We get a lot of questions about which supplements are best to use with a fresh food diet. Which ones are necessary and how do we choose the best ones? This week, we’re looking at our favorite supplements and their benefits when feeding a raw food diet.
Our Supplement Philosophy
Feeding your pet a nutritionally complete, minimally-processed raw diet provides a great foundation to help them thrive. So why do you need supplements? Your pet is an individual and while a raw diet provides basic nutritional requirements, there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to nutrition. This is especially true for growing pets, working dogs, pets with chronic diseases and seniors who all have higher nutrient requirements than the average adult.
We recommend supplements that we believe are essential additions to a balanced raw diet. These food items are often best served fresh. Each supplement routine should be customized for your pets’ specific needs.
At Red Dog Blue Kat, we feel that the best supplements are whole food ones. They complement the raw diet by adding naturally-occurring nutrients that can help your pet thrive on the raw diet. The nutrients in whole food supplements have different molecular structures to their synthetic counterparts. Furthermore, whole foods will contain an array of other nutrients that may work synergistically to increase health benefits of the food. A 2013 study done on the comparison of synthetic and food-derived vitamin C outcomes in humans added this statement to their conclusion: “Although synthetic and food-derived vitamin C appear to be equally bioavailable in humans, ingesting vitamin C as part of a whole food is considered preferable because of the concomitant consumption of numerous other macro- and micronutrients and phytochemicals, which will confer additional health benefits.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847730/)
Just as with food, we recommend giving your pet a variety of supplements and rotating through them in recommended in order to broaden the nutritional profile and to avoid giving too much of a good thing. The key is to provide diversity of nutrients through a variety of foods. For example, if you are giving your pet a probiotic, don’t limit yourself to one type – rotate between several probiotic sources to maximize variety.
The 4 Basics
1. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS. One of the most important things you can add to the raw diet! We recommend that every pet gets a variety of high-quality omega fatty acid sources added to their diet. The benefits are endless! Omega 3’s support brain, heart, kidney, and liver function, prevent and decrease joint inflammation (arthritis), and prevent and decrease gut and skin inflammation. EFA’s are best added fresh because they are extremely delicate and tend to break down quickly after exposure to air and freezing temperatures. Even if the food you are feeding includes these, we do suggest adding extra.
The Whole Food Options: Raw or canned herring, salmon, or mackerel and sardines (canned in water with no salt added). Not only will these foods increase the fatty acid profile but they’ll also boost the trace mineral profile and vitamins D and E which are difficult to adequately provide otherwise.
Feeding a rotation of different omega-rich oils is another way to increase omega 3’s. Though they aren’t technically whole foods, they will benefit your pet if they are freshly fed. We recommend oils from: Mackerel, sardine, krill, flax, chia and hemp.
Some of our favorite brands:
Tips for finding the best omega fatty acid supplements:
- Use oils in glass amber bottles.
- Buy from stores that refrigerate the product.
- Purchase small amounts and use up often (within approximately 1 month).
- Choose oils with natural preservatives such as lignan, vitamin E (tocopherols), rosemary extract or citrus extract.
2. TRACE VITAMINS, MINERALS AND ANTIOXIDANTS. You can achieve a good balance of micronutrients if you’re feeding a variety of raw foods to your pet but when it comes to phytonutrients, it’s best to provide as many as possible and to feed them fresh (eg. fresh ground veggies). You can also choose a rotation of whole food supplements that will help to broaden the micronutrient profile of your pets’ diet. Increasing the micronutrients and antioxidants can help to prevent inflammation throughout the body, increase immune function and may even prevent cancer and auto-immune diseases.
Organic, free range egg yolks.
As motioned above, adding whole canned sardines from the grocery store (no salt) is also a great way to increase microminerals and omega fatty acids!
3. CALCIUM AND PHOSPHORUS. Calcium and phosphorus are macro-minerals which means they exist in the body in large amounts and, therefore, the body has high nutritional requirements for them compared to other minerals. While most commercial diets will have minimum amounts of these minerals, they are often insufficient for growth. Calcium and phosphorus are essential for bone and joint health, especially correct growth in young animals, and also play major roles in nervous system and cardiac health.
Raw bone is the first choice for calcium and phosphorus. If you’re feeding a good variety of raw foods including whole and ground bones, you’re doing just fine. For those pets with protein sensitives or digestive concerns, raw bones might not always be an option. You still need to balance the calcium and phosphorus. If you’re feeding boneless meats to your pet, you’ll want to add one of the following: Fresh, frozen raw bone powder, powdered bone meal (food grade only), eggshell powder (not ideal for growing pets) or a synthetic calcium and phosphorus supplement.
Our favorite calcium sources:
- For bone meal, making your own from dried poultry bones is ideal. Simply save your chicken or turkey bones, cut them into small pieces while they are still fresh an moist and then dry then thoroughly for several weeks before grinding them to powder in a coffee grinder.
- Hatched! 100% Organic Eggshell Powder
- You can also make your own eggshell powder at home by saving your egg shells, drying them thoroughly (for several weeks) and grinding them in a coffee grinder. You can also bake eggshells in the over at 300 degrees F for 5-7 minutes to dry them out fast before grinding them. Dosage is around 1 tsp of eggshell powder per 1 pound of meat.
- Healthy Hound Total Health for Dogs
Tips for finding the best calcium supplements:
- When choosing a bone meal supplement, be sure that it’s food grade (not the kind from the garden store), made is a USDA-approved facility and that the product is tested for heavy metals and is safe for your pet.
- Don’t use bonemeal with added vitamin D.
- Use eggshell powder for adult pets only. It doesn’t contain enough phosphorus for growing pet.
4. PROBIOTICS. This is a BIG topic! At Red Dog Blue Kat, we consider probiotics to be an essential part of a healthy diet, especially when it comes to immune and digestive health. In recent years, there have been a plethora of studies done on the benefits of specific bacterial strains found in the gut and in other parts of the body. These bacteria work symbiotically with our pets’ metabolisms in order to promote health and wellness. When these cultures are disturbed, major health problems can appear. Some commonly noted diseases that may be related to imbalanced gut bacteria include irritable bowel disease, inflammatory skin diseases and some metabolic diseases including diabetes. Disruptions in a healthy microbiome may be caused by poor diet, emotional stress and environmental factors such as antibiotic therapy or exposure to environmental toxins. We think the addition of probiotics is so important that we’ve dedicated the next 3 weeks to discussing them!
For a fantastic lecture on the potential health benefits of balancing the microbiome, check out microbiologist Johnathan Eisen’s TED talk here:
Check out our 3 part probiotic blog series coming up next!