recipe contains rice, it should only be fed in small quantities. Never give dogs cooked bones, even as chew toys, and monitor your dog for any gastrointestinal upset when you change recipes.
More on Dog Nutrition
Decoding "Natural" Dog Food
Diets For Dogs: Here's What You Need To Know
Grain Free Dog Food: Cut Down On Carbs
References & Resources
Illinois Cocker Rescue: The Raw Food Diet
Raw Dog Food: Carina Beth Macdonald
Dr. Pitcairn's New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats; Richard Pitcairn, D.V.M. et al.
Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs; Lew Olson