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Whole Foods for Essential Nutrients

Estimated reading time: 10 min

Raw diets composed of meat, bones and organs frequently lack essential nutrients for optimal health. It is important to identify these common deficiencies and select the appropriate whole foods or supplements to provide a nutritionally complete diet.

The National Research Council has established minimum requirements and recommended allowances for essential nutrients for dogs and cats. Additionally, the NRC provides data on nutrient deficiencies. Many pet parents believe a multi-vitamin is necessary in raw diets to meet all essential nutrients, however this is not the case. Most multi-vitamins do not fulfill the nutrients that many raw diets are missing, and are therefore unnecessary.

For every amino acid, fatty acid, vitamin, and mineral a pet requires, there is a whole food that provides these essential nutrients! Absorption rates are lower with supplements; whereas nutrients are digested, absorbed, and metabolized at a higher rate when provided in fresh, whole foods.

Raw diets that follow strict ratio guidelines for muscle meat, edible bone, and organs without additional whole foods or supplementation are usually deficient in certain essential nutrients. These deficiencies are typically present in both PMR and BARF style raw diets; and it is important to provide the appropriate whole foods to ensure the diet is nutritionally balanced.

Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)

Essential Fatty Acid.

Eicosapentaenoic & Docosahexaenoic Acid (EPA+DHA)

Essential Fatty Acid.

Iodine

Essential Micromineral.

Manganese

Essential Micromineral.

Vitamin D

Essential Fat Soluble Vitamin.

Vitamin E

Essential Fat Soluble Vitamin.

Zinc

Essential Micromineral.

wholefoods

Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are all Omega 3 Fatty Acids. While ALA can be metabolized into EPA and DHA, dogs and cats have a very low conversion rate compared to other animals. Therefore, ALA should not be relied upon as a source of EPA and DHA in raw diets. It is necessary to provide sources for both ALA and EPA/DHA in the diet. ALA is required in small amounts to balance the Linoleic Acid (LA) in raw diets. 

Recommended Allowance (RA) of alpha-linolenic acid per 1000kcal:

Adult Dog

110mg recommended allowance

Puppy

200mg recommended allowance

Adult Cat

Do not have a requirement for ALA.

Kitten

Do not have a requirement for ALA.

Alpha-linolenic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid found mainly in plants, although it is also found in small amounts in grass-fed and pasture raised raw meat and organs. ALA is typically deficient in most ratio based raw diets. ALA occurs naturally in foods where the amino acid lysine is structurally bound to protein. Whole foods with high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid include various seeds and seed oils. Below are ALA values for various whole foods per 1oz (28g):

flaxseeds

Raw Flax Seeds

1oz (28g): 6518mg

chiaseeds

Raw Chia Seeds

1oz (28g): 5055mg

hempseedhearts

Raw Hemp Seeds

1oz (28g): 2457mg

Eicosapentaenoic & Docosahexaenoic Acid (EPA+DHA)

Many raw diets are deficient in EPA/DHA and use commercially farmed meats. These meats provide high levels of omega 6 fatty acids and little to no omega 3 fatty acids. This imbalance of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids can cause inflammation throughout the body. The addition of EPA and DHA to a raw diet helps correct this imbalance and meet recommended allowances for these two essential fatty acids.

Recommended Allowance (RA) of EPA+DHA per 1000kcal:

Adult Dog

110mg recommended allowance

Puppy

130mg Recommended Allowance

Adult Cat

25mg Recommended Allowance

Kitten

25mg Recommended Allowance

In addition to ALA, the NRC lists dietary requirements for EPA and DHA as  essential omega-3 fatty acids. EPA and DHA are found primarily fatty fish and shellfish. The inclusion of fatty fish, fish oil, or krill oil in a raw diet are excellent whole foods to fulfill these requirements. Ideal fish options include salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and herring. Below are EPA and DHA values in various fish per 1oz (28g):

atlanticmackerel

Atlantic Mackerel

1oz (28g): 748mg

rawatlanticsalmon

Wild Atlantic Salmon

1oz (28g): 565mg

atlanticherring

Atlantic Herring

1oz (28g): 484mg

sardines

Canned Sardines in Oil

1oz (28g): 414mg

Iodine

The mineral iodine is always deficient in raw diets that are not composed of whole prey; as Iodine is found in the thyroid of whole prey. Iodine is needed to support healthy thyroid function. Symptoms of insufficient thyroid activity include poor growth, hair loss, weight gain, weakness, and behavioral changes (such as aggression). Many pet parents are not able to feed a diet of whole prey. Therefore, an additional source of iodine is necessary in many raw diets. 

There is data to suggest that the NRC Recommended Allowance for Iodine for cats is too high. Cat owners who prefer to follow this data can choose a minimum requirement from another nutritional guideline (such as AAFCO) and add iodine in smaller amounts to meet that minimum.

Recommended Allowance (RA) of iodine per 1000kcal:

Adult Dog

175mcg Minimum Allowance 220mcg Recommended Allowance

Puppy

220mcg Recommended Allowance

Adult Cat

320mcg Minimum Allowance
350mcg Recommended Allowance

Kitten

450mcg Recommended Allowance

Although whole fatty fish and shellfish provide some iodine; it is still not enough to meet iodine requirements. Seaweed, such as kelp and other sea vegetables, have the highest concentration of iodine of all whole food sources – a little goes a long way! It is recommend to choose a kelp product that provides an iodine analysis. This is important since kelp can vary greatly in iodine content and improper dosing can affect thyroid health. *Many nutritional analysis do not include iodine levels unless the product is specifically tested for iodine.

kelppowder

NOW Pure Kelp Powder

1 level scoop (90mg): 450mcg

Manganese

Unfortunately, soft tissue injuries are common in pets. These injuries can often be related to insufficient manganese in the diet to support healthy joints, ligaments and tendons.

Recommended Allowance (RA) of manganese per 1000kcal:

Adult Dog

1.2mg Recommended Allowance

Puppy

1.4mg Recommended Allowance

Adult Cat

1.2mg Recommended Allowance

Kitten

1.2mg Recommended Allowance

While whole prey provides manganese from the fur and feathers; the bioavailability of such manganese is unclear. Manganese is often deficient in ratio diets depending on what ingredients are fed. It is best to feed animal-based ingredients as the primary source of manganese in a raw diet. Plant ingredients such as vegetables, spices, seeds, and nuts should come secondary to animal-based ingredients. Below are manganese values in some whole foods per 1oz (28g):

bluelippedmussels

Blue Mussels

1oz (28g): 1.9mg

rawgreentripe

Green Tripe

1oz (28g): 0.37mg

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient which is commonly deficient in raw diets, and it is important to understand the role it plays in nutrition. Exposing a dog or cat to sunlight will not increase their vitamin D levels, as they do not produce Vitamin D like humans do. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin which means it can be highly toxic in large amounts. For this reason, Vitamin D supplements must be given with abundant caution. It is much easier to overdose a supplement than whole foods. Contact a veterinarian or nutritionist when in doubt about measuring supplements correctly. 

Recommended Allowance (RA) of vitamin D per 1000kcal:

Adult Dog

3.4mcg Recommended Allowance

Puppy

3.4mcg Recommended Allowance

Adult Cat

1.75mcg Recommended Allowance

Kitten

0.7mcg Minimum Allowance
1.4mcg Recommended Allowance

Certain oily fish are one of the best animal sources of Vitamin D. Fish such as herring, salmon, sardines, and mackerel, include higher vitamin D than other species. Additional animal sources of Vitamin D are pastured, free-range, or organic eggs and raw, pasture-raised animal fat. While organs such as liver and kidney also provide some Vitamin D, it is not enough to meet requirements. Lastly, fortified dairy provides some vitamin D. 

While Cod liver oil can provide Vitamin D, it is also high in fat-soluble Vitamin A. It is important to avoid overdoing Vitamin A when feeding Cod liver oil along with animal liver. In these cases it is recommended to have the diet professionally formulated by a nutritionist.

Below are vitamin D values of several whole foods per 1oz (28g):

codliveroil

Cod Liver Oil

1tsp: 11.25mcg

atlanticmackerel

Atlantic Mackerel

1oz (28g): 4.5mcg

pinksalmon

Pink Salmon

1oz (28g): 3.1mcg

beefliver

Beef Liver

1oz (28g): 0.35mcg

chickeneggs

Large Chicken Egg

1 large egg (50g): 0.23mcg

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that plays a crucial role in supporting a pet’s health and prevents dietary fats from oxidizing. It is often low in homemade and/or ratio raw diets. 

Recommended Allowance (RA) of vitamin E per 1000kcal:

Adult Dog

7.5mg Recommended Allowance

Puppy

7.5mg Recommended Allowance

Adult Cat

10mg Recommended Allowance

Kitten

9.4mg Recommended Allowance

Vitamin E is present in whole foods such as raw brain and pastured eggs. Seeds and nuts are another excellent way to provide vitamin E as well as other nutrients. However, it can be difficult to meet Vitamin E with whole foods due to various factors and a supplement is often required. Below are vitamin E values of some whole foods per 1oz (28g):

sunflowerseeds

Raw Sunflower Seeds

1oz (28g): 9.94mg

almonds

Raw Almonds

1oz (28g): 7.33mg

Vitamin E Supplementation Recommended

Using raw seeds and nuts as a source of vitamin E only works effectively when paired with low fat proteins. This is because raw seeds and nuts provide additional fats that increase calories. Additionally, many dogs find the quantity of seeds and nuts required for vitamin E levels off putting. Lastly, freezing seeds and nuts with meals will decrease Vitamin E levels. For these reasons it is recommended to use a vitamin E supplement.

Zinc

Zinc contains the three following functions: catalytic, structural, and regulatory. Zinc is a cofactor in enzymes and is therefore involved in carbohydrate and protein metabolism, cell replication, and wound healing. Excessive levels of zinc can impact the absorption of other dietary minerals. For this reason caution is encouraged when giving zinc supplements. Consult a veterinarian or nutritionist when in doubt. 

Recommended Allowance (RA) of zinc per 1000kcal:

Adult Dog

15mg Recommended Allowance

Puppy

25mg Recommended Allowance

Adult Cat

18.5mg Recommended Allowance

Kitten

18.5mg Recommended Allowance

Zinc is found in higher concentrations within animal sources rather than plants. A raw diet of red meats such as beef or lamb will likely provide adequate amounts of zinc for an adult dog. However, an additional zinc source is often required in mixed protein raw diets. The primary animal-based whole food which provides a high concentration of zinc is canned or cooked oysters. Below are zinc values of some whole foods per 1oz (28g):

oysters

Canned Eastern Oysters

1oz (28g): 25.7mg

rawlambmeat

Raw Lamb Meat

1oz (28g): 1.48mg

bonelessbeefmeat

Raw Beef Meat

1oz (28g): 1.06mg

Multi Vitamins

A raw diet typically consists of 5% raw liver and 5% other organs. Organs are considered nature’s multivitamin because they are packed with many essential nutrients. These nutrients include heavy doses of B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, folic acid, and B12), as well as traces of vitamin D. Various organ meats are also loaded with minerals like phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, and vitamin A. Pasture raised livestock and wild game contain even higher levels of these essential nutrients than their grain-fed counterparts.

Multi-Vitamin Cautions

Multivitamins will not address the common deficiencies in ratio-based raw diets, and will contain nutrients already highly present in the diet. Over supplementing certain nutrients is not beneficial. It can cause digestive upset, diarrhea, or at worst hypervitaminosis. It is recommended to avoid multivitamins and instead provide whole foods for any essential nutrients that are missing. If whole foods for an individual nutrient cannot be fed due to sourcing, budget, or allergy/intolerance – then it is recommended to consult with a vet or nutritionist for the dosage of an individual nutrient supplement.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Many raw diets do suffer from nutritional deficiencies when strictly following PMR or BARF model ratios without the inclusion of specific whole foods. These whole foods are vital components to providing key essential nutrients to create a balanced diet:

Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, Hemp Seeds

Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA)

Fatty Fish: Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, Herring

Eicosapentaenoic & Docosahexaenoic Acid (EPA+DHA)

Kelp

Iodine

Green Tripe, Blue/Black Mussels

Manganese

Fatty Fish: Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, Herring, Eggs

Vitamin D

Raw Seeds & Nuts

Vitamin E – Supplementation Recommended*

Oysters, Lean Red Meat

Zinc

Raw diets do not require extensive supplementation or multivitamins to provide all essential nutrients. Appropriately selected whole foods can easily create a nutritionally complete diet for a dog or cat without resorting to synthetic supplementation. (This does mean that certain supplementation is not beneficial for specific needs and/or medical conditions.)