Hello all…I hope you are all safe, staying in, and doing well in this difficult time. Many have emailed since my last update – I have limited time for blogging these days, but it’s important to me to get this information out to you.  Further to the last post, I’ve answered many individual emails but it will soon get beyond what I can manage. Here, then, in this entry and a follow up –  are a few commonly asked questions about how to make do without specific food items, supplements and herbs.

First – if your dog is healthy and can default onto a good commercial food, I recommend doing so, if running  around seeking organ meats and so on is stressing you out.  The big question is, what brand/formula should you switch to? Things to look for in a  substitute food for the time being include:

– fat and protein levels comparable to what your dog is eating now.

– no legumes, an ingredient used in many premium foods to replace grains, during the grainfree craze, but with possible implications for heart health when used in high levels. Although I have not seen this in home made diets, it is a concern with kibble. A food that uses oats or rice for the carb portion is a better bet than one with lentils. Some of my colleagues feel that lentils, peas or chickpeas are ok if they are listed further down the ingredient list, but I’m not convinced. We’re posting a list of recommended kibbles at the group.

– ingredients as close to what you feed now as you can – so, if your dog gets chicken and beef, look for those ingredients -you an also use two separate formulas. Consider buying small bags of several kinds and test them out, as long as your dog does well with food changes

– dogs on a proactive recipe can still be sensitive, so  consider making the switch to kibble slowly – 1/3 at a time usually does the trick.

– don’t feel bad about using commercial diet for a while; you can still use whole foods as toppers, to add flavour, freshness and myriad health benefits. Some ideas here Enhancing a Kibble Diet

Similarly, raw feeders can default to a balanced premade for a while; I am hearing some issues with availability of brands but, we are keeping an eye out on my group.If you aren’t a member yet, now is a good time to join us. I support raw premades that utilize  the NRC /AAFCO values, and that’s not all of them. We’ll be putting together a list of recommended brands at CNNH over the next week, but can’t vouch for availability. https://www.facebook.com/groups/756709917722083/

If you are feeding a home made, raw or cooked diet and are concerned about  food availability, a few substitutions can be made short term. I’d emphasize right from the start, two things. One – again – a commercial diet is not the end of the world for a few weeks, if that’s all that’s available for you. And two – let’s think about dogs on elimination diets which can last 12 weeks, and are unbalanced to say the least! These dogs do just fine with that length of time on one protein only –  yours will be fine too, with a little imbalance over a month or two. That said, some ideas below about how to identify areas of concern and address them.

1) Poultry –  white and dark meat aren’t exactly interchangeable as they contain significantly different levels of fat, vitamins and minerals. But you can get away with switching chicken for turkey or vice versa, as long as your dog  doesn’t have intolerances.

2) Beef – the most common problem I see is availability of ground beef with specific fat content. This too, makes a considerable impact on the overall nutrient content of the diet – but, you should be able to check fat levels of the ground with your butcher or the meat department at your grocery store. As an example, 4 ounces of raw ground beef with 5% fat has 155 calories, 24 grams of protein and just 5.6 grams of fat. Th same amount of ground beef at 15% has 234 calories – a significant increase – and 121 grams of fat! Protein is reduced to 21 grams, but the total fat and calories are of more concern in a home made diet. If you need to use a higher fat product, you can ease off on non-essential fats like coconut oil, and swap any higher fat poultry for lean.Just leaving the skin off your chicken additions can help, too. If you are only able to find lower fat beef than usual. your main issue will be calories – watch for a week and if you dog is losing weight, you can add some of the above – coconut oil, a little hempseed or choose fattier chicken, if that’s an option.

3)  Grains/carbs – I’ve been working an a differential for you, as we did with orange veggies –  for those who use one of the energy-dense carbs (oatmeal, rice, quinoa, buckwheat)  as part of their dog’s diet, a common question is “can I swap out one for the other? The answer is – it depends. 🙂 These foods also provide varying levels of fiber (and types of fiber) as well as calories, sodium and more. But again- for a few weeks,  you should be fine. If you can test a new carb in smaller amounts before fully switching over that’s a good idea too – many dogs will be just fine with 1 cup of oatmeal over a week, but not with 3, for example. If you have to choose in this instance I would use brown rice In the grain differential coming up later this week, we’ll talk about all of this in more detail, including choosing and preparing brown rice to minimize the possibility of arsenic content.

4) Organ meats – this can be tricky! First, not all organ meats provide the same level of nutrient – see my article here:. All About Liver

The good news here is, most of these can be easily replaced with a supplement – the bad news is, there are shortages on supplements right now, but I’ll address that in a separate entry. Very briefly – again, please drop by the group for specific questions (or feel free to ask in the comments) most people are using beef liver for copper, beef kidney for selenium, chicken livers for iron. And these are added to bring the total amount in a recipe, up to RA Recommended Allowance) but not significantly higher. What you can do for the most part, is add a supplement, but in some instances, you can sub in another food.

First – selenium. If you can’t locate kidney right now, you may want to use Brazil nuts…or, maybe not. Yes, they are a potent source of selenium for sure.But, they also lack other important nutrients,, and are not fully bioavailable, so you may want to bite the bullet and add a selenium supplement instead. Let’s look at a few comparisons.
2 ounces poached beef kidney = 90 calories and 95 mcgs selenium, plus 2.6 grams of fat and 15 grams of protein, plus 3 mgs bioavailable iron
If your recipe has beef kidney, all of the above will have been factored into the total. If you can get lamb or pork kidney, both have good levels of selenium, comparable to the beef, but pork kidney has much higher sodium than the other two, if that’s a factor for your dog.

Now – Brazil nuts. One 5 gram nut provides about the same amount of selenium as the 2 ounces of liver, but not all of it is utilizable for the dog. So I would double that – and now we have 2- 5 gram Brazil nuts taking the place of 2 ounces  poached beef kidney. These two nuts have 65 calories, 1.4 grams of protein, 6 grams fat and 0.2 mgs of iron.So, if you don’t really need that 15 grams of protein, if your dog is fine with the slightly higher (and different type) of fat,by all means use the 2 nuts. If you do need the calories, protein, and iron, consider boosting the lean beef and/or chicken in the recipe,..and add a supplement. I like the NOW yeast free selenium, but there are others of course.

Next – copper.

Dogs have a small, but absolute requirement for dietary copper, and beef liver is a very rich source. One ounce of gently cooked beef liver has 4 mgs of copper; this is a little more than my large breed dog requires in a day. Since few other foods contain copper at this concentration, I recommend a supplement if you can’t find beef liver .To calculate what your dog needs (and of course, all his or her nutrient needs, so you know what the goals are) you can use the Calculator Tool at The Possible Canine’s CNNH Page here:https://thepossiblecanine.com/cnnh?fbclid=IwAR1CtMW5codh1d9WkORucbyvmSeM-xVg-7bUYwEAbM9H4WDWNXtC2YNSU8o

Iron may be low if you are feeding a chicken based diet, or low calories overall, or a lot of variety (which dilutes the levels of many nutrients). Organ meats can make or break the levels, but if you need more than just a small boost, which could come from increasing lean red meat, you again may need a supplement. Don’t rely on spinach or other veggies to meet the goal – the iron they contain is called”non-heme” and is much less bioavailable for dogs than heme iron, from animal sources. A few weeks marginally low won’t hurt a healthy dog, but iron is an essential, so it’s important to keep to the RA longterm. Again, use the calculator tool, join the group, we will walk you through this!

Image result for iron deficiency dogs

Adorable  picture added to boost cuteness factor.

Lastly – zinc. The main contributor in a home made diet is often beef, although lamb is a rich source – anyone finding they cannot access lamb or beef,  and working with a chicken based recipe, will need to supplement. Simply put, you are hard pressed to meet zinc requirements without beef, lamb, organ meats – oysters are a very rich food source but neither available nor suitable for all dogs. Even recipes that contain lamb, beef and organs can come up short in zinc if the total amount of food  is low, to rein in calories for an older, overweight or generally slow metabolism type dog. If you are having trouble finding organ meats, again you can find your recipe is short changing the dog if you just leave them out. And again – probably ok for a few weeks, but longer than that I prefer you to use a supplement or go to at least half commercial.

In short – a few takeaway points.

1) Iron, copper, selenium and zinc may be low in home made diets once you remove the organ meats. There are a few substitutions, but when in doubt, calculate what your dog needs and use a supplement.

2) Changes in fat levels of any meat will result in significant caloric and fat total differences, smaller but still important shifts in the level of vitamins and minerals. Dark and white meat chicken, various grinds of beef, for example, are not interchangeable.

3) DON’T add supplements randomly as you can easily overdo it, and don’t rely on a multivitamin to fill gaps. I’ve talked about this in my article here Last article for The Bark- Myths and Misperceptions about Home Feeding

4) Don’t worry about small imbalances over a few weeks, unless your dog has a nutritionally-responsive condition that is managed by diet. In that case, consult your professional.

5) Consider using a good quality commercial food for the time being. Look for products without legumes and with proteins that your dog has done well on – introduce slowly. Use as part, or all of your feeding plan until things get back to normal.

6) You can check your dog’s requirements at the link above, and then you will need to use either Cronometer, or NutritionData, to enter your recipe and see what is low or high. This is the method used by nutritionists (although I personally use Foodworks) and takes a while to learn – I teach it in the Home Cooking Tutorial which is on hold, but back on sale for 50$ in case anyone is bored at home and wants to learn the nuts and bolts of canine dietary formulation/home cooking.

7) Join us at Canine Nutrition and Natural Health Facebook Group  to discuss all of the above in detail.
And stay safe! A second entry, covering calcium and what to do when you can’t find supplements, is on the way.