Raw Feeding is Not the Same as Kibble Feeding
I realize I'm stating the obvious, but there are important differences between kibble and raw diets, and I've heard this comment quite a lot lately:
I didn't know you needed to add all these things to raw dog food.
If you're used to feeding kibble you might think that feeding a raw diet would be a fairly similar process - thaw the pre-made raw food, put it in the bowl and presto, dinner is ready; but it's not the same because in Canada (and other countries as well) …
the majority of raw dog food on the market is not nutritionally complete or balanced according to standards - even if the label, the manufacturer, the pet store staff, your friends, and neighbours say it is. And, rotating proteins does not ensure nutritional adequacy either.
Dogs don't stop needing certain nutrients because their food is raw.
Most kibble has vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids added in order to meet minimum nutritional standards. Concerns aside about the bioavailability of the vitamins and minerals used in kibble, they're needed to prevent deficiencies. Dogs who eat fresh food diets still need all the same vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids that are in kibble, but they can be supplied in a more preferable whole food form with all their important co-factors.
While I promote fresh food diets because of the increased bioavailability of nutrients, palatability, digestibility, moisture content, and absence of inflammation promoting processed ingredients, a raw diet isn't necessarily better simply because it's raw. "Raw" only tells me that the food is not cooked; it doesn't tell me anything about the protein, fat, mineral, vitamin or fatty acid content of the food.
Pet parents who choose to feed a raw or home-cooked diet have a bit of legwork to do in order to ensure their dog's food is meeting all of their nutritional requirements - but the results are worth it. If you use pre-made raw food, then we have to look at what nutrients are in the food, which nutrients are missing and then decide what additional whole foods or supplements can best supply those nutrients.
Expect that your dog's fresh food diet is going to have a lot of different ingredients and components and that it's going to take you longer to put his food into his bowl than it does with kibble - and if someone tells you that the food is "complete" and nothing else needs to be added be wary and verify that it truly is.
Below is a picture of one of my dogs' meals. It will give you an idea of what a properly put together NRC raw meal might look like. Keep in mind that this is just one example - there are tons of different meal possibilities - since every dog is unique and should be fed as an individual.
Yes, my dogs actually eat like this! (I have fun freezing my dogs' veggies into mold shapes, but you don't have to do that). I balance my dogs' diets over the course of a week using NRC nutrient guidelines, and I focus on adding plenty of antioxidants and phytonutrient rich plant matter. If I didn't add these "extras" then my dogs would be missing out on Vitamin D3, Vitamin E, omega-3's, iodine, manganese, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients, and would be low in magnesium, some of the B vitamins, and potassium.
Key Take Away Points:
1) Nutrients are best when supplied through fresh whole food ingredients - but there needs to be knowledge about what nutrients the dog needs, in what amounts, and which foods supply those nutrients. Where a whole food ingredient is not available, can't be fed in high enough quantities to meet the nutritional requirements, or where there is a food intolerance then supplements are essential.
2) There is a learning curve involved when you decide to start feeding a raw diet, but it gets easier!
3) It will likely take you more time to feed your dog a fresh diet compared to feeding kibble. It is normal to add properly chosen ingredients and supplements. You may need help from a professional.
4) Pet parents may need to …
devote time researching their dog's nutrient requirements
use a pre-made raw food that has been formulated to standards (FEDIAF or AAFCO... not perfect by any means but at least provides some assurance that your dog is getting the vitamins and minerals he needs and in the correct balance). This is generally an expensive option depending on the size and number of dogs you need to feed
prepare your dog's food by following a recipe that has been formulated to standards (NRC, FEDIAF, AAFCO)
hire a canine nutrition professional to help you plan your dog's diet
Evaluate your dog's fresh food diet and see if any of these nutrients seem to be missing.