Biologically Appropriate Raw Food for Pets

   Understanding Nutritional Declarations

For those of you who wish to better understand the nutritional declarations made on raw food labels and how formulation affects the macronutrients.I was recently made aware of a post in a raw feeding group in which someone commented that the 12% protein declaration on our Chicken & Ostrich Meal seemed low. After reading the various responses, I then came across another raw food label (containing no vegetable matter) with a declared minimum protein of 26%. So 12% would seem rather low in contrast and gave the conversation a context… But I think the real problem here is … the 26% is an unrealistic declaration. And here I will explain as best as I can why. I am going to use actual analysed values for our products and not the declared mins/maxes for accuracy, but the deviation from our labelling is slight.

There are a few ways of registering and formulating pet foods, two of them I will refer to here. The first is via chemical analysis; samples are sent to an accredited laboratory and are analysed chemically, the second way is via calculation; this method involves a nutritionist who will reference accepted nutritional data and using this information calculate the nutritional values of the intended formulation. The commonly used resource for this is the USDA Nutritional Database. The problem with this though, is that is does not give values for what is considered ‘waste’; and this is primarily the bone content. So when you get USDA database info for a chicken drumstick, it gives you only the meat values, not the total meat values combined with the bone and cartilage value. This is a problem for raw food, we need to know the protein, fat and ‘waste’ percentages, because for us, cartilage and bone are certainly not waste. They contain many valuable things, calcium, phosphorus, collagen and fat to name a few things. They also allow us to ‘balance’ our food.

Now when we talk MACRO nutrients, we are referring to three basic things: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate. Depending on the moisture levels, vitamins and inorganic mineral content (ash) of the food, those things will also form a component of the macronutrients. Totalling 100%.

Any whole thing is 100%, you cannot go higher than 100% of a whole. So knowing this, we know that our protein, fat, carbohydrate, ash and moisture should all add up to about 100%. Food labels often use minimums and maximums, so slight variation above that is acceptable – a few % at most. Your total macronutrients should never really exceed about 105% on a label. More than that and the label has an error or the formulation is just wrong or the manufacturer wants too much variation from batch to batch.I will use a few examples to try to illustrate this. The first is a USDA reference which discounts bone and the other is chemical analysis of a very similar product of ours including the bone. The product I will use is 100% meat and offers very similar calcium values to that seen on the label mentioned initially with the 26% protein.USDA data relies on CA (chemical analysis), as do we.

Our formulations are done using USDA values as a basis combined with our own analysis of specific bone containing ingredients and then they are sent off for CA to confirm they align. If they don’t we will usually query and recheck – and more often than not, we are spot on. We use SANAS accredited labs only.

Example 1 – USDA 05053, Chicken, broilers or fryers, back, meat only, raw
Nutrient values and weights are for edible portion ONLY
Moisture 75,31%
Protein 19,56%
Total lipid 5,92%
Carbohydrate 0%
Ash – they don’t give this value but it would be close to 0
Total 100,79%

Example 2 – PaleoPet Pure 100% Chicken
Moisture 68%Protein 18,2%
Total lipid 8,97%
Carbohydrate 1%
Ash 3,6% (this comes from the bone and minerals)
Total 99,77%

So there is very little deviation from our 100% total in both examples above. Our fat is a little higher in Example 2, so our protein is higher in Example 1, our moisture (because our fat is higher) is also lower in Example 2. So basically, with about 6% fat we can get to about 19,5% protein at most when we do not include any bone. But we must include calcium for dogs at at least about 70 g/kg – 0,7% for adult dogs (1% for puppies), but this doesn’t just mean adding 70 g/kg of bone… bone is made up of many things, so get 0,7% calcium you need to add a fair amount of whole bone.

Anyway, in our examples one contains no bone, the other does. The minerals form the ash component. This leads us to addressing the calcium/phosphorus in both… Calcium is always referred to in the ratio value first, it should ideally be the same or higher than the phosphorus, but not exceed a ratio of 2:1 (Calcium to Phosphorus).

Example 1 – USDA 05053, Chicken, broilers or fryers, back, meat only, raw
Nutrient values and weights are for edible portion ONLY
Calcium 0,17 g/kg = 0,017%
Phosphorus 1,51 g/kg = 0,0151%
Ratio 1:8,8 Ow! – we do NOT want this, our ratios are out and the wrong way around and there is not nearly enough calcium for any dog

Example 2 – PaleoPet Pure 100% Chicken
Calcium 13,8 g/kg = 1,38%
Phosphorus 7,8 g/kg = 0,78%
Ratio 1,76:1 Nice – well within the range of a Max of 2:1 for a complete meal – even though it is not and the levels are more than adequate, even for puppies.

Now lets look at what I remember of that label…
Example 3
Moisture MAX 70% – so expect less (68%?)
Protein MIN 26% – so expect more (27?)
Fat MIN 10% – so expect more (11%?)
Carbohydrate – not mentioned, expected none to 1% (0?)

We are already at 106% with the declared values, with the estimates using the mins/maxes we are still at 106% … and we haven’t included any ash (calcium/phos) yet or potential carbohydrate at:
Calcium 1,5%
Phosphorus 0,8%

So that adds more to our 106%. The ratio of 1,87:1 though is still good – within the range of our Max of 2:1.Now lets look at something else … pure lean, beef meat and the values you may get from that … also from the USDA…Lean beef is likely one of the highest protein foods (short of biltong) one can eat meat wise.

Example 4 – USDA 13000, Beef, grass-fed, strip steaks, lean only, raw
Water 73,42%
Protein 23,07%
Total lipid 2,69%
Total 99,18%
Calcium 0,09 g/kg = 0,009%
Phosphorous 2,12 g/kg = 0,21%
Add Cal & Phos to totals = 99,34% (they don’t usually give us an Ash value on USDA).
Ratio 1:23,3

No way do you eat this on any continual basis without developing bone, kidney or liver issues if you are a dog… ratios are over limit and the wrong way around again. Calcium is way too low.

We can presume the missing percentage above is likely vitamin and some of the above mineral content, but we are still less than 1% out of any of the examples above, except example 3.

So Example 3 does contain bone because it mentions Calcium of 1,5% and Phosphorus of 0,8% and it lists it in the ingredients,

Example 4 again, does not have any bone content. It also only has fat of under 3%, but Example 3 mentions a minimum fat of 10%. The moisture only accounts for about 3% difference. Not enough to compensate for the fat of 10% min.This creates a number of mathematical and nutritional incongruencies. We already have declared values exceeding 106% without including the Ash, which is most of our calcium and phosphorus. And we can see in Example 4 that with only 3% fat, we only have 24% protein. So how can we have 70% moisture, 26% minimum protein with 10% minimum fat AND include bone in Example 3?

It is more likely, if you do the math and consider the ingredients, that in-line with the 100% Chicken in Example 2, the protein sits between 15 and at the very most 18%, (but the fat must be lower than 10%, (lower fat, higher protein usually). Once one includes all the relevant aspects in Example 3 (which I won’t go into), you are left with a total exceeding 110%. Bringing the protein down to a realistic level of 15% to 18% will correct those numbers and is more likely what they actual value is. If the calcium/phos and fat declarations are indeed accurate.

Now when we include veggies, fruits and offal, we reduce the protein and fat and usually increase the moisture (we only have 100% to play with – something’s gotta give). We do believe dogs need some vegetable matter that has been pulverised in their diets, so we include this in our complete meals. So now if we examine the actual SANAS report values (not declared values) of the Chicken & Ostrich Meal … we get this:
Moisture 75% (vegetable matter increases moisture, as does offal)
Protein 13% (we under-declare to be safe, offal also has less protein than muscle meat)
Total lipid 7,5%
Carbohydrate 2% (veggies and fruit)
Ash 2,5%
Total 100%
Calcium 0,75%
Phosphorus 0,47% (these are included in the ash above)
Ratio 1,59:1 (Beautiful! Decent levels per 1000 Kcal and ratio is ideal)

So 12 to 13% protein is a very good protein amount for food containing some plant matter with some offal. If you feed balanced cal/phos meat ONLY you would realistically reach about 16% with only 8% fat.

We believe you have to include veggies and fruits in a facultative carnivore’s diet like a dog, they are not obligate carnivores like cats. A 30 year study of wolves found that 10 to 15% of their scat and stomach contents contained fruits, berries and grasses, indicating that wolves (who share about 99,7% of their DNA with dogs), do indeed consume plant matter. Most of our formulations contain around 20% veggies and fruit, when you feed a varied diet using both 100% products and the complete meals you can create a diet very similar to the one your dog may eat in the wild (in a gourmet restaurant in our case). Diets that are meat, offal and bone only lack not only some important vitamins, but also deprive your dog of cellulose which the bacteria in the small intestine rely on as food to produce certain B Vitamins. In some therapeutic cases, quite large volumes of certain veggies are actually recommended. Dr Ian Billinghurst is a good resource for reading up on this.

Adding veggies and fruits also allows one to moderate protein to meet the needs of certain dogs who may not be able to cope with too much protein or phosphorus for kidney, liver, or even weight reasons. They are extremely helpful and most healthy.

Raw food is becoming very popular (largely because it is so much better than commercial food), but it is important that as consumers and feeders of these foods you understand the requirements and declarations to some point, so when you are presented with information which seems inaccurate, you are able to recognise it. Sometimes feeding registered foods is not enough, you should see where your food is produced if you can, and you should definitely feel confident you are being advised by someone who has the knowledge to hopefully give you good and accurate nutritional advice. As this type of feeding becomes more and more popular, more brands will emerge, some will be good, but some may not be and hopefully you will be able to tell the difference with a little knowledge about numbers and nutrition. Remember … Not all raw is created equal.

Isis Limor & The PaleoPet Pure Team

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