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Today is “We'll Laugh Over This Someday” Day.  Crazy, right?  I love that we can make up the holidays.  Well, in honor of today's “day,” I wanted to share a mistake I made when I was new to raw feeding.

My First Year as a DIY Raw Feeder

Although I learned a lot about raw feeding from Dr. Cathy Alinovi, who helped me write a few articles when I was researching this “trendy” diet, my first year of raw feeding was a challenge.  Like many people who are new to raw, I started my raw feeding journey by doing a Google search.  I read articles, I joined Facebook raw feeding groups, and I connected with a few raw feeders on social media.  I learned that raw feeding is complicated and no one could agree on the “right” way to feed our dogs a raw diet.

In an attempt to learn all that I could, I took in everyone's advice and quickly became overwhelmed because I failed to follow up that advice with my research.  One of the mistakes that I made was over supplementing my dogs' raw diet in an attempt to make sure that they got all of the nutrients they needed.

Learning Which Nutrients Raw Fed Dogs Need in Their Diet, Keep the Tail Wagging®
Julie Austin Photography

What Nutrients Do Dogs Need?

Although I did some research, in the beginning, I didn't do enough.  If you're new to raw feeding, then you understand.  There is a tremendous amount of contradictory information out there, and I ended up falling back on the advice of well-meaning strangers.  Today, I know that there are resources out there that will list all of the nutrients our dogs need in their diet and two that were basic and easy for me to follow.

Today, with a few years of raw feeding under my belt, I can quickly do a Google search and find a website that lists all of the nutrients our dogs need in their diet and includes the recommended amounts of protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins.  And another website that lists the nutrients various foods provide our dogs.

Ultimately, while all of this is interesting and I enjoy learning, I won't pass a test on the subject, and my dogs will be okay.  How do I know?  Because people smarter than me encouraged me to relax and enjoy making raw meals for my dogs – it is fun – and I used Google to learn what nutrients were in my dogs' raw meal.

Nutrients in My Dogs' Raw Meal

Last week, my dogs enjoyed a meal of raw duck.  A quick Google search will show which vitamins and minerals I provided in their meal.  Below is a list of the meat, bone, liver, and offal that I fed.  I'm not including the fermented vegetables and supplements.

  • Duck: protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, and B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D
  • Beef Heart: protein, thiamine, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, CoQ10 and B vitamins
  • Beef Lung: protein, fat, Vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B12, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, selenium
  • Beef Liver: protein, Vitamin A, copper, folic acid, iron, CoQ10, and B vitamins
  • Beef Spleen: protein, Vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B12, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium

Got the picture?

Although the list above doesn't give you the amounts of each nutrient, it does show that my dogs are getting nutrients from their raw meals.  I add more nutrients when I include fermented vegetables and whole food supplements (eggs, sardines, and goats milk).  However, to make sure that I'm truly meeting each of my dogs' nutritional needs, I track the nutrients in their diet through a Nutrient Spreadsheet that a friend helped me create.

Are Supplements Necessary for a Raw Food Diet?

I try not to speak for all dogs because I'm not a veterinarian or a canine nutritionist.  I have found that supplements are necessary for my dogs' raw diet because I'm not able to get everything through meat, bone, liver, and offal.  Over the years, I've grown to prefer whole food supplements to capsules and tablets.  Whole foods are less expensive, readily available, and easier to digest and absorb.

Although a raw diet does provide living enzymes, it's not enough, in my opinion, to support a healthy digestive system, so I alternate a digestive supplement, fermented foods, raw goats milk, and kefir in my dogs' diet.  A few months ago, I began to add oysters as a source of zinc, manganese, and selenium.

The changes I've made to my dogs' raw diet have been based on a response to a health issue, like Rodrigo's digestive issues, and the information I gathered from others.  And every change was preceded by lots of questions and research on my part to make sure I was making the right move.

Which Supplements Should New Raw Feeders Add?

If I had to start all over again, I wish I would have listened to the few people who told me not to worry about supplements.  I was so nervous about my dogs getting sick because they weren't getting all of their nutrients (I so didn't understand raw feeding) that I ignored the people who were my best resources.

If I were to start again today with a new dog, the only supplements I would add to his or her diet are the basics:

  • [alternate] raw sardines, canned sardines (in water, no salt added), oysters, and fish oil
  • raw eggs
  • [alternate] digestive supplement, fermented foods, raw goats milk, and kefir

While there are supplements that promise to balance out a raw meal, filling in the holes we may be missing, I don't think it's necessary to start with them unless you have limited access to proteins and other ingredients.  Annual blood work is a great guide to how our dogs are doing as well as a great relationship with a holistic veterinarian who is experienced in canine nutrition and raw feeding.  Hair tests help to determine any nutrients that need to be added to our dogs' raw diet.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Getting Enough Nutrients

Blood work is ordered to give our veterinarian a preview of our dogs' health, but it doesn't help us with the nutrient levels in their system.  For instance, my dogs' annual blood work can identify diabetes, a thyroid condition, and pancreatitis and while I can address those through diet and supplementation, I won't be provided with a list of nutrients that I need to add to their diet.

I've been looking into hair analysis tests for my dogs because this is the best way, at the moment, to determine the nutrient levels in my dogs' system.  As the hair grows, it collects and locks in the nutrients in the system.  The tests have become more advanced and reliable and may be a great investment for raw fed dogs.

A hair analysis test will…

  • Tell us which minerals are lacking in my dogs' diet.
  • Give me a heads up on any supplements we need to add to my dogs' diet.
  • Let me know if there are any high levels of heavy metals in my dogs' system.

My goal is not only to make sure that my dogs are getting what they need in their diet but to also stave off disease and cancer while maintaining a healthy immune system and organ functions.  While understanding the nutrients our dogs need daily is a great start, every dog is unique and testing our dogs is what's going to tell us what they need specifically.

Most recently, I tested all four of my dogs through ParsleyPet, a company that offers a nutrient and heavy metal test. Despite the fact that my dogs are fed the same diet and are exposed to the same environment, I chose to test all of my dogs at the same time so that I had a baseline for how all of the dogs were doing.

Tracking Nutrients in a Schedule

As I mentioned above, I track the nutrients in their diet through a Nutrient Spreadsheet that a friend helped me create.  I was encouraged by friends to look at the nutrients in my dogs' diet, and I was happy that I found that my dogs are getting everything they need, but that doesn't mean that I stop learning.  Things like taurine aren't tracked on my schedule.  Therefore, I continue educating myself and paying attention to developments in the pet nutrition field.  The more I know, the better I can feed my dogs and cat.

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