Is Your Dog’s Raw Diet Nutritionally Complete?

Supplementing and Balancing a DIY Canine Meal Plan the Correct Way

If you have made the decision to feed your dog a species-appropriate raw diet, then you have chosen to move into the direction of providing your dog with the best possible nutrition plan. With that resolve comes the need for research and learning. After all, we all want what is best for our dogs. In order to know whether or not your dog is getting all of his or her essential nutrients, both macro and micronutrients, you must first know exactly what you are feeding to your dog.

DIY raw diets are the best way to know for sure what you are feeding to your dog. You choose the ingredients and the amounts. Auditing your DIY meals via a dog food software program or nutrient spreadsheet calculator will make you aware of the nutrient values and percentages in the meals you are creating. You will learn, for example, where your meals are nutritionally insufficient, nutritionally too rich, nutrient imbalanced, and nutritionally appropriate. Auditing is the best way (really, the only way) to know exactly where amendments need to be made and where supplements should be added.

Pet parents opting to follow the 80/10/10 formula will discover upon auditing that it is very difficult to appropriately balance meals if the formula is followed too closely. See my article How to Properly Use a Ratio: The Raw Fed Dog to discover a better formula to meet nutrient needs.

On that note, with the rise in popularity of raw feeding, numerous raw food companies, businesses, and local raw food suppliers create and sell what are known as 80/10/10 grinds. These grinds offer pet parent’s convenience and simplicity when it comes to feeding their dogs. However, unless a product is clearly labeled, analyzed, and sold as an AAFCO or NRC complete and nutritionally balanced diet option, these raw food ratio conveniences are anything but complete meal plans that provide all of your dog’s essential nutrient requirements. Unlabeled and unknown grind products should never be fed to your dog, worse yet as an exclusive diet option (in my professional opinion, I highly recommend that you completely avoid feeding any and all unknown products). Grind options that are clearly labeled, however, can be balanced IF and only IF they are labeled with the exact ingredients and percentages of each ingredient in the grind.

There are several ways in which DIY raw food diet plans and 80/10/10 grind options (that are labeled with each ingredient and their percentages) can be balanced and enriched. Start with an audit of your meal(s) or grind. If you do not have a dog food software program or a nutrient spreadsheet calculator, The Holistic Canine will do an analysis of your recipes/meals with the option of amendment suggestions for a low cost. Once you have determined the nutrient values of your meal, you can begin to choose your plan of action.

Protein and fat requirements, the macronutrients that supply both functional need and calories (potential energy), are quite easy to meet and supply in meals. Your fat will require balancing, but we will hold off on that for a moment. Thus, your first step is to note each of your micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) values. The easiest method is to look at the percentages of nutrient fulfillment. These percentages reflect how much of the NRC recommended allowance (RA) for each nutrient is being met. (Some programs have both AAFCO and NRC values. I recommend focusing on the NRC percentages.) You will see that some nutrients will be well over 100% and others will be below or are just hovering around 100%. Note the high and low extremes. For example, of the hundreds of recipes/meals that I have analyzed, vitamin A on average is around 300% up to more than 700% while manganese will be around 18% up to 30%. These are both extremes that must be amended and properly brought into balance in relation to all the other micronutrients.

While your goal is to achieve meeting all the nutrient requirements as recommended by the NRC, you will also want to achieve a balance among the nutrients. Nutrients are synergistic. Some nutrients act as partners and co-factors that increase nutrient absorption while some directly antagonize other nutrients decreasing absorption potential. For instance, all of the trace minerals are antagonistic among each other. Balance here is critical to avoid deficiencies. Vitamins A and D are antagonistic as well. Of these nutrients, the trace minerals and vitamin D can be challenging to meet. Thus we have a potential problem if meals and recipes are not being audited for potential nutrient values. Additionally, calcium and phosphorous need to be in the correct ratio for proper absorption and use. If phosphorous is too high and calcium is too low, your dog’s homeostatic mechanism will draw calcium out of storage (bones and teeth) to balance the phosphorous. High phosphorus can cause potential calcium deposits to form in soft tissues as well as malabsorption issues among iron, zinc, and magnesium. Also take note of your omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid values. You will want to achieve a 2 to 1, or better yet, a 1 to 1 ratio among these two families of fatty acids to avoid creating an internal inflammatory environment. Balance matters! You really MUST know what you are feeding your dog.

After noting your nutrient fulfillment values, it is time to focus on creating balance. You will need to bring up low values into the correct proportions as well as lower extreme highs that can potentially cause toxicity as well as deficiency elsewhere. While the NRC has maximum nutrient levels for a few nutrients, that does not mean, for example, that you should have your vitamin A level at 650% just because it is within the RA and the maximum! That is far too high to be feeding vitamin A at that level. Further, providing meals with extreme vitamin A levels while having the vitamin D value at 90% or even hypothetically “fulfilled” at 105% is not balanced. You will need to bring down the amount of vitamin A and raise vitamin D.

Focus on:

  1. Calcium to phosphorous (Ca:P)- your goal is to achieve a 1.1:1 up to a 1.2:1 ratio.
  2. Zinc to copper (Zn:Cu)- I like to see this around 15:2.
  3. Vitamin A to vitamin D- I recommend a minimum of 5:1 up to 2:1 to ensure adequate absorption of D.
  4. Magnesium in relation to calcium- the NRC requires a mere 150 mg of Mg per 1,000 kcal. For optimal absorption and proper utilization of calcium, dietary magnesium and vitamin D levels must be optimal. This is critical. Having Mg at 100% to 200% is minimal. You can safely go upwards of 600% especially if your calcium is near or over 200%.
  5. Manganese in relation to Zn, Cu, and Fe- I prefer to maintain manganese levels around the same as copper and iron in relation to zinc.
  6. Selenium value (this will do the work of vitamin E)- selenium levels can be around 200% to 300%.
  7. Omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids- ideally, I like to see a 2:1 up to a 1:1 ratio.

Having this information, your next step is to begin reducing or increading your ingredients. You will also likely need to add additional ingredients or supplements that will supply the lacking and required balancing nutrients. The following list contains commonly low nutrients and what to add to create a balanced dietary plan in order to cultivate optimal health within your dog.

Zinc: Zinc is almost always too low on audited meals. While grass-fed beef and lamb and chicken hearts and gizzards contain a good amount of zinc, it is not enough. Adding oysters to meals will supply a wealth of zinc and a good amount of copper. Feeding seeds, which contain zinc and other minerals, is NOT a bioavailable source for dogs. Worse, if you are not buying and feeding sprouted/germinated seeds or soaking and germinating them yourself to reduce phytates, then the anti-nutrients are counter-productive and minerals are being lost. Feeding seeds will require double the amount of zinc to make up for the loss to phytates. If you cannot feed oysters, my recommendation is to have a bottle of an amino acid chelated zinc such as L-OptiZinc in a 15 mg dose for small dogs and a 30 mg dose for medium to large dogs. I do not recommend a zinc that has an acid chelate such as zinc picolinate. Stick with my recommendation above for optimal absorption potential.

Zinc:Copper: If you are not feeding a liver that is high in copper, then you will need a zinc/copper combination supplement. Chicken, turkey, and pork liver do not contain adequate amounts of copper. Adding oysters will provide both zinc and copper, but if your dog has an issue with shellfish or you cannot feed oysters, you must have a zinc/copper combination supplement. Like the recommendation above, purchase an amino acid chelated product in the same doses as above.

Manganese: This trace mineral is just plain difficult to supply in sufficient amounts with species-appropriate ingredients if you are not feeding whole prey. Mussels (blue or green lipped) added to the diet will provide a plethora of manganese. However, mussels can be difficult for many pet parents to source, they can be quite pricey, and some dogs may not do well with shellfish. And as mentioned above under the “zinc,” seeds contain zinc, manganese, and magnesium, but these will NOT supply your dog with bioavailable minerals. If you cannot add mussels to your dog’s meals, I highly recommend purchasing a bottle of an amino acid chelated manganese in a dose of 8 mg. Give smaller to medium dogs 1/4 of a tablet and larger to giant dogs 1/2 a tablet.

Krill oil or marine phytoplankton: Brain, grass-fed/grass-finished ungulates, and fatty fish contain a wealth of bioavailable omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). Unfortunately, every other meat is teeming with inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Poultry, pork, and factory farmed, grain-fed ungulates will not supply your dog with their vital EPA and DHA fatty acid requirements. Fatty fish is an excellent source of EPA and DHA that can be fed daily in small amounts. Fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, and herring provide these as well as essential Vitamin D. If you cannot regularly provide your dog with brain, grass-fed/grass-finished ungulate meat/organs, and/or fatty fish, you must add a krill oil or marine phytoplankton supplement to daily meals to meet omega-3 fatty acids requirements.

Vitamin D: As indicated above, vitamin D needs to be balanced with vitamin A. Free-range eggs and fatty fish provide vitamin D, but if you are feeding 5% liver every day, you will not be providing sufficient amounts of vitamin D. Keep in mind, it is about balance, not just meeting requirements. Coming up short or barely hitting vitamin D needs in the presence of huge amounts of vitamin A from liver can create a vitamin D deficiency. My favorite alternative source is an infant vitamin D drop supplement (400IU). All your dog requires is a single drop one to three times per week in accordance with your dog’s size and need. If you have a toy breed, you can purchase a vitamin D drop supplement specifically for dogs, but it costs 2 to 3 times the amount of natural infant vitamin D. Since vitamin D is stored, you can give a toy dog a single boost of vitamin D once per week or once every other week (if you have a dog under 6 pounds).

Calcium/phosphorus/magnesium: If you do not feed bones, then you need a bioavailable source of bone minerals. Bone meal, eggshells, calcium from algae, and canine mineral supplements are a good start. My favorite supplement to meet calcium needs that also provides a perfect amount of magnesium is a product made specifically for dogs by Mezotrace. Be sure to ask me or another professional for appropriate dosing.

Thiamin: This water soluble vitamin comes up short more times than not! Thiamin can be easily met with pork, but if you do not feed pork, thiamin will be dangerously teetering on the “just barely making it” mark or falling short. Being a water soluble vitamin, this vitamin needs to be supplied daily in more-than-sufficient amounts. Something else to consider: if you are feeding raw fish and shellfish (mussels and oysters) then you should be made aware that raw fish contains an enzyme known as thiaminase which renders all the thiamin in the meal useless. Cooking fish and shellfish will destroy the thiaminase and prevent a dangerous and potentially fatal thiamin deficiency. The best and easiest source of thiamin is nutritional yeast. This is a must-have supplement that can be purchased in grocery stores. You can buy a fortified or a non-fortified product. My preference is Bragg brand.

Choline: Choline requirements can be met with eggs, and that means feeding eggs DAILY. And even with a daily egg for a medium size dog, choline will still be low. My recommendation is to have a supplement to fulfill this requirement. The most bioavailable source is sunflower lecithin. 1,200 mg of sunflower lecithin will provide just the right amount of choline per 1,000 kcal of food (420 mg) along WITH an egg!

Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols): This fat soluble vitamin will never be met in meals from bioavailable foods. A supplement should be purchased and added to all meals. I prefer liquid E rather than softgels or dry form tablets. Make sure the vitamin E supplement you purchase is a natural mixed-tocopherol supplement, not just the alpha. On a side note, having sufficient amounts of selenium in the meals voids the need for vitamin E. Selenium does the work of vitamin E!

Iodine: Kelp is a whole-food source of iodine and many other nutrients. However, kelp should be added to meals with great caution. Do not ever fall for the idea that you must feed your dog more than 220 mcg of iodine per day from kelp if you feed more than 1,000 kcal. Humans requires only 150 mcg per day and a dog is much smaller. Even giant dogs do not need more than 220 mcg. (See Dr. Jean Dodd’s research). Even more, if you feed eggs, fish, shellfish, kefir, and/or goat’s milk, your dog is getting iodine! So feed kelp that provides LESS iodine than the NRC’s 220 mcg per 1,000 kcal requirement. Too much iodine can over stimulate the thyroid gland and create thyroid disease. Make sure you use a kelp product that has the iodine amount clearly analyzed and labeled on the product.

Multi-Vitamin/Mineral: I like to offer a canine multivitamin every few days. There are numerous wonderful products that you can choose from. I like Buddy & Lola Multivit as well as brands such as Dr. Harvey’s, kin + kind, Animal Essentials, Dr. Mercola, Earthvet, Pet’s Friend, and Dog Greens. All are great companies with exceptional products.

©2019 Kimberly Lloyd, PhD, BCHHP, Cert Raw Dog Food Nutritionist

Raw Food Sourcing Difficulties

What you need to know

Sourcing is often the most difficult aspect of raw feeding. Quality and affordability are generally the two most important factors and considerations when searching for nourishing ingredients that will be used to fulfill your dog’s energy and nutritional requirements. I place quality at the top of my list while affordability is often a necessity rather than a choice.

Purchasing meats, fish, organs, bones, and various other ingredients from the human food market is my recommendation, hands down. Even better, partnering with a local farmer or raising your own livestock for food products is ideal. In this way, you know exactly what and how much of each ingredient is going into your dog’s body. You have full control and can offer a variety of high quality nourishing ingredients that will produce optimal health and wellbeing in your dog.

Premade “complete and balanced” commercial raw products are extremely convenient and are becoming increasingly more popular. However, with that popularity many new raw food companies and sourcing businesses are popping up in nearly every state in this nation as well as abroad. Sadly, I am finding that as more people enter into the raw food business market, money often becomes the game and quality can suffer. Unless a premade is AAFCO “complete and balanced,” is clearly labeled with the exact percentages of every ingredient in the mix, lists the guaranteed analysis, and the company or business can verify the source of each ingredient in the product, you will be left wondering whether or not you are providing a quality food that fulfills all of your dog’s nutritional needs. Quality and nutritional value need to be the first and highest priority of every commercial and raw food supplier.

Which leads me to my biggest concern: 80/10/10 grinds. Unless clearly stated, these products are not complete and balanced diet options. I am seeing these options becoming far more popular than commercial premade completes due to their affordability and ease of creating. Unfortunately, too many pet parents are feeding these grinds exclusively (as complete diets) not realizing that their dogs may very well be missing vital nutrients that can lead to serious deficiency conditions or chronic disease down the road.

80/10/10 grinds come labeled or unlabeled and follow a basic 80/10/10 rule of 80% meat, 10% organs, and 10% bone. They most often contain muscle meat, heart, liver, kidney, and bone. I highly recommend questioning whether the supplier or manufacturer has consulted with a canine nutritionist or if they have the proper knowledge to create an 80/10/10 that is as nutritionally sound as is possible, as well as safe. Keep in mind also that if a supplier is obtaining cheap or even free meat to create a grind it will produce a poor quality, nutritionally unsound, and potentially dangerous product.

The most pressing concern you should be aware of if you are purchasing premades or a grind mix is the sourcing. 3D and 4D product use is becoming very popular in raw grinds. This creates raw food products that are affordable and competitive, but also potentially fatal.  

3D animal products are taken from animals that are still alive before processing. The three “Ds” stand for:

  • Diseased
  • Dying
  • Downed (as from lameness, illness, weakness, etc.)

4D animal products are all of the above with the addition of the animal being dead before the opportunity to slaughter and process hygienically. The forth “D” is:

  • Dead (or Destroyed).

According to the publication An Overview of the Rendering Industry [1], “Approximately 49 percent of the live weight of cattle, 44 percent of the live weight of pigs, 37 percent of the live weight of broilers, and 57 percent of the live weight of most fish species are materials not consumed by humans.” To avoid waste, these “inedible” products are sent to plants for animal feed and rendering.  “The most important and valuable use for these animal by-products is as feed ingredients for livestock, poultry, aquaculture, and companion animals.”

While most of the inedible products discussed in the publication above come from animals that are fit for human consumption (known as human-grade), there is the other side of the industry. Often during processing in USDA regulated plants, some of the animals are found to be diseased, dying, unable to walk off transport vehicles (down), or may even die (3D/4D). These animals/products are identified as unfit for the human food market and must be marked to avoid entering into the human food chain. How is this done?

During processing, if an animal product has been identified as unfit for the human market, staining the meat or products with charcoal, fish meal, or adding bone or a chemical agent(s) to produce an easily identifiable color, odor, or taste is necessary to avoid these unfit products from entering into the human food market. This is called denaturing. Denatured products are what are known as feed-grade.

The pet food industry obtains denatured feed-grade products at extremely low costs to be used in the manufacture of commercial kibble, canned, dehydrated, and raw pet food products. While using these animal products for pet foods may seem like a viable solution to avoid wasting valuable feed animals, denatured products can and do cause harm to pets when they are consumed. While charcoal, fish meal, and bone denaturing may be safe for pets to consume, chemical denaturing can be potentially lethal. You also have to consider the additional impact of your pet consuming diseased or dead animals which may pose a whole host of risks on its own. Keep in mind that 3D/4D animal products can also be obtained by smaller pet food manufacturers and local raw food suppliers for use in raw food grinds such as 80/10/10. The USDA warns that the handling of 4D meat that is served raw to pets can be a serious health hazard to both the pet parents and their pets.

Take a look at the list of denaturing agents approved by the USDA:

  1. 4% coarsely ground hard bone
  2. 6% coarsely ground hard bone
  3. 6 % tannic acid solution exposure for 1 minute followed by water bath immersion, followed by a 1 minute immersion of 0.022 percent FD&C yellow No. 5 coloring solution
  4. 1 part FD&C green No. 3 coloring + 40 parts water + 40 parts liquid detergent + 40 parts oil of citronella
  5. 0.0625 percent tannic acid exposure followed by immersion in a water bath, followed by 0.0625 percent ferric acid dipping solution
  6. phenolic disinfectant conforming to commercial standards CS 70-41 or CS 71-41
  7. Cresylic disinfectant
  8. Crude carbolic acid
  9. FD&C blue No. 1 coloring
  10. FD&C blue No. 2 coloring
  11. FD&C green No. 3 coloring
  12. Finely powdered charcoal or black dyes
  13. Kerosene, fuel oil, or used crankcase oil
  14. No. 2 fuel oil, brucine dissolved in a mixture of alcohol and pine oil or oil of rosemary, finely powdered charcoal
  15. Any ‘other proprietary substance’ approved by the USDA

What are some other concerns you should be made aware of when sourcing your raw ingredients? Always be leery of and question:

  • Products sold for $1 per pound and lower (especially grinds)
  • Meats marked “trim”
  • Grinds containing 1% or 2% bone
  • Grinds without guaranteed analysis
  • Unlabeled grinds
  • Products with unknown or undisclosed origin
  • Meat from animals fed GMO feed
  • Meat from animals injected with hormones/antibiotics
  • Unknown tissue found in bulk meat products
  • Meat with a strong or offensive odor
  • Meat with an odd color
  • Products that cause your dog to suddenly become picky
  • Products that cause your dog to vomit
  • Overly fatty or greasy grinds
  • Meats that are brown when thawed
  • Meat or organs containing spots or unknown attached tissue
  • Grinds sold for racing dogs
  • Freezer burned product (may indicate the product being very old)
  • Expired products or frozen products with a package date that exceeds 1 year
  • Products with air in sealed bags
  • Poultry feet with black spots on the bottom of foot pad and toes
  • All fish grinds (especially salmon)
  • A company or business unwilling to disclose information about products

The only way to be absolutely sure of what you are feeding your pet is to either feed a DIY nutrition plan from only human-grade USDA inspected ingredients sold in stores and Farmer’s Markets or to find a reputable raw food company/supplier that is 100% transparent about their ingredients, recipes/formulas, and sourcing. When it comes to your pet’s nutrition needs and health, you are at the helm. Choose your path wisely!

©2019 Kimberly Lloyd, PhD, BCHHP, Cert Raw Dog Food Nutritionist