There are several avenues from which people arrive at the ‘raw is best’ conclusion. Sometimes it’s via the shock realization of what’s actually in that bag of kibble. Others through disillusionment about pet food industry practices or alarm at the multiple health scares associated with it. Now and again, it’s even by accident- when a fussy-eating pupper eagerly gobbles up a cut of meat dropped from the kitchen counter (or ingeniously breaks into the fridge)!
Regardless of how it happens, that ‘eureka’ moment is highly satisfying. You now know how to give them best chance of a long, healthy and happy life. However, it can be tinged with regret that it wasn’t sooner and the temptation can be to load them up with kilos of chicken breast and the finest cuts of steak.
This would be a mistake.
Firstly, we would recommend some kind of transition plan. But, more importantly, let’s talk about balance.
Yep, we know. It’s one of those words that’s used so often it's become almost meaningless. Along with complete, holistic, organic, premium, free-range etc., balance is a word found plastered all over commercial food-packaging.
These words seek to reassure us that what’s inside meets all your dog’s nutritional requirements.
Spoiler: it doesn’t. We'll talk more about this in a later blog!
So why are we talking about it? Let’s forget the marketing noise and get back to basics.
What Do We Mean By Balance?
/ˈbal(ə)ns/: A Situation in which different elements are in the correct proportions
Raw feeding advocates regularly point to canine ancestry (wolves) and our companions’ biological design as the primary evidence for this type of diet. And we wholeheartedly agree. However, we must also remember that wolves do not subsist on chicken breast or fillet steak alone!
A true raw diet mirrors all the elements found in intact prey animals- head, skin, muscle, bone, organ and entrails - as well as the contents of the stomach, which will include vegetables. No one element alone will provide the full nutritional requirement. This is why feeding an all-meat (i.e. muscle meat) diet is not advised. There will be a deficiency in some areas. Here are the main ones:
- Vitamin D: This can be a confusing one for pet parents. A quick online search can reveal as many articles about Vitamin D toxicity as Vitamin D deficiency in dogs. In simple terms, this is why: Unlike us hoomans, dogs cannot manufacture Vitamin D from sunshine so it must be sourced through their diet. This fact resulted in commercial manufacturers ‘fortifying’ pet foods with synthetic Vitamin D supplements to appease the concerns of dog owners. However, too much is as dangerous as too little and, historically, this is the case with commercially-fed pets. On the other end of the spectrum, feeding raw muscle meat alone can lead to a lack of this nutrient, which is mainly found in offal (liver). As Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphorous absorption, a deficiency can lead to bone disorders and complications due to heart disease. And, though the research is in its infancy, links are being found between low Vitamin D3 levels and cancer. Essentially: ensure liver is included in any raw dog food diet.
- Omega Fatty Acids: Again, these essential fatty acids are not manufactured in the body so must be obtained in the diet. However, as always, its not quite just as simple as that. Excessive levels of Omega 6 are associated with inflammation. Omega 3s are shown to reduce inflammation and, so, balance this out. A generally accepted healthy ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is 5:1. An all-meat diet does not strike this balance. For example, chicken is very high in Omega 6 and very low in Omega 3; a ratio of about 20:1 sometimes! And this is not to demonise chicken; it’s an easily available, affordable source of lean protein. It’s just that if chicken is your go-to staple, consider supplementing with oily fish to harmonise the Omega levels. Coconut oil, while neither 3 nor 6, is great source of Medium Chain Fatty Acids and helps keep everything in a nice equilibrium.
- Calcium and Phosphorous: In our experience, Calcium is the most-often quoted concern of veterinarians with regard to a ‘raw’ diet. While we all understand its importance for the growth and maintenance of strong bones, Calcium is equally important for digestive and nerve functioning, blood clotting, effective release of hormones and even keeping a regular heartbeat. Phosphorous is vital for synthesising protein and the growth, maintenance and repair of cells. In this sense, the vets are absolutely correct. What some (but not as many as before, yay!) confuse a ‘raw’ diet with is actually a ‘meat-only’ diet, devoid of bone. Meat is high in phosphorous and low in calcium. A proper Prey-Model or BARF diet will always contain a percentage of bone - generally around 10% is the aim. This does not mean that every meal must consist of 10% bone, but rather 10% of the overall diet. All of our chicken and duck mixes have bone content built-in, while our range of complements allows you to feed it as a tasty treat! We’re often asked how to know if you’re feeding too much or too little bone. Don’t worry, you don’t have to break out the calculator and scales - your pupper’s poops will tell you all you need to know!
- Iodine: Iodine is an important mineral that supports your bestie’s metabolism and helps them produce thyroid hormones. A deficiency in iodine can lead to hypothyroidism, a common hormonal disorder in dogs that can cause stunted growth, hair loss, lethargy and weight gain. Most commercial kibble is supplemented with iodine, but who wants to be feeding them that rubbish, right? A meat-only diet is likely to be lacking in iodine and it’s something to keep an eye on when moving to feeding raw. Pop a raw egg in with their food now and again, as they are a good source. The best source of iodine, however, comes not from the paddock, but from the ocean in the form of seaweeds. Luckily for you, our Proactive Health mix contains kelp, which is an excellent source of iodine. Keep it in your feeding rotation to ensure they’re getting what they need.
So…to finish, let’s go back to balance.
Of all the terms thrown around, this is the one to adhere to the most. As we always advise, feeding a variety (of proteins, of mixes, of veggies) is the best way to ensure all your dog's nutritional requirements are being met.
The move to raw feeding is the best thing you can do for their health and wellbeing, bar none. It just takes a little more thought than simply feeding them chicken breast and steaks! We hope this helps you in identifying the main things to watch out for.