How to avoid common raw feeding mistakes

by | May 2, 2024 | Nutrition

5 Raw Food Mistakes to Avoid With Your Dog


Much to my delight, I recently ran across a really great article on raw pet diets at a mainstream pet health site. The article’s point is that raw food has big benefits for most dogs. But, it’s not always easy to switch to it. And, it’s relatively easy to make mistakes. I couldn’t agree more. Diana Bocco wrote the article for PetMD. It discusses five mistakes dog parents often make when switching their pets to a raw diet.

Mistake No. 1: Not Understanding the Basics of Canine Nutrition

Many (and I would say most) homemade and prey-model diets and even some commercially available raw diets are nutritionally unbalanced. This can cause dogs to become deficient in antioxidants, or the correct amounts of trace minerals and vitamins, or the right fatty acid balance for appropriate and balanced skeletal growth, and organ and immune health.

Nutritional deficiencies aren’t obvious in your dog. But, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. A lot of research has gone into determining what nutrients dogs need. At a minimum, we do a disservice to dogs by taking a casual approach to ensuring they receive all the nutrients they require for good health.

The thing that’s sad and a bit interesting to me is the number of lay people arguing about the basic nutrient needs to just keep a dog alive. We have proven this through experiments. I hope they are never repeated. They show the bare nutrients needed to keep a puppy and kitten alive. Nutritionists did this decades ago. They came up with “minimum nutrient requirements.” These are the proven minimums needed to sustain life.

Focus on critical nutrients

Research is clear on what happens when you deprive dogs of many critical nutrients. These include calcium, iodine, selenium, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. They also include vitamins D and E, and potassium. There’s no reason to run these experiments again from your own kitchen; it will cost you your dog’s health.

A raw dog diet should have four main parts. These are: meat, including organs; pureed vegetables and fruit; a homemade vitamin and mineral mix (in most cases); and helpful extras like probiotics, digestive enzymes, and super green foods. These extras aren’t needed to balance the diet, but can boost health.

A healthy dog’s diet should have 75 to 85% meat/organs/bones and 15 to 25% veggies/fruits. This mimics the GI contents of prey, giving fiber and antioxidants. This “80/10/10” base is a great start for recipes. But, it’s far from balanced. It’s not safe to feed it long term without fixing its major micronutrient shortages.

Whole food provides most of the nutrients dogs need. A vitamin/mineral mix handles deficiencies. These are mainly for iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, vitamins D and E, folic acid, and taurine. If you skip supplements, you must use whole foods for these nutrients. This costs more and needs creativity.

If you’re making a homemade pet diet, I can’t stress enough how important it is to ensure it’s balanced for nutrition. Making your dog’s food from scratch requires you to ensure you meet macro and micronutrient needs. Do not guess. Follow nutritionally balanced recipes.

Mistake No. 2: Feeding Only Raw Meat

Many pet guardians mean well. But, they confuse balanced, species-appropriate nutrition with feeding raw muscle meat to their dog. Fresh meat is a good source of protein and some minerals. But, it’s not a balanced diet. Feeding a basic “80/10/10” diet is also unbalanced. It will cause big problems over time.

Wild canines eat nearly all of their prey. This includes small bones, organs, blood, brain, glands, hair, skin, teeth, eyes, tongue, and other treats. Many of these parts of prey animals provide key nutrients. This is how wild carnivores balance their diets.

For example, a diet of ground up chicken carcasses lacks the minimum vital nutrients compared to a whole prey item. It falls far short of almost all nutrients needed to meet even AAFCO’s low requirements.

These include potassium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium and vitamins A, D, E, B12 and choline. Most prey model diets fall into this category. This is why many vets oppose them. They starve animals, despite giving enough calories. This is a recipe for disaster over time.

Avoid super fatty meats

Some people are shocked to discover that higher fat meats, such as ground beef with over 20 percent fat, do not meet a dog’s basic amino acid requirements. You may also hear some people say that feeding a meat-based diet can make your dog mean. Research shows that feeding a diet lacking tryptophan (an amino acid) can cause behavior changes. People use fatty, cheap meats and carcasses in homemade diets, causing this.

Also, many homemade raw diet feeders create diets that are mostly chicken-based. They do this because chicken is cheap. To control inflammation, balance chicken meat with omega 3-rich foods. Ground up whole chicken fryers have an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 20:1! That’s a lot of inflammation to feed to your dog! I recommend making sure foods don’t cross the 5:1 ratio, and the goal would be to a 2:1 ratio.

Diet can fix some conditions from nutrition problems. But, it can’t fix others. And don’t think you just need to throw in a few fresh veggies or a bit of liver. Balancing your pet’s food to provide optimal nutrition is a bit more complex.

raw food for dogs

Mistake No. 3: Forgetting Roughage

Researchers have reported that maned wolves consume up to 38 percent plant matter during certain times of the year. We know dogs eat grass and plants on their own. They do it for many reasons. One is to get the enzymes, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients their bodies need.

Low-glycemic, fibrous vegetables provide enough prebiotic fibers to nourish your dog’s microbiome. They also help gut and colon health.

For example, blueberries are rich in antioxidants. So, don’t overlook them when planning your dog’s balanced raw diet. You can puree fruits and suitable veggies and add them to the raw mixture. You can also offer them whole in small pieces as treats or snacks. But only if your dog digests them well. A good rule of thumb is to keep produce content less than 25 percent of the diet.


raw food


Mistake No. 4: Ignoring the Potential Need for Supplements

There are only two options for assuring nutritional adequacy in homemade diets: feeding a more expensive, whole food recipe that contains a significant number of diversified ingredients necessary to meet nutrient requirements, or using supplements. I’m not going to list the third and most common choice here (feed an unbalanced diet) because this shouldn’t be an option, in my opinion.

I cannot ever endorse feeding an unbalanced diet for longer than about three months (for adult animals), because I know the power of nutrition. Our soils are nutritionally depleted, therefore our foods are nutritionally deficient.

I know some people don’t understand or care about supplying the “bare bones” minimum nutrients necessary to sustain life without negative biochemical changes, much less having a burning desire to provide the vast nutritional resources needed to amp up detoxification pathways necessary to upregulate biochemical pathways required to cope with the overwhelming number of chemicals we put into our pet’s bodies (dozens of unnecessary vaccines, topical pesticide applications, toxic cleaning supplies and lawn chemicals, etc.), so they don’t.

Be careful with homemade diets

And the body becomes nutritionally depleted and can no longer do its job excellently. I believe if we take on the task of preparing homemade meals for our pets we have a responsibility to make sure the food provides the basic nutrients necessary for normal cellular repair and maintenance.

Most homemade diets lack the correct calcium and phosphorus balance as well as essential fatty acid balance. Adequate amounts of whole food sources of zinc, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, vitamin E and D are also hard to come by using whole food sources.

Some “superfood” powders, such as microalgae and spirulina, can provide a very small (inadequate) amount of these critical nutrients to the body, but not enough to call them sufficient “whole food multi-vitamins.” Not even a pound of spirulina added to a pound of fresh meat provides enough trace minerals for dogs.

Likewise, there’s not enough copper in chicken livers to meet a dog’s copper requirements without throwing off the balance of other nutrients. So when I hear someone say, “I’ve added chicken livers to meet trace mineral requirements” I know they haven’t seen the numbers to realize how deficient the diet will be if they do this.

Evalute the recipes

When evaluating a recipe for nutritional adequacy, a good place to start is with these hard-to-come-by nutrients. Are there nuts or seeds added as a whole food source of vitamin E and selenium? Is kelp added as a source of iodine, and if not, is there a supplement added to meet iodine requirements?

Adequate levels of zinc are found in oysters, but not a lot of other foods at the levels required to adequately support a dog’s body, hence the addition of a zinc supplement to healthy recipes. Adequate vitamin D is found in sardines and some pasture-raised livers (but not factory farmed livers).

If the recipe lacks richly colored vegetables, then there should be an alternative source of manganese and potassium included in the recipe as well (unless you want to feed red rodent hair, which is a rich source of manganese in the wild). The more variety you feed, the better.

The problem is that most raw feeders get stuck feeding the same blends of meat, bone and organ over and over, which is where the bulk of problems come in and why most vets discourage fresh food in the first place.

Whole foods and variety

If you don’t see ample amounts of a variety of whole foods listed in the recipes (or amounts of these supplements to add) then the diet is probably nutritionally inadequate. Feeding an unbalanced meal now and then is fine. Feeding unbalanced meals day after day is what causes problems over time.

And because “nutrition (deficiency) is never a crisis,” as Dr. Richard Patton says, many well-meaning pet lovers end up unintentionally creating degenerative issues that could be avoided through feeding a balanced diet. Recipes provided by nutritionists or knowledgeable fresh food advocates provide a nutritional breakdown that shows you the amounts of nutrients found in the recipes.

Some dogs benefit from additional supplements to support specific organ systems, such as joint support for older dogs. The supplements that may be best for your dog depend on a variety of factors, including breed and disease susceptibility, age, weight, activity level, sterilization status, chronic health conditions and more. It’s important to work with your veterinarian to determine what supplements, in addition to those added to the food to balance the diet, your dog may need, how much to give and how often.

Mistake No. 5: Letting Safety Concerns Scare You

There are a number of organizations, including conventional veterinary groups, government agencies and of course the processed pet food industry, that have taken a public stand against raw pet food diets. Sadly, the fear mongering has had an effect. If you’re worried about raw food pathogens, it’s important to note that there’s a whole class of raw pet foods currently available that are sterile at the time of purchase.

Just as a significant percentage of the human meat supply has been treated with a sterilization technique called high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), many raw commercially available pet foods have also opted for this sterilization technique to reduce potential pathogens.

As for “non-sterile” raw diets, the meat used in commercially available raw food is USDA-inspected and no different from the steak and chicken purchased for human consumption from a grocery store. It should be handled with the same safety precautions you use when you prepare, say, burgers for your family.

It’s all the same

It’s all the same meat. Your counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils should be disinfected whether the raw meat is intended for your pet or human family members. Most adults understand that handling raw meat carries the potential for contact with pathogens, which is why appropriate sanitary measures are important whether you’re handling your pet’s raw food or your own.

Despite the inherent risks associated with handling raw meat, pet parents have been feeding raw diets to their dogs for decades, and to date, to my knowledge not one documented case of raw pet food causing illness in humans has been reported.

If you’re already successfully feeding your pet a balanced raw diet, I hope you’ll disregard misguided warnings and continue to offer your dog or cat real, fresh, living foods. If you’re feeding an unbalanced diet, please take the time to source nutritionally complete recipes and follow them to assure you’re feeding your pet everything they need. Or switch to a commercial raw diet that’s done the balancing for you.

Don’t hesitate to contact me:

Email : contact@enlightenedanimal.com

Website : https://www.enlightenedanimal.com


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