Category Archives: Food, Feeding, and the ‘Prey Model’

Organ Menu: Body Systems and Their Place in the Diet

This is the second post about organs. if you haven’t seen it already, please visit What Is Classified As Organ? In that post the distinctions between organs and other tissues were covered, as well as why raw diets need organs, and a list of organs. In this post I’ll provide a synopsis of individual organs and discuss what role parts and pieces can or should play in the diet.

In the following descriptions you’ll come across suggestions to look up the breakdown of nutrients for yourself, which I highly recommend doing. The same organs from different animals may have general similarities, but also variances when it comes to nutrient qualities and densities — too much to detail here. You can use either (or both) NutritionData and/or USDA Food Composition Databases and search for specific items. If you’d like to browse I’ve provided a link at the end of the post.

LIVER — The quintessence of the organs and a MUST HAVE no matter what is liver. If you’re coming from a prey model angle, this organ is very large by volume and weight compared to the other internal organs. (It’s not the biggest — stomach and lungs are bigger, but more on that in a minute.) Observations of wild animals show that the liver is not only eaten, but often chosen among the first morsels to be eaten after a kill (link to page with sources). If you take a look at the nutrients that can be derived from eating liver you can see why it’s important. Liver is a very nutrient dense organ, and it contains some vitamins that just plain don’t exist in significant concentrations in any other body part, even other organs. Liver should be fed in amounts of about 5% of the overall diet, which is to say about half of your total organ allotment. A bit more (within reason) is fine and likely a bit less is too.

You may have heard about liver and the possibility of vitamin A toxicity. Information about this is on a separate page: The Reality of Vitamin A Toxicity. In short, you really don’t have to worry about it as long as you’re feeding a reasonable amount of liver.

 

 

KIDNEYS — Kidneys are also nutritionally important. From a prey model angle you can see that they aren’t present in the size/weight proportion that liver is, but they’re significant. (Plus there’s two — ‘one for me, one for you’ in the wild animal world I like to imagine, but our lucky dogs can have ’em both!) If you look at nutrient break-downs you’ll notice the kidneys are very good sources of some minerals that, again, are more highly concentrated than in other body parts and should be fed to raw-fed dogs and cats.

SPLEEN — Spleen is a sort of “grey area” organ. It’s significant in size, but not quite the overall nutrient powerhouse that liver and kidneys are despite its similarity in appearance: dark, reddish purpley, and squishy  — with it’s weird mottled surface I call it ‘alien autopsy’. It is incredibly  high in iron and contains a lot of vitamin C when it’s fresh — not a trait of liver or kidney. Spleen is an excellent addition to raw diets, but not absolutely crucial.

PANCREAS/THYMUS — These organs are functionally different and from different areas in the body, but you’ll find them both available as “sweetbreads”, either combined or separate. We are now into the organs that are solidly ‘optional’. Like other organs, this organ/gland duo packs a good vitamin and mineral punch, so why not use them in moderation when you can find them? From a prey-model perspective they’re relatively small and pretty fatty (a good thing if not overdone), so they should be more “sometimes” foods. On the flip side, if you cannot find them you do not need to worry about the balance of your raw diet!

BRAIN — Brain is another food that has some nutrients presented in a way that plain ol’ muscle meat and bones do not, but is hardly a “must” in the diet. In natural prey animals the brain is really not very significant in weight compared to overall body weight. (I know a cow is not really a natural prey animal, but I’ve been wanting to regurgitate this statistic for years: Did you know a cow’s brain only weighs about a pound? For an animal that can weigh 1,500 pounds that’s not a lot of grey matter!) Again, good from a variety standpoint. Feed in moderation if it’s available.


ALL THAT OTHER STUFF: Now we get to the “other” organs. These are the ones most people say to feed as “meat” instead of “organ”. Are they necessary? Probably not, but there are some great reasons to feed them. One is price, another is just plain variety. There is definitely value in opening up the variety you can offer by feeding parts other than skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscle should make up the majority of the meat portion of the diet. I never tire of emphasizing the importance of meaty bones, but using the following organ systems as part of the meaty-meat part of your pet’s diet is a great way to mix things up, and can make raw feeding more affordable. Each part does have unique nutritional properties, so in the name of variety and fulfilling that “prey model” feed the weird bits too!

TONGUE — Tongue is a great piece of meat for dogs. Most people can find both beef and pork tongue easily. Depending on local tastes it can be really cheap or really expensive, though! Where I live pork tongue is moderately priced, but beef tongue is so so expensive I’ve never even considered it. Tongue is wonderfully chewy and presents a nice challenging meal for most dogs. It’s also more or less boneless, so a great item to offer when you need to eke out bony things like chicken parts. It is on the fatty side, so you’ll want to feed within reason and moderation. People usually favor different parts for different dishes; Sometimes you can buy the whole tongue, other times it’s just the front part. Either way it’s good eatin’.

HEART — Heart is a special muscle and there’s no other one quite like it in the body. Heart is not super special compared to skeletal muscle nutritionally, but it does have quite a bit more iron. It also has more vitamin B12 than skeletal muscle, but not more than liver or some of the other organs listed above. For some reason heart has the reputation of being high in taurine, but that level is actually moderate, and there are a lot of other cuts of actual skeletal muscle that have more. Because of the relatively high iron content, feeding in excess can cause loose dark stools. Heart can be a great inexpensive food, and it’s OK to feed in excess of what you might find proportionately in a prey animal, but it shouldn’t make up a wildly disproportionate part of the the diet. You see info being passed around that heart shouldn’t make up more than X% of the diet. Remember that these are guidelines, and there is no magic number that describes “safe” vs. “unsafe”. Use common sense and pay attention to the pet you’re feeding!

GIZZARD — (not found in mammals) — Gizzards are the muscles that surround a special sac in many bird species including chickens and turkeys (as well as some other animals), which function as a ‘second stomach’ in breaking down food. The part you buy for eating is a very tough muscle usually with quite a bit of connective tissue attached. The nutrient profile is not dissimilar to many skeletal muscle cuts, though higher in iron and selenium, and they have vitamin C. Like heart, gizzards can be fed in portions that would never be possible in nature, but keep it within reason. There is more about the actual structure and potential use of gizzards in photos and commentary on this page: Gizzard Goodness.

STOMACH (Tripe) — The subject of tripe is covered pretty thoroughly on the FAQ page. Please view that entry for more about feeding tripe. There is also a really informative article written by Plear Littlefield that can be found on the Raw Feeding Community website here: https://therawfeedingcommunity.com/2017/05/26/green-tripe-whats-all-the-stink-about/

LUNGS — Lung is an interesting organ both in its nutritive properties and as a structure. (Buy it at least once just to examine for yourself as a point of interest in biology and physiology!) It’s not the most common thing to find, but it is available, and is worth getting from time to time. Fresh lung is actually very high in vitamin C compared to a lot of other body parts, save spleen, which it is on par with. It also contains about as much iron as most of the organs listed in the first part, which is to say far more than ‘regular’ muscle meats. Given lots of vitamin C and iron, large amounts in a sitting can cause loose stools. It can be deceptive — hunks of lung look and feel like a wet pink marshmallow, which you assume is kind of like filler, but it’s nutrient dense! Like many other items in this category, lung can be fed regularly, but shouldn’t be fed to the exclusion of meaty bones. A ‘sometimes’ food for sure.

TRACHEA/ESOPHAGUS (GULLET) — The trachea and esophagus are the ‘wind pipe’ and the ‘food pipe’ respectively — tubes that connect the head to the thorax and abdomen. They are pretty unique structures in that they are constructed from a lot of specialized tissues. Despite not having actual bone they are very rigid, which is due to the cartilaginous properties of the organs. Cartilage is a connective tissue, which literally boiled down results in gelatin. While nutritive, cartilage is not an ideal source of protein or vitamins/minerals. There is also smooth muscle present (different from skeletal muscle), but not enough to really be appropriate as a protein source. These ‘pipes’ make for a fun chewy meal or snack for a dog or cat, but would only make up a “meal” in as much as the rest of the chunk of animal that they’re attached to.

LYMPH RELATED TISSUE — The lymphatic system in any body — regardless of species — exists to transport lymph fluid around the body. Lymph fluid serves many important functions. When you think of a liquid in a body, you probably think “blood”, but lymph makes up a large part of it, though clear and unremarkable. There are also lymph nodes, which are blobby structures that are part of the immune system and serviced by the various vessels that carry lymph around the body.  I don’t know anywhere that you can actually buy lymph tissue as a food item specifically, but I wanted to mention it in the name of being thorough. When you get a whole animal you might see a bunch of tissue that’s unrecognizable — definitely not the the larger more common “food” items. This might just be something you don’t recognize, it also very well might be lymph tissue. It’s all fine and good for your pet to eat, though somewhat unclassifiable, and will likely just be counted in with ‘meat’ weights.

SALIVARY AND HORMONE-SECRETING GLANDS — There are several glands within the body that, like lymph tissue, are probably not something you’re going to cut out of a whole animal or larger cut and declare “food”, but know that they’re in there. I’ve seen photos of salivary glands sold as cuts of ‘meat’, but I have no idea if there are any unique nutritive qualities. Of course these would be found in whole tongues. Go ahead and feed all the blobby goodness! Not everything has to be some nutrient-packed food powerhouse.

PENIS — Most dog owners at this point have at least seen “bully sticks” for sale at pet stores, and know what they are. You might see raw “pizzle” for sale at ethnic and specialty markets. Some folks like dehydrating their own ‘bully stick’ treats, others will serve it raw. This is one cut that I, personally, actually have never seen for sale raw, and haven’t actively sought. Penis is primarily vascular tissue, which is to say from a nutritional angle comparable to cartilage or tendon. Actual nutrition breakdown information is scarce, but I’m willing to put forth that if you happen to see some for sale, pick it up just for the novelty if you like, but — like other not-so-meaty non-RMB items — feed sparingly.

TESTICLES — There are many raw feeders who regularly feed testicles, which go by many other names and clever euphemisms. I, personally, am not one of them. (For a while I could buy cases of lamb “fries” through my raw food buyer’s group, but they were expensive, so I put my money towards more valuable food.) Some raw feeders even give them the nutritional status of other ‘actual’ organs and do not feed them as just another source of boneless meat. Testicles are actually reasonably popular as food that people eat, too, but for all the popularity there is no nutrition information on either the USDA nutrient database or NutritionData. Internet hunting reveals that I am not the only one who has searched for reliable nutrient info, but has been left hanging. The info I was able to find (see links at the end of the post) reveal that testicles are comparable to cuts of muscle meat in protein, fat, and calories. By weight they contain quite a bit of cholesterol, but still not even close to what brain has, and about the same as lung. As specialized organs, they are bound to confer micronutrients and other biologically active compounds that might not be present in similar concentrations in other meats or organs, but without concrete data I am not going to make those kinds of leaps. I have heard anecdotally that they’re a good source of zinc and selenium, however it’s always necessary to remember that “good” as a qualifier is relative. Another blog cites an academic journal from 1965 [abstract here, I’m not paying the $40 to verify — I’ll leave that up to you], that has a bit more nutrition info about testicles — apparently the most to be found, as the cite is all over diet blogs. It gives an amount of zinc that is merely so-so. The zinc content from the study is out-done by beef liver by four times. Further, there is more zinc in some muscle meat cuts than there is in liver, so there you have it. That said, testicles are — according to this blog — especially potent food source of the enzyme hyaluronidase. Whether or not this is particularly useful is up for debate, but it is a good argument for feeding every bit of an animal in some quantity, even if it’s just small amounts not very often.

To sum up on the testicle thing — I do not see a lot of evidence that testicles are nutritionally potent in amounts to warrant status as an organ on par with liver, kidney, brain, etc. Feed infrequently or not at all.

UTERUS AND OTHER FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM PARTS — The uterus is an organ found in female mammals and birds, though the structures in various species differ in function. Uterus is one of those ‘meaty’ parts that has a so-so nutritional profile and can definitely be fed as a “sometimes” food, but shouldn’t be fed disproportionately to muscle meat. (A link to a nutrient breakdown of pork uterus can be found in the resources list of URLs at the bottom of the post.)

Ovaries are the female gonads (testes are that of the male), but quite small in the grand scheme of things. The chances are that you’d find ovaries on their own for sale as food would be slim, but they would be present in whole prey. Of course there are other tissues (mostly connective and fatty) — both male and female — belonging to the reproductive system that would, again, likely be fed as part of a whole prey items, but aren’t really worth considering as individual parts.

SPINAL CORD AND OTHER NERVOUS TISSUE — Feeding nervous system tissue is a rather highly debated practice, as prion diseases like “mad cow” and other transmissible encephalopathies (conditions that affect the brain and are contracted from an outside source) can be transmitted via the consumption of nervous tissue from affected animals. There has been evidence produced that dogs are resistant to contracting prion diseases (source), but some people still choose to play it safe and avoid nervous tissue as food. (Precautions could serve to inhibit the cycle of prion disease spread, so it’s not a bad idea at all to avoid feeding and properly disposing of certain items from infected animals even if your dog won’t get a canine version of “mad cow disease”.) Like many other items appearing at the end of this food list, aside from brains you’re unlikely to find nervous tissue as a food item separate from meat and bones, and individual nutritional analysis is not readily available. In most cases feeding things like neck bones that will contain spinal tissue is a safe and perfectly healthy practice. It’s not so much one of nutrients, as it is the fact that items containing larger areas of nervous tissue are valuable food items on the whole.

EYES AND OTHER SENSORY ORGANS — Eyeballs are one of those novel items that you might have available to you, as they are a part of many ethnic cuisines. Nutritionally they’re nothing spectacular, but do have a fatty component, and have a nice DHA/EPA load. If you want to feed them sparingly, go for it, but they are really more of an “extra” than a solid meaty portion of the diet. Other sensory tissue is most likely to be very much tied in to muscle and connective tissue.

SKIN — You’ve heard that “skin is the largest organ”, and that’s totally true! Skin is not fed as an organ, however, and you’ll want to feed it as part of your “meat” allotment, not as a separate entity. Even though an animal’s skin is large in surface area, it’s not really all that major by volume, and skin should be fed as part of what it is attached to more than as a food item on its own.

Skin is made up of layers, and when we consider it from a nutritional point of view it usually includes the layer of subcutaneous (under the skin) fat, which is why you might associate skin as being “fatty”. The outer layer of skin is made up of epithelium and keratinocytes — specialized cells that form the protective layer that shields the tissues under it from the outside world. The layers below for all practical purposes are connective tissue, and interspersed with glands that are too small and integrated to talk about separately. The skin of mammals is covered in fur or hair, which may or may not be fed as well. Many people remove the skin from food items fearing the fatty layer, which can be a useful tactic given an animal that should avoid relatively large portions of fat for health reasons like tendencies towards pancreatitis. If your pet’s health or constitution does not require special care to avoid fat, go ahead and leave the layer of skin and fat on. Fat is an important component in the diet of a carnivore. Most food animal skin is nice and thick and chewy, giving a great work-out to the pet who has to chew through it to get to the good muscle meat underneath. Pig skin, especially, is a great food item for ‘flossing’ and polishing teeth as a dog or cat eats it.


Coming soon! Part 3 in the discussion of organs: The practical side of feeding organs — How to feed organs (Mash ’em? Mix ’em? Feed ’em whole? Daily or weekly?); what to expect from the other end (Decipher and avoid the commonly associated “splarts”); and how to generally best get that 10% into your pet!


Outside links related to food, nutrient requirements, and feeding. Please copy and paste URL into your favorite internet browser.

Merck Manual: Nutritional Requirements and Related Diseases of Small Animals:
http://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-small-animals/nutritional-requirements-and-related-diseases-of-small-animals

A list of links to NutritionData pages for organs:
http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-variety%20meats000000000000000000000.html


Resources used in this post. All accessed by the author in the writing of this post, June 2017. Please copy and paste URL into your favorite internet browser.

General info on Vitamin A:
https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-a

More info on Vitamin A:
www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/vitamin-a-saga/

Vitamin A, animal specific:
https://www.dsm.com/markets/anh/en_US/Compendium/companion_animals/vitamin_A.html

A blog that has the 2006 NRC required nutrients for dogs published in a simple format:
http://rdafordogs.blogspot.ca/

Nutrition information on testicles from the WAPF:
www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/food-features/rocky-mountain-oysters-expanding-on-the-list-of-organ-meats/

More regarding nutrients and testicles:
dontcookyourballs.com/zinc-copper-and-selenium-in-reproduction

Nutrients in pork uterus:
http://slism.com/calorie/111171/

Information about dogs and prion-disease resistance:
https://arxiv.org/abs/1106.4628

Nutrient info for caribou eyeballs:
http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/ethnic-foods/8089/2


 

 

 

 

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Gizzard Goodness

Gizzards are an organ found in many species of birds including chickens, turkeys, and ducks — in other words common livestock. The gizzard is a set of two muscles and a lot of connective tissue that surround a sac which contains at the time of slaughter partially digested food and little pebbles. The gizzard works in tandem with the stomach to break down food. The true stomach is where chemical changes take place and is similar to a mammal’s stomach. The gizzard breaks down food mechanically employing gastroliths (click the link — the Wikipedia entry on gastroliths, totally fascinating!) — which in the case of domestic birds are pebbles or grit the bird consumes — and more less can be compared to what happens with food in an animal that has a mouth with teeth for grinding. Food that enters the gizzard is churned by way of the strong muscles on the outside of the sac, grinding it against the grit. Food can pass between the gizzard and the stomach both ways until it’s ready to pass on to the next stage of digestion and absorption.

The gizzard muscles make for good eating, and are often available for good prices, making them nice for raw feeders. Incidentally they can be prepared in a variety of ways for people, and in my opinion they’re very good! (My favorite is battered/breaded and deep-fried and dipped in ketchup just like I first ever had them from the neighborhood hoagie shops and corner stores in Philadelphia when I was just a “pup”.) Gizzards are one of the internal organs of meat birds put together called “giblets” — those parts that come in the little pack inside the Thanksgiving turkey and other birds meant for roasting. If they don’t just toss those valuable parts in the trash, most people use them for gravy or stock, or let their dogs have a once-a-year snack that’s probably better than the rest of the years diet on the whole. They’re also usually available at grocery stores and through butchers as packs or trays of the muscle parts of the organs separated from the inner sac and ready for a pet’s meal. Size can range from very small to the size of the ones in these photos, which were from pretty large mature chickens. If you’re lucky you might be able to get ostrich or emu gizzards which are HUGE!

Gizzards as fed according to a “prey model” approach might only make up the tiniest fraction of recommended portions — if anything — but the gizzard is really just a nice bit of dark muscle that sees a LOT of work over the life of the bird. Compared to cuts of skeletal muscle from various animals, gizzards are pretty much on par except they are a bit higher in iron and selenium than most, and there’s a bit of vitamin C. Even though the gizzard is functionally an organ — which is to say a network of specialized tissues — in a carnivore’s raw diet they are nutritionally more similar to meat (skeletal muscle). When working within the 80-10-10 framework they should be fed as part of the 80-ish percent meat portion.

You can safely and effectively use gizzards in excess of ‘prey model’ amounts, but for a couple reasons they should not be used as the predominant or sole source of meat. One of the commonly overlooked reasons is that they’re just chunks of muscle, not ‘meaty bones’. While they’re nice and tough and chewy and might present a bit of a work-out for a cat or very small dog, they won’t for big dogs who could easily snarf down a meals worth of gizzards like a person would a bowl of breakfast cereal. Food needs to be more for a carnivore, so small boneless meaty things should not be fed to the exclusion of more challenging items.

If you’re in a position to get farm-fresh parts right from a slaughter or raise birds yourself and can get whole gizzards like the ones shown, it’s my suggestion that you remove the grit-sac from the gizzard prior to feeding unless you’re feeding the whole bird totally in-tact and don’t mind your dog figuring out what’s edible and what’s just a bunch of pebbles and strewing them all over. Do this by using a sharp paring knife and slicing where the two lumps of muscle come together. Make the cut from “top” to “bottom”. (Sorry, I would have shown this, but handling a gizzard and a camera took two hands, and I didn’t have another photographer around! Maybe next year.) You can then feed as-is with the connective tissue all in tact. Don’t bother with meticulous cleaning. If you’re new to cooking gizzards for human consumption but want to try, you’ll want to not only clean them very well, but trim off the really gristly bits. For me this usually means separating out the two big muscle lumps, then cooking according to my chosen recipe. I toss the rest in with parts I keep for soup stock — connective tissue intensive bits are perfect for adding to meat/bone broths! (Of course the dog watching you from his or her “I’m not actually begging but, umm, if you’re not going to eat that I will” spot would probably enjoy those bits too!)

The photos accompanying this post were taken by yours truly. I get a yearly haul of chickens from a local acquaintance who raises the birds for eggs and meat, and last year I made sure to ask him to save me a load of gizzards (and feet, of course, but that’s a different post!). He thought I was crazy for wanting them and said he’d just give them to me, but that he wouldn’t clean them. A little work for a good meal is never a problem for me (OK, cleaning gizzards is actually a lot of work for the meat you get, but still not a problem), and this turned out to be a great way to share what a whole gizzard looks like with Pack Lunch readers!


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The Reality of Vitamin A Toxicity

You might hear that feeding over the suggested liver amount of about 5% of the overall diet is a recipe for vitamin A toxicity, but this is grossly exaggerated and misunderstood. The fact is that you’d have to feed a ridiculous amount of liver to achieve toxicity, but “because I say so” has never been good enough for me, I’d imagine it isn’t for you. Let’s explore this.

One of the fun things about figuring out nutrient requirements and safe upper limits is that no two sources can ever seem to agree on numbers, and new discoveries are always being made which affect recommendations. The following numbers and figures are an amalgamation of figures from several different sources and publication years unless specifically stated (including the NRC and AAFCO), which are all listed at the end of this post. The point is not to provide exact figures, but to illustrate that you don’t need to be all that concerned with vitamin A toxicity if you’re doing things with a lick of common sense.

Let’s use the theoretical example of a 50 pound dog who eats 3% of his body weight per day in raw food. This is a pound-and-a-half of food per day. According to the NRC and AAFCO, this dog requires between 1,100 IU and 3,000 IU of vitamin A per day minimum to maintain health, with other sources recommending more than that as ideal. (e.g., Danish scholar and raw food advocate Mogens Eliasen suggests about triple the NRC minimum RDA and abut 30% more than the AAFCO RDA as ideal — up to about 4,540 IU for our example dog.)

What we’re concerned with is toxicity though — enough to actually hurt or kill a dog. The “safe upper limit” of vitamin A for our example dog is in the neighborhood of 50,000 IU, which is to say that even if you regularly fed that much it would not actually do noticeable harm, but above that it is believed that risk could start. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “When vitamins A and D are ingested in large amounts (10–100 times daily requirement) throughout a period of months, toxic reactions may be seen.” I’ll repeat that for emphasis: Ten to one hundred times the daily requirement throughout a period of months.

To put this all into perspective, depending on who you ask (WAPF or NutritionData/USDA, with there also being an established discrepancy based on what the cow itself has been eating), 100 grams of beef liver contains anywhere from about 17,000 IU to 35,000 IU of vitamin A. (That’s a big discrepancy, and another reason why being overly concerned about numbers is pretty useless unless you have very solid data about the actual items you’re feeding at any give time!)

At 5% of the overall diet, our example dog is eating an average of about 34 grams of liver per day, which would be 5,780 IU on the low side and up to 11,900 IU on the high side for beef liver. As you can see, overall that’s actually pretty high given even the highest estimated requirement, but well within our established safe zone and not coming anywhere near the “safe upper limit”. Even the high possibility of 11,900 IU is only about a quarter of the safe upper limit. In order achieve the threshold of the safe upper limit, our example dog could be fed 150 – 200 grams of beef liver per day every day for months and likely still be fine from the perspective of vitamin A toxicity. That is about one-third to almost one-half of the total diet, and even that is just where higher risk might begin. 

I want to mention in support of feeding a variety of livers from different animals and sources that chicken liver would come in at about 3,774 IU for our example dog’s daily 34 gram serving, lamb liver 8,364 IU, and pork liver 7,378 IU. Turkey liver is very high in vitamin A with the serving contributing about 9,146 IU of vitamin A! Arctic marine animals are famous for having a lot of vitamin A stores in their livers, but even if you had regular access to walrus liver, that 34 gram serving would contain about 27,600 IU of vitamin A, which is just over half of the ‘safe upper limit’. Maybe not the best idea to feed regularly, but for the sake of our argument even walrus liver as a full 10% of the diet would be just hovering around that safe upper limit mark.

The Waltham Centre For Pet Nutrition (an entity owned by Mars, makers of some of the kibbles you love to hate, but we’ll consider their findings anyway) has established a safe upper limit for puppies at 100,000 IU per kcal fed, which in raw food terms would be approximately 67,000 IU per pound of food fed daily, or 200 grams of beef liver for every pound fed! In other words almost HALF of the total diet in beef liver over an extended period of time, and that’s still the “safe upper limit” — not recognized to cause harm. That’s pretty much the same figure as the one produced with NRC figures for adult dogs. For cats the figures are similar too.

So, as you can see, no matter which figures you use or what you’re feeding, it would be virtually impossible to impose vitamin A toxicity via a raw diet, especially one fed in an informed and responsible manner. While figures of about 5% of the overall diet or approximately half of all organ matter fed are reasonable from a nutritional angle (vitamin A is not the only nutrient in liver — just the topic of this post), when it comes to vitamin A at least, even feeding much more liver or vitamin A rich foods than that would still not pose threat of poisoning or death from vitamin A.


Resources used in this post, and interesting further reading:

https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-a

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/management-and-nutrition/nutrition-small-animals/nutritional-requirements-and-related-diseases-of-small-animals#v3326696

www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/vitamin-a-saga/

https://www.dsm.com/markets/anh/en_US/Compendium/companion_animals/vitamin_A.html

http://rdafordogs.blogspot.ca/

http://www.k9joy.com/dogarticles/vitaminA.php

https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list

www.nutritiondata.self.com

https://www.waltham.com/document/nutrition/dog/dog-nutrient-requirement/286/


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No Lost Cause — Switching Cats To Raw

Need to switch your cat to raw, but meeting with resistance? This is very common but even the most “fussy” cat can be brought around to eating a raw diet! There is a reason why our feline friends are notorious for being hard to switch, and knowing that reason is the key to success. I am getting this posted now — it’s a topic long overdue — but I intend to come back and do some tweaking in the future with a few more specifics and links to sources. (And hopefully a nice photo.) For now the basics:

Cats have a psychological hurdle based in their physiology that dogs do not have when it comes to switching to raw: A cat’s liver functions a bit differently than the livers of other mammals. That difference means cats are more susceptible to toxic build-ups and can be acutely poisoned relatively easily compared to other animals. The same thing that makes it so important for cats to eat fresh whole foods also makes them hard to switch once they’re used to kibble and other processed foods. Cats are ‘wired’ — so to speak — to be highly suspicious of new foods and environmental factors. In non-domesticated life, learning what things and habits are safe and trustworthy early in life (and then not deviating from that) is a very important survival mechanism.

When a cat is fed kibble from an early age it is not actually healthy, but since this is what is presented as food this is what the definition of food becomes. Trying to change this can be really difficult. (Pet food manufacturers know how keyed into one thing cats can become, thus many making kibbles in unique shapes and colors so that cats aren’t only stuck on kibble, but their brand of kibble!) Cats get slapped with the labels “finicky” and “picky” when all they’re trying to do is not be poisoned.

Since cats have that overwhelming urge to only eat familiar food, even the slightest change can put them off food entirely, which you need to be aware of. When you add a supplement or different food you’re not just adding or presenting food that’s different than the current food, you’re introducing an unknown quantity to a known quantity, therefore changing that known into the unknown. To a cat, you’re contaminating the familiar and safe! It’s really not about “preferences” so much as it might seem. You can switch your cat to raw, though it’ll probably take patience. Likely if you’re reading this you’ve been trying and have hit a point of frustration. Don’t lose hope! 

First, something that does not work and should not be used: “Tough love” and holding out ’til a pet gives in to what you’re offering is fine for dogs, but can actually KILL a cat, so toss that idea right out.

Some people use the technique of a very gradual process of adding new (raw) food and reducing old food (kibble) in minuscule increments until the cat is eating all raw, which works for many, but after reading the above, you can see that you have to start with literally undetectable amounts of food. It can be a long process and prone to failures. The technique described below works similarly, but will give more reliable results without as high a risk that your cat will go off all food, and also allows for the cat to direct the progress, which means a faster transition for those who are inclined. What you need to do is sell this new food (raw) as “normal”. It’s really not so much about overcoming aversions as it is breaking through that self-preservation instinct.

Instead of the actual mixing (contaminating) as described above, set a bit of raw food out at the same time as the normal food, but not mixed in or even touching the regular food. Use an entirely separate dish. (If your cat is used to a certain type of bowl or dish, using something similar could help things along.) You don’t need to set out a full meals worth, just a little bit so that the cat can see and smell it. The raw food is likely not going to get eaten immediately. (If it does, great. No trouble for you!) After the meal of the current food (kibble) is eaten and the cat walks away take the uneaten raw and feed it to a pet that will eat it, or just toss it. It may seem like a waste, but what you’re doing is introducing a concept more than what’s in the dish.

You will need to repeat this over days, maybe weeks, maybe in really tough cases longer. One day the cat will start showing interest in the raw food, and then eat it. As you see that barrier come down you can go from there. Just make sure that your cat is eating something in that transitional time, and if it’s a situation of one step forward and two back for a little bit just roll with it. What’s happening is that the smells and awareness of the new food in proximity to the regular food eventually drive home the fact that raw food is food too: Acceptance by association. It works!

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Spicing Up Life: The Importance Of Variety

This post follows “Thinking and Speaking: Protein“. (Click to open that post in a new tab.)

In Thinking and Speaking: Protein we covered what a protein actually is, and why it matters that you as a raw feeder know what it is. In this section I’d like to talk about meat and animal products, the different nutrients they contain, and why it’s important to feed a varied diet.


In the last post we learned (or were reminded) that protein is a strand of amino acids. Plants and animals have lots of different versions of their own proteins, the configuration of which is dictated by genes. Let’s continue talking about protein for a little bit, then we’ll discuss other nutrients.

Here are some figures that show a few food sources of protein. It doesn’t take too close of a look to see that grains (e.g., rice and wheat) and legumes (e.g., black beans) contain a lot more protein than vegetables, but the animal products give you the most amino acid ‘bang’ for your food ‘buck’. It takes a lot of rice or even beans to get the overall protein content and subsequent amino acids of less meat.

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Let’s now introduce a theoretical example: Let’s suppose we have a 50-pound dog who eats a pound-and-a-half of raw food on average per day. in other words that is 3% of its body-weight daily. This same dog might require 1000 kcal (calories) per day in whatever format of food — raw, kibble, canned, cooked food. The table below (and in part one of this article) details the protein and amino acid requirements for our example dog. (REMEMBER, it’s perfectly fine to let amounts and nutrients balance over time, so a dog does not need to eat exactly the same amount or same items daily to achieve ‘recommended daily allowance’. The RDA is an averaged figure. Example amounts for our example dog are also just very theoretical. If you have a 50 pound dog this might or very well might not apply to your dog.)

Sidetrack: When I was trying to come up with reasonable feeding parameters for the example dog for this post I went on a little tangent and spent the better part of an evening with a calculator and various forms of data trying to determine a pattern in calorie density between kibble and raw, and the requirements of each for weight maintenance and good body condition. What I learned was pretty interesting. See the information presented in Coal’s Calories: A Case Study.

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Sidebar: Unfortunately nutrition is not a simple matter of required nutrients equaling how much one should eat. Something to consider is that knowing how much of a nutrient is present in a food fails to tell us is how it’s actually metabolized in a body, and therefore how much of a nutrient is actually being utilized for purposes of growth or maintenance or energy. This is also called “bioavailability“. (This is why you see the figure “ME” or metabolizable energy” when you’re looking at calorie information for processed foods. For more info on this, you can start here.) I’ll remind the reader that for the purposes of this discussion I’m not going into these kinds of specifics, and offer the tables and info for comparison purposes only.

Meat is the name of the game for a carnivore. Carnivorous animals have bodies that are adapted to getting what they need for energy, growth, and maintenance from eating other animals. As raw feeders we know that. What often gets overlooked — even as people who understand that grains are not as suitable as meat as a base for a diet — is that all meat isn’t exactly the same, either. Not only do meat and other animal products vary from species to species, but they vary quite a bit within the same animal! Look at this chart of protein values for different cuts of meat and how the individual amino acids are distributed.

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Notice how the chicken breast and chicken thigh, and the two cuts of beef have different overall protein contents and different amino acid profiles even though they come from the same animal? This is one very important illustration of why it’s so important to vary the diet, not just in terms of the different animal products you feed (chicken, beef, pork, etc.) but in the cuts and even sources of the meats and animal products you select. The more of an animal you feed (e.g, a whole chicken instead of just leg quarters all the time) the better chance you have of covering your nutritional bases nicely. Rotation and variation reduces or even eliminates the need to be crunching numbers all the time, or — more realistically — to be feeling like you should be crunching numbers all the time and worrying about what you’re providing instead. Remember the figures in these tables are just averages and generalizations. Don’t get too caught up in the numbers. The take-away should be the importance of not focusing too much on one cut of meat or one type of animal in the overall diet.

A common pitfall I see people plunging into is “what’s BETTER“? The answer is that even the meats with the highest numbers aren’t necessarily better. It’s all just different, and feeding a varied diet will ensure that both lower amounts and higher amounts of nutrients will have the chance to be balanced — I actually prefer the word ‘tempered’ — by everything else you feed.

What… You question that he’s an actual professor? Look at that Argyle vest!

So far we’ve just looked at protein and amino acid content of foods. Going back to the previous post, remember when I used the example of someone asking, “How many vitamins are in a protein?” The answer is literally none. Animals and meats do contain vitamins, though, and dogs and cats need certain vitamins to come from their diet. Here’s a table of the levels of vitamins present in the same cuts of meat and animals from the last table. Following that is a table of minerals.

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Now… everyone who has a basic idea of how to deliver a raw diet knows that you have to feed meat, bones, and organs for a diet to be complete. Ever wonder why that is exactly? It’s because the skeletal and cardiac muscles and bones of an animal don’t contain everything a carnivore needs. There are important nutrients in the organs of prey animals, and they have to be part of a raw diet for a carnivore to be healthy. See all the zeros and the tenths of micrograms on the vitamin table for meat products? While some essential nutrients only need to be fed in very small amounts, most of the low numbers there would not be sufficient to keep a carnivore healthy. Now look at this table of organ nutrients. Not only will you see why organ meats are needed, but at the same time you’ll see why you don’t need to feed a whole lot relative to the rest of the diet! Most raw feeders know that you have to feed organs. Now you know why! Variation is not only applicable to meat, but the other components of the diet as well.

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So, remember to add the proverbial “spice of life” to your pets’ diets to ensure good health and save yourself anguish over whether or not you’re providing a ‘complete’ and ‘balanced’ diet. Just remember to keep it in perspective and within the constraints of reality: It is NOT necessary to seek out the most exotic of meats and animal products in the name of ‘variety’. Paying $45/pound for imported wildebeest loin is not going to make or break your dog’s diet. Picking up the weirdest looking fish at the market isn’t going to give you some super-combo of nutrients that doesn’t exist in more accessible meats. In fact, the opposite might very well be true. The recurring trend you may have noticed by now on Pack Lunch is that I implore you to think back to your ‘prey model‘ when you experience feelings of doubt. The numbers and charts are all kind of fun, really. For those folks who like seeing things laid out like this it’s a comfort, but more than the numbers telling us what we should feed, we’re really more “showing our work” and giving ourselves a proof.

After a couple posts worth of numbers, numbers, and more numbers, I’d like to really drive home the fact that every single last figure in all these charts is a generalization and an average. Though they come from reputable and recognized entities, the numbers are entirely dependent on how much information was collected from how many individual animals and parts, over what period of time, in what geographical location, what lab testing methods were used, and on and on and on….. Think about the fact that though chickens and cows may all be about the same size as each other, they’re not exactly. They’re animals. They’re individuals no matter how much care is taken to breed them to certain standards. Bone structure will differ due to breed, season, the food they eat (the information presented in this and the last post applies to food animals as much as those eating them), and all sorts of stuff. If you get a pack of chicken leg quarters are they ever all exactly the same? No. Is a pack of steaks just a pack of steaks and all exactly the same? No. One might be bigger because it’s cut from the middle, another a bit smaller, and there’s always that one that has a vein of gristle or lump of fat. Not uniform. Hot dogs are the same, but hot dogs are the kibble version of people food! Ground up, mixed up, and squirted thru a machine that makes uniform pieces. So ditch the uniformity and toss your need for square holes for square pegs. Whether is a rotation over days or weeks, or something different every day, keep it different, keep it interesting, and keep it healthy.


NOTE:

For calculation of “average” calories in a serving of meat I looked at the calories-per-ounce data from www.nutritiondata.self.com for chicken breast (32 kcal/oz), beef sirloin (40), domestic rabbit (38), wild salmon (41), and venison (44). The average of those is 38.8. I think 40 kcal/ounce is a perfectly reasonable round number to work with for the purpose of our discussion.

 

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Case Study: Coal’s Calories

While I was working on the post, A Word On Protein, I stumbled upon an interesting discrepancy in calorie recommendations, caloric content of food choices, and what seems to work for most individuals. This made me scratch my head, and I decided to go to one of my online raw feeding communities for some real-life info from people who have feed both raw and kibble in recent times, or feed both raw and kibble. I got just one response (I’m learning lots of words cause people to ignore posts even if you pair it with a cute meme), and following is what I extrapolated from the information she gave me. The dog in this sample is an active young-adult Belgian Malinois male who is not neutered, with an ideal weight of 62 pounds. His name is Coal.

This is the pertinent info I received to start the number crunching: “He was getting 2 cups of Taste of the Wild and 2 cups of Hills w/d a day and was actually a tad heavy. On raw I had him up to 2lbs a day and he was not maintaining weight. I put him averaging 1.75lb with about a cup of mid-high end kibble (Solid Gold, Pinnacle, Wellness) and he was great. Raw was varied but about 50/50 red/white meat and 5-10% fish.”

I wanted to use this info to figure out two things, and then compare those. The first was the recommended caloric intake for a dog of his description. This is the first area where I noticed a large discrepancy, and it makes sense. Dogs vary so greatly in size, energy level, lifestyle, body type, etc. that it’s almost impossible to nail down an accurate formula for predicting how many calories need to be consumed by an individual for both energy needs and weight maintenance. It’s really useful to try, however, for both dog food manufacturers and pet owners. Feeding trials have been performed, energy expenditures have been evaluated, and both practical and theoretical numbers have been crunched by many parties. I used the following websites and charts/formulas to get caloric recommendations for Coal.

(1) WSAVA Calorie Needs for an Average Healthy Adult Dog in Ideal Body Condition
This is a simple chart, and for a 62 pound dog, it recommends 1020 kcal/day.

(2) The dog food calculator from The Dog Food Advisor. This one lets you refine recommendations based activity level. For Coal I selected “active”. The recommendation is 1529 kcal/day.

(3) The online Merck Veterinary Manual has a page devoted to nutrient requirements, and provides formulas for figuring out caloric intake. I used the linear formula for figuring out resting energy requirement (RER), and then the multiplier for “healthy adult intact dog”. This resulted in a recommendation of 1638 kcal/day.

* See bottom of page for more feeding recommendation figures from pet food manufacturers.

The first thing you notice is the difference between 1020 and 1638. That’s more than a 60% increase!!! That’s a lot. It gets even more interesting, though.

I needed to figure out how many calories per day Coal was getting when he was eating the combo of Hills w/d kibble and Taste Of The Wild kibble (TOTW). I used the information from the respective manufacturer websites to establish that the w/d contains 240 kcal/cup. I then took an average of nine of the TOTW dry formulas to get a figure of 357 kcal/cup. This means that Coal was eating about 1200 kcal/day of these foods. That’s just a bit higher than the WSAVA chart figure. Now, remember that Coal was a “tad heavy” eating this combination.

Then, I needed to figure out how many calories per day Coal was eating when he was switched to raw. Usually when feeding raw most people do not use calories or “cups” of food to gauge how much to feed. They use percentages of the dog’s body-weight combined with observation of weight, activity, and condition to tweak until their dog looks and feels good. 2%-3% is usually recommended as a good starting point for medium and large breed dogs, and I’d say based on experience both first- and second-hand that most average-to-active dogs fall within this percentage as a functional working formula for weight maintenance and energy needs. The difference in measurements can make comparing raw and kibble difficult. (There’s also the issue of using “dry matter” figures when talking about processed foods, and weights and ‘as fed’ figures when talking about raw. This is an issue when talking nutrient density expressed in percentages. Calories are not subject to the problem of “dry matter” vs. “as fed”.)

The items that are used to feed raw-fed dogs also vary in calorie density by quite a lot. Lean protein has fewer calories by weight than fattier cuts, and protein and fat content varies quite a bit from food animal to food animal, and cut to cut. (See “A Word On Protein, part 1” for more on this, plus some charts.) To come up with an average calorie content that might reflect the ‘average’ raw diet — if there is such a thing — I used the calorie content for chicken breast, beef sirloin, domestic rabbit, wild salmon, and venison from www.nutritiondata.self.com as well as an average of all ‘complete’ formulas intended for adults from commercially prepared raw food manufacturers, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Darwin’s, and Primal. I came up with an average of about 45 kcal per ounce. (There are 16 ounces to the pound, so by extension the averaged pound of raw diet is about 720 kcal.)

“On raw I had him up to 2lbs a day and he was not maintaining weight.” Two pounds of food per day by the above figure is about 1440 kcal/day. It’s also about 3.25% of Coal’s body-weight. That is a 20% increase in calories from the Hill’s w/d and TOTW combo, but he was not maintaining a good weight. Of course this is not a controlled study where we can consider the calorie factor in isolation, but 20% is a significant number, and also the beginning of a pattern.

Coal was shifted from the all-raw diet to the raw-with-kibble combo that his person observed to keep him at a nice weight and with a good amount of energy. This was “1.75lb with about a cup of mid-high end kibble”. The kibbles mentioned were Wellness, Solid Gold, and Pinnacle. Again, I took an average of ALL the adult and all-life-stages formulas from these manufacturers (that’s a lot of formulas!) and came up with an average kcal/cup of 400. (OK, it was 401. Discredit me if you will, I’m using 400.) 1.75 pounds of raw is about 1260 kcal (and 2.75% of his body weight). Add the cup of kibble at 400 kcal, and you have a total of 1660 kcal/day.

Now, if you go back to the caloric recommendations from the three sources mentioned before, that’s darned close to the Merck Manual figure, which, remember, is based on assessed physiological needs, and not necessarily based on a particular feeding trial or assumptions about the source of food. I have to say that this was a surprise to me, and a neat one, too. By extension, Coal would probably need closer to 3.75% of his body-weight in only raw food, perhaps more given the trend we’ve observed. That would be about 2-and-a-third pounds of food per day. Maybe more like 2.5 pounds (4%). Since Coal is a real dog and not a theory or experiment we won’t be actually putting this to any sort of further test.

Besides the fact that calorie calculators and charts are all over the place, what is to be learned from this? I think the different values of raw vs. kibble and the fact that ‘a calorie is not a calorie’ is illustrated by how Coal handles the calorie loads. On a combo that included a grain-based kibble (Hill’s w/d) Coal maintained a body weight that was even a “tad high” on 1200 kcal/day. On a diet with fewer carbs — and these carbs not being highly processed or with much, if any at all, coming from grains — he couldn’t maintain a healthy weight even though he was likely consuming almost 250 kcal/day or 20% more actual calories! While it may seem like a good thing that a smaller amount of kibble is capable of keeping a dog at a certain weight and that it might be “better” than fresh food, I’ll point out that less food at a higher caloric density means less “room” to get in the right protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral contents, as well as other important functional food contributions like fiber and micronutrients. There is little room for error in a product that does vary from batch-to-batch when you’re fulfilling a caloric need so seemingly efficiently. Keep in mind this isn’t just one meal out of a month with many others to make up for any shortcomings or excesses and balance it out over time, but one product that is fed day in and day out, presumably for years — or a dog’s lifetime! (This is a topic that is discussed in “A Word On Protein, part 2” more thoroughly.) A highly concentrated food will require more of an effort on the part of the digestive system, especially for an animal who is ‘designed’ not to pick at small amounts of food over a day, but to get his fill after a hunt. This isn’t really a relevant figure, but just for the sake of visualization, on their web page Hill’s gives both gram and cup figures, from which we can establish that a cup of their w/d formula is 2.8 ounces, which is a weight measure correlating to our raw food figures. When it comes to “as fed” amounts (think what’s actually going into his belly at a time), Coal was not eating even 3/4 of a pound of kibble in a day, but on his raw/kibble combo he was getting almost two pounds of food total. Ultimately that’s a LOT of water he was getting in his food through the raw, increasing mass and weight, and all-in-all leading to a nice full stomach that could signal to the rest of his body, “I’m FULL. I’m satisfied. I’m hydrated. Let’s digest this stuff!”.

The next step in this analysis would be to figure out where the calories in our sample foods are coming from (i.e., carbs, fat, protein) and how nutrient density and caloric intake play off each other. That will have to wait for another time, however.

My thanks to Christine for providing me with the example to work from!


* Here are some more calorie intake suggestions based on company recommendations for their brands of food used in the preceding example. Additionally, there are a couple provided by pre-made raw-food manufacturers. The TOTW, Wellness, and Pinnacle recommendation figures are averaged.

Hill’s w/d Dry Food : 1140-1320

TOTW: 920-1300

Welness: 1070-1285

Pinnacle: 990-1200

Instinct Raw calculator: 1335

Primal (raw food) calculator: 1240


 

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Back to Back: A Presentation On Chicken Backs

I think it’s pretty safe to say that chicken is a staple food for many if not most raw feeders. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy to source, and the bones are edible for a wide range of pets. Some people part out whole chickens or feed them whole, others have favored parts for one reason or another. One of these favored parts is the “back”. What is a chicken back, anyway, and how suitable is it as a food item as part of a raw diet?

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Very loosely speaking a chicken back is section of bone and tissue that surrounds the spine of a chicken. It’s a part that is underutilized in modern North American human diets, as it doesn’t consist of any large muscle groups like the legs and breast meat. Unfortunately most people these days buy their chicken stock in cans and cartons instead of making it from fresh parts, including the backs. Too bad for them, but often good for raw feeders! Chicken backs can be a really economical source of food for a dog. There is a discrepancy in not only in what defines a back, but the value of them, however. That’s mostly what I’m looking to illustrate here.

The value of any chicken back is not only about getting the most “bang for your buck”, but is important to consider when it comes to building a wholesome diet that may include backs. Some backs (like many that you buy at large grocery chains and box stores) have been very effectively stripped of meat — meat is where the money is for them. These minimal backs can still be good, but the less meaty an item is the more it’s really just a lot of bone. Some backs are really small, whereas others are quite large. The taxonomic cousin of the “chicken back” is the “chicken frame”. I’ve noticed this term seems to be more popular in Britain and Australia than it is in North America. Usually a “frame” refers to a bigger section of a chicken where the breast and leg meat has been removed, but as with backs, frames vary greatly from supplier to supplier. As with any other food item, always take care to match the size of a piece of food with the size, skill, and enthusiasm of the dog eating it to avoid choking and other problems.

Unfortunately, even though I pored through years and years worth of photos as I was putting this together I couldn’t find any photos of the average store-bought pack of chicken backs. I don’t use them often, but I know I have. One of these days soon I’ll spend the couple bucks and create some photos to add to this page showing what’s available to me at the grocery store.

Following is a series of photos that I took after getting our annual autumn haul of fresh chickens from a friend who raises them. Each photo is of the same bird as I parted it for freezer storage. I urge you as you look at these to not only consider what you might want to be looking for as raw pet food, but if you participate in groups or communities where you discuss raw feeding, remember that one person may say “chicken back” referring to a dried up bony morsel, while someone else may be talking about a really meaty challenging chunk, with quite a lot of organ tissue included. For anyone who follows a “prey model” style of feeding that hinges upon knowledge of the average proportions of meat to bone to organ and what various animals are “made of” these photos might help with that, too. Yes, modern chickens — even ‘heritage breeds’ — have been modified from their wild birdy ancestors by quite a margin, but noting body composition of any animal is informative. It’s worth noting that in chickens and other birds, a lot of organ tissue is nestled in really close to the bone structure, and it’s virtually impossible to have a chicken back that doesn’t have an organ content, even if minimal.

Without further ado, the photos!

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No Bones About It: Calcium From Eggshell?

Here on Pack Lunch we’ve talked about bones quite a bit. (Notably in the article Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone.) There’s a reason: Bones are integral in a raw diet. This goes both for bones that are actually eaten and bones that are not. A lot of folks out there don’t want to feed bones or feel they can’t feed bones, though. Often the recommendation for these people is to use eggshell “for calcium”. Eggshell is cheap and easy to source, and there’s no argument that eggshell has calcium. In fact, eggshells (all “eggshell” referred to here are bird eggs — chicken eggs are, of course, the most familiar and common eggs) are almost all calcium — upwards of 95%! The rest is another form of calcium (calcium phosphate), magnesium carbonate (a form of magnesium that has low bioavailability), and some really minute amounts of other stuff. (cite 1) Following is a discussion on using eggshell in place of bone. Note that this does not apply to feeding whole eggs with the shells on them, or even using eggshell is a super-temporary substitute. This is about the idea that you can just replace bone with eggshell, and why you might not actually want to do that.

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First and foremost to consider is why you’re not going to feed bone. Bone is the best source of calcium for a carnivore of the type that dogs, cats, and ferrets are. It’s the only thing you can feed without getting math and biochemistry involved in your meal planning. Feeding bones is also a really important part of food and eating for carnivores. Aside from just the nutrition factor, pulling the meat from bones and eating bone-in items is needed physically to keep teeth and gums toned and to regulate and stimulate digestion. Eating meals with bones also provides mental stimulation and exercise for other muscle groups. Working on a nice big raw meaty bone is isometric exercise for the whole body. The importance of bone can’t be overstated. If you have a healthy companion carnivore you really should feed raw bones as part of their diet for many reasons. Even pets with limited abilities (e.g., damaged or missing teeth) really should be working on and eating meaty bones. Most people would be really surprised at what a dog with even no teeth can accomplish! That’s a discussion for another day, though. My main point here is that if it’s you as the meal provider that is not comfortable with raw bones, then there’s no time like the present to overcome that discomfort and learn that bones aren’t really optional.

That said, if you want to use eggshell then you must take into consideration the following: Eggshell is 95%-99% (depends on who you ask and presumably the bird and egg laid) of a type of calcium called calcium carbonate. (Calcium doesn’t really exist in nature alone. It’s always bound up in different compounds, of which there are many.)  The calcium in bone is within a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite. Additionally, this substance in bone “only” makes up like 65% of the overall bone. Bone also contains organic material — namely lots of collagen —  and even water! (cite 2) Trying to figure out how much actual calcium is released for use in the body and how efficiently from eggshell vs. from bone is a problem so complex I think it’s safe to say no one’s really ever worked just that one part out. I’m sure there have been feeding trials performed where calcium carbonate is part of a food formula that’s being tested, but that’s just one part of a big whole. There are too many factors to consider for there to be just a formula for subbing amounts of calcium carbonate for hydroxyapatite (or calcium phosphate or calcium lactate or calcium citrate or calcium gluconate). If there is some table that’s been produced for this purpose I’d be very wary and wanting to know how the source came up with the calculation!

We could probably argue the benefit (or lack-of) from powdered eggshell calcium ’til the cows come home. Some say it’s great, a few say it’s not, though most sources agree that it’s pretty easily assimilated by the canine (and human) body. Whether that high ‘usability’ is good or bad is the point, though. Here’s where I really take issue with the whole eggshell thing: Just because powdered eggshell calcium is highly “usable” in the body doesn’t make it a good idea. More isn’t better. You can’t one-up nature by eliminating edible bone and replacing it with a form of calcium that’s has a higher bioavailabilty than a dog’s natural time-tested source and call it a day. Even if a person were to figure out exactly how much calcium carbonate to use in place of bone, there’s the issue of what replaces all the other stuff in bone in the diet/lifestyle, nevermind achieving a good balance of all the co-factors that need to work together to put calcium to use in the body. Most dog people are familiar with the importance of the calcium : phosphorus ratio, but how many of those people are equally as diligent about magnesium and vitamin D balances? You can’t use calcium right without those in the right amounts, too. I’ll note here that nutrition is way more complex than matching up, say, the NRC or AAFCO established requirements for a nutrient with the same amount of said nutrient. Nutrient synergy is way too complex to reduce it all to a catch-all mathematical formula.

Proponents of eggshell calcium use/supplementation point out that the body will “get rid of” excess calcium so you don’t really have to worry about it — just feed “enough”. While it’s very true that the body is very good at maintaining homeostasis including the “right” level of calcium in the cells and blood given what it has to work with (i.e., what’s eaten), I think it’s worth considering what pressures and imbalances on and in the body that dealing with excess creates. Kidney stones are only one associated problem with the intake of calcium carbonate in excess of calcium demands. Another issue is that calcium carbonate dissolves in acid, and weakens the strength of stomach acids that are crucial for proper digestion. (TUMS™ antacid tablets are calcium carbonate.) These things might not actually turn up as problems for a long time, but once you get on that roller coaster it’s hard to get off.

In conclusion, since there’s no “easy” answer, it’s my thought that sticking with the tried-and-true methods established and perpetuated in nature (eating bones) is a preferable bet to mucking with such a questionable substitute (powdered eggshell).


Website citations (please forgive the unorthodox method of citing these references):
(1) http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/consumer/faq/eggshell-composition.shtml
(2) http://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_nutritional_aspects_of_bone_composition?page=2
*** Please note a lot of the info contained on this webpage actually come from secondary sources cited through that page


Here’s a few webpage links that contain information that’s relevant, though not directly (in no particular order):
https://chriskresser.com/calcium-supplements-why-you-should-think-twice/
http://saveourbones.com/beware-these-two-supplements-can-hurt-more-than-help-your-bones/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elemental_calcium
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_carbonate
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bone_mineral
https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/eggs/eggcomposition.html
http://www.health.harvard.edu/family-health-guide/calcium-curious


 

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The Problem With Prescription Veterinary Diets

The topic of prescription vet diets may seem to have little to do with raw feeding or natural health, but I think it’s actually important to consider even for the most established and comfortable raw feeder. The subject came up in one of the online communities I participate in where someone posed the question, “If prescription diets are said to be so bad, why do veterinarians have success with them and continue to promote them?” Following is the response that I wrote, which I thought I’d share here.


Prescription diets definitely “work”. When people question prescription diets (well, thinking people who aren’t just being argumentative), it’s not so much questioning whether the food does what it’s designed for, but if that purpose is what you want to achieve. Prescription foods on the whole are designed to deliver a particular result — usually a general picture of health and diminishing of symptoms. They often do deliver that result (couldn’t sell the stuff if it didn’t work), but there is a cost to consider, and it’s not the (high) price of the bag.

Let’s take the example of hydrolyzed proteins. (Certain lines of prescription foods use this technology.) Hydrolyzing breaks proteins down into their constituent parts, so in essence part or most of the “digesting” is already done. A dog with digestive issues will, therefore, be able to assimilate and use a food like this better than whole foods, because there is a serious problem in the body. The body will be provided with what it needs to perform basic functions and give you a good poop and a shiny coat, which we see as a sign of good health.

The problem comes in the fact that the food isn’t helping to actually *fix* the root cause of the problem — it’s just something that creates the illusion of normal functions. The root cause of the complaint or illness oftentimes will actually become worse because the food is like a band-aid over a wound. In some cases the band-aid offers protection while the body heals and you can take it off and go back to normal a few days later. In other cases, though, it’s like putting a band-aid on an infected wound which just traps the infection and causes it grow worse. Since it’s covered up it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind. You can go on thinking it’s all OK, but that band-aid isn’t going to be able to keep covering the wound as it festers and grows, and you’ll have to address a more serious problem down the road. Using our band-aid analogy, you have to consider what putting a band-aid on when you don’t even have a cut does, too. It’s probably going to trap moisture and bacteria, and the skin under the patch is going to at least get wrinkly and gross if not infected from the band-aid!!! Some people try to use prescription foods as preventatives, which due to poor quality ingredients actually damage health making the prescription food an actual necessity. Prescription foods do not foster good health in the long-term.

Medical conditions tend to snow-ball when you are only suppressing symptoms, and prescription foods are designed to suppress symptoms. Prescription foods may offer temporary relief as a medication of sorts — which can be life-saving — but if true health is the goal it’s best to work on identifying and fixing the problem so that the dog is able to eat a really truly healthy diet that will provide life-long bodily support thru sustenance — like raw — not just function on the crutch of prescription diets as long as they work.

If it has been suggested by your veterinarian that you feed prescription food (or you are now feeding prescription food) and you are unsure of the intentions and/or terms of feeding the food, please open a dialogue with your vet and ask for clarification. If your pet is being treated for a medical condition please include or at least inform your vet of any diet changes.


becasue_science_diet

 

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Microwaves and “Oops, I Forgot To Thaw Dinner”

I can sum this up in one sentence word: DON’T. Just don’t. Don’t ever ever ever use a microwave to thaw your pet’s food if it contains bone — ground or otherwise. It doesn’t matter how “careful” you are or what kind of fancy defrost function the guy at the microwave store told you about when you bought it. DO NOT EVER THAW FOOD CONTAINING BONE IN THE MICROWAVE. Are we clear? Good. Now, this wouldn’t be a Pack Lunch article unless I told you  how I arrived at the above warning, why you should heed it, and what you can do instead. There’s the added bonus of a fun video if you keep reading.

No microwave wolf -- www.packlunchraw.com

I’m sure you’ve heard from the detractors of microwaves. There’s plenty of information circulating online that speak to microwave ovens altering the molecular structure of food and destroying nutritive value. You’ve seen that story about the little girl whose science fair project ‘proved’ that microwaved water kills living plants. (Probably not accurate.) My warning against defrosting raw dog food with a microwave has nothing to do with denaturing protein or any other arguable attributes of microwaves, but the fact of the way in which microwave ovens work. Choose to use one for reheating leftovers and cooking potatoes (my two favorite microwave functions), but don’t thaw bone-in pet food in one.

We all know that cooked bone is a big no-no, but that raw bone is safe. Why is that? Raw bone is “safe”, because of its moisture content. The collagen and connective tissue are unaltered and lend a sort of flexibility to bone tissue, which, I’ll add is a living tissue in a live animal just as much as muscle or organ. Digestive juices can go to work on raw bone, breaking it down as it passes through the digestive tract. Sharper pokier bits of raw bone are rendered relatively harmless to a dog or cat’s insides — even ones that would look kind of scary if you could see them. Cooked bone on the other hand, is dry and the structure is changed. The water cooks out, fats break down, and the mineral matrix that bones are made out of becomes very brittle. The digestive process doesn’t work to dull edges and break down the bone itself because what’s left is more or less inert (can’t be changed). When cooked bone is crushed by the jaws or cracked in between teeth, the resulting pieces can be very sharp and are capable of lacerating the soft tissues of the mouth and digestive tract. Cooked or dried bone shards can build up and create blockages and impactions in the gut, too.

What about ground bone? Pre-made raw diets are all the rage and make raw feeding accessible for people who feel that certain aspects of raw feeding are inconvenient, scary, and/or gross. (I don’t happen to see that point, but that’s another article.) Even if the bone is ground up, you still need to feed it raw — not cooked — for the same reasons you wouldn’t feed cooked whole bones. When raw bone is ground, it’s not reduced to a powder, just very small pieces. If these pieces get cooked they’re essentially being made into little itty bitty razor blades. Have you ever used a ceramic knife? Seems a poor replacement for steel ’til you use one. They’re deadly sharp.

So we’ve established that cooked bone is bad. Back to the microwave. I’ve understood that microwaves were bad for thawing food for a long time. I kinda knew why, but most articles that are more than baseless propaganda sound like this, “…there are several microwaves interfering with each other, meaning the resulting electric field at that point is the sum of their respective electric fields….” (source*SNORE* I’m no dummy and I know you’re not, either, but all the technical mumbo-jumbo has never really illustrated what is really wrong (or right) with microwave ovens.

I had a “lightbulb moment” watching this fun little video. It came out at Easter time, and I watched it more because I’d just learned that my brother-in-law hates Peeps with a passion most people reserve for spiders and politicians than because I thought it was going to be enlightening. The whole video is fun and worth watching, but if you want to skip to the part that I think is significant skip to 2:30. OK, watch the video, then we’ll talk more:

So…? Yeah…..? Did you get out of that what I did? Crazy, huh? (If not, then think about the soft spots in the dish of Peeps and think about that being bone-in meat instead. In place of gushy marshmallow you’ve got cooked spots of bone! Very basically, the microwave oven heats spots of food and relies on the heated spots radiating outwards to cook (or thaw) food.) For me that was the missing conceptual link as to why microwaves are bad news for defrosting bone-in food, and kinda suck for thawing in general.) No matter how many work-arounds microwave oven manufacturers build in, it always goes back to this basic concept. No matter how you present the mechanics or tweak it with oven functions, it means the potential for cooked bits of bone is always there. This might not be a huge problem if you do this only once in a blue moon, but for those folks who might be serving microwave defrosted bone-in meats often, the risk is very high. Why take the risk at all now that it’s a solid fact in your brain and not just a rumor?

That still leaves what you can do if you’ve got hungry dogs staring at you and a hunk of bone-in meat that’s frozen solid. It happens to us all.

  • Feed frozen: Admittedly that probably isn’t the most helpful suggestion, but it is a possibility, and some folks don’t realize that it’s OK to feed frozen items. The only case in which this isn’t a great idea is if you’re feeding a very small dog, or one that might be suffering health issues. Feeding frozen food can actually bring down internal temperature, forcing the body to spend energy on digestion as well as temperature regulation which can be stressful, especially in very small or sick animals. Most dogs love the challenge of a frozen meal, but not all do. Dogs who are particularly averse should be checked for possible dental issues, though it could just be a preference.
  • Running water/water bath: Run the tap with cold or lukewarm water over the food. (Hot water isn’t necessary.) You’ll be surprised how much faster this thaws meat than just leaving it out or thawing in the fridge. If it’s not wrapped in a water-tight way already, stick it in a plastic bag. You don’t want the natural juices washing away and the meat soaking up tap water. Pro Tip: Make sure any loose wrapping or things in the sink aren’t plugging the drain. Even if you’re pretty certain you’re OK, check on it regularly, and if you hear water pouring onto the floor from another room don’t ignore it. You can also use a sink or bowl full of water. It won’t do the job as fast, but it’s not such a big waste of water, and the flood risk is greatly reduced.
  • Have alternatives on hand: I always try to have both cans of fish (no-salt-added water packed sardines are good) in the pantry and eggs in the ‘fridge. In a pinch being able to feed a meal (or at least a snack) of fish and/or eggs can save you the hassle of dogs who are expecting a meal when you don’t have anything ready to give them. (Beats feeding the dog your $20 beef tenderloin steak because the only other thing you have is a 40-pound chunk of frozen-together chicken!)

Hopefully this sheds some light on the subject and that funny Peeps video drives home the point for you like it did for me. (Thanks to NPR’s Skunk Bear tumblr for the video!) If you think I’m off base here or have any other suggestions for “Ooops, I forgot to thaw dinner” days, leave them in the comments or come over to the FB page.

 

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