The following Media Release (updated 18 Jul 2017) was issued from AgResearch in New Zealand.

Dog owners can improve the well-being of their canine companions by serving up a high meat diet rather than the “human-like” food favoured by many, a new study* shows.

The independent New Zealand study – only the second of its kind in the world – found:

  • the high meat diet is easier for dogs to digest,
  • meaning more nutrients are able to be absorbed,
  • and resulted in higher levels of bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion.

These higher levels of bacteria demonstrated:

a dog’s gut is biologically designed to digest a diet high in meat.


The study was led by AgResearch and Massey University and co-funded by the New Zealand Premium Petfood Alliance and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment through the Outcomes for Science Targeted Research Fund.  The study also shows there may have been too much reliance on research into the diets of humans or other animals in the past when it comes to the best diet for dogs.


“We already know dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates in their diet, so this study looked at the role different bacteria play in a dog’s digestion system to help us work toward a clearer picture of what the optimum diet for dogs is.  Understanding how bacteria works in the gut is vital because of its links to digestion, diseases such as obesity, and even how it affects mood and behaviour.”

said study co-lead, Dr Emma Bermingham of AgResearch.


The study found:

GSP catching a bird

  • High meat diets are more digestible for dogs
  • More nutrients from a high meat diet are able to be absorbed
  • Dogs on a high meat diet had higher levels of the bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion
  • Dogs on a high meat diet had smaller poo and better fecal health


Study co-lead Associate Professor David Thomas of Massey University, said finding high levels of the bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion was particularly exciting as it demonstrated that a dog’s gut is biologically designed to digest high meat diets.


“Up until now science has looked at studies on nutrient digestion in human, mice and rats and assumed the same is true for dogs in terms of digestion and what is good and bad bacteria in the gut. This study shows this may not the case and much more needs to be done to understand the digestive system of dogs and the long-term health consequences of feeding different diets.”

~ Prof. David Thomas


New Zealand Premium Petfood Alliance spokesperson Neil Hinton said the study findings support the view the pet food manufactures behind the Alliance have been advocating for a long time.

“While dogs are considered members of the family, they are carnivores so shouldn’t be fed a humanised diet containing high levels of carbohydrates. The study supports our long-held view that dogs need to be fed a high meat, low carbohydrate diet best suited to their biological makeup.”


Mr Hinton said there is growing interest from pet owners about biologically appropriate diets that lead to healthier and happier pets.

“To date there has been hardly any published research, so this study is a significant contribution to the international animal nutrition field. A lot of diets on the market have been designed to ensure a dog survives, but this research shows that high meat diet is the best to help a dog thrive.


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*Key bacterial families (Clostridiaceae, Erysipelotrichaceae and Bacteroidaceae) are related to the digestion of protein and energy in dogs.

Emma N. Bermingham1Paul Maclean2David G. Thomas3Nicholas J. Cave3Wayne Young1

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