Is Feeding Your Pet Rocket Science?
July 23, 2019
By Sarah Griffiths, DCH
Have you been hesitant to try feeding a fresh food diet because you’re afraid you’ll do it wrong? A lot of pet guardians feel this way at the beginning. Here’s a simple guide to help you create the ultimate diet for your pet.
When something is new it can be scary. We sometimes shy away from things we don’t understand. If it sounds like it might be difficult, we often feel less enthusiastic about taking the leap. This can definitely apply to creating a balanced fresh food diet for your pet. We hear from people every day who are concerned that they will “get it wrong”, miss things and potentially hurt their pet.
We are here to help!
Did you know that we have a full-time Pet Nutrition Specialist on staff to help you? We also have lots of online resources to guide you through any issues you might have as a new raw feeder. If your pet has health concerns, we’re able to help you there too with customized diet planning. Click here to find out more.
Let’s take a look at what makes up a healthy diet for dogs and cats.
Balancing Your Pet’s Diet is Easier Than You Think
Just like people, animals thrive on fresh living foods. Fresh food provides them with the best chance to live long and healthy lives. For ourselves, we think of species-specific foods including animal and vegetable-based proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. For dogs and cats, the concept is the same, except we look at the specific elements that fit them better as a species.
The five main “food groups” in a well-balanced fresh food diet for dogs and cats are:
- Meats (Protein and Fat)
- Bones (Macro Minerals)
- Organ meats (Vitamins and Minerals)
- Species-appropriate vegetables (Fiber, Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants)
- Extras such as eggs, fish, seeds, oils, superfoods, fermented foods, and more (including important trace nutrients and antioxidants)
The 7 Basic Fresh Food Diet Concepts for Dogs and Cats
1. Protein– Protein (which should come primarily from meat) is an important part of feeding a fresh food diet. It provide essential and non-essential amino acids. The key thing to remember with protein is that it should be minimally processed and as fresh as possible. Variety is paramount because different proteins that contain unique amino acid profiles contribute to creating a balanced diet.
2. Fat– Fat is something that often gets overlooked. You can both overdo it and underdo it. There are 3 major types of fats: saturated, medium-chain, and polyunsaturated.
Saturated Fats - For most healthy animals, you’ll want to stay in the range of about 8-10% saturated fat content for dogs and 6-8% for cats. We’ll get to the medium chain fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats in a moment. Animals with pancreatic concerns or with lower fat tolerance may need less saturated fat. Conversely, animals that have a hard time keeping weight on, work as athletes, or are fighting cancer may need more fat. You can check in with us if your pet has special needs. We are also willing to work with your veterinarian to find the best foods for your pet.
Medium-chain fats are found in coconut oil, raw milk, raw yogurt, and raw kefir. They are important for brain function, fat metabolism, and even help to fight yeast growth in the body—which is a major concern for a lot of pets. Remember to include medium-chain fats in a rotational format (not always from the same source). Coconut oil is a safer option for animals dealing with pancreatic disease since coconut oil doesn’t require pancreatic enzymes in order to be digested and absorbed.
Polyunsaturated fats are your omega 3s, 6s, and 9s. Generally, there are too many omega 6s and not enough omega 3s in pet food, so you’ll want to pay attention to providing enough omega 3 sources. Your best sources of polyunsaturated fats come from fresh fish, canned sardines, and very high-grade fish and krill oils stored in amber glass containers in the fridge. Fresh ground flax and hemp seeds are other great sources of omega 3. Phytoplankton is also a wonderful option that provides precursors for the body to turn into omega 3s. Read more about omega 3's here.
3. Fiber– When you’re feeding raw food,fiber comes from vegetables instead of grains. Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and pre-biotics. They also aid in digestion and promotion of a healthy bowel. You’ll want to vary the vegetables as much as you can and provide as many different colors of vegetables as possible. Dogs should get approximately 20-25% of their diet from vegetables and cats only 2-3%. Check out our veggie article for details about which veggies are best for your pet.
4. Calcium and Phosphorus– The balance ofcalcium and phosphorus is really important and is sometimes overlooked by those who are new to raw. It’s important to ensure that you’re feeding a correct ratio of calcium and phosphorus, especially for growing animals whose skeletal and nervous systems are still developing.
Calcium and phosphorus come from raw bones which dogs and cats can digest. Luckily, bones (or bone chunks or powder) are easily absorbed and excreted by the body so all you need to do is make sure you’re providing enough bone content on a regular basis. AAFCO recommends a 1:1 to 2:1 calcium : phosphorus ratio, depending on your pet’s age. If your pet has serious digestive problems such as irritable bowel disease, you will want to start with a calcium supplement rather than raw bones until the animal has been stable on raw food for many months.
Learn more about your calcium options here.
5. Vitamins & Minerals– Vitamins and minerals are found abundantly in a fresh food diet that includes lots of variety. Variety is the key! Did I mention VARIETY? The tougher nutrients to get into your pet are micro minerals like Zinc, Selenium, and Copper. To ensure that your pet obtains enough of these minerals, be sure to add a rotation of copper-, zinc-, and selenium-rich foods including organ meats, dark leafy greens, oysters, organic eggs, canned sardines, and other types of fish.
Special note here: Feeding fish 2-3 times a week is great but no more frequently than that—otherwise your pet may experience low levels of vitamin B1.
6. Enzymes and Probiotics– Enzymes are a naturally occurring part of fresh foods so the more fresh meat and veg you feed, the wider the variety of enzymes you’re providing.Fermented foods are supercharged with enzymes, nutrients and probiotics. They help with digestion, immune health, and other important bodily functions. Remember to include these in your pet’s diet! Again, we recommend varied sources to help diversify your pet’s microbiome. Our favorite sources of enzymes and probiotics include raw goat kefir, OLIE Naturals New Beginnings, kombucha, raw apple cider vinegar, raw cheese, and small amounts of kimchi. Avocado meat also provides the enzyme lipase which is extremely useful for animals with enzyme deficiencies.
7. Antioxidants– Superfoods are packed with antioxidants, micro minerals, and vitamins that your pet needs. Rotational use of a wide variety of organic superfoods including phytoplankton, whole organic berry powders, moringa leaf powder, wheat- or barley-grass powder, chlorella, spirulina, and raw sprouts will give your pet’s immune system a huge advantage in disease prevention and combatting inflammation.
If you hit these targets when you’re feeding your pet, you’ll be providing the ultimate diet! To learn more about balancing the raw fresh food diet for your pet specifically, fill out our detailed online feeding guide request form or have a customized diet plan created for your pet by our Pet Nutrition Specialist.