BALANCING A FRESH FOOD DIET
Balance has never meant feeding a specific amount of nutrients per bowl or batch of food.
Before we get into helping you learn how to balance your fresh food diet, it is important to understand where your fear of getting it wrong comes from so you can learn to move past it. If you have already read the 'Safety' page on this website, scroll down until you see the D.I.Y image for the additional information.
When your Veterinarian attends University, kibble manufacturers such as Hills Science Diet & Royal Canin who produce prescription diets may pay the University a sponsorship fee in order to access their students. Students may end up graduating from University believing there is nothing better to feed a dog than kibble and any education they receive about fresh food feeding is often negative, they do not generally learn how to formulate fresh food diets for their future clients.
Your Vet then passes their education onto you that kibble is the best thing you can feed your dog, they may even scare you into believing that if you feed a fresh food diet to your dog that you could make your dog really sick and may even die. If you have a puppy, you're likely to be scared into feeding kibble as your Vet has told you that your dog will end up with growth issues especially if your dog is a large-giant dog.
As a pet parent who only wants the best for their dog, you take it to heart and you feed your dog kibble. Then one day you start wondering if there is something better to feed your dog, you end up making the transition to fresh food but still in the back of your mind there is that little voice that makes you worried that feeding a fresh food diet could be harmful to your dog - the kibble manufactures deserve an award for shaping your thoughts and feelings on the topic.
Fresh food feeding is not a trend nor is it unconventional.
We know that if we feed other species a diet Mother Nature did not intend for them that there will be issues, it might be that the animal does not thrive and suffers illness over a longer period of time like the Zoo Gorillas or it may mean the animal dies - for example if you were to feed an elephant a diet of a meat eater because its digestive system is not set up to process this type of diet.
Your own Doctor will tell you that you should reduce or eliminate processed foods and eat more whole foods because this is healthy right? A fresh whole foods diet is the diet Mother Nature intended us to eat. Our digestive systems were made to consume and utilise the nutrients of a whole foods diet. Processed foods are making us sick, they are not health-giving and we all accept this whether or not we eat healthy - so, why then do we accept it when our Vets who were educated by kibble manufacturers tells us to feed our dog highly processed foods? Food for thought.
A common practice is free morning teas or lunches put on at Veterinary clinics by Kibble Manufacturers, during this event, staff are trained on perhaps a new product or receive refresher training - the positive effect of a free lunch or morning tea is that the staff will go on post the event to recommend the kibble manufacturers product to their clients.
Another way kibble manufacturers get to consumers is by offering free nutrition courses to Vet Nurses. These nutrition courses are solely in reference to the kibble manufactures products and bias information. If you were to complete the nutrition course for Hills Science Diet and Royal Canin you would come across conflicting information. If one kibble manufacture used a lot of corn and another didn't then you would bet your bottom dollar that one would educate on the benefits of corn and the other won't.
Vet Nurses formal education is also geared towards supporting kibble manufactures, just like Vets, part of their education is sponsored - they graduate believing that kibble is the best and only thing a dog should be fed.
The RFVS is based in the UK, they are a group of motivated vets and vet techs and nurses with a common interest in raw feeding and species-appropriate nutrition in dogs and cats. Their mission is to promote the principles and practical aspects of species-appropriate nutrition, through education of veterinary professionals and the pet-owning public.
This is a good place for curious Vets and Vet Nurses to go when they want to learn about fresh food feeding in a scientific, evidence-based manner.
Whilst it is a strange concept to think one needs to prove that fresh wholefoods that dogs used to eat before kibble is healthy, the Raw Pet Food Research Database is a great website for the scientific minded to land. You will be able to discover scientific papers and studies that support feeding a fresh food diet.
One of the biggest push backs fresh food feeding communities get is in relation to "balance". In humans, governments outline what a balanced diet looks like, this changes from time to time when new science comes to light and is often highly debated by different groups who subscribe to a different way of eating i.e. Paleo, Keto, Vegetarian, Vegan etc. We understand in humans that is there is not one way to consume a healthy balanced diet, however, when it comes to dogs, some of our Vets have us believe that it is black and white and that balance can only come from kibble and that it has everything our dogs need in it - this is called "Complete & Balanced".
Let me just stop and clarify for a moment that we support Vets, they are amazing people and they have our respect, however, we acknowledge that their training and knowledge in nutrition has been hijacked by kibble manufacturers who use them to bolster their profits. As mentioned earlier, there is a small community of Vets often referred to as Holistic or Integrative that have conducted post-graduate study/research into nutrition education and will not promote a kibble diet. These Vets do not need to use prescription kibbles, they will use their next-level knowledge to support and heal dogs with real food nutrition and complementary therapies.
In order for a pet food to state their formula is "complete and balanced", the food must either:
Meet one of the Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)External Link Disclaimer; or
Pass a feeding trial using AAFCO procedures.
The FDA state that for a product to meet one of the AAFCO nutrient profiles, it must contain every nutrient listed in the profile at the recommended level. That nutrient does not have to be in a wholefoods form, it can be synthetic. AAFCO also are not a governing body, they do not enforce anything.
All the nutrients listed in each profile have a minimum level, and some also have a maximum level. That's right, the AAFCO nutrient profiles represent the MINIMUM requirements to keep a dog alive. As a pet parent you probably want your dog to do more than survive right? You most likely want them to thrive.
Because kibble is highly processed, may nutrients are degraded during the process and the end product will not meet the AAFCO minimum nutrient profiles, therefore synthetic nutrient mixes are used to help kibble manufacturers meet the minimum requirements. Your dogs' body however, does not recognise and utalise synthetics in the same way they do with whole food nutrients.
Synthetic nutrients are isolated nutrients created in a laboratory. For example Ascorbic acid being vitamin C, however in nature, vitamin C is a combination of a number of compounds that work together in synergy with one another not in isolation. A laboratory simply cannot mimic nature in a synthetic manner.
If a dog lives their whole life consuming synthetic nutrients that their bodies simply do not recognise in full, then what deficiencies or excesses are going to occur over time at the detriment of the dog's health 5-10 years down the track if not sooner? No kibble manufacturer has conducted studies into this very concerning topic.
We encourage you as a knowledge-seeking pet parent to further learn about synthetic nutrients in pet foods so you can make informed decisions in relation to your dog's nutrition and future health and well-being.
Sacha Packer, diet formulator and nutritional consultant from The Balanced Canine has put together an article on this subject that is a quick 6-minute read that will help you get a really good grasp on the subject.
One way we can balance fresh food feeding is by using ratios shown above and then feeding a variety of ingredients on rotation to avoid underdoing or overdoing any one nutrient. This method of feeding is called balancing over time. As mentioned earlier, no wild animal consumes a meal that is complete and balanced to AAFCO guidelines at every meal or at any meal. Eating a variety of foods and balancing over time is how healthy humans eat too.
Keeping in mind, that there is not one way to feed a fresh food diet. There are some communities in the fresh food world that micro-manage their dog's diets and they feed complete and balanced at every meal or every batch, they do this by using spreadsheets, calculators, or recipes - this form of feeding brings them comfort and this is fine, it's not for us to say that is wrong, it's simply different to what we promote. You probably know or have seen a human who micro-manages their diet, they may count calories, weigh everything to the mg, record what they eat, etc. and if this brings them comfort then so be it, some would say this level of management is not healthy or necessary but in the end, they and you need to do what brings comfort.
Where do the fresh food feeding % guidelines come from?
It's not known, it is believed by some that they might be based on the ratios of a whole animal but in the end, what they do is provide a guideline for newbes to work to. For instance, the bone content provides the calcium needed in the diet, the plant matter provides the gut loving fibre, vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients, anti-oxidants, etc. and the offal brings nutrients that would be likely lacking without them such as B-group, D & A.
When you decide to D.I.Y your dogs diet you are probably going to feel scared, overwhelmed etc. We really want you to remember that there are no rules here, there is only a guideline.
Many newbe's worry that they will stuff it up and not give their dogs all the nutrients they need - well, guess what?! No one knows what that thriving nutritional profile for a dog is, it has not been studied and even if it had been studied, it would not necessarily be relevant to your dog because your dog, just like you is an individual. Individual creatures have different nutrient needs, they uptake and utalise nutrients differently to the creature next to them. This is why we focus on balancing over time by feeding a variety of fresh food on rotation to avoid underdoing or overdoing any one nutrient.
Just like in humans who have many models of food consumption, there is not one way to feed a healthy diet to your dog and to do so, you do not need a degree in nutrition or similar - anyone who tells you that is either going to profit from your insecurity or has been conditioned by the industry. Either way, you do not stress this much about feeding yourself or your children/family when you are eating healthy so please stop giving yourself a hard time with your dog and understand what you're feeding is a reflection of your conditioning by kibble manufacturers.
You do not need to explain or defend your choice to feed a BALANCED healthy diet to anyone, not your Vet, not the busy body at the dog park and not family or friends - those who do not support fresh food feeding will not be open to hearing your rationale or even science on the topic so I would recommend you save your breath - if you're ever in doubt that you're doing a good job, post in the fresh food feeding group.
If you're ready to start exploring D.I.Y, head to our Tools page where you can access a web app to help you put together your recipe.
If you're not ready to D.IY, no problems, we have some great options to ease you into fresh food feeding.
A balancing supplement is a powder that you add to your dogs meal that either covers off the most common missing nutrients or balances the meal to AAFCO minimum nutrient guidelines.
Balancing supplements come in either a synthetic form like you would find in kibble or in a wholefoods format. The wholefoods format is more expensive and often makes it unaffordable for large-giant breed pet parents.
In Australia, the synthetic form is called Predamax Carnivore Supplement, you will be able to find a number of online suppliers via a Google search.
Vets All Natural Complete Mix, Phuds, Big Dog Museli, and Bark Natural + Baby Bark are what are referred to as Base Mixers. These base mixers are a mostly plant-based mix that you simply add meat to and that provides a balanced meal for your dog. When feeding base mix meals, it is generally recommended that you offer your dog edible bones 4-7 per week depending on their individual constitution i.e. if they get constipated having bones 7 days per week then you would back it off to 4 times per week.
Commercial prepackaged raw diets are a great way to slowly ease yourself into fresh food feeding, they are balanced and don't require any thought, simply pop in your dogs bowl. When feeding a commercial raw diet, we recommend you rotate through brands and flavours to ensure variety of nutrients. This method of feeding is more expensive than D.I.Y.
Many of the commercial raws use a synthetic nutrient mix to balance to AAFCO guidelines just like kibble do so they can use the term "complete and balanced". As you're already getting nutrients from whole foods within the raw mix, we don't have to rely on the synthetic mix as we do in kibble. In a perfect world, they wouldn't have to use them but consumers don't feel comfortable unless something says complete and balanced.
Big Dog Raw and Glow (except for Glow's Kangaroo formula) is a commercial raw that doesn't use synthetics, they instead did what is called an AAFCO feeding trial to be able to call their recipe "complete and balanced". A feeding trial is less than impressive, they simply have to keep a handful of dogs alive for a certain period of time, not have their blood values on certain parameters dip too low and not lose too much weight, etc. Kudos to Big Dog & Glow for finding a way to obtain the "complete and balanced" tag without synthetics, but in reality, a feeding trial doesn't mean much - it's no different from what you do at home feeding your own dog.
Most of the large Pet Supply stores will have Fridges and Freezers that stock these products and brand names are the likes of Prime100 Raw (not the cooked rolls), Leading Edge, Big Dog, Ivory Coat, Leaps & Bounds, Dr B's, Proudi etc.
Most major Australian cities will have small business raw companies such as Somerford Raw & Natural, these companies supply mixes as well as individual proteins and can often offer bulk options and they deliver to your door. To find such companies, head to Google and type "Raw dog food + your city". When feeding these small company raw mixes, we recommend that you rotate through companies for variety.