A concerned follower sent me these questions with some deeply nonsensical answers attached,from another source – and asked if I might offer up some more factual and informed replies. These are all things I hear every day, anyway – so in aid of my personal mission to elevate popular canine nutrition to a serious study, I’m gladly obliging today. Let this entry kick off the Real Nutrition series – my impassioned response to the plethora of truly scary misinformation flooding the market today.
How do I know how much to feed?
This is a common question and one that deserves a well-rounded answer. You will be able to detect the dog’s optimal energy range by doing two things.
First – you can get a rough estimate by assessing the amount of energy – that is, calories – in the diet you already feed. If you feed kibble, or canned food or some combination, the value you’re looking for on the label is “ME” or metabolizable energy. That’s the caloric content, and you should take careful note of how much you feed – measure by grams ideally, not by volume (a rounded cup can have significantly more calories than a level one).
So, if you watch carefully what you feed and figure out you’re providing, say, 1000 calories a day, including treats, then that’s your goal for the home made diet. It’s not a perfect method, but it’s a good start.
The second method is for those who aren’t math-phobic – but really, it’s not even math, all you need to do is work a calculator. I’ve described this method before, but I’ll do it again anyway. Just take your dogs weight in kgs to the power of 0.75, and you have the Metabolic Weight. (MW from here on in). Using that number, you multiply by as little as 90 (geriatric and sedentary dogs) or as high as 130 for adult active, well muscled dogs. Often, we find that somewhere in the middle works (say, 115). Now – if you have taken the time to figure out approximately how much you’re currently feeding, then let that figure guide you as you work with the numbers. Calculating energy needs is not as exact as say, supplementing vitamins and minerals, because there is so much metabolic variability. But in answer to the question “how much to feed”? You would feed the amount that maintains your dog at her best weight, and that is best ascertained by assessing her caloric needs.
Lactating bitches have very unique caloric needs, the novice home feeder needs to follow expert advice in this case!
How do I know my dog is getting the right nutrients?
This is THE most important question to ask and again, deserves an informed and comprehensive answer.
And the short answer is, unless you take the time to actually assess what’s in the recipes, YOU DON’T.
First; it’s completely false – demonstrably so, not simply my “opinion” – that just feeding a variety of foods will ensure adequacy. To start, dogs have very different nutrient requirements than humans, so you need to know what those are before you can try to meet them.
Second – focusing on “variety” can actually mean that you are feeding smaller amounts of the foods you actually need most. Example: 2- 5 Brazil nuts will meet the average human’s need for dietary selenium. So that means – you have 2-5 every day. If you think, oh variety is better! and have 5 almonds one day, 5 cashews the next and so on, you’ll be getting a wider range of nutrients, but not enough selenium over the week. The way to counterbalance this is know what amount of selenium you’re aiming for and what other foods can provide it, and HOW MUCH of that food you need to meet your goal. Yes, it’s more work that just adding in healthy things and hoping for the best – but in terms of your own and your dog’s health, it’s more than worth it.
The short version here is, to meet a dog’s nutrient requirements you need to A) know what they are and B) check with your recipe to ensure it covers as much as possible. You can enter your recipe into a site like Nutrition Data – http://nutritiondata.self.com/ and see exactly what it contains. And the third part is – ALL home cooked diets need at least some supplementation; you cannot cover calcium needs, for example, using a cooked diet alone – and most are low in Vitamin E, D, zinc, sometimes iron, copper, selenium…the list goes on.
Dogs are carnivores – they live shorter lives and they have different nutrient requirements than we do. So to know what’s in the diet, you can
- Use a properly formulated recipe from a trained nutritionist
- Read, read read from the better books and sites and put it together on your own
- Take my Formulation course, which teaches how to develop balanced recipes using whatever foods you can access, and that your dog likes and does well with (yep, that’s a plug, but this course is totally unique and incredibly useful). I need to say, that many websites are now promoting very unbalanced cooked diets, using just a random multivitamin or worse still, nothing at all. This is very dangerous and irresponsible, UNLESS the site states that the recipes are not to be used for more than occasional treats. In a forthcoming post I’m going to share some of the effects that these recipes can have, what happens in a dog’s body after two years of almost no calcium, zinc, low iron and Vitamin D etc. I am deeply committed to providing sound information, on a professional level of course, but on my articles, Facebook Page and group as well.
Does it cost more?
I won’t gloss over this – yes it sure can. But how MUCH more depends on the foods you are using, and how much you’re spending right now. So if you have a smallish dog and you’re feeding a premium food, AND you are using accessible/affordable foods like chicken, beef, eggs – then you may not be spending much more. If however, you have a large dog, or more than one dog – and/or are used to feeding an economy brand food, and if you need to use novel foods for a specific health condition, indeed it can add up to much more. There’s no simple answer here, other than in all cases, improving your dogs’ diet should improve overall health. you may well see fewer vet visits. Diet is not a panacea, but it’s extraordinarily helpful in many cases. But it isn’t going to be cheap. I need to be clear, and forthcoming about that.
It’s really time consuming? I don’t have the time!
Honestly, this is one of the biggest potential drawbacks, and one I can relate to myself (feeding three 100 pound dogs with different dietary needs). There is just no way around the fact that shopping for the foods, cooking them, dicing and shredding and then measuring them out, dividing into meal packages (if making ahead, which I recommend) and supplementing takes a lot more time than dumping kibble in a bowl.
The best way to deal with this, in my experience, is to make batch recipes of 1- 2 week(I really don’t like to freeze for that much longer) and then defrost as needed. I have large dogs, personally – three 100 pounders – and individuals have different nutrient needs, so cooking for all three every day is just too much, with a very lively consulting practise, my courses and more. S I do set aside a day like Saturday, and make the cooking, measuring etc an all day event. That doesn’t mean I do nothing but cook all day, just that I start the foods early in the day, do some other stuff, then cool the chickens, poach the liver, peel the sweet potatoes…have a break, do other stuff – end up by mixing, supplementing and dividing into daily portions. It is a bit of work, but then for two weeks, I’m good to go. If you have a smaller dog, a more relaxed lifestyle, or love to cook daily, it may be much easier for you.
I also recommend raw diets on a regular basis, and you will find that a much easier method, timewise.
Do I need to add a supplement or vitamins?
Absolutely, you do.
And carefully! If your whole goal with fresh food is better health, why risk the inevitable problems associated with excess, deficiency, marginal intake of essential nutrients? In general, aside from calcium, if your dog can eat foods like beef and lamb liver, heart, dark meat chicken and turkey, assorted (but limited) fish, eggs, lamb and so on – you can get pretty close to meeting nutrient requirements.But you can also be seriously low, and you won’t know that, unless you assess the recipe or use one developed by a professional who knows how important this process is.
Without exception, you need to add vitamins, minerals sometimes fatty acids that are low in your particular recipe. Period full stop.
I’ve fed my dog the same food for 3 years, won’t he get sick if I keep changing the ingredients?
That depends. Some dogs do very well with all kinds of variety and others, seem to thrive with a more limited ingredient approach. This really depends on your dog’s age, digestive health and what you mean by “changing the ingredients”. Most healthy dogs do just fine with varied meals, but it can be important to keep the macronutrient content pretty similar – meaning, you keep the fat, fiber and total energy all on an even keel. Sudden increases in fat can cause diarrhea, or worse, may trigger pancreatitis. Remember that dogs enjoy variety, and they can benefit for variety insofar as all foods have some drawbacks and when you don’t overfeed any one food, you restrict exposure(say, to mercury and pcbs in fish or BPA in canned foods) – as well, overfeeding any food can result in an intolerance developing. But dogs don’t require variety, they require fats and fatty acids, protein and amino acids, vitamins and minerals. recipes are just ways to provide those needs. You might use two alternated recipes, or three or four.But you don’t need a different recipe at every meal, and you certainly don’t need trendy, upscale ingredients. Work with the clear goal of meeting all nutrient requirements, using fresh and wholesome foods, and honouring your dog as a unique individual. That’s the way to go.
Just too beautiful a face not to get into this post somewhere. Pups have VERY unique nutrient requirements, and mistakes made during growth – like relying on “variety” or failing to supplement – may cause lasting issues, that cannot be corrected later on.
Can you give us an example of what a balanced.home cooked recipe might look like?
I can, but bear in mind that the macronutrient levels – that’s protein, carbohydrate and fat – as well as the ingredients, may or may not agree with the individual, so this is just an example. Dogs, like us, share commonalities with regard to their anatomy and physiology, but there is metabolic individuality as well. So what seems on a practical level, to “work” for one dog may not be ideal for another at all. There is no “average dog” – but this recipe assumes good digestive health, a moderate level of activity, and no food intolerances. It’s intended to show what a recipe developed by a nutritionist should look like. And it’s easy.
Here we go. This recipe provides three days of food for a 40 pound adult dog of average activity level. It is high protein, grain free and provides a moderate level of total fat and moderate-low carbohydrate.
To make this three-day batch recipe, simply combine the following and mix well.
- 984 grams (about 3 cups) of peeled, boiled and mashed sweet potato
- 840 grams, or about 6 cups roasted dark meat chicken, no skin, diced
- 145 grams poached and diced beef heart, any fat trimmed
- One ounce poached and diced beef liver
- Three whole, large eggs, boiled – can be added to the batch or fed separately as a treat.
This recipe provides 476 mgs of calcium; the RA for three days here is 3425.
So you need to add 2650 mgs. (Imagine if you just didn’t bother with this, how deficient your dog would become). That’s about 2 1/4 level teaspoons of a good calcium carbonate, such as NOW.It’s also low in magnesium, zinc, Vitamins E and D, manganese; the Bs are good except thiamin is marginal here.
There are no green vegetables, as I don’t rely on them for a significant percentage of the nutrient, dogs can react idiosyncratically to greens,and I like to use them in season and rotation (see my article on feeding veggies here https://www.thepossiblecanine.com/veggies-dog. )
I’d be adding a 400 IU of Vitamin D here, probably 100IU of natural E daily (and that’s well above the RA here) this recipe needs maybe 30 mgs of zinc and about 125 mgs of magnesium.
And 1/2 teaspoon of good quality fish body oil (not cod liver) daily, too.
And that, is how it’s done. Analysis to follow.
FOODS INCLUDED IN THE ANALYSIS
1. Egg, whole, boiled
3.0 of: 1 large (150.0g)
2. Beef Liver, braised
1.0 of: ounces
3. Vege, Sweet Potato, boiled w/o skin, no salt
3.0 of: 1 cup, mashed (984.0g)
4. Chicken, Broiler or Fryer, Dark Meat, no skin, roasted
6.0 of: 1 cup, chopped or diced (840.0g)
5. Oil, Fish, Salmon
1.5 of: 1 tsp (6.75g)
6. Heart, cooked – beef
1.0 of: 1 cup, cooked, diced (145.0g)
Protein: 311.4 g
Carbohydrate: 177.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 24.6 g
Total Fat: 114 g
Saturated Fat: 31.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 39.6 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 26 g
Calcium: 475.6 mg
Copper: 6.47 mg
Iron: 31.1 mg
Magnesium: 421.7 mg
Manganese: 2.895 mg
Phosphorus: 2581 mg
Potassium: 4883 mg
Selenium: 265.4 mcg
Sodium: 2039 mg
Zinc: 32.7 mg
Vitamin A (IU): 164477 IU
Vitamin C: 126.5 mg
Vitamin D: 1.18 mcg
Vitamin E (a-toc): 13.6 mg
Vitamin K: 55.5 mcg
Alpha-carotene: 3.118 mcg
Beta-carotene: 92991 mcg
Thiamin: 1.463 mg
Riboflavin: 5.847 mg
Niacin: 75 mg
Pantothenic Acid: 17.9 mg
Folate: 271.2 mcg
Vitamin B6: 5.47 mg
Vitamin B12: 39.9 mcg
IMPORTANT ANALYSIS INFORMATION
Distribution of calories:
Protein: 41.8 %
Fat: 34.4 %
Carbohydrate: 23.8 %