If you are new to feeding your dog fresh foods you’ve probably tried to research by going online and joining a FB group (well, it’s rarely one 😊) for advice. You were most likely told to follow some guidelines based on a % – such as 80/10/5/5 or 80/10/10 or 50% raw meaty bones plus some other % for organs, muscle meats and maybe some veggies. There are many thoughts on what the ratios should be and it’s very confusing.
It’s confusing because the suggestions are based on opinion without much information for substantiation. Most feeding methods are based on percentages that try to approximate the composition of a prey animal. People figure out how much bone is in the prey animal and how much that contributes to the bone % of their chosen feeding method. Then they have to figure out how much of the organs of an animal contribute to the overall organ %- but often get confused on classifying secreting glands, muscle meat and organs %. And then what about veggies, seeds and oil balancing???
Yet, people assume that our approach, which uses National Research Council numbers – is more complicated⁉️
In reality, it is quite straight forward in comparison -with the very important distinction that we don’t guess or make lots of assumptions. We have a target and we have easily accessible data on the nutrients in foods to meet those targets. Whole prey meets NRC numbers so if you believe whole prey is best, then you can’t dismiss the NRC numbers.
Here are some scenarios of how and why the ‘feed by percentages and variety’ methods might look great to start – as well as the how, and why of the break down – followed by a real-life story.
🔹Say you feed a chicken-based diet. It’s low in zinc, but high in fat, so the fat helps the dog’s skin look pretty good.
🔹Next month, you feed a lot of beef, so now the diet provides more zinc than before and the skin still looks great.
🔹Now, you add in pork, turkey, and so forth. Overall, the diet is still deficient in zinc and unless you’ve been feeding some beef liver or a large amount of heart, it can be low in copper as well.
🔹In addition, B vitamins are low overall. Better some days, pretty poor on other days. Other than vitamin B-12 which circulates in the body for about one-month, excess B vitamins are excreted in urine. So, if the dog did happen to have some excess Bs one day, s/he isn’t going to have them the next day, much less over time.
The reason that skin can look good and the dog might feel fine even when a diet is deficient is the same as it is for people. The body has mineral reserves (in the bones and liver, for example) and it draws on those reserves when the diet doesn’t provide what’s needed. Not so bad, right? Especially for a dog that was previously fed a commercial diet to meet AAFCO guidelines because those diets are fortified.
So, the dog has good mineral reserves, you switch to a home-prepared diet that lacks critical minerals and the dog looks fantastic. Even better than before! Yes, but that’s because the fresh food component can be powerful… and the body’s reserves are being drawn upon. If the dog is old enough, you may never see a problem because the dog passes away due to old age, so the mineral reserves were good enough to hide a problem.
If the dog is younger, chances are the problem(s) will surface over time. Mineral reserves become lower and lower and the dog starts to have trouble. Once those reserves are gone, the dog is in very, very big trouble. We often post about the initial symptoms one might see due to nutrient insufficiency. Below is an example that might get your attention as to how serious this can be if the issues aren’t addressed.
Years ago, I received an email from someone who lost her eleven-month-old dog. This was a normal puppy with all the promise in the world. A happy, frisky boy with so much life ahead of him…and then it was over. He started having flaky skin, so the owner added nice oils to the diet -the skin improved… Then he broke a toe nail -veterinary testing could find nothing wrong. It was suggested that perhaps he needed to have his nails clipped more often or was running too hard on a surface that allowed him to slide.
Then, the dog began to yelp for no apparent reason. Then he had a seizure, which he came out of nicely -if such an occurrence can ever be considered “nice”. And then, out of the blue, he was simply walking through his backyard when he fell over and screamed. Turns out the femur had shattered. Further investigation showed rickets and the rest is history. The veterinarian suspects that the pain was too much and the pup went into cardiac arrest.
The diet, by the way, was based on a rotation of foods as the people in the client’s feeding group highly recommended variety to provide enough nutrients. I analyzed the diet and it was deficient in B vitamins save for B3, deficient in vitamins D and E, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, potassium and iodine. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus was way off the mark.
As horrible as this was, we don’t want to leave you on a sad note because several months later, the person got a new dog and she knows better now. Rather than taking everything she hears and reads as gospel, she turned into a client, and it’s with encouragement and permission that we’ve shared the story.
This isn’t about trying to make anyone fearful, so much as thoughtful about the importance of truly knowing that your diet is meeting your dog’s nutrient requirements. Home-prepared diets (raw or cooked) can be fantastic (as many dogs would tell you), but you can’t address what you don’t know, so here’s the deal:
An unbalanced diet can be the cause of less serious issues like itchy or flaky skin, but will escalate if the issues are not properly addressed. The first step is to see the vet, obviously. Unfortunately, nutritional causes of disease aren’t always recognized, and the roles of vitamins and minerals are vast.
❗If you feed a home-prepared diet that meets the recommended allowances for dogs (per the NRC), you will know that your dog’s nutrient requirements are being met. Please don’t rely on percentages and variety.