Rawfeeding has always been like a gold mine to supplement producers. Many rawfeeders believe in the power of vitamin jars and there are claims made to convince people that you can never achieve the required amounts with feeding. Since I disagree to a certain level, I will explain in depth what I feed, how that meets the requirements, and what I need to add from a jar.
I noticed certain changes in dogs that were positive, but there were some issues still I thought I wanted to fix. I started learning the matter more, asked some opinions from people who teach raw feeding, read posts made by self-proclaimed gurus, and finally came up with our current style.
I'm a strong believer in natural ingredients and that no animal is constructed so that it can't get what it needs from it's natural diet. Dogs are carnivore with some omnivore potential, and their genetics are not that different from that of wolves. This is also proven by the fact dogs and wolves can produce offspring that can further breed successfully. Dogs are NOT wolves, neither were they developed from the wolf species living in forests today, but even so many of their dietary requirements are similar.
As I listed before in a longer post, there are certain needs one needs to keep in mind when constructing a proper raw diet.
The most important vitamins A, D and E, all fat soluble, are ones the dog can't produce itself and it needs from it's diet. From minerals, calcium, if you can't feed bone, is a must, and so are zing and iodine. However iodin is needed in such ridiculously small amounts that feeding seaweed every now and then during a week meets the needs just fine. Therefore we don't list it here, though one has to keep in mind it is a needed supplement, no matter you go far with just 1 gram.
Vitamin A : dog needs 25 mcg / kg
Vitamin E: dog needs 0,5 mg / kg
Vitamin D: dog needs 0,3 mcg / kg
Calcium : dog needs 60 mcg / kg
Zinc : dog needs 1 mg / kg (optimum is often said to be 2 mg / kg)
We will use Ms. Dominance as an example here, because she eats about 500 to 600 grams a day depending on how much we are exercising. During winters 500 g seems to be enough, during our most active summer months I give her more if she seems like she's needing it. Let's now go with 500 grams, just for the simplicity. Also to be noted here, we have "different diet" days about twice or thrice a week, where I may boost some ingredients and tone down the others. These boost days are to balance out the overall diet, mainly the vitamin A and vitamin D.
We now know Ms. Dominance, using our numbers above and calculated by her weight, needs:
Vitamin A: 600 mcg
Vitamin E: 12 mg
Vitamin D: 7,2 mcg
Zinc: 24 mg
Calcium: about 1,4 grams
In 250 grams of pork/beef minced meat there is
Vitamin A: 42,25 mcg
Vitamin E: 1mg
Vitamin D: 0,75 mg
Zinc: 9 mg
In 125 grams of minced turkey there is
Vitamin A: 16,25 mcg
Vitamin E: 0,875 mg
Vitamin D: 0,875 mcg
Zinc: 3,25 mcg
In 125 grams of grounded whole salmon there is
Vitamin A: 3,875 mcg
Vitamin E: 1,75 mg
Vitamin D: 6,5 mcg (minimum)
Zinc: 0,375 mcg
In 12,5 grams of pork liver there is
Vitamin A: 1900 mcg
Vitamin E: 0,06 mg
Vitamin D: 0,11 mcg
Zinc; 0,9 mcg
From oils she gets
Vitamin E: 9,33 mg + 2,8 mg
Let's do some maths and add the numbers from all our ingredients together and compare them to the minimum needs of the day.
Total of 1962 mcg of vitamin A. Requirements are more than met.
Total of 15,8 mg of vitamin E. Requirements are met.
Total of 8,2 mcg of vitamin D. Requirements are met.
Total of 13,525 mg of zinc. Requiremens are NOT met.
So, by far we have succesfully debunked the myth of natural ingredients being unable to meet the needed vitamin requirements. Now, of course one needs to remember minimum is not the same thing as optimal, but maximum is not the same as optimal either. More is not more, necessarily, when it comes to vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins also gather in the body, so it's not necessary to meet the needs daily, as long as the longer over all picture is balanced. I tend to fill the minimum needs every day, but during some days we might skip some ingredient just for the change. When the over all diet is in balance, changes like this don't affect the dog in any negative way.
Vitamin E is a vitamin that is needed in greater amounts the more fat there is in the food and the more the dog exercises, so it's the only vitamin that could be given as a supplement. However, some studies show that vitamin E supplements have been linked to cancer. Adding vitamin E from natural sources is safer than adding it from the bottle. In supplements, should one need to add them to the diet, natural sources are a must. Artificial vitamin E does not work or absorb as well. I have not added any extra vitamin E till this day, but if it seems that some of the dogs would need it, I shall try a supplement with natural vitamin E.
Hobby dogs, as well as very active people, need more than us ”regular folks”.
With vitamins A and D requirements are easily met in a balanced diet. Herrin fillets work as a boost for vitamin D twice a week, vitamin A is high enough not to need any boosting at all. Dogs are able to discharge up to 60% of vitamin A they eat, and therefore from any commercial kibble, for example, you get far more than the required amount of vitamin A. It is often used as a preservative, mostly because it's relatively harmless even in big amounts (to dogs at least). Even so, I tend to keep one or two days completely free from liver a week, just to even things out. As said earlier, with fat soluble vitamins this is possible.
Zinc, by far, is the only mineral needing a boost. Calcium amounts are more than met if you use products with bone, but as I do not and the salmon grounded with bones is just and just there, I usually add a touch of calcium powder just to be extra sure.
Since the amount of zinc is lower than the minimum is, I use two tablets of good quality zinc product for pets, adding the total of 30 mgs of zinc. This means the total amount of zinc will raise from about 13,5 mg to 43,5 mg. That is pretty much exact the optimal. The reason why most sources recommend zinc to be added in relatively high amounts when raw feeding is because zinc doesn't absorb so well and it absorbs even less the more fiber there is in the diet.
So, with all above it is pretty safe in my mind to say that you CAN meet the dietary requirements with a proper diet. The fact we often can't fill the need of zinc is that we give meat and maybe bone, but not the whole animal. In whole prey there would be a lot more zinc, too. However, adding zinc is usually very beneficial for any dog, and as long as one doesn't go over the recommendations mentioned in the jar, it is also safe. The same can't be said with fat soluble vitamins. You can't really cause an overdose with feeding, unless you feed terrible amounts of liver a day, but you can pretty easily cause problems with careless use of supplements.
More is not more. More is dangerous if you don't know what you are doing.
Why to construct a proper, diverse diet rather than lean on supplements only?
As said above, it is safer. You can't poison your animal with proper diverse diet unless you feed your dog terrible amounts of liver daily. It is very easy, however, to cause poisoning with supplements.
As said before, some studies have linked vitamin E supplements to cancer. Whether or not one thinks the dog needs some vitamin E boost, always consult your vet if you are unsure. Same goes with vitamin D. Vitamin D is, indeed, very important for any dog, but something to remember is the symptoms of vitamin D poisoning are very severe and highly similar with those of a dog poisoned with ratsbane. There is a reason for that; the poison causes critical vitamin D overdose. So, it's not really a supplement to play with. If you are not 100% sure your dog needs a supplement like that, I'd suggest constructing a diverse diet or feeding 50 / 50 rather than just buying a jar of supplement and throwing some pills in the food.
No matter most people choosing to prepare their dog's meals themselves try their best to build a good diet, some rawfeeders have adopted a very simply way of doing things. I have heard and ever read that many people choose minced pork/beef and just add supplements to that, and to me it breaks the basic idea of constructing a natural diet. There is hardly any natural to add pills from many different jars or feeding the one and the same meat with the excuse of ”I add all the dog needs from bottles”. This might be true, but the diet itself is not that much more natural and organic than feeding kibble. It's just changing the dry ingredients to a meat bough from a trusted source. The added artificial stuff is still there.
This is obviously my own opinion and in no way I am educated enough to tell anyone they are feeding their dogs WRONG. I am simply challenging the idea of being lazy and choosing to use chemicals rather than paying some attention in the ingredients because I think going as natural as possible with as many good quality products as possible is the basic idea of constructing your dog's diet yourself. Whether or not you cook the meat or give it raw, feeding balanced, diverse diet prepared from quality natural ingredients is healthy and tasty, and you can't accidentally cause any lethal overdose.
I used to go about saying even the simplest raw diet is better than commercial kibble. I don't think like that anymore, but I highly recommend thinking about preparing your dog's food yourself. If you can't go all the way full custom mode, prepare one meal a day. If you choose to go all for it, remember to consult some professionals and be critical. The information is out there, and most raw feeders are eager to tell how they do their thing.
OK. So what are those quality ingredients, then?
In Finland our meat producers are very controlled, meats are often free from salmonella or other sorts of malicious bacteria and it's relatively easy to find good sources for preparing a proper diet. However, I am aware in many countries this is far more difficult. I'd suggest always asking the source of the meat or buying straight from the butchers you know to handle their animals and products properly. You can also buy products meant for people, if their quality is better regulated.
When searching for the right meat, stay away from leftovers. Specially with salmon it is fairly common to ground only the heads, fins and bones, the leftover parts in other words, after the precious meat has been removed. Unfortunately the meat is exactly the thing that has all the good stuff! Grounded bones and heads have little to no vitamin D and they are good mainly for adding calcium and adding some oil, as products like this can sometimes be rather oily. I suggest going for grounded whole salmon, meaning the whole fish was used, meat and bone alike. This way all the good stuff is there.
Minced meats should always have meat in them. If the product consists mainly of lungs and trachea, it doesn't really include anything. Make sure the meat you use has meat, not only leftover parts. The more, the merrier.
The last thing I want to mention are oils. If possible, use cold pressed oils. They are darker in color and also have more vitamin E left. You need less to achieve the same results. Using oils rich in vitamin E, like sunflower oil and the way more expensive but excellent wheat germ oil, is more beneficial than using large amounts of lighter oils since this also means you need more E as there is more fat.