Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Many of our canines and felines weigh more than they should. There’s no argument about that! Whether our very own dogs and cats are overweight – well, downright fat – that’s a lot different.

We have a hard time even knowing whether our pets are fat. Owning up, and learning to see the problem, is the first step in helping your dog or cat live longer. If we do, our pets will avoid some of the most common diseases that eventually shorten their lives.  It’s a lot easier than taking the weight off our human bodies: our pets only eat what we give them. Check the body conditions score charts at the Purina website or at your vet for a good evaluation tool. Veterinarians say that a very large number of people evaluate their animals as “just right” or “built like that” when the veterinarian says “obese”.

Do you leave food out for your dog and cat? This is one of the most common causes for obesity. Pick up that food. This will benefit your pet in many ways beyond just limiting their food intake. Another common cause for overweight is feeding too much. Seems too simple, but that’s what this series of posts is about.

It is truly confusing to try to sort out commercial foods. What’s with all the diet food? What’s the difference?  What’s best for your pet?

In the very simplest approach, your pet needs to eat the amount of food that meets his needs and no more. Open the pdf chart below to see a range of activity levels, life stages and calories needed  daily. If you know the amount of calories your dog needs, you have a place to start (sorry, no chart for felines yet!).

Caloric Requirement Postcard

So……your 50# moderately active, medium age dog needs about 1145 calories per day. There are many ways to meet that need. You can use dry food,  or canned food, or frozen food, or one of the array of dehydrated and freeze-dried foods. You can make food at home, using our book, Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, as a guide.

In this first segment, we’ll look at dry foods.

Foods made for all life stages are appropriate for the overweight – they just need to eat the right amount. Often, a real measuring cup is needed more than a new food.

We think that diet foods are more for the humans than for the dogs and cats. Diet foods have a reduced calorie count, achieved in a number of ways. Less fat, more fiber, more grain (thus less fat) and sometimes even not-so-nice additions like a hefty amount of peanut hulls. Stay away from that one.  The humans get to hand out more diet food – since it has fewer calories, the serving is bigger. But this bigger serving has a cost: more metabolically inappropriate starch, and less fat. The natural diet of a dog or a cat would have about 20% fat, and those would be really good fats (see our book for recommendations to ensure that you pet gets the good fats in her diet). We prefer that you use foods for all life stages. Consult the package carefully to see what the calorie count is. If it isn’t there, check the website, or call the company. Below are a few examples of good quality dry foods, with the calorie count for one cup. That is an official,  LEVEL DRY MEASURING CUP, not a scoop or a yogurt container.

Canine Caviar Adult                                          599 kcal per cup

Canine Caviar Venison and Split Pea            596 kcal per cup

Fromm Chicken ala Veg                                    370 kcal per cup

Fromm Salmon ala Veg                                    405 kcal per cup

Horizon Adult                                                    415 kcal per cup

Merrick Cowboy Cookout                                359 kcal per cup

Mulligan Stew Chicken                                    480 kcal per cup

Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken                    391 kcal per cup

These “all life stages” foods range from 370-599kcal per cup. Clearly, all dry food is not alike.  Some all-stages foods have 325, a few have even more than the heftiest of those above.

Your dog might get 3 cups of food a day, or a little less than 2 cups of food. If you don’t do the calculations, you may have a very chunky dog in no time. You might think that there is something wrong – when it’s just a question of too many calories.

Which food agrees with your dog or cat is another topic entirely, but if you at least take the time to figure this part out you’ll have a good idea of how much to start with.

The directions on the package may or may not reflect the way the food performs in your dog’s body. In young skinny dogs, people often feed more and more in the hope that their pet will put some weight on. Like young humans, they might just burn up the extra food – or they may poop it out (these are BIG poops) until the day comes that they start to pack it on as fat. The dogs and cats we’re talking about here have the opposite problem. If you find that you are having to feed your pet much less than the package directs, there is a good chance the they are not getting the proper amount of nutrients. The food is planned so that the directed amount provides the appropriate nutrients.

Many obese pets (ok, a little fat) in our experience cannot handle high-grain foods and do much better on species-appropriate, real food diets, with a more appropriate balance of protein/fat/carbohydrate than can be provided by a regular pet food.

It is tempting to try one of the “grain free” dry foods, marketed to be the next best thing to real food, but they are much denser foods, with far more calories. We didn’t use any of these as examples above. The serving size is smaller and there is no water to help the body process these foods. We’re not big fans of these foods in general, though they can have a place in a rotation of dry foods.

If your pet seems to be one of those that gains on a very small amount of food, real food is probably a better choice. More exercise certainly helps, but real food AND exercise is the best choice in this situation. A frozen diet can be a good choice, or a home-made one. Canned food can provide an appropriate fat/protein/carb profile, but canned food has even more choices and a broader calorie range.

We’ll get to canned food next!


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If you make food at home for your dogs, cats, or other creatures, an important goal is to get both the levels of Calcium and the ratio of Calcium to Phosphorus correct. Biologically appropriate amounts of Calcium and Phosphorus are critical for musculoskeletal growth, development, maintenance, normal organ function and central nervous system health.

Most people feeding a fresh food diet are aware of this concern. However, opinions about how to get it right are in serious conflict. Below are some facts that will allow you to evaluate those opinions when you read them. The tables might seem a bit intimidating to those with an aversion to numbers. If you take the time to read them, you’ll see that differences in approach make a big difference in nutrition.

Bone in the Ancestral Diet

The skeletal mass of the prey animals of felines and canines ranges from about 4% to no more than 11%. Bone contains Calcium, Phosphorus, many trace minerals, and other nutrients. To replicate the natural diet, this balance of bone to meat should be close to that of the natural diet, which consists mostly of small prey animals. The easiest way to do this is to include bone in the diet, using easily digestible sources like chicken necks. If you don’t want to feed whole bone, it can be ground. Then it’s mostly a matter of knowing how much to use. If you stick to the balance of bone in a prey animal, you’ll be within the range of the natural diet.

When a supplement is used instead of bone imbalances may occur. Common supplements include bone meal, freeze dried bone (MCHA), and various products that are mostly Calcium with no Phosphorus. The examples in the tables below will help you sort out this issue for yourself.

Calcium and Phosphorus in bone and meat

Much of the Phosphorus in the prey animal is in the bone. The table below shows a typical analysis. A whole ground chicken contains about 1.4% Phosphorus. Just ground chicken, with no bone, is about .1%. About 90% of the Phosphorus in a whole animal is in the bone.

Percentages of Calcium and Phosphorus in chicken meat  or chicken with bone
Ground chicken no bone Ground whole chicken
Calcium %, Dry Matter basis .03% 2.2%

Phosphorus %, Dry Matter basis



Nutrient content of commercial meat-based diets should be evaluated on a caloric basis. Often, food is evaluated by weight. This can be misleading: if a food contains everything needed, but your dog only gets to eat half the recommended amount for his weight, is he getting everything he needs?

It’s more accurate to evaluate based on nutrients per 1000 calories. The table below shows how many grams of Calcium or Phosphorus are in 1000 calories of ground turkey and turkey necks, and compares those to AAFCO standards for all life stages and the amounts in the ancestral diet.

Grams of Calcium and Phosphorus per 1000 calories:
Ground turkey no bone Turkey neck Ancestral diet AAFCO min

All stages canine


0.1 grams

7.3 grams 5.7 grams 2.9 grams
Phosphorus 1.1 grams 4.1 grams 3.5 grams 2.3 grams

The table below compares ways suggested in various plans to complete diets that consist of meat only.

Recommended levels from the National Research Council (NRC) and AAFCO (the association that sets animal feed standards) are included for the purpose of comparison. Though these standards are not perfect, they do represent time tested, valid ideas about what levels of nutrients are needed to support life, as well as current knowledge about optimum nutrition. Numbers in the column labeled “Ancestral” are based on analysis in several studies of the actual diets of wild felines and canines.

If just eggshell powder is added to meat, the amount of Phosphorus is below the AAFCO minimum and below the NRC recommended level for puppies. The amount of Phosphorus in the Ancestral column shows a radically different number from that in those columns where only calcium is added. It’s clear that adding Calcium only does not meet either the levels of the ancestral diet, or the levels recommended for puppies by the NRC.

Comparison of Calcium and Phosphorus using 90% lean beef
AAFCO all stages


NRC puppy Ancestral


Meat only Meat + egg shell powder Meat + 2% Calcium from sea vegetation Meat + 2.5% bone meal
Calcium 2.9 gram 3.0 grams 5.7 grams 0.1 grams 3.1 grams 2.7 grams 3.1 grams
Phosphorus 2.3 grams 2.5 grams 3.5 grams 0.6 grams 0.6 grams 0.7 grams 1.7 grams

Calcium Phosphorus ratios are shown below. This is most important for growing puppies, but it seems sensible to try to stay in the range of the ratios recommended, which are much closer to the natural diet than they are to meat supplemented with products that lack significant Phosphorus.

Comparison of Calcium Phosphorus ratios

in meat only, meat with Calcium added, and meat with bone supplement added

AAFCO All stages


NRC puppy Ancestral


Meat only Meat + 2% eggshell powder Meat + 2% Calcium from sea vegetables Meat + 2.5% bone meal
Calcium to Phosphorus ratio 1.3 to 1 1.2 to 1 1.6 to 1 0.17 to 1 5.2 to 1 3.9 to 1 1.8 to 1

Now you have a lot of facts!

Comparing numbers like these can be confusing for the inexperienced! It might seem unlikely that you will ever need to know information this detailed, and perhaps you won’t. However, there are many “experts” giving diet advice. It’s easy to be swayed by what seems to sound good. After all, it’s an article in a magazine; it must be accurate, right? Not necessarily. With the facts above, you can better evaluate what you read and hear.

What’s the best plan? The balance of nutrients dogs and cats have thrived on for countless generations is likely to be the best answer. It’s a practical, sensible goal for your basic feeding program, easily adapted for the needs of individual animals. The numbers above use canine standards for the purpose of explanation. The amounts of these minerals are slightly different for cats.  See our book, Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, by Beth Taylor and Karen Becker, naturalpetproductions.com, for ways to make food that provides that natural balance.

Many thanks to Steve Brown for the tables and analysis. See his new book, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, seespotlivelonger.com, for lots of new information about fats!

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