Guidelines for Nutritionally Complete Diets for Dogs

For the last 6 years, I have been feeding my dog a raw diet. I started off feeding 100% premade raw (commercial raw food). Typically these are 80, 10, 10 blends, which contain 80% muscle meat, 10% offal, and 10% bone. You might find it surprising, but these are not nutritionally complete! These blends are fine, as a base, but they need to be supplemented, to fill in vitamin and mineral gaps.

I’m not a pet nutritionist, I’m just a dedicated dog mom who loves her dog. What abruptly opened my eyes to no more kibble? My eyes and heart were cracked wide open, six years ago with a trip to the emergency vet. I have not looked back, only forward. So I wanted to put everything I have learned to date, in one place for you. And it’s a good review for me!! Here we go.

Today I feed a modified version of the B.A.R.F model, making my own recipes at home. This article will outline the basic guidelines I have learned and adopted from trusted resources I have looked to over the last 6 years, for creating a nutritionally complete diet, for dogs.

Dog choosing raw over kibble

Dog choosing raw over kibble

Guidelines: For nutritionally complete diets for dogs

B.A.R.F Model of Raw Feeding

B.A.R.F stands for, ‘biologically appropriate raw food’ or ‘bones and raw food’

What does a BARF diet include?

  • Muscle meat
  • Raw meaty bones
  • Organs & Offal (with half of this amount being liver)
  • Fruits & vegetables
  • Sometimes dairy
  • Supplements

In what percentages?

There’s no hard and fast rule. If you asked 50 people, you’re going to get 50 different answers. Why? Because this depends on the feeder’s viewpoint and their personal experience feeding their dog.

Generally, this is the rule of thumb:

  • Muscle meat 70%
  • Bone 10%
  • Organs 10% (secreting organs like kidney & spleen)(with liver making up half of the 10%)
  • Fruits and vegetables 10%

Ratios that I generally use for Isabella:

Guidelines nutritionally complete diets for dogs.

  • 60%-70% muscle meat (including the heart)
  • 10% Bone (can come from ground bone, raw meaty bones, bonemeal, or calcium)
  • 5% liver
  • 5% offal/other organs (secreting organs like kidney & spleen)
  • 10%-20% fruits and vegetables
beef steak and liver ingredients for beef recipe adult dogs

beefsteak and liver ingredients for beef recipe adult dogs

I would prefer to feed a higher muscle meat content but that’s not possible with Isabella, as she needs her calories reduced. The best way for me to do that is to add in more fruit and veg. Depending on each recipe more or less fruit/veg is needed to hit our calorie target. In addition, the beauty of fruit and veg is they are packed with extra needed vitamins and minerals. Helping to fill in some of those vitamin and mineral gaps.

3 Key Steps

Guidelines nutritionally complete diets for dogs.

1. Selection & Rotation of Lean Meats

Start with lean meats. In order to achieve balance over time, it’s important to rotate a minimum of 3 proteins. I aim not to feed chicken/poultry no more than 50% of the time. Chicken is high in omega 6’s which can be pro-inflammatory.

Try to feed no more than 10% fat content for your protein.

Rotating proteins promotes a varied nutrient profile, which is the solid foundation for creating a nutritionally balanced diet. The more proteins you are able to rotate the better.

Notes:

Feed a minimum of 50% animal protein, preferably more, which does include the heart. The heart is muscle meat, which is often confused as organ meat. It’s more nutrient-dense and has a higher protein content. The heart is a very good choice because it’s lean and inexpensive. Try to feed no more than 10% fat content for your protein.

10-20% Fruits and Vegetables: For my fruit and veggies I do about 2-3% fruit and mostly choose low starch veggies. I choose not to feed grains.

Low starch veggies include things like kale, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers, celery, collard greens, beet greens, red leaf lettuce, swiss chard.

Oxalates in Vegetables: For what you need to know about oxalates, please see more at the close of this article. 

Feed foods with anti-inflammatories to prevent IVDD episodes

Feed foods with anti-inflammatories to prevent IVDD episodes

Note on Fish

Some people cook fish because raw fish contains an enzyme (thiaminase) which can break down vitamin B1, causing vitamin B1 deficiency. Vitamin B is highly important for your dog. Cooking the fish eliminates this enzyme and removes the risk of creating a deficiency. If you are feeding a lot of fish you may want to think about this.

2. Balancing the Fats

Guidelines nutritionally complete diets for dogs.

[1] I follow Steve Brown’s guidelines for balancing the fats. (Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet). We do this by:

  1. Rotating ruminant and poultry meats to balance the saturated and polyunsaturated fats
  2. Adding oils appropriate for the meat source (hemp oil to beef and flaxseed oil to poultry)
  3. Adding Sardines and other fish
  4. Choosing lean meats. Lean meats have more minerals. Minerals are needed to help metabolize fats.
[1] My Trusted Source on Balancing the Fats Steve Browns Book “Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet”.

[2] Adding oils appropriate for the meat source:

Chicken/Poultry– remove most of the visible skin and fat. Add 1 teaspoon flaxseed oil or chia seed oil or 3 teaspoons of ground flaxseed or chia seeds AND 1/4 of a 3.75 oz can of sardines in water or olive oil, PER 1 to 1.25 pounds of lean poultry. 

Beef/Ruminant-add 1 teaspoon of hemp seed oil or walnut oil, 2 tsp of ground hemp seed or 2-3 tsp of canola oil AND 1/4 of a 3.75 oz can of sardines in water or olive oil, PER  1 to 1.25 pounds of lean meat.”

[2] Source: Steve Browns Book “Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet Ch. 5

[3] However, you only need to add these oils to the recipe if you are NOT rotating your ruminant and poultry meats. This is also  Steve Brown. Sited source below.  

“Rotating provides a better balance of nutrients than either poultry or ruminant meats can provide by themselves.

If you are rotating poultry and ruminants, whether, on a daily or weekly basis, we only need to be concerned with the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which we primarily get from fish or fish oils. These fats are especially important for growth stages.”

3. Balancing Minerals & Vitamins

Bone, Bonemeal, and Calcium

I used to grind raw meaty bones for the bone content in recipes. But today, I like to use a high-quality bonemeal and or calcium supplement to balance the bone content in her food. I choose not to feed raw meaty bones on their own, for bone content. She does get the occasional recreational bone under strict supervision. But this is not sufficient as required bone content. Besides, I find it much more manageable to do the bonemeal or calcium supplementation in the recipes, at this time.

Please ensure you source your bone meal from a reliable vendor; do not use bonemeal that is used in the garden! There are two brands of bonemeal that I use and would recommend, they are NOW and KAL. 

Here’s the scoop on Bone Meal and Calcium:

[4] 10% Bone Content: in recipes that don’t have ground bone I add either bonemeal or calcium.

*[Bone Meal] Rule of thumb if you are feeding 93% or leaner meats add 1.5% bonemeal or 1 heaping teaspoon per pound of meat. This meets puppy and adult recommendations. If your feeding 85-90% lean meats add 1.5% for adults and 2% for puppies.

[4] My Trusted Source on Bone Meal Steve Browns Book “Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet” pg. 50.

[5] Calcium: add 800 to 1000 mg calcium per pound of food excluding non-starchy veggies. Using calcium only is ok for ADULT dogs only if using lean meats. You can use ground eggshell at the rate of 1/2 teaspoon per pound of food, or any other form of calcium is fine, including calcium carbonate, calcium lactate, calcium citrate, and vegetable calcium such as Animal Essentials Seaweed (which also provides additional minerals). Do not use calcium supplements that contain vitamin D, as the amount will be too high. These guidelines are for adult dogs only, not puppies (see the article on Homemade Cooked Diets for guidelines for puppies).

[5] My Trusted Source on Calcium see DogAware (Mary Straus)

Vitamins and minerals difficult to capture in a home-prepared diet

Below is a nutrient list that is usually way below recommendations. What you need to know. Why you want to avoid this and some ways of filling in the gaps.

No matter how tight you think your nutrient profile is, you will want to be aware that the following are the most challenging to get in, even in the best-formulated diets. So it’s good to be aware of the whole foods that contain these minerals and vitamins so you can add them in according to your dog’s needs:

  • Iodine
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3’s

Below are suggestions of some of the whole foods you can look at as supplementary add-ins, to help fill in these minerals and vitamins. You will want to become familiar with the nutrient values of these foods and choose them according to your dog’s individual needs for these nutrients.

Iodine

Is responsible for thyroid hormone synthesis; cell differentiation; growth and development of puppies and regulation of metabolic rate.

Signs of deficiency: Enlargement of thyroid glands; dry, sparse hair coat, weight gain. Excess amounts: excessive tearing, salivation, and nasal discharge; and dandruff.

Many meat-based diets may have small amounts of iodine, but no data is available on these amounts. The best approach is to add just enough iodine-rich foods to meet requirements. The 3 most common ways to do this is to add:

  1. kelp,
  2. iodized salt
  3. or an iodine supplement

Sources: Dried seaweed such as kelp, nori, kombu, and wakame is one of the best sources of iodine. Other sources: Cod, plain greek yogurt/non-fat, oysters, sardines, eggs. High amounts of iodine are found in fish that is low in fat compared to fatty fish, for example, lean fish like cod is a low-fat fish.

The NRC-National Research Council says the daily recommended allowance for a 33 lb dog, consuming 1000 Calories per day is 220 mcg (micrograms).

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Kelp Powder

Kelp Powder

Manganese

Plays a vital role in enzyme functions; bone development; neurological function and nutrient metabolism.

As per the NRC (National Research Council) there are no studies on deficiency in dogs.

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Sources: Tripe, blue mussels, green-lipped mussel powder, oysters, leafy green vegetables like spinach & swiss chard. Ground cloves, Ceylon ground cinnamon, ginger, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and clams. Supplements.

The NRC-National Research Council says the daily recommended allowance for a 33 lb dog, consuming 1000 Calories per day is 1.2 mg (milligrams).

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Magnesium

Involved in over 300 metabolic processes. Deficiency can be fatal. It will cause muscle weakness, fatigue, and skeletal issues.

Signs of deficiency: reduced weight gain, irritability, and convulstions in puppies; hyperextension of carpal joints and hind-leg paralysis later in life.

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Sources: Beef liver and other organ meat like beef kidneys. Lamb liver, chicken liver, and turkey liver. Beef heart, turkey heart, and lamb heart. Oysters and other shellfish, green-lipped mussel powder, shitake mushrooms, spirulina, nuts and seeds, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard and romaine lettuce. Supplements.

The NRC-National Research Council says the daily recommended allowance for a 33 lb dog, consuming 1000 Calories per day is 150 mg (milligrams).

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

 

Zinc

Is responsible for enzyme functions; cell replication; protein and carbohydrate metabolism; skin function; wound healing.

Signs of deficiency: poor weight gain; vomiting; skin lessions, immune dysregulation; growth retardation in puppies.

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Sources: Oysters are packed with essential nutrients, such as protein, vitamins and minerals, and omega 3 fatty acids. But they are particularly high in zinc, vitamin B12, and copper and are rich in Vitamin D, selenium, and iron. Oysters are a complete protein source meaning they contain all the nine essential amino acids. Supplements.

6 medium oysters = approximately 32 mg Zinc

I use Crown Prince Whole Oysters packed water. This brand was recommended to me by Perfectly Rawsome. You can buy them from Iherb or Amazon. I have been using these as a daily supplementary add-in for a year now. They have worked out great!! Love them.

Other types of shellfish contain less zinc than oysters but are still a good source.  Green-lipped mussel powder, red meat. Seeds can help increase zinc intake.  However, some choices are better than others. Hemp seeds are a rich source of zinc. Other seeds containing significant amounts of zinc include pumpkin, squash, and sesame seeds. Eggs contain a moderate amount of zinc. Endive, morel mushrooms, canned blue crab, 97% lean ground beef, chicken heart, beef liver, 90% lean beef, turkey liver, turkey heart, chicken liver, kelp, blue mussels.

The NRC-National Research Council says the daily recommended allowance for a 33 lb dog, consuming 1000 Calories per day is 15 mg (milligrams).

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is one of your dog’s defenses against oxidative damage. This fat-soluble vitamin is also essential for cell function and fat metabolism.

Deficiencies can lead to eye and muscle degeneration and reproductive problems.

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Sources: Sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, avocado, butternut squash, broccoli. I prefer to use a high-quality Vitamin E supplement and use Now Vitamin E Oil you can read the specifics on my supplement page.  Including more on the recommended dosages for dogs.

National Research Council says the daily recommended allowance for a 33 lb dog, consuming 1000 Calories per day is 8 mg (milligrams) or 12 IU’s.

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Vitamin D

This is a tricky one. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning your pet’s body absorbs it in the same way dietary fats are absorbed, and excess amounts are stored in the liver.

Commercially processed kibble and canned diets can run the risk of containing excessive levels of D. Homemade diets can be too low in D, and each animal’s ability to absorb and utilize vitamin D in any diet is variable. If you want to make sure your pet has optimal levels of this important hormone-vitamin, ask your veterinarian to check blood levels at your next visit.

If you prepare a homemade diet, food sources of vitamin D (which can be hard to find in adequate amounts), include halibut, sardines, salmon and other fish. Cheese, yogurt or kefir, liver and free-range eggs contain some vitamin D, but contrary to popular belief, none of these food sources contain enough D to meet minimum nutrient requirements for most carnivores.

The best source of vitamin D for homemade diets is cod liver oil (but it’s also high in vitamin A).”

Sources: Oysters, herring, sardines, canned tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms (vitamin D-2, not vitamin D-3).

The NRC-National Research Council says the daily recommended allowance for a 33 lb dog, consuming 1000 Calories per day is 3.4 mcg (micrograms) or 136 IU.

Source: National Resarch Councils “Your Dogs Nutritional Needs – A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners”

Omega 3 Fish Oil

Omega 3 Fish Oil Capsules

Omega 3

Important in inflammatory and immune responses. Dogs not receiving enough omega fats will experience dry skin, a dull coat, and even hair loss.

Sources: Supplements, oily fish

Use products made for either humans or dogs. The amount of EPA and DHA in various fish oil preparations varies. Look for concentrated forms when giving high doses so you use smaller amounts of oil.

Healthy dogs can be given 10 to 15 mg EPA plus DHA combined per pound of body weight daily; dogs who have health problems can be given up to 30 mg EPA+DHA combined per pound of body weight. One ounce of canned fish with bones (sardines, jack mackerel, pink salmon) averages about 300 mg EPA and DHA combined.

The recommended dosage of liquid fish oil products is often too high, adding unnecessary fat and calories to your dog’s diet. High doses of fish oil can interfere with platelets and lead to increased bleeding, and too much can contribute to rather than reduce inflammation.

My Trusted Source on Omega 3 Dosages see DogAware (Mary Straus)

Animal Diet Formulator

Because I want to make sure I’m not missing anything. One year ago I started using  The Animal Diet Formulator (ADF) a program created by Steve Brown, a nutritional researcher and the founder and formulator of the first commercially available fresh-raw pet food in the United States, Steve’s Real Food. ADF is now maintained by the Royal Animal Health University (RAHU).

This is the same Steve Brown who I mentioned above and who wrote “Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet”.  Thanks, Steve!

With ADF you can formulate and feed ancestral-type, fresh meat-based diets that meet US and European nutrient standards. This software program, Animal Diet Formulator, stays up to date with USDA nutritional data, formulates to meet AAFCO and FEDIAF standards, considers life stages from gestation/lactation to geriatric, in addition to activity levels for dogs and cats.

The More Variety the Better

Variety and rotation are cornerstones helping to achieve nutritionally complete diets for dogs.

Things to consider Rotating:

  1. Proteins – a minimum of 3. I currently use 4.
  2. Recipes
  3. Supplements
  4. Brands – of prepared raw food *pre-mixes and supplements

* Pre-mixes: I purchase some muscle meat, bone, and organ blends, that are formulated to NRC standards. They contain 80% muscle meat, 10% offal, and 10% bone. But these are not “nutritionally complete”, contrary to popular belief. Therefore they need to be incorporated into a nutritionally complete recipe just as if I were sourcing these components separately. Commercial pre-mixes make it a little easier, and I have access to more protein choices.

Daily Supplements

I give some daily supplements that cant’ be filled in with whole foods. And I choose to give them to round out the diet and for optimal health.

Probiotic infographic

Probiotics | Digestive Health

If you are just starting out and need more help.

On my trusted resources page, you will find the two multivitamin and mineral supplements you can use to help you prepare balanced meals at home. They are Hilary’s Blend and Meal Mix.

Meal Mix is formulated by Dr. Karen Becker for Mercola Healthy Pets.  Dr. Becker is one of my primary trusted resources.  So, I have full confidence in using Meal Mix to balance recipes. This is one of the ways I was able to get initially get started.

Once you get more comfortable and learn more about making food at home for your dog. You will become more confident about how you can go about making nutritionally complete food without the assistance of these multivitamin and mineral supplements. It’s my hope these guidelines for making nutritionally complete diets for dogs, will help you on your path.

Oxalates In Veggies

Please be aware that vegetables such as spinach, collard, swiss chard, beet greens, leeks, and okra, etc. contain calcium oxalates.

Technically, it is safe to feed these types of vegetables to your dog as they are packed with many great vitamins such as A, K, and C as well as fiber. However your dog shouldn’t eat large amounts, or it can lead to gas and digestive issues as well as possible bladder and or kidney stones. Keep to under 10% or lower. And for some dogs, you may not or should not feed them at all if they are prone to kidney stones.

For Isabella, she is definitely sensitive to these oxalates and I have to be very careful. If I use these veggies I aim for 5% and boil and puree them.

Once consumed, oxalate can bind to minerals to form compounds, including calcium oxalate and iron oxalate. This mostly occurs in the colon, but can also take place in the kidneys and other parts of the urinary tract.

Dogs that are prone to kidney or bladder stones should avoid foods wiht high calcium oxalate.

Cooking Foods With Oxalates

It’s reported that cooking these vegetables vs feeding them raw can dramatically reduce the oxalates.

Boiling markedly reduced soluble oxalate content by 30-87% and was more effective than steaming (5-53%) and baking (used only for potatoes, no oxalate loss). An assessment of the oxalate content of cooking water used for boiling and steaming revealed an approximately 100% recovery of oxalate losses. The losses of insoluble oxalate during cooking varied greatly, ranging from 0 to 74%. Because soluble sources of oxalate appear to be better absorbed than insoluble sources, employing cooking methods that significantly reduce soluble oxalate may be an effective strategy for decreasing oxaluria in individuals predisposed to the development of kidney stones.

In this Blog Series:

  1. Why choose fresh food vs. kibble for my dog? Why no more kibble?
  2. What abruptly opened my eyes, our story
  3. Why kibble is not the best choice for health & longevity

    24 Dangerous & questionable ingredients in kibble. Kibble is not a species-appropriate diet.  Kibble causes inflammation & disease.

  4. The basic guidelines of feeding a fresh, species-appropriate, nutritionally complete diet. Including, the hardest vitamins and minerals to fill in a home-prepared diet. What to watch for.

About the author: Wendy Haines is a dog health blogger and devoted dog mom with 14 years of experience creating optimal health for her dog. Wendy’s goal is to help fellow dog owners manage an IVDD diagnosis, prevent IVDD episodes, make healthy diet choices and lifestyle changes with the goal of creating optimal health for your dog!

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