Wednesday, July 14, 2010

See Spot Live Longer: Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet

"Animals have ancestors too," as my friend, Professor Aaron Blaisdell of UCLA, would say.

That's true.

And Steve Brown honors this reality in all the passionate work that he does to improve canine health via ancestral nutrition considerations.

Steve's Web site is, and one of his published works is the following book:

In Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, Steve provides practical tips for dog owners who are looking for ancestral health guidance. Steve reached out to me a few months ago about the Ancestral Health Symposium, and I am happy and grateful to say that he will be presenting a poster at the gathering. In addition, Steve is a fan of my ancestor, Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., MD. Dr. Pottenger is a celebrity of sorts in the pet food industry, evidently.

I recently asked Steve a few questions; here are his thoughtful responses:

1) What are your thoughts on dogs eating plums?

At times, I feed plum extract to my dogs. They seem to like the taste; I mix it in with their fresh-meat diets so it’s hidden. Plums contain a variety of potent antioxidants, which I think are great for dogs. I recommend plums in moderation, in addition to green plants in an ABC day.

2) What do you think of Orijen brand dog food?

I think Orijen is one of the better dry foods. I know several people who have visited the plant and have been most impressed. But no dry food can be complete; we still need to add some fresh foods as discussed in the ABC day in Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet.

As with all dry dog foods, the more recently produced, the better, and once the bag is opened, it’s best to use up the food within 14 days, as described in Chapter 7 of Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet.

I question the inclusion of fish, fish meal and fish oils in their foods. I wrote to them several years ago asking about what happens to the DHA once the bag is opened; I did not get a return note (no dog food manufacturer answered the question). A friend of mine, who sells a lot of Orijen, also asked the same question and has not yet received an answer.

Given that, when relatively fresh and used up quickly once opened, in my opinion, Orijen is certainly one of the best dry foods available.

3) Please summarize your book, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, and your ABC plan.

The best answer to this question may be from the introduction. Here is a short answer, and below is the introduction.

Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet describes the canine ancestral diet with an emphasis on fats, and offers suggestions on how best to mimic the ancestral diet, whether one feeds dry, canned or frozen dog foods. One ABC day a week for dry food feeders adds high-quality protein, balances the fats, and completes the nutrition with some fresh, whole foods.


“The ABC day made a huge difference,” Dr. Doreen Hock told me when I informed her I was struggling to complete this introduction and finish the book. “I could see the improvement in my dogs—and it’s easy,” she said. “Just tell people to follow the ABCs.” What do the ABCs stand for?

A stands for the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrate based upon the ancestral diet of the dog. This means adding protein to most commercial and homemade foods.

B stands for balancing the fats. My view is that the health of a dog is dependent on the fats she eats—more than any other nutrient. The importance of the role of fats is something that nutritional experts have just recently established. Unfortunately, some important fats are either left out of commercial dog foods or deteriorate when included in processed, long shelf-life foods.

C stands for completing your dog’s nutrition needs by feeding some fresh, whole foods.

Follow the ABCs for whatever type of food you feed—dry, canned, frozen, or homemade—and you’ll significantly improve your dog’s diet, which will increase the odds that your dog lives a healthy, happy life. No doubt about it, and it’s as simple as ABC.

The canine ancestral diet

You may have heard of the “Cave Man Diet” as it applies to humans, the theory being that unprocessed fresh foods high in protein and low in carbohydrates are best for people who evolved successfully over thousands and thousands of years consuming just such a diet. The concept of the “Canine Ancestral Diet” for dogs is similar in nature. Dogs and other canids evolved successfully through hunting and scavenging, consuming foods that were not at all like the kibble so many are fed today. Recent nutritional science increasingly supports an ancestral-type diet—high protein, balanced fats, and at least some fresh foods—as the healthiest approach to feeding most dogs.

While in theory one can feed a dog the ancestral diet, in practical terms—given modern lifestyles and busy schedules—it is just not realistic for the vast majority of pet owners. However, there are steps you can take to alter or augment what you currently feed your dog to make it more like the ancestral diet and thus improve the nutritional content of your dog’s diet.

The ABC way of feeding is based upon detailed analyses of the dog’s ancestral diet, supported by up-to-date nutritional science, and my twenty years experience in developing foods for national pet food companies. The ABC plans laid out in the following chapters focus first on correcting the weaknesses associated with modern dog food which generally contain not enough protein, too many carbohydrates, unbalanced fats, and lack the complete nutrition that can only be provided by fresh foods.

There is no need to dramatically change the type of foods you’re feeding. If you feed dry foods, for example, you can make significant nutritional progress if you make one day a week an ABC day. It’s easy, and you’ll probably see the difference in your dog within two to four weeks. If you are more ambitious, I have included additional strategies that involve preparing food for your dog that will take you even closer to the ancestral diet. Whatever you choose to do, the ABC way will help improve your dog’s diet and overall health.

How this book is organized

This book is intended for a wide audience: dog enthusiasts, veterinarians, and professional dog food formulators. For dog owners wanting a quick and easy way to improve the food they feed their dogs, I have included simple explanations and plans to do so. For veterinarians and professional dog food formulators wanting to know the “why” behind the ABC concepts, I have furnished all the details.

The first three chapters are must-reads for anyone interested in the subject. Chapter 1 details the canine ancestral diet. What dogs ate in the wild prior to the advent of modern dog food represents an ideal diet—primarily consisting of high levels of protein, balanced fats, and fresh foods. This is the gold standard that modern feeders should try to replicate. Chapter 2 compares and contrasts modern dog foods with the ancestral diet with a focus on where modern foods come up short. Chapter 3 provides information on the health benefits of improving the ABCs of your dog’s diet, making it more similar to the ancestral diet.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are the ABC plans. Chapter 4—designed for dry, canned, and frozen food feeders—presents the ABC day concept. These are relatively simple and easy one-day-a-week plans to make your dog’s diet more like the canine ancestral diet. Chapter 5 is designed for readers who are interested in and are willing to devote more substantial amounts of time to preparing meals at home for their dog(s) and who want to understand the underlying science. This chapter provides step-by-step instruction on how to make balanced-fat, ancestral-type diets. Chapter 6 includes three detailed recipes that will help you replicate the canine ancestral diet for your dog(s).

The last two chapters focus on providing more detailed information to readers such as those involved in the dog health and food formulation industries. Chapter 7 discusses in more detail the important topic of proper storage of dry and frozen dog foods. The best dog foods in the world can be ruined, and even become unhealthy, by improper storage. Chapter 8 provides an overview on a variety of subjects including the chemistry of fats for dogs, the dog’s need for carbohydrates, high protein diets and their impact on the kidneys, and an introduction to pet food math. I have also included, in the appendices at the back of the book, additional recipes for dogs requiring low fat diets, sources of information, and a recommended reading list. Appendix C includes a list of all abbreviations used in the book.

4) How did you hear about the Ancestral Health Symposium, why are you interested, and what will you be presenting in your Poster?

I read The Paleo Diet newsletter from Dr. Loren Cordain. I’m interested for two reasons: first is to share my knowledge of the canine ancestral diet and the importance of balanced fats; second is to increase my knowledge and understanding of the ancestral human.

In the Poster Session, I will present my analysis of the canine ancestral diet (Chapter 1 of Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet), recipes for full-time feeding of ancestral-type diets, and the ABC day for those feeding primarily dry foods.

5) What can humans learn about our own health from your insights on ancestral canine diets?

Humans can learn about the importance of balanced fats in our diets. Humans will also learn about the importance of protecting those fats with antioxidants from whole foods.

6) What do you know about my ancestor, Dr. Pottenger, and how has his work influenced your thinking about diet and health?

Pottenger’s Cats was one of the most influential books in my life. Many years ago, at the beginning of my dog breeding program, I was puzzled by my not finding hybrid vigor with some my mixed breed dogs. That led me on a search to understand why, and Pottenger’s Cats was one of the keys to my finding the answer.

Pottenger’s Cats discussed intergenerational effects of poor diets. The more I learn, the more I understand how correct he was. The new science of epigenetics explains some of the findings from Dr. Pottenger. My own breeding program shows the flip side of what Dr. Pottenger found: my dogs get healthier each generation because of proper diet and plenty of exercise.

7) Final notes ...

My new booklet is entitled “See Spot Live Longer for Dry Food Feeders.” It’s about how one can help his/her dog live longer by making two small changes in the way one feeds: add fresh food once a week with an ABC day, and use dry foods wisely to get the best out of them.

... thanks, Steve!

To good health,



  1. Thank you for writing this article and interview! The question of what to feed our dog has been on our minds for a while now. I'll be getting the book, and hope to arrive at a healthy solution.

  2. Excellent interview! Looking forward to meeting Steve at the AHS next year. I wonder what is the ancestral diet for rats? Surely not the rat chow I've been feeding them.

  3. We have been feeding my Australian Shepherd a raw diet since we got her at 8-weeks. Now over a year later, she continues to do very well with no hot spots or allergies.

    If you are in need of more information about raw feeding, then check out the raw feeding news group here. Here is a great post on getting started on raw feeding.

  4. Thanks, David, Aaron, and SD_Mikey!

    Sorry, I was gone all day.

    @David: Let me know how it goes. From what my friends with dogs say, it seems like pet feeding must be both practical and budget-reasonable to be sustainable for the pet owner too, and I think Steve helps make that possible.

    @Aaron: Rats are pretty good scavengers from what I understand. Knowing what the rat ancestral diet is would certainly help us glean information about humans from rat studies by giving results proper context for interpretation and extrapolation.

    @SD_Mikey: Glad to hear your raw diet approach is working with your Australian Shepard. That's great that she's in such good health. Thanks for sharing those links as resources.

    To good animal health,


  5. I approve of the inclusion of a section for those dog owners who don't want to be totally hardcore about it - at least not right off the bat.

    So many experts are too self-involved to realise that few readers (except the obsessives among them) are likely to immediately prioritize their particular recommendations to the extent of giving them intense time and thought.

    For example, I was reading about the risks and benefits of sun-exposure the other day; the expert advised everyone to make a daily check of the UV forecast. Yeah right, buddy - I'll do that the day I start putting everything I eat through a mass spectrometer.

    Most people gradually incorporate new ways of thinking about everyday procedures. Just like with a new TV, they only read the manual when they feel stuck.

    Regarding dogs and ancestral diets - man, just watch a dog off the leash: it will browse around and take an experimental munch at all sorts. I don't think they need the same variety as humans, but I doubt dogmeat and biscuits 7 days per week for life is ideal. Even grazers eat flowers, herbs and insects.

  6. Thanks, G.

    That scavenging behavior that you described for dogs sounds a lot like a Levy-flight search model to me.

    Aaron has seen similar feeding behavior patterns in pigeons, I believe.



  7. Just found your blog. Great stuff on the Canine Diet. I am gettin the book. Saw that you are behind the Symposium. Please look into having Dr. Ron Rosedale there. He is one of the best. Continued success. Andre

  8. Thanks, Andre!

    Dr. Rosedale is on the waiting list for being a Presenter. I would love and be honored to have him participate in the Poster Session too.

    I hope you enjoy Steve's book!