THE THREE KEYS TO MAKING ABC RECIPES
“The best way…is to feed a raw diet that mimics the evolutionary norms of canines.”37
—Dr. Ian Billinghurst
If you want to feed the very best and are willing to spend the time necessary to make your own dog foods for full time feeding, this chapter is for you. Now you are going to learn the details about how to build ruminant (beef, lamb, venison, buffalo) and poultry based recipes that meet the ABCs: ancestral amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; balanced fats; and complete nutrition.
These details will be of interest principally to those readers who want to understand the logic and science behind the recipes. If you want to proceed directly to the recipes without the detailed background information you can skip directly to Chapter 6.
The three keys to building ABC diets are:
1. Start with lean meats.
2. Balance the fats.
3. Balance the minerals and vitamins.
Start with lean meats
If you want to mimic the ancestral diet and balance the fats in your dog’s diet, it’s important that lean meats provide the base of the recipes. Today’s domesticated feed animals, such as cows and chickens, have more fat and less protein than do wild prey animals, so it’s important to remove some of the fat or feed only lean parts. Table 5.1 lists the amount of protein and fat per 1,000 kcal of many types of meat used for homemade dog foods. As you can see, some cuts of meat—such as 80% lean ground beef and chicken necks with the skin and fat—have about half the protein and twice the fat of the ancestral diet. The most important step in building ancestral type diets is to select lean meats.
Table 5.1 Protein and fat of various meats compared with ancestral diet, g/1000 kcal
*may provide excess of Ca, see Many calcium rules of thumb are not accurate.
Lean meats also have higher mineral concentration than fatty meats, because the minerals are in the protein, not the fat. Table 5.2 shows that 93% lean ground beef has more than twice the amount of many trace minerals than 80% lean ground beef. The listed trace minerals are those that are often not sufficient in homemade dog foods that use fatty meats.
Table 5.2 Trace mineral content, 93% and 80% lean ground beef, mg/1000 kcal
So as a general rule, when feeding beef, use 90–93% lean. When feeding chicken parts, such as necks, backs and thighs, remove the skin and separable fat from half to three-quarters of the parts.
I also recommend serving the meat raw. However if you are not comfortable with that, you can lightly cook the meats—without the bones—before mixing in the other ingredients. Bones, ground or whole, should only be served raw.
Once you choose the lean meats, the next step is to balance the fats. This is not an esoteric detail—in fact I’ve come to believe that providing complete and balanced fats is just as important as providing complete and balanced minerals and vitamins. The fats the dog eats affects the health of every cell in the dog’s body.
In this section, I’m going to show you how to balance:
1. The saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
2. The short-chain omega-6s and -3s (LA and ALA).
3. The long-chain omega-3s (EPA and DHA).
It’s much easier than it looks, but only if you’re feeding lean meats. Here’s the ideal fat balance, based upon the fat balance of the ancestral diet:
The ideal fat balances (g/1000 kcal)
Step 1: Rotate ruminant and poultry meats to balance the saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Most domesticated ruminant meats contain too much saturated fats (SFAs) and insufficient amounts of polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs), as shown in Table 5.3. On the other hand, this table shows that even the leanest chicken parts (chicken necks with all the skin and fat removed) have 13 g of polyunsaturated fats per 1,000 kcal, close to our recommended maximum of 15, leaving little room to balance the fats by adding the essential omega-3 PUFAs, including DHA. The last row in Table 5.3 shows that rotating the chicken and beef provides a much better balance of fats than feeding either alone. (MUFAs are monounsaturated fats.)
Table 5.3 Fat balance, g/1000 kcal
*recommended amount 15–20
**recommended amount 5–15
Step 2: Add oils appropriate for the meat sources to balance the short-chain omega-6s and -3s.
Since domesticated feed animals often do not contain a healthy balance of fats, it’s usually necessary to balance the short-chain omega-6s and -3s, primarily the omega-6 linoleic acid (LA) and the omega-3 alpha linolenic acid (ALA), by adding specific fats from sources such as hempseed and flaxseed. Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant) and ruminant (beef, buffalo, lamb, venison) meats have different fat balances and require different approaches.
The balance of omega-6s and -3s the dog consumes has the potential to affect the health of every cell and organ in the body. Adding the wrong fats for the meat source (i.e., flaxseed oil to beef, or sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn oils to chicken), can make a fat imbalance worse, and health problems can result—sometimes quickly. These fat imbalances may be diagnosed as allergies or food intolerances to flaxseed or to beef, but it’s just an easily correctable fat imbalance. Table 5.4 shows the LA/ALA balance of beef with various oils, Table 5.5 shows the LA/ALA balance of chicken with various oils, Table 5.6 shows the omega-6/-3 ratio of various chicken parts, and Table 5.7 summarizes the best oils or foods to add and not to add for poultry and ruminant recipes.
Balancing fats in beef
As I noted above, beef is high in saturated fats (SFAs) and low in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). This means that beef, even fatty beef, does not meet minimum requirements for linoleic acid (LA), an essential omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3. Obviously, oils need to be added to improve the fats.
Here’s where it is easy to make a mistake by adding the wrong oils to beef foods, especially by those dog food makers wanting to add omega-3s. Corn oil increases the LA content, but puts the important LA/ALA ratio deep in the unhealthy range. We can do much better and we can do worse. Let’s look at what happens when flaxseed oil is added. Flaxseed oil adds sufficient ALA, but not enough LA, and results in an omega-6 to -3 ratio below recommendations. This may be unhealthy. Hempseed oils, on the other hand, provides LA and ALA, and produces almost a perfect omega-6/-3 ratio. Hempseed oil also contains GLA, a conditionally essential fatty acid, which means that most dogs can make enough GLA to meet their needs most of the time. But, when working hard or under stress, some dogs cannot make enough GLA and need a dietary source.
Table 5.4 Short-chain omega-6/-3 93% beef with various oils, g/1000 kcal
*does not meet standards
With beef foods, including pasture-raised animals, always examine linoleic acid first, before adding omega-3s. Without sufficient LA, increasing the omega-3 content with flaxseed, chia, salmon, and other omega-3 containing oils can do more harm than good. Linoleic acid was the first fatty acid to be considered essential, because lack of LA presents health problems rather quickly, often showing first in the skin and coat.
Rule of thumb to balance the fats in ruminant recipes: add 1 teaspoon (4 g) of hempseed or walnut oil, two tsp of ground hempseeds, or 2–3 tsp of canola oil; and ¼ of a 3.75 oz can of sardines, in water or olive oil, per 1–1¼ pounds of 90–93% lean meats.
Balancing fats in chicken
Chicken parts, as we’ve seen, are high in polyunsaturated fats, especially linoleic acid (LA), a short-chain omega-6 fatty acid, therefore, in chicken recipes, we do not want to add any other foods or oils rich in linoleic acid, such as soybean, safflower, sunflower, canola, walnut, wheat germ, or hempseed oils. Some of these oils are good for beef foods, but they are not good for chicken foods. Do not add any foods, seeds, or oils containing LA to chicken foods, instead add alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) rich ground flaxseeds or flaxseed oil.
Some people advise against the use of flaxseed, believing that many dogs are allergic to flaxseed. However, in many cases I suspect that it is not the flaxseed or oil itself that causes the symptoms of allergies; it may be the fat imbalance, created by adding the omega-3s from flaxseed to beef products without adding an omega-6 source that causes the problems.
Table 5.5 Short-chain omega-6/-3 ratio, lean chicken w/oils, g/1000 kcal
*does not meet standards
Rule of thumb to balance the fats in poultry recipes: remove most of the skin and fat; add 1 teaspoon (4 g) of flaxseed or chia seed oils, or 3 tsp of freshly ground flax or chia seeds; and ¼ of a 3.75 oz can of sardines, in water or olive oil, per 1–1¼ pounds of lean chicken.
Table 5.6 Following the chicken rule of thumb, using thighs, g/1000 kcal
Table 5.7 Fats to add and not to add to lean meats
Step 3: Add sardines or other fish to provide a complete range of fats, including EPA and DHA.
The third step to balancing the fats is to provide an antioxidant-rich source of DHA. Many people add fish oils, but, as I discussed in Chapter 4, I believe that sardines, cooked wild salmon (not raw), and other wild, fatty fish are better for dogs than fish oils. This is especially true when making your own foods because sardines are an excellent source of trace minerals, including iodine, which are often left out of many homemade diets.
Adding fat, even a few grams of fish oil, without adding minerals is probably not a good idea. Compared with the ancestral diet, modern diets—dry, frozen, and homemade—are often mineral short. Minerals are needed to help metabolize fats; adding fat to a food without adding minerals can impair fat absorption, throw off the fat/mineral balance, and can lead to mineral deficiencies. Sardines, on a caloric basis, are one of the most mineral-rich foods available.
Sardines provide antioxidant protection for the fats that you will not find in most refined fish oils. When we eat fresh nuts, seeds, or fish we consume the oils and hundreds of different types of antioxidants with the oils. The antioxidants protect the oils in the food and after we eat them, if the food is fresh, they also protect the fats in our cells from oxidation. Refined oils, though, do not offer the same level of defense against oxidation. During the refining of oils the protective package is removed and many of the antioxidants are destroyed. A few antioxidants, usually vitamins A and E, are added back in primarily to protect the fatty acids in the container; these antioxidants are slowly (or rapidly for poorly packaged products) used up protecting the fragile fats in the container, and therefore there may not be sufficient antioxidant protection for the dog’s internal needs.
EPA and DHA, like most nutrients, provide wonderful health benefits in small amounts, and are detrimental in excess amounts. Feed small amounts (0.2–1 gram of EPA +DHA per day for a 45-pound dog) and you’ll probably make your dog smarter and healthier. Feed much larger amounts and your dog will probably slow down mentally and age at a faster rate.
Special caution: the gallon-sized, clear container of fish oils.
At dog shows I’ve seen gallon-sized, clear, milk-jug type plastic containers of fish oil. Perhaps if one has a lot of large dogs, the price per serving may be appealing, but these containers scare me. The lightweight plastic provides little barrier to air and transmits light, which causes photo-oxidation. Unless you know the manufacturer and the freshness of the fish oil, and have enough dogs to use up the gallon very quickly, I advise you to avoid fish oils in plastic, see-through containers.
Balancing minerals and vitamins
The third key to building excellent recipes is to balance the minerals and vitamins. Here are my recommendations:
1. Ensure proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus for boneless and bone-in recipes.
2. Provide other essential minerals, focusing on iodine, manganese, copper, iron, and zinc, by adding vegetables and other mineral-rich foods.
3. Consider vitamins D and E, but don’t worry about water-soluble vitamins.
Ensure proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus
Calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P) are often called the “macrominerals” in that they are the two minerals that the dog needs in the largest quantities. We measure the Ca and P content in grams per 1000 kcal. When formulating dog foods, it’s important to ensure that there are proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus, in the proper ratio.
If you feed your dog a homemade recipe based on ground beef he will not be getting enough calcium or the proper ratio of calcium to phosphorous as shown in Table 5.8.
Table 5.8 Ca and P, amounts in ground beef, g/1000 kcal
*does not meet any standards
Solution: Add 1.5–2% bonemeal
The easiest way to insure your dog gets enough calcium and is getting the proper ratio of calcium to phosphorous is to add bonemeal to ground beef based recipes. The amount added should equal 1.5–2% of the weight of the meat. Table 5.9 shows the results of adding bonemeal as recommended.
Table 5.9 1.5% bonemeal (typically 29% Ca and 13% P) compared with standards, g/1000 kcal
Rule of thumb: If you’re feeding 93% or leaner meats, add 1.5% bonemeal, or one heaping teaspoon per pound of meat. This meets puppy and adult recommendations. If you’re feeding 85–90% lean meats, add 1.5% for adults and 2% for puppies.
Many calcium rules of thumb are not accurate
Many meat without bone recipes call for the addition of 1–2% of the weight of the meat in eggshell powder, plant-based calcium, or other calcium-only sources to meat in order to provide the proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus and the proper Ca:P ratio. This rule of thumb does not work if you’re trying to: (1) meet NRC puppy recommendations; (2) mimic the ancestral diet; or (3) if you’re feeding fatty meats. I’m not saying that the meals produced using 1–2% eggshell powder are bad—very healthy dogs fed for generations with these recipes speak for themselves. If we’re striving for perfection, though, we can do better.
To meet NRC puppy recommendations and ancestral amounts, one needs to add Ca and P to meats without bone, and base the amount added on the fat content of the meat. Bone is, after all, primarily Ca and P, and bone provides about one-half of the phosphorus in prey animals.38
In Table 5.10, I add eggshell powder at the rate of 1% of the weight of the meat (that would be 4.5 grams per pound of meat). This is because eggshell powder is a good source of Ca, which the meat lacks. Note that this 1% rule will satisfy requirements for adult dogs if you use lean meats. However, if you’re feeding puppies or aiming at the ancestral diet this calcium source does not meet recommendations. For puppies, you must use a calcium source that also provides phosphorus—like bonemeal—as discussed above.
Table 5.10 1% eggshell powder added to lean meats is acceptable for adult dogs, g/1000 kcal
*does not meet any standards
Simply adding 2% eggshell powder to lean or fatty meats obviously increases the Ca, but then the ratio of Ca:P is not balanced, and there is still not enough P for puppies, as shown in Table 5.11.
Table 5.11 2% eggshell powder added to any meats creates a Ca: P imbalance, g/1000 kcal
*does not meet any standards
Bone-in poultry recipes: watch out for too much Ca and P
For bone-in chicken and turkey recipes, a diet of primarily lean necks and backs contains too much Ca and P, as shown in Table 5.12. To match the Ca and P content of the ancestral diet, the lean bone-in parts should be only 40—60% of the meat content of the diet, with the rest of the meat being lean boneless meats.
Table 5.12 Calcium and phosphorus content, g/1000 kcal
Review other essential minerals
Essential minerals are the chemical elements required for life, and must be provided by the diet. The essential minerals for dogs are divided into the macrominerals, measured in grams per 1,000 kcal, and trace minerals, measured in milligrams (one thousanth of a gram), and micrograms (one millionth of a gram) per 1000 kcal. The NRC considers the following minerals essential for dogs:
The trace minerals boron, chromium, molybdenum, silicon, nickel, and vanadium are considered essential for humans, but not yet considered essential for dogs.
One key to providing complete and balanced minerals, once again, is to feed lean meats. They are much more mineral-rich than fatty cuts as was shown in Table 5.2. The other key is to insure organs comprise 15-20% of the meat content. Without the organs, it is not possible to get sufficient minerals in the diet without resorting to human-synthesized forms. When making lean meat diets that include some organ meats, recipes for puppies are often only short in manganese, iron, zinc, and iodine, and sometimes copper and sodium. As discussed below, recipes for adult dogs are less demanding.
Properly prepared vegetables can help provide most of these minerals. See Chapter 4 for a discussion on how to choose and prepare vegetables for dogs and for a list of foods that should NOT be fed to dogs. Vegetables provide minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds, including fiber. The dog’s ancestral diet included fur and indigestible parts of its prey. While not defined as fiber, these parts served a similar function. Since we’re not feeding fur, it’s important to include fiber. In the recipes in Chapter 6, the vegetables provide the fiber, and in the perfect fat recipe (Recipe #3), the optional use of oat bran provides additional fiber.
Manganese is an essential trace mineral that must be considered in every recipe. It’s usually the first trace mineral that I consider because it’s the most difficult to reach standards, and most of the whole food manganese sources I add also contain iron, copper zinc, and often iodine. In the recipes below I add manganese with a combination of spinach, yams, broccoli, flaxseed, hempseed, kelp, and oat bran. The USDA website, http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=17477, lists other manganese-rich foods.
After working out the manganese sources, I look at the copper, iron, and zinc. Quite often, the manganese sources add sufficient amounts of these minerals to meet NRC recommendations. When feeding beef liver, one rarely needs to consider other copper sources.
It’s wise to always ensure a source of iodine, which is essential in very small amounts: a 45-pound dog needs 0.22 mg per day. The best sources include iodized salt, kelp, oysters, sardines, and other seafood. The data on iodine content of foods are sparse and unreliable. The amount of iodine in meat and vegetables is dependent upon the soils in which they were grown, what the animals ate, and other factors. I recommend, therefore, including one or two of the iodine-rich foods mentioned above, and to rotate the sources. For example, in the beef recipe in Chapter 6, I include one can of sardines and 2 teaspoons of iodized salt per 5 pounds of food.
Consider vitamins D and E
It’s important to feed some vitamin D rich foods, especially in the winter, for indoor dogs and dogs with long, dark coats that block the sun. Dogs can make some of their vitamin D needs from sunlight, but only if they get to lay out in the sun and their coat isn’t so thick that it blocks all the sun’s rays. In all the recipes, I include several vitamin D rich foods, including sardines, oysters, eggs, and liver. Diets without at least two of these ingredients may be short in vitamin D.
The amount of vitamin E necessary in a diet is dependent upon the amount and type of polyunsaturated fats fed. The more polyunsaturated fats the dog consumes, especially the highly unsaturated fats like EPA and DHA, the more vitamin E protection the dog requires. The National Research Council’s 2006 report recommends adding between 0.9 (for ALA) to 1.8 mg (for DHA) of vitamin E for every gram of that fatty acid fed to protect the dog’s cell membranes from suffering oxidative damage, as shown in Table 5.13.
Poultry foods, high in PUFAs, require more vitamin E than do beef foods. In the recipes below, I calculate the amount of vitamin E necessary based upon the PUFA content and recommend adding a natural-sourced vitamin E supplement. Natural sources are always listed in the “d” form: d-alpha-tocopherol. Don’t use synthetic dlalpha-tocopherol. Many companies offer natural-sourced vitamin E complexes that, like almonds, include a full range of tocopherols and tocotrienols.
Table 5.13 Estimated minimal requirement of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) needed to compensate for elevated vitamin demand caused by some common unsaturated fatty acids39
In the ABC recipes in Chapter 6, I add EPA and DHA by feeding sardines, which have ample antioxidant protection. If, instead of sardines, you add fish oil to your dog’s food, vitamin E requirements increase. My recommendations, based upon the NRC’s numbers, are to add three freshly crushed raw almonds for every gram of fish oil. Recent studies show that almonds, containing vitamin E and other antioxidant compounds, help reduce damage from oxidation, while some studies suggest that vitamin E alone is less effective.
If you follow recipes similar to my recipes, with lean meats and some vegetables, you do not need to concern yourself with the water-soluble vitamins. The recipes provide ample B vitamins and vitamin C.