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Building a Balanced Dog Diet

With an understanding of functional and non-functional foods, creating a nutritious base diet for your dog is straightforward. Consider the base diet as the foundation of a building; a sturdy foundation supports a tall structure, while a weak one does not. Functional foods are the bedrock of the diet.

Providing them in proper proportions puts you on the path to becoming an adept fresh feeder, which your dog will appreciate. If fresh feeding is new to you, it's crucial to advance at your own pace. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the influx of new data—I've been there.

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The key to a balanced canine diet includes:

  • There must be a balance of healthy, whole foods from all the necessary food groups, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, organ meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables, to create variety in the diet.

  • The diet should focus on fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods that are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, essential fatty acids, and high-quality amino acids.

  • Whole foods refer to minimally processed real foods such as meats, fish, eggs, and more, without rendered by-products or synthetic chemicals.

 

If we look at the popular B.A.R.F (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet for dogs, it typically consists of the following ingredient proportions:

  • 60-70% Animal Protein: Muscle meat like beef, chicken, and lamb provide most of the protein and essential amino acids your dog needs for growth and maintenance. Wild-caught game meats such as wallaby, possum, rabbit, hare, and deer offer excellent diet variety and great nutrition if available.

  • 10% Raw Edible Bone: Raw bones, like chicken necks or beef marrow bones, are a natural source of calcium and other minerals. They also help promote dental health and provide mental stimulation.

  • 10% Organ Meat: The liver, kidney, heart, and spleen are examples of organ meats that should be included in the diet. They are rich in essential nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K and minerals.

  • 10-20% Plant Matter: This portion of the diet should consist of a variety of fresh, low-glycaemic fruits and vegetables, plus seeds and nuts. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

 

It's important to note that these proportions are general guidelines and can be adjusted based on your dog's individual needs, health conditions, and preferences. Some B.A.R.F diet feeders will provide up to 25% functional carbohydrates.  The general consensus is that dogs should not be fed carbs above this level.

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Watch out for deficiencies in your diet. The following nutrients are commonly deficient in home-prepared diets, so special care should be taken to ensure they are covered. 

Calcium 

If your dog does not like eating bones, provide calcium through alternative sources. Whole prey meats like rabbit, hare, possum or wallaby offer a balanced mix of meat, bone, and organs when minced. Calcium supplements like calcium citrate are also readily available and easily digested. You can even make homemade calcium powder by rinsing, drying, and grinding eggshells. Add 1/2 teaspoon of this powder to your medium-sized dog's food daily to meet their calcium needs.  

Omega-3 essential fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for dogs that provide numerous health benefits. These fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, are found abundantly in fish oil and oily fish like sardines. Dogs cannot produce omega-3 on their own, so including it in their diet is important.

 

Omega-3 supports dogs' immune function, brain health, heart health, skin and coat condition, and joint health by reducing inflammation. High-quality fish oil supplements or whole fish like sardines are excellent sources to provide dogs with sufficient omega-3. Of the available options, I recommend New Zealand green-lipped mussel oil for its exceptional potency and purity.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential micronutrient for canine health, as it supports immune function and prevents chronic inflammation. Insufficient selenium can compromise the immune system and lead to conditions such as hyperthyroidism. Feeding dogs selenium-rich foods like seaweed, meat, fish, and eggs helps ensure adequate intake. Providing a balanced, varied diet with fresh, whole foods also helps dogs obtain selenium and other vital nutrients.

Vitamin B6

Also called pyridoxine, is essential for dogs because it plays a vital role in many bodily functions, participating in over 100 enzymatic reactions. This vitamin is critical for metabolising proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, producing red blood cells and neurotransmitters, supporting immune system health, reducing inflammation, and maintaining normal brain development and cognition. Foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and leafy greens provide good dietary sources of vitamin B6. Feeding dogs a balanced, varied diet with these ingredients helps ensure adequate B6 intake for overall health and well-being.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for dogs, playing vital roles in regulating calcium and phosphorus levels to support healthy bones and teeth, supporting immune function, and maintaining muscle health. Unlike humans, dogs cannot produce their own vitamin D from sunlight exposure. Therefore, they must obtain this crucial micronutrient solely through their diet.

Foods that are high in vitamin D for dogs include:

  1. Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources of vitamin D for dogs, and these fatty fish also contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

  2. Cod liver oil provides dogs with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids when added in small amounts to their food.

  3. Egg yolks contain vitamin D and can be fed to dogs as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.

  4. While beef liver provides vitamin D and nutrients like iron and B vitamins, it should be fed in moderation because of its high vitamin A content.

 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an important nutrient for dogs. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also plays a role in immune function and can support healthy skin and coat.  Good sources of Vitamin E include cold-pressed vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, eggs, and most fish and meats such as beef, duck, turkey and chicken.

 

Zinc

Zinc, a trace mineral essential to a properly functioning immune system, is involved in over 300 enzymatic and metabolic processes in the body, such as cell replication and thyroid hormone production. Additionally, zinc is crucial for healthy skin.

 

Good sources of zinc for dogs include:

  1. Meat: High-quality animal protein sources like beef, lamb, and poultry are rich in zinc. Organ meats such as liver and kidney are particularly good sources.

  2. Fish: Certain types of fish like salmon and sardines contain zinc. However, it's important to choose fish that are low in mercury and other contaminants.

  3. Eggs: Eggs are a nutritious source of zinc for dogs. 

  4. Dairy products: Some dairy products like cheese and yogurt contain zinc. However, it's important to note that not all dogs tolerate dairy well, so monitor for any digestive issues.

  5. Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are a natural source of zinc and can be given as a treat or added to your dog's meals.

  6. Supplements: If your dog's diet is lacking in zinc, you can consider adding a zinc supplement. However, it's important to consult with a veterinarian or nutritionist to determine the appropriate dosage.

 

Remember, providing a balanced and varied diet is always best to ensure your dog receives all the necessary nutrients, including zinc.

 

Iodine

Dogs fed fresh food diets may lack sufficient iodine, an essential mineral that supports canine health. Iodine is crucial for producing thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism and enable proper growth. It also maintains immune function and reproductive health. While iodine occurs naturally in seafood and seaweed, excessive intake can be harmful. To ensure adequate iodine, rotate these iodine-rich foods into your dog's fresh diet: seaweed, kelp, cod, raw goat's milk, kefir, yoghurt, shrimp, tuna, and eggs.

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Special consideration for puppies

Puppies have slightly different nutritional requirements than adult dogs during their development. For more details on puppy requirements, please refer to my article on the topic.

Special consideration for senior dogs

While puppies are bursting with energy, senior dogs are on the opposite end of the activity spectrum. As dogs age, their metabolism slows down, and they become less active. To avoid weight gain, their food intake should match this decreased energy requirement. Of course, each senior dog is unique, but their calorie needs tend to decline with age.  

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