Do you sometimes feel like you need a nutrition degree to feed your dog a raw diet?
One of the things that stops people from feeding dogs raw food is the notion that creating and balancing canine diets is an exact science that must be performed in the laboratory.
This couldn’t be further from the truth!
So if you’ve been reluctant to start your dog on a home prepared raw diet because you’re worried you might harm him by feeding him an unbalanced diet …
… read on, because it’s easier than you think!
There are a few guidelines you need to follow, but the most important one is balancing the minerals calcium and phosphorus in your dog’s diet.
Meat is very high in phosphorus and low in calcium. The main function of phosphorus is in forming bones and teeth.
It plays an important role in the body’s use of carbohydrates and fat as well as in synthesizing protein for the growth, maintenance and repair of cells and tissues.
Phosphorus is also crucial for the production of ATP, a molecule the body uses to store energy.
Phosphorus works with the B vitamins. It also helps with muscle contraction, kidney function, heartbeat regularity and nerve conduction.
Bone is high in calcium and in phosphorus.
According to Dr Ian Billinghurst (author of Give Your Dog a Bone and other well known books on canine nutrition), calcium’s role goes far beyond bone mineralization.
“Calcium is essential for neuromuscular, cardiovascular, immune and endocrine function. It’s vital for blood clotting. Calcium forms the skeletal structure or cytoskeleton within each cell, and every cell in the body depends on calcium to support enzyme functions, bodily signalling and to maintain cell membrane stability.”
Dogs need a balance between the amount of phosphorus and calcium they get in their daily diets.
The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be about 1:1, but preferably with slightly more calcium than phosphorus.
This is especially important in young, growing dogs, who need an adequate supply of raw meaty bones in their diet to provide a good balance of calcium and phosphorus (we’ll talk more about this later).
Feeding all-meat diets (which are high in phosphorus and low in calcium) to young pups can cause skeletal problems.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, insufficient calcium or excess phosphorus can lower calcium absorption and result in irritability, hyperesthesia (oversensitivity to sensory stimuli), and loss of muscle tone.
Calcium deficiency can also cause skeletal demineralization, particularly of the pelvis and vertebrae.
Excess calcium can also interfere with normal healthy bone mineralization and growth, especially in young (under 1 year old) large and giant breed dogs. Large breeds fed excess calcium are more likely to suffer from developmental bone disease such as osteochondrosis (abnormal bone growth).
(NOTE: Still not sure about raw? Click Here to see what 5 dangerous ingredients are in your dog’s food — that AREN’T on the label!)
Balancing The Calcium: Phosphorus Ratio
It might seem daunting to calculate the calcium: phosphorus ratio in a home prepared raw diet for your dog … but it’s really not that complicated.
Bones are a safe source of dietary calcium and if dogs eat enough of them, the diet will be balanced without a lot of difficult calculations.
Dr Billinghurst explains:
“Approximate biological balance is achieved so long as meat alone is not the principal dietary component. That job must be left to the raw meaty bones (RMBs). When a young and growing dog eats RMBs, if the bone to meat ratio of those RMBs is around 1:1, then the balance of calcium to phosphorus is appropriate for bone mineralization and formation.”
Dr Billinghurst also says that adult dogs need less calcium and, as long as you’re feeding a raw diet with raw meaty bones, the adult dog’s body will absorb the calcium it needs and leave what it doesn’t in the intestines.
Overall, balancing calcium and phosphorus isn’t all that difficult, as long as dogs receive plenty of bone. In general, any bone content over 10% is plenty although you shouldn’t exceed 25% because dogs need other nutrients too.
Bone Content In Raw Foods
When sourcing bones for your dog’s diet, it’s a good idea to know the approximate amount of bone in commonly sourced foods. Here is a quick guide to help you keep your dog’s bone content in the right range … between 10 and 25%.
The information is primarily from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Nutrient Database.
Whole chicken (not including the head and feet): 25%
Leg quarter: 30%
Split breast: 20%
Whole turkey: 21%
Country style ribs: 21%
Oxtails: 45% to 65% (the percentage goes up as the tail gets thinner and less meaty)
Whole rabbit (fur and all): 10%
Whole (dressed): 28%
Shoulder blade: 24%
Whole shoulder (arm and blade): 21%
Guinea hen: 17%
Squab (pigeon): 23%
Wild duck: 38%
Cornish game hen: 39%
Pulling It All Together
Balancing calcium and phosphorus is quite easy … and much easier with this guide!
Overall, to make sure your dog’s diet includes between 10% and 25% bone, you’ll want to feed your dog anywhere from 25% to 60% raw meaty bones (RMBs) like the ones above.
Let’s get started with a bit of simple math …
You pick up some great looking lamb ribs at the butcher.
You know those lamb ribs are 27% bone. So if you fed your dog a pound of boneless meat and organ meats for breakfast and a pound of lamb ribs for dinner, he would be eating 14% bone.
He’s eating two pounds of food, half of which is lamb ribs, which are 27% bone. Half of 27% is 13.5% … but we don’t need to get down to decimals, so round up and call it 14% bone in his diet for that day.
Here’s another example.
Let’s say you have a 60 pound dog. Normally, you’d feed 2% to 3% of his body weight in raw food. So, using 2.5%, your dog would eat about 1.5 lbs (or 24 oz) of food per day.
So let’s say you fed him 0.5 lb lamb ribs and 1 lb meat and organ meats. You’d divide the amount of bone by 3, because a third of his food for that day is lamb ribs.
You’ll see your dog is getting 9% bone. Not enough!
So let’s try increasing it to 40% lamb ribs, which would be about 10 oz.
Now, 40% isn’t quite as easy to calculate as a third or a half. So in this case it’s easier to just take 40% of 27% (multiply 27 by 0.4) and you’ll see your dog would be eating nearly 11% bone. Not bad!
Now that you know how much bone to feed your dog, all you need to do is include 15% organ meat and round out the rest of his diet with nice boneless meats.
Told you it was easy!
Here Are A Couple More Tips
- The bone content values in this list are approximate but that’s really all you need to provide your dog with a safe and healthy raw diet.
- Avoid grocery store meats as they are often treated with bleach or enhanced with salt.
- Make sure you feed bones that are appropriate for the size of your dog. Avoid pieces that could present a choking hazard.