Balanced Canine Diets: The Big Misunderstanding

PART I: Creating Balance with Raw Meaty Bones

If you know me, then you know how insistent I am about feeding raw meaty bones (RMBs) with an abundance of marrow and connective tissues. One of the most influential books on my raw journey was Dr. Tom Lonsdale’s Raw Meaty Bones Promote Health. My three dogs’ early diet was missing the most critical component (back in 2002 through 2010 I was making my own home cooked dog food). I cannot express enough how much I wish I had known then what I know now. While my homemade diet appeared successful, it was missing the bones, bone marrow, and connective tissues that my dogs absolutely required. I did regularly give my dogs marrow bones for recreational chewing, but this was not sufficient to supply the plethora of minerals and even vitamins found in whole bones. I was fortunate to have healthy dogs, but then again even kibble can produce “healthy” dogs. The goal should always be to achieve optimal health and disease resilience.

Bones with marrow and connective tissues are critical to the cultivation of overall optimal health. Bone is a major source of minerals in the raw diet. I have written and taught about bone numerous times and its importance cannot be understated. Let’s review the nutritional value of bone before I discuss balance.

Hard bone contains:

  • calcium
  • phosphorus
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • sodium
  • chloride
  • sulfur
  • silica

Marrow contains [1]:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • zinc
  • manganese
  • selenium
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K
  • B vitamins ( B1, B2, B5, B7, B12)
  • Boron
  • fatty acids

The connective tissue is a major source of:

  • glucosamine
  • chondroitin

If you took the time to really review the nutrient list, then I bet you are as impressed as I am. When I began researching species-appropriate foods for our modern canine, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that bone holds the key to many of the hard-to-source nutrients that too many pet parents are struggling to adequately supply in their dog’s diet. In my earliest years of raw feeding, I never considered these nutrients difficult to source. As a result of this growing concern among pet parents, I began to take a closer look at what and how many pet parents were feeding their dogs. Needless to say, I created The Holistic Canine in 2016 and just recently started a Learning resource group on Facebook due to what I observed. (Be sure to join our NEW group for free education units and personalized answers to questions.)

Dr. Ian Billinghurst and Dr. Tom Lonsdale were already teaching how to feed dogs back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So why were so many pet parents suddenly turning to a new method of feeding their pets? Much of this new method of raw meal creation had to do with the growing popularity in raw feeding and the NRC’s release of their updated work Nutrients Requirements of Dogs and Cats. This ushered in numerous canine nutrition courses offered over the internet. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe education is critical and I insist that all of my clients consult with me to learn canine nutrition. The problem is many people tend to complicate what they learn, especially from online courses that give people a “stamp of approval,” and in turn cause confusion creating a lack of confidence in well intentioned pet parents fearful of making life threatening mistakes. And, this is also a business strategy to get frightened pet parents to hire the “certified professional” to create “complete and balanced” recipes at an often steep price.

One of my favorite quotes is from veterinarian Dr. Jeannie Thomason. She wrote, “‘Balance’ is nothing but an insufficient human term, a vague concept that pet food companies employ to make people buy processed foods for their pets.” And now raw food “professionals” have adopted the “complete and balanced” motto.

While there is no doubt that our pets need specific nutrients, the problem is that there is no possible way to know how much of each nutrient each individual dog actually requires. We can balance a diet in accordance with the NRC, FEDIAF, or AAFCO standards, but then the diet is not balanced to a dog’s individual needs. It is, rather, balanced to standards created for the pet food industry. I do, however, encourage every pet parent to learn what nutrients their dog requires in accordance with the NRC standards. This is then used as a reference.

I would like for you to consider this important fact. Have you ever thought about the concept of balance? If in fact balance is critical in every meal as is suggested by the pet food industry (and some pet nutrition buffs), then if your dog received a meal that was not balanced, his cells, tissues, organs, endocrine system, digestive faculties, and so forth would show signs of something missing. Symptoms, immediate acute conditions, and eventually nutrient-imbalanced pathologies would develop or follow within days. How can we verify this? We can verify this by the fact that true balance is established via the body (biological system) based on physiological need that is affected by internal and external influences. It can be confidently stated that nutritional needs are met over a period of days or even weeks, while balance is achieved by the biological system via what is consumed. This is also understood by the fact that nutrients are stored within the body tissues. When a nutrient need arises, that specific nutrient is drawn out of storage to be utilized as needed. We can take this even further to show that this is the very reason why humans and animals can fast for long periods and suffer no ill effect. If anything, fasting is used to balance the body to help create (or return to) homeostasis. Being a board certified nutrition professional, I am highly versed in fasting and the benefits that fasting has on biological systems. I am 100% confident that balance is achieved by and through the body while nutritional balance occurs over a period of time.

Based on all of the above, how to provide a nutrition plan that will allow for your dog to efficiently create and maintain balance is the real question we should be concerned with. How is this achieved? This is achieved by feeding your dog a diet that most closely mimics what nature has provided for canis lupis familiaris. I call this a species-appropriate diet. We may have domesticated a wild carnivore, but our modern canines remain anatomically carnivorous. And despite the fact that physiologically several breeds of the modern canine may show signs of DNA adaptation as a result of generations of exposure to human food (via epigenetic gene expression), the thousands upon thousands of generations of domestic dog remain physiologically carnivores, albeit adapted and classified as facultative.

Again, how does one provide a diet that can create balance? I believe Dr. Lonsdale has it correct. RMBs should be the foundation of the canine diet. Several veterinarians recommend feeding RMBs as 40% to 60% of the diet. I simply cannot disagree. Dr. Lonsdale wrote, “Healthy animals living and breeding in the wild depend on the correct quality of food in the right quantity at a correct frequency.” That is what we must mimic. Varying the diet that you offer to your dog with quality meats, organs, and bones in the correct quantity and at an appropriate frequency offers the best platform for balance creation. While many pet parents have a need or feel a need to feed their dog at the same time daily, I vary the time. I feed one meal per day with occasional RMB treats and snacks opposite mealtime. I also implement fasting several times per year.

With this understanding, let’s now take a closer look at bone, marrow, and connective tissue to see why these are foundational to a species-appropriate balanced diet. See Part II!

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

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3417664/


DIY Raw Dog Food: Creating a Meal with Fresh, Raw, Whole-foods

Balanced Meal EXAMPLE

Creating a balanced raw meal can be very daunting, especially for the pet parent new to DIY raw feeding. I have created an example meal plan guideline to assist raw feeders on their journey to creating nutrient-balanced meals. I chose easy-to-source grocery store ingredients to make it even more user-friendly for those just starting out in the world of DIY raw pet foods.

To get started you will need:

  • your dog’s daily nutrient requirements
  • food scale
  • food nutrient profile database (I use this one)
  • calculator (unless you are a math wiz)
  • spreadsheet for auditing nutrients (join our community to get one free)
  • ingredients!

According to the NRC’s minimum nutrient requirements, a 45 pound dog must have the following nutrient minimums per day.

  • Protein: 31.5 g
  • Fat: 17.3 g
  •                 Linoleic acid (omega-6): 3.3 g
  •                 Alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3): 0.13 g
  •                 EPA & DHA (omega-3): 0.3 g
  • Calcium: 1.3 g (1,300 mg)
  • Phosphorus: 1 g (1,000 mg)
  • Iron: 9.6 mg
  • Magnesium: 189 mg
  • Potassium: 1.34 g (1,340 mg)
  • Sodium: 251.5 mg
  • Zinc: 19.2 mg
  • Copper: 2 mg
  • Manganese: 1.5 mg
  • Selenium: 113.3 mcg
  • Chloride: 384 mg
  • Iodine: 284.1 mcg
  • Vitamin A: 480 RE
  • Vitamin D: 4.3 mcg
  • Vitamin E: 9.6 mg*
  • Vitamin K: 0.52 mg
  • Thiamine (B1): 0.7 mg
  • Riboflavin (B2): 1.6 mg
  • Niacin (B3): 5.5 mg
  • Pantothenic acid (B5): 4.7 mg
  • Pyridoxine (B6): 0.47 mg
  • Folate: 85.4 mcg **
  • Cobalamin (B12): 11 mcg
  • Choline: 357.5 mg

*this is the alpha only, unfortunately. Vitamin E must be supplied as the complex of tocopherols.

**this is the folic acid (poorly absorbed synthetic version of folate) calculation, unfortunately

For a 45 pound dog that requires approximately 3% (of body weight) per day, I am going to calculate 2.5% to save room for my extras. 2.5% of 45 pounds =

                1.125 pounds (18 ounces) of meat, organs, and bone (per DAY)

For beginner raw feeders, follow the 80/10/10 guideline. This is the easiest ratio to follow. If I were to follow the 80/10/10 guideline exactly, this is how it would look:

An 80/10/10 ratio for 18 ounces would be as follows:

                80%: 14.4 ounces

                10%: 1.8 ounces

                10%: 1.8 ounces

Breaking this down further:

80% meat should be fed approximately 65% muscle + 15% organ muscle:

                65%: 11.7 ounces

                15%: 2.7 ounces

10% organs should be fed 5% liver + 5% other secreting organ:

                5%: 0.9 ounces

                5%: 0.9 ounces

10% bone remains the same

As a guideline you will feed approximately:

                11.7 oz. muscle meat

                2.7 oz. organ muscle

                1.8 oz. bone

                0.9 oz. liver

                0.9 oz. other secreting organ

Total      18 oz.

Now let’s create a meal! I will notate the more hard-to-source nutrients as well as those that are richest in each food ingredient. Vitamins A, D, K, and the B complex vitamins are fairly easy to source; therefore, I will not be concerned with those unless noted due to their nutrient-saturation in the ingredient. Be sure to check what nutrients are in each food you are adding by referring to the nutrient-database you have chosen to use. You need to adjust the ingredients and amounts in order to meet nutrient requirements. Use highest nutrient per bite ratio foods!

11.7 oz. meat

  • 5 oz. grass-fed beef (zinc, selenium, iron, magnesium)
  • 5 oz. pork rib1 (selenium, magnesium, zinc, iron)
  • 1.7 oz. sardines (vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, potassium, omega-3)

2.7 oz. muscle organ

  • 1.5 oz. chicken hearts (zinc, iron, folate, taurine)
  • 1.2 oz. chicken gizzard (potassium, magnesium)

1.8 oz. organs

  • 0.9 oz. beef liver (copper, vitamin A, iron, zinc, folate, vitamin D, B vitamins)
  • 0.9 oz. beef kidney (vitamin A, selenium, B12)

1.8 oz. bone

  • Pork rib
  • Chicken paw (extra, see below)

1 21% bone, this gives me 1.05 oz. bone

Now, since I need 3%, I have left room for all the extras to meet nutrients. Since the vegetables and fruits I use yield very little calories, I do not need to account for these. But I have room for the fat calories from seeds. I will add:

  • 1 oz. blueberries (various vitamins and phytonutrients)
  • 1 oz. kale (magnesium)
  • 1 oz. spinach (magnesium, manganese, zinc, potassium)
  • 0.5 oz. ground pumpkin seeds (magnesium, manganese, zinc)
  • 1 pasture-raised chicken egg2 (selenium, choline, vitamin D, vitamin E, B vitamins, iodine)
  • 0.5 oz. oysters (zinc, B12, copper)
  • 1 chicken paw3 (zinc, selenium, iron, folate, B vitamins)
  • ½ tbsp. coconut oil

2 eggshell boosts calcium for bone %

3 this fulfills bone/calcium percentage/requirement

Details to consider:

  • This meal contains highly bioavailable nutrients with enzymes and cofactors making nutrient absorption optimal. However, naturally occurring nutrients will have antagonists within the same foods.
  • This meal contains oxalates that bind iron.
  • This meal contains an egg. Eggs contain phosvitin which binds iron.
  • This meal will reflect low in magnesium in auditing programs that do not account for bone (see below)

How to correct:

Add a food source vitamin C supplement to increase iron and magnesium absorption. Vitamin C reduces the binding effect of oxalates (found in kale and spinach) and phosvitin (found in egg) that bind iron, while also boosting absorption of magnesium. Add a minimum of 100 mg. Do NOT use a synthetic isolate!4 Although dogs produce their own vitamin C, studies show it is insufficient to cultivate optimal health and prevent disease especially in the absence of whole prey coupled with exposure to the toxins and chemicals of modern life.

Keeping in mind that bones contain nutrients, all but one of the dog food auditing programs and spreadsheets that I have encountered do not account for bone minerals. Bones contain a wealth of minerals besides calcium and phosphorus. Bones also contain magnesium, sodium, chloride, sulfur, potassium, silica, iron, zinc, manganese, selenium, boron, and vitamins A & K. If you are using an auditing program, your values will not reflect correctly where you feed bone in a meal. Thus, the above meal will reflect low in magnesium. 60% of the body’s magnesium is stored in bones with 38% being in the muscles and liver. The highest food sources of magnesium are seeds, nuts, leafy greens, and bones. In the wild, dogs eat very little vegetation and tiny amounts of seeds (which come out whole as noted in wolf studies that examine stomach and scat contents), and yet there exists no recorded incidences of magnesium deficiency among wild dogs. In fact, magnesium deficiency in domestic dogs is extremely rare and only seen in severely malnourished dogs and in dogs exposed to nephrotoxic drugs. Magnesium is poorly absorbed to begin with and supplementation is nearly useless. I personally do not feel adding a magnesium supplement is necessary. This is because there are ways to boost magnesium absorption just as boosting iron absorption is possible. Your dog will receive sufficient magnesium from the diet especially if you are feeding bones, magnesium-rich seeds (ground), leafy greens, and avocados. If you do not feed bones, you will have magnesium deficient meals.

For optimal magnesium absorption, be sure meals contain the following nutrients that assist magnesium assimilation:

  1. Food-source vitamin C (you are already doing this for iron absorption).
  2. Calcium (you are already doing this if feeding bones and eggshells).
  3. Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), found in virgin coconut oil (already added to meal).
  4. Soluble fiber from veggies and fruits (you are already adding these as extras).

4 Synthetic vitamin C, known as ascorbic acid, is made from corn syrup and hydrochloric acid, has a mere 10% absorption rate, and has been implicated in gallstones, arterial disease, and many other conditions.

Finally, log all of your ingredients and amounts into a spreadsheet to audit your nutrient totals. If you are hitting any minimums or missing nutrients, adjust your amounts, switch ingredients, or add a whole-foods supplement to more than cover the requirement. Don’t simply hit minimums, create meals that will cultivate optimal health by utilizing highest nutrient per bite ratio foods that cover a broad spectrum of nutrients. Correct any antagonistic nutrient competition by creating synergy such as in the example above (adding vitamin C).

And finally…

Supplements to add:

  • 100 to 150 mg food-source vitamin C such as Nature’s Way® Alive! Vitamin C
  • 15 to 30 mg mixed tocopherols (Vitamin E oil or dry)
  • 1/4 to 1 tsp. spirulina, phytoplankton, or wheatgrass/barley grass powder (for additional minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, phytochemicals, and/or omega-3 fatty acids)
  • kelp to provide no more than 200 mcg iodine
  • 500 mg Krill oil (contains astaxanthin)
  • Other supplement(s) specific to your dog’s needs (medicinal mushrooms, golden paste, colostrum, taurine, coenzyme Q10, cell salts, etc.)

As a final note, I puree my fresh fruits and vegetables in a Ninja blender. This helps to unlock nutrients so your dog can easily benefit. Add the mixture to a silicon mold(s) and freeze. Add the frozen molds to meals.

You now have a complete and balanced meal with easy-to-source ingredients!

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