I have a confession to make. Sometimes I way over think my dogs' raw diet. I worry about ingredients, sourcing, and creating a balanced diet. Although I know that we're supposed to balance over time, I still over think what I'm feeding my dogs.
Creating a Balanced Raw Meal without Melting Your Brain
Before I reveal my special level of crazy – how I calculate my dogs' raw meals – I thought I would share with how you can balance your dogs' raw diet without causing yourself stress.
There are three things people failed to tell me when I first started feeding a raw food diet to my dogs:
1 – You don't balance every meal, you balance over time. If you don't have bone in your dog's raw meal, then you can feed raw meaty bones or green tripe to make up for the difference; and, guess what, you can feed the bone or tripe later in the week. It's so easy and doesn't require a bunch of complicated drama.
2 – You can use a meal balancer or base mix to help balance your dog's meal. I figured this one out quickly and used a base mix the first year that I was making my dogs' raw meals. You hydrate a set amount of base mix in a large bowl (the box has directions), mix in raw meat, and serve. I didn't have to worry about hunting down organ meat or my dogs missing bone. It is important to pay attention to the ingredients because you don't want to overfeed your dog certain vitamins – following the directions will prevent this from happening.
3 – It's near impossible to provide a perfectly balanced diet. I love the idea of balancing my dogs' diet, however, each of my dogs is different and what may represent balance for one of my dogs isn't balance for the others. All of the time I spent calculating a perfectly balanced diet based on what I had learned was still resulting in an unbalanced diet.
Over the past few years, I've adapted how I feed my dogs based on what I learn about dog nutrition and raw feeding. In this blog post, I share what I'm feeding my dogs and how I calculate a balanced raw meal with or without raw bone. Today, I balance my dogs' diet over time and I share the resource I'm using to confirm that my dogs are getting the nutrients they need.
What I Feed My Dogs
There are two main models of raw feeding: BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) Model and Prey Model. Those of us who feed our dogs based on the BARF Model believe that fruits and vegetables have a place in our dogs’ nutrition. Prey Model raw feeders see fruits and vegetables as unnecessary.
I feed my dogs a modified version of BARF that I call FrankenBARF. It has morphed over the years to the following:
- 80% Muscle Meat
- 10% Raw Bone
- 5% Offal (kidneys, pancreas, spleen)
- 5% Liver
- Vegetable Mix or Fermented Vegetables
- Supplements (specific to each dog)
When I first started feeding raw, the ratio of ingredients made perfect sense – until I was standing at the counter with a bunch of meat wondering “how do I figure out how much ’10% organ meat’ weighs?”
I’m an accountant by day, so it was fun to figure out a simple calculation to help me out.
Calculating Raw Food Ratios for Dogs without Bone
In the below example, I’m going to show you how I create a balanced raw meal starting with 15 pounds of meat and no bone.
Calculate 80% Meat
15 pounds of meat / 80% (or 0.80) = 18.75 pounds of total food (meat, bone, liver, and offal)
Calculate 5% Offal
18.75 pounds (calculated above) x 5% (or 0.05) = 0.94 pounds of offal (secreting organs)
Calculate 5% Liver
18.75 pounds (calculated above) x 5% (or 0.05) = 0.94 pounds of liver
Calculate 10% Bone
Because you don’t have bone, you’ll need to use an alternative to account for the missing calcium in your dog’s diet.
- Use a meal balancer or base mix, I recommend cutting the liver amount by 50% from 0.94 pounds to 0.47 pounds. If you have a dog with a heart condition, I suggest avoiding the grain-free base mix or a base mix with legumes and potatoes given new information in 2018.
- Ground eggshells (I use my NutriBullet); 3/4 tsp for every cup of food.
When using a meal balancer, it’s also important to read the ingredients to avoid duplicating supplements. For instance, if the meal balancer already accounts for kelp, don’t add more to your dog’s raw meal.
Follow the instructions on the meal balancer to determine how much to add to your meat, organ meat, and liver; in some products, you don't need to add organ meat, because the balancing includes all of the nutrients you need.
If math isn't your thing, don't click away – stay with this post for an easier way to balance your dog's raw meals.
Calculating Raw Food Ratios for Dogs with Bone
In the below example, I’m going to show you how I create a balanced raw meal starting with 15 pounds of duck wings and bone. In this example, you will have to add more muscle and organ meat for this to be a balanced diet. We’ll figure out the amount in Step Four.
Calculate 80% Meat
First, figure out how much meat and how much bone comprises a duck wing. PerfectlyRawsome.com has an amazing chart that helps break this down.
Duck Wings: 61% meat, 39% bone
- 15 pounds of duck wings x 61% or (0.61) = 9.15 pounds of duck meat
- 15 pounds of duck wings x 39% or (0.39) = 5.85 pounds of bone
- 9.15 pounds of duck wings x 80% or (0.80) = 11.44 pounds of total raw dog food
Calculate 10% Bone
- 11.44 pounds of raw dog food x 10% (or 0.10) = 1.14 pounds of raw bone
Well, this is a quandary because I told you above that you have 5.85 pounds of raw bone, and because it's a duck wing, you can't separate out the extra bone to use later. I bet the “balance over time” method is sounding damn good right now.
- 5.85 pounds of raw bone / 10% (or 0.10) = 58.5 pounds of raw dog food
- 58.5 pounds of raw dog food x 80% (or 0.80) = 49.8 pounds of muscle meat – 9.15 pounds of duck meat = 37.65 pounds of meat
To make up the balance of meat in this diet (37.65 pounds), I use ground turkey meat (no bone). I add turkey scapula meat that I order through our raw food co-op and grind at home. Sometimes I'll also add turkey heart, but not too much (about 5 pounds) because it's a bit rich.
Calculate 5% Offal
- 58.5 pounds of raw dog food (calculated above) x 5% (or 0.05) = 2.93 pounds of offal*
*I feed my dogs pork or beef offal.
Calculate 5% Liver
- 58.5 pounds of raw dog food (calculated above) x 5% (or 0.05) = 2.93 pounds of liver*
*I feed my dogs turkey, pork, or venison liver
Balanced Raw Meal for Dogs with Bone
After all that math, this is what a balanced raw meal will look like.
- 15 pounds of duck wings
- 37.65 pounds of turkey scapula meat (no bone) – or 32.65 pounds of scapula + 5 pounds of turkey heart
- 5.85 pounds of bone
- 2.93 pounds of offal (kidney, spleen, pancreas)
- 2.93 pounds of liver
It's not that big of a deal when you like math, or you're one of those people who can do calculations quickly in your head. For the rest of us, this blows – so I choose to balance over time and allow my dogs' poop be one of the barometers to let me know how they're doing.
- Loose stool – add more bone
- Dark stool – add less heart
- Light or white stool – add less bone
As you get to know your dog on raw, you'll create a list of things to watch out for and adjust.
Raw feeding can be complicated, but it doesn't have to be.
Initially, I adapted the free spreadsheet located at PackLunchRaw.com to help track my dogs' nutrients. Ultimately, I decided to work with someone who has experience tracking nutrients in a raw diet for pets.
Balancing Over Time – Update!
I'm returning to this blog post to clarify something for new raw feeders who stumble across my website. While balancing per meal seems like the best idea, I strive to balance my dogs' raw diet over time, which I find to be a lot easier because I'm not always able to grab all of the ingredients I need to create a balanced meal per day. However, when I focus on balancing over time I don't have to worry about what I do and don't have on hand.
My dogs are getting the nutrients they need, and they are healthy. So if calculating the 80/10/5/5 ratio when feeding your dog is complicated, then do what I do – balance over time.
Still a bit nervous? Then check out the nutrient spreadsheet that I downloaded and customized with my dogs' information. PackLunchRaw.com created a free spreadsheet for raw feeders to help us determine if we're covering the nutrient requirements for our dogs. This is a great way to learn what each food you feed is bringing to the table while confirming that your dog's overall diet is balanced.