In 2014, I decided to start sharing my journey as a raw feeder. I had been feeding my dogs a raw food diet for a year and wrote about what I had learned as part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Looking back, I cringe at how little I knew about raw feeding and decided to update each of those blog posts in 2018-19.
The post that I wrote for “N” wasn't worth updating, so I changed the topic to something that has been the focus of my time recently – tracking nutrients in my dogs' raw diet. In this post, I'm going to share why I track their nutrients, the resources and tools that I use (including a testing service), and how you can start doing the same.
One question I receive often is “how do I tell if my dog is getting enough nutrients in a raw food diet?” When I began sharing my experience as a raw feeder, I didn't worry about the nutrients because I believed that my dogs would get everything they need from the food that I was feeding. Since I wasn't cooking the food, the nutrients were readily available – I just needed to follow the 80/10/10 model (80% muscle meat, 10% bone, 10% organ meat) and my dogs would be fine!
Today, I have a different opinion when it comes to raw feeding, a balanced diet, and the nutrients in our dogs' diet.
80/10/10 is a Foundation
For my dogs, I now believe 80/10/10 is a foundation for their diet. It's a great place to start as you learn more about raw feeding, but I don't believe that this represents a balanced diet. This ratio is said to be the makeup of a prey animal and what our dogs would eat in the wild. I completely agree, but what I failed to consider in the past is that my dogs aren't wild, they're domestic animals that have been subjected to vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries, and other things that a wild dog doesn't experience. How much of how we raise our pets impacts what they should have in their diet? With this question in mind, I began thinking beyond 80/10/10.
Nutritional Deficiencies Aren't Immediate
Nutritional deficiencies don't show up immediately. In fact, they may not show up for years. First, a dog's system will try and absorb the missing nutrients from other areas of the body. For example, if a diet doesn't have enough calcium, then a dog's system will take the calcium from their bones. Over time, we'll see weak bones and other health issues related to bones and joints. I don't want to learn that my dogs' diet is deficient because of a serious health issue that arises.
I Want to Learn About My Dogs' Nutritional Requirements
And, finally, I want to learn what my dogs need in their diet. As a blogger, I share my experiences and journey as a raw feeder and part of that journey has to be, in my opinion, my growth. My path as a raw feeder followed these steps:
Now, I want to learn about the macro and micro-nutrients required in a balanced raw diet, how to use herbs in my
Tracking Nutrients in My Dogs' Raw Diet
A year ago, when I still had a raw feeding group, a few ladies inspired me to think beyond what I was feeding my dogs. At the time, I came across a free download to help pet parents track the nutrients in our dogs' diet, but I believed that this would be too overwhelming and cumbersome for people new to raw feeding. These ladies explained that while it would be overwhelming for some, that didn't mean we should ignore this valuable step. I wish I remembered their names because I owe them a huge THANK YOU.
I do remember one name because we're Facebook friends. Destiny White created the nutrients requirements for each of my dogs based on the most recent NRC guidelines. I used that data to develop a workbook that helps me better track the nutrients in my dogs' diet.
I don't use the spreadsheet to create meals, instead, I use them to better understand the nutrients in my dogs' raw diet (based on the ingredients) and locate any nutritional gaps and incorporate foods or supplements to fill those gaps. I'm still learning but wanted to share where I am in the process for anyone who is interested in doing the same for their dog (or cat).
There are a lot of multi-vitamins on the market, but the only one I trust (at the moment) is formulated by Herbsmith, Inc., a company that produces natural supplements that I trust. Their nutrient supplement, Nutrients, is something that I would recommend adding to a diet that may need more nutritional support. In my opinion, it's still important to have a complete understanding of how and when to use this supplement. For example, I don't believe that a chicken leg combined with a nutrient supplement creates a balanced diet.
Instead, I believe that this is a great product to support
“Nutrients is a highly concentrated blend of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, known as “superfoods”, geared specifically towards a carnivore’s needs. Broccoli, blueberries, pomegranate, spinach, sweet potatoes, cranberries, tomatoes, barley grass, and spirulina provide natural vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants that are necessary for optimal health.”Source: Herbsmith, Inc.
- Click to learn more about Nutrients (use code KTTW10 at check out to save 10%)
Books About Nutrients in Raw Dog Food
My nutrient spreadsheet was created on the foundation of the NRC guidelines. I've tried to read these guidelines and they made my head hurt, so fellow raw feeders recommended the following books that have helped me gain a better understanding of what is needed in a balanced raw diet:
- Dr. Karen Becker's Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats
- Steve Brown's Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet
- Monica Segal's K9 Kitchen – Your Dog's Diet: The Truth Behind The Hype
Testing for Nutrient Levels
I also invested in hair tests for each of my dogs (they all received great results) from ParsleyPet.com. This is a service that tests the nutrient levels and heavy metal levels. This is a simple way to learn if any of my dogs are deficient in any nutrients or has an overabundance of heavy metals in their bodies. This is the most comprehensive test on the marketing, testing over 48 of the most common nutrients, heavy metals, ionic minerals, and trace minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, mercury, and aluminum.
This is a pain-free, non-evasive test; you simply send in a hair sample and you'll receive the veterinarian reviewed results within a couple of weeks of receipt of the samples.
Sources for Ingredient Nutritional Data
Many people get their nutritional data from the USDA database, however, I found this database to be a bit cumbersome and it didn't provide everything I needed. So I used the following two sources:
This Isn't Necessary to Feed Raw
I've been feeding a raw food diet for nearly six years (at the time of this post) and if someone had told me that I had
Please don't allow this post to discourage you from feeding a raw food diet. I fed my dogs a raw diet for five years before I started tracking nutrients. My dogs are healthy. I see evidence of their health every day. However, I don't want to be lulled into a false sense of security only to be blindsided with a serious illness later.
When my spreadsheet is complete, I'll make it available so that others can copy the nutritional data of the ingredients into their own spreadsheet. If you don't have access to the NRC guidelines, I encourage you to contact Destiny White about this service.
One more amazing resource for better understanding nutritional requirements is Ronny LeJeune, who has taken courses on this topic and impresses the hell out of me with the wealth of knowledge she shares on a daily basis.
🤓 The Nutritional Research Council for dogs and cats (NRC) has established minimum and recommended allowances for essential nutrients to maintain optimal health.
⚖️ Raw diet ratios achieve nutritional balance when the appropriate ingredients are selected and provided in sufficient amounts. This balance can be accomplished using raw diet ratios as a guideline to formulate a balanced meal with whole foods.
📊 Bowl Breakdown – NRC Balanced BARF Raw Meal for an Adult Dog:
✔️ 19.4oz (551g) Meal Weight
✔️ 16.9% Protein
✔️ 11.7% Fat
✔️ 2.28% Carbohydrates
🦌 130g Venison Meat
🦆 150g Duck Feet
🦆 60g Emu Heart from Raw Feeding Miami
🐟 60g Canned Sardines in water
🐖 36g Pasture Pork Fat
🐖 30g Pasture Pork Liver from Primal Pastures
🍠 60g Baked Butternut Squash with
🍠 0.5tsp Ground Ginger Spice
🌻 16g Ground Sunflower Seeds
🌰 4g Ground Hemp Seed Hearts
🌱 0.5tbsp Vitaboost Wheatgrass & Chlorella fromkin+kind
💯 This recipe is made using BARF model guidelines and balanced to NRC standards with whole foods. Certain ingredients do not have accurate nutritional data available which is discussed below:
1️⃣ Duck Feet:
Nutritional data on duck feet is unavailable. Data on chicken feet is available and was used in place of duck feet when formulating the recipe.
2️⃣ Canned Sardines in Water:
Nutritional data on canned sardines in water is unavailable. Data on canned sardines in oil was used in place of sardines in water when formulating the recipe.
3️⃣ Emu Heart:
Nutritional data on emu heart is unavailable. Data on turkey heart was used in place of emu heart when formulating the recipe.
Iodine content varies greatly in kelp products. NOW Kelp Pure Powder 220mcg iodine formula was used when formulating the recipe.
⚠️ Photos do not depict ingredient amounts accurately.
Test Your Dog's Nutrient Levels
If you'd like to test your dog's nutrient levels and see how you're doing on their diet, check out ParsleyPet.com. I'm enjoying the peace of mind brought by the knowledge that my dogs are eating a balanced diet.