Nutrition as a whole is a very grey area, there is no black and white. Even professionals do not have all of the data or answers, and many experts disagree on various aspects of nutrition. Professionals and pet owners can only do their best to work with the information currently available.
Due to the diverse opinions of nutritionists, pet owners may become overwhelmed by the daunting amount of conflicting information. Unfortunately, some pet owners may abandon fresh feeding in their confusion. Others are constantly plagued with fears that the diet they are providing is not perfectly balanced. While providing a well balanced diet is important, it is also helpful to understand the grey areas within nutrition in order to alleviate the excessive anxiety over achieving perfection.
There are five focus points when identifying variables that contribute to the nutritional grey zone. It is important to acknowledge these areas when feeding a home prepared raw diet.
It is important to remember that the nutritional grey zone does not refute the data that is available today. Pet parents should maintain a balance between the information currently available and the unknown.
Nutritional Guidelines: AAFCO, NRC, & FEDIAF
AAFCO, NRC, and FEDIAF are all organizations which set nutritional guidelines for dogs, cats, and other domestic animals. These guidelines typically provide the minimum amount of each essential nutrient that is required for a balanced diet. These include amino acids, fatty acids, water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals, and microminerals.
In addition to providing minimum requirements, these guidelines typically provide a Recommended Allowance (RA) for most nutrients and Safe Upper Limit (SUL) for some nutrients. This means that there is a range of sufficient levels for various essential nutrients. There is not one exact number for each nutrient. Therefore, there is some leeway when formulating pets diets. The overall diet must meet the minimum requirements for each essential nutrient, however it is encouraged to meet or exceed RA while staying within the identified SUL.
Each of these organizations have different nutritional guidelines, all of which disagree on what constitutes a complete and balanced diet. There is no consensus on what guideline is best or “right”. Therefore, the statement “complete and balanced” should be taken with a grain of salt. It is up to the pet parent to research each guideline then decide which is appropriate for their pet.
Variety in Raw Diets
Many pet owners assume that feeding a variety of meats, bones, and organs will provide all essential nutrients. While protein variety is a major component of a balanced raw diet, it does not necessarily fulfill requirements for every essential nutrient. Feeding the right variety of whole foods is important to fill the gaps. When building a DIY raw diet, begin by choosing a diet style. There are multiple raw diet types, below are a few examples:
Once a feeding style has been chosen, the pet owner must construct the diet to meet their chosen nutrient guideline. One feeding style is not necessarily better than another, it is up to the pet parent to choose what works best for them and their pet. Both BARF and PMR have common nutrient deficiencies that need to be addressed with certain whole foods.
Seek Professional Guidance When Needed Tip 1
If protein variety within the feeding style is limited, it may be helpful to contact a nutritionist in order to ensure the diet meets all essential nutrients (ie, chicken only diets).
An additional grey area within nutrition is the fact that some pets have individual needs. Their requirements for certain essential nutrients may differ from the average guidelines. This can be due to various factors such as disease, life stage and genetic markers.
The standard nutritional guidelines will not be appropriate for every individual. Not all pets will fit the cookie-cutter mold, and pet owners will need to adjust the diet to accommodate their individual pet’s needs.
Nutritional Data on Food Stuffs
In order to formulate a pet’s diet to meet any one of the nutritional standards, the data on the nutrient content of the foods fed is required. This can be obtained from several sources such as the USDA food database and the New Zealand food composition database. It is important to note that these nutritional databases only provide data on foods that are consumed by humans. They do not include the nutritional data from bones.
In addition to the differing nutritional guidelines for pet food, nutritional data on food is not exact. Averages in nutritional analysis, differences in farming practices, limited data on raw meaty bones, and unavailable data on certain foods further contributes to the grey zone in nutrition.
Providing a rotation of food ingredients helps to makeup for any potential pitfalls that may occur due to these variables that effect nutritional analysis. It is encouraged to rotate proteins and other ingredients when possible and it is recommended to feed a minimum of three animal based proteins in a raw diet which helps with the factors discussed above.
However, it is best to rotate between individual ingredients as well – examples such as: raw meaty bones (chicken wings and turkey necks), fish (salmon and mackerel), organs (beef liver and lamb liver), and vegetables (broccoli and spinach).
Growth & Development Diet Balance
Growing puppies and kittens cannot regulate essential nutrients over time as well as adult dogs and cats. Therefore, it is important to provide a well balanced diet to puppies and kittens daily. Many pet owners are particularly worried about providing their puppy or kitten with a balanced diet, and are terrified of “messing up” and harming their pet.
While a significantly unbalanced diet does indeed hold the potential for harm, there is no need for excessive perfectionism and worry. Many pet owners are fully capable of educating themselves appropriately. It is important to recognize that perfection is not attainable as there is no one “perfect” method of feeding a raw diet.
Seek Professional Guidance When Needed Tip 2
If a pet owner truly does not feel capable of providing a well rounded diet to their puppy, it is encouraged for them to seek the guidance of a qualified nutritionist or feed an AAFCO balanced premade raw that is formulated for “All Life Stages.”
Nutrition is always evolving as more data becomes available. There is no single “right” way to create a raw diet for a dog or cat. However, for pet owners who wish to do it themselves, it is important to make a conscious effort to become educated on the subject to provide a well rounded diet while recognizing the nutritional grey zone:
These five points illustrate that there is a wide grey zone when dealing with nutrition. Maintaining a balance between knowing the nutritional requirements for a balanced diet and the nutritional grey zone is essential to ensuring a raw diet is nutritionally sufficient. However, perfectionism is unattainable and it is not sensible to avoid feeding foods simply because nutritional data is unavailable.