Fulfilling your dog's nutritional needs throughout their lifetime is the cornerstone of longevity. ‘’Complete and balanced’’ dog food is not only important but essential. Unfortunately, this has become a marketing term and some companies have taken on the strategy of just calling everything “complete’’ and hoping for the best. With concepts like ratio diets and prey model raw, the lines are becoming blurred as to what is actually nutritionally complete and balanced, especially when considering different life stages. Here, I will elaborate and break down what these terms mean and why it’s essential to maintain integrity when using them.
What is complete?
The definition offered by the European pet food federation, FEDIAF is "pet food which, by reason of its composition is sufficient for a daily ration. When fed as the only source of nutrients, it will provide all the nutritional needs of a particular animal’’.
The food that you feed your pets every day needs to offer the right amount of nutrients in a bioavailable form, suitable for their current life stage and health condition. Consider the complexities of a human’s diet. You’ll hear the argument ‘’we don't eat a complete diet every day’’ but you would be surprised at how many of our foods are fortified with added vitamins and minerals to ensure we get an adequate amount; even if we don't think about it!
Essentially, when fed a “complete’’ food, your dog should live a long, happy life without suffering from nutrient deficiencies. This is especially important during early growth stages where slight deficiencies can have negative life-long effects such as bone disorders. However, it is still important for dogs at any life stage, and again during critical periods of their life like when suffering from medical conditions, allergies, arthritis or some of the issues that go alongside old age. We want to ensure that the food not only contains the correct meat content and amount of organs and bones but also an appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals from all sources.
When considering the food that we want to feed our beloved pets, we can also go one step further and give them “additions” such as supplements. Whilst these might not be necessary to “complete” the diet, there are numerous health benefits if you do so!
What is balanced?
There aren’t many functions in a dog’s body that require only one vitamin or mineral. This means there are countless interactions between nutrients and some of these need to be controlled through diet. The relationship between calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) is one of the most important balancing acts when formulating a diet. When designing the Rawgeous menu, it was vital that our Ca:P ratio was no lower than 1:1 and no higher than 2:1 for our adult meals. The range is even tighter for puppy recipes. This is because too much imbalance on either side can cause serious bone malformation.
Too much calcium can also interfere with the absorption of other minerals! As well as this, too much zinc in a diet can lower copper absorption. Therefore, taking the many different mineral interactions into consideration and formulating with them in mind is what is considered ‘’balance’’ in the diet.
For many years there has been a well known “ratio” to which Raw feeders and pretty much all raw companies have adhered to. You might have heard that 80:10:10 is a balanced ratio (meat:organ:bone), and that sticking to this ratio will ensure a balanced diet. However, balancing a raw diet is not as simple as this!
Who decides what a complete and balanced diet is?
Through decades of research, we now know what the minimum requirements are and also what the maximum amounts of certain nutrients dogs can have. However, like our dogs, science is continuously evolving and that's why it's important to follow guidelines that keep up to date with new research, like FEDIAF.
How important is complete and balanced food?
I don't know a single properly qualified pet nutrition professional that does not consider a complete and balanced diet the priority when formulating recipes. Deficiencies can cause major health issues and leaves a dog’s body in a less-than-optimal state. In my opinion, there's no point in feeding your dogs premium food (or any food for that matter) if they're not getting everything they need. Especially, in this day and age, when our knowledge and ability to provide this for our pets is at an all time high!
How do I know if I'm feeding the right food?
If you’re feeding a pre-made mix from any company in the UK they should declare whether or not their food is complete and balanced to FEDIAF guidelines. Typically, there will be more than just meat, bones and organs but don't be afraid to email the company and ask!
Here at Rawgeous we design all of our meals to meet and exceed the minimum standards set by FEDIAF. This means that you never need to worry about whether or not your dog is getting the right amount of food for their current stage of life.