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Here’s a fun little exercise…. Today in one of the online raw food groups I frequent a new-to-raw feeding member posted a photo of a duck she’d parted out and was asking how to “calculate it”. Another member posted a chart that detailed the bone percentage figures for not only whole duck, but duck parts. Lacking a figure for duck legs she suggested using the analysis of chicken legs. If I was a cartoon a light-bulb would have blinked on above my head as I realized this is a great opportunity to illustrate the fact that when you’re working from charts you’re only ever getting averages and best-guesses. These charts are helpful for visualizing how parts might fit in your “prey model”, but are really not figures to be agonizing over. Trying to get nice big food items to fit in mathematical models encourages cutting things up to detriment of the overall value of food, which includes the non-nutritive aspects like getting a mental challenge, a tooth-and-gum workout, and advance warning to the stomach that food is on its way so that the digestive juices are present and ready. It’s also very fussy work to be constantly punching away at a calculator or consulting a spreadsheet when serving every meal. It can be very frustrating for newer raw feeders and those who aren’t all that comfortable crunching numbers.
As it happens, I cut up a duck today, too, but I cut it up because I’m using it for human food and the carcass for soup stock. If this was dog food it would have remained whole. Whole ducks are way more fun and valuable than duck parts for a dog. It’s not always practical to leave them whole, though: Maybe you have a really small dog. Maybe freezer space is at a premium. Maybe you’re trying to put together meals that won’t intimidate the dog-sitter or involve instructions like, “Let Sparky start the duck around on Tuesday. Pick it up and put it in the ‘fridge when he’s eaten half or it’s been an hour, whichever comes first. It’s OK of there’s grass and dirt stuck to it”……..
…Or maybe you’re a newer raw feeder and your understanding is that meals should be 10% bone, and you’re worried about every single meal being 10% bone. Guess what? They really don’t have to be. “Balancing” meals over the course of days or even a week (or more than that, but not too much) is totally fine; There is a point at which general recommendations have to go from the theoretical to the real-world. How often and how much of any combo of parts work for your dog will be something you have to work out given your dog and your lifestyle.
Going back to the original situation, though, given this whole bird that’s been cut up how do you figure out what you’re looking at in terms of bone?
To find percentages without having to debone a whole bunch of ducks in order to find your own figures (which is totally impractical and might not even be that informative unless you want to debone A LOT of ducks) you can use any of the various charts floating around the internet, or you can go to the source most of them reference directly — the USDA Food Composition Database. For most meat items that are commonly sold bone-in (like ducks) the page for the item gives you the figure for “refuse”, which is then defined as usually “bone” or “bone and cartilage”. You can the (a) use the value for the whole duck you just cut up and know that over the meals that you feed the duck you will have fed 28% percent bone overall, or (b) you can go by the part and consult that figure for the meal during which you’re feeding it. But which one of those techniques should you use? I would go for option (a), but honestly, it really doesn’t matter. Not everyone is with me on that, though, so I’ll explain why I say that, and — surprise — it’s NOT because the numbers are the same!
I run into people all the time who feel it is SO important to make calculations and diet plans that are “accurate” down to single percentage points and little bitty units of measurement like grams and fractions of ounces. I struggle to explain that these figures are all just numbers that have been crunched using relatively small sample sizes, and might not be totally accurate to the food you have in your hands. Or maybe it’s dead-on. Maybe it’s over, maybe it’s under. It’s hard to say! Either way, I implore people to free themselves from the slavery to multiple decimal places and accounting to the gram because you can’t actually be that accurate. The numbers you’re basing this all on aren’t calculated to that kind of accuracy, and there’s not only the fact that these are averages anyway, but that there are margins of error whether reported or not.
Here’s one illustration of why you can allow yourself some flexibility: Mathematics is not based on opinions or feelings, and there are no true grey areas. There’s right and there’s wrong. You can’t have two things boil down to two different answers and have both answers be right, but you can choose to recognize some flexibility and know that the significance of your margin of error can be reduced to practically nothing in a raw food diet by feeding a variety of meats, parts, and sources. Still think I’m wrong?
The USDA lists a whole raw duck as having 28% bone. The “whole duck” from the USDA database is almost surely the average packaged duck like you’d get at the grocery store. The info provided is for the “edible parts” and lists the “refuse” as bone at 28%. One way I’m verifying this supposition is that in her book, K9 Kitchen, Monica Segal lists the analysis for some items, of which “whole duck without organs, head, or feet” is one. The difference is that her analysis includes the nutrients in the bones, whereas the USDA does not. The comparison is almost exactly the same, save where you’d expect differences due to the bone. So, I think we have something legitimate to work with, yes?
Let’s see what the difference in calculation would be if we considered parts at a time instead of the whole:
First, what is a duck “made of”? If we take it apart and put back together our example duck as the parts you find listed in charts would be this:
Now we can assign percentage values to each part from our chosen sources:
(1) USDA Food Composition Database entry #05139 (Duck, domesticated, meat and skin, raw)
(2) 2009, Monica Segal, AHCW. K9 Kitchen, Your Dogs’ diet: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE HYPE, second edition. Doggie Diner Inc., Toronto, Canada
Order the book or e-book via: https://www.monicasegal.com/
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Green tripe is one of the most contentious items among raw feeders. Some herald this stinky stuff as one of the best things you can feed, others set its value to the diet at totally worthless. Likely it’s somewhere in between. The short of it is that it can be worth feeding, but it’s not worth going out of your way or blowing the dog food budget on.
The first thing to note about tripe is that if you choose to feed it, it should be green tripe. This is not the stuff you buy at the grocery store. The tripe and other digestive organ products (like intestine) that you find find at the grocery store or butcher have names like tripe, chitterlings, tripas, menudo, maw, honeycomb tripe, bible tripe, omasum, abomasum, leaf tripe, reed tripe, flat tripe, and probably more! Names tend to vary with geography. All those names have one thing in common — the stomach/intestine is prepared for sale and consumption by humans. In North America and other locations this means it has been thoroughly washed, scalded, and bleached. In other words, processed. Most of us feed raw to get away from processed food, so this prepared tripe really isn’t a good choice for pet food. It’s that simple.
What if you’ve already bought a package of one of the processed kinds? Is it garbage? Not necessarily. This is another part of the contention: If you poll a dozen raw feeders, likely 11 of them will feed you the line that the grocery store tripe is “nutritionally void” or “totally useless”. That’s not entirely true, though, and I think this is one of those ideas that someone paraphrased and others latched onto without really thinking about it. The processing of tripe entails very thoroughly washing out the material that remains in the stomach, scalding with boiling water, then applying a food-grade bleaching product such as hydrogen peroxide or chlorine. While this process washes, bleaches, and par-cooks the tissues, processed tripe does still contains protein, fat, and minerals. The fat and mineral content is severely compromised, though. If you choose to go ahead and feed any processed tripe (or intestine), you should observe the same method that humans do when preparing this tripe to cook with. This involves soaking and rinsing the tripe in fresh water a few times to wash away as much residual bleaching agent as you can. At the end of the day it’s your choice whether to use processed tripe as treats or even meal items. Perhaps it’s something your dog really likes and it’s easy and cheap for you to buy so you do it on occasion. This is about the only reasonable scenario, though. If your dog doesn’t care for it there’s no use in pushing it. It’s simply not worth it on many levels.
Green tripe is the stomach of a cow or other ruminant (sheep, goat, deer, bison, etc.) that has not been thoroughly washed, scalded, nor bleached. In this state it still contains varying amounts of the stomach contents, and therefore bacteria and other microorganisms that could cross-contaminate fresh meat in a butcher’s case. For this reason health codes prevent the stuff from even entering the building at retail outlets where human food is sold. Green tripe is something you’re only going to be able to get either through pet-specific suppliers or directly from the source. There are lots of online retailers who will ship green tripe to your doorstep. Any pet food store that has a good selection of commercially prepared raw foods will probably have green tripe available. You can also buy canned green tripe, but it’s not the same as the fresh/frozen offering. I think it also smells worse and had an ickier consistency than the raw frozen stuff, and most products have carrageenan and/or gums to stabilize the consistency. These are additives to be avoided, as they can compromise gut health.
I mentioned above that the nutrient content of tripe is compromised when it’s prepared for human consumption. The following table illustrates how much. It’s important to remember that even though some of these numbers look really significant, this is just in relation to each other — green tripe vs. processed tripe. Tripe in a bubble. If you take a really close look at nutrient distribution in the different foods you feed on the whole you’ll notice that some are higher in this or that, and lower in this or that. That’s how food works, and why variety is important. More isn’t always better, either, but that’s a conversation that takes place elsewhere. The take-away from this chart should be (a) why tripe as a food item should be green tripe and, (b) how much processing really sucks the life and nutrients out of food in general!
Is green tripe a necessary part of the diet? No. Despite what a lot of online communities and other places where raw feeders gather might lead you to believe, green tripe is not a requirement. It has this reputation of being some sort of canine “superfood”, but that is not really accurate. As a food item its value is mostly as a piece of meat. It’s an OK one, but not worth shuffling around the diet or the budget to accommodate. Green tripe has a reasonably similar nutrient profile to a lot of muscle meat items you might also feed. You don’t hear anyone raving about chicken as any sort of “superfood” though — quite the opposite in fact!
You’ll hear that green tripe is a great “probiotic”, which is not accurate. While fresh/frozen green tripe does contain a load of “beneficial” bacteria (often referred to as “probiotics”, though a true probiotic will colonize the gut, not just wave as it passes through town), those bacteria are only useful to the animal whose stomach they were living in. The bacteria which live in a ruminant’s stomach are absolutely crucial to the digestion process of that animal, in fact. Without them the the whole digestive process would practically halt in its tracks upon a ruminant swallowing a mouthful of grass!!! The bacteria don’t have any function when a dog eats them. While you could argue that the bacteria themselves form a sort of microscopic tur-duck-hen, the little bacteria carcasses are just that — food. They serve no function outside their niche.
You’ll hear people marvel over green tripe’s “perfect” calcium to phosphorous ratio, which is yet another attribute that’s really not so significant. Calcium works in a close relationship with phosphorus. Above and beyond meeting minimums of the two minerals, it’s important that they’re fed in approximately a 1:1 ratio. Green tripe on its own does tout a proper balance, but it doesn’t contain enough of either one to be fed to the exclusion of other meat, edible bone, and organs. It’s all fine and good that this one food item has these important nutrients in balance, but you achieve a good amount and a balance of these nutrients whether you feed green tripe or not given a properly formulated raw diet.
Green tripe does have at least one unique quality that makes it something you might actually want to seek out if the circumstances call for it: The fact that it’s STINKY. Most dogs love the fact that they’re allowed to eat such a barn-yard smelling delicacy without having to sneak around and risk a scolding or a bath upon getting caught. This makes it great for getting food into dogs who may be sick or recovering from illness or surgery.
As with anything, feed in moderation as part of an otherwise balanced and healthy diet. If you can deal with the smell, that is. I often refer to green tripe as a totally self-less act; A demonstration of pure love and devotion. No human handles green tripe because they enjoy it, but seeing your dog happy is worth every nose-wrinkling lip-curling barf-bag-seeking second! (And it’s really not that bad. You can pretend like it is to your friends though!)
Source referenced January 6th, 2018. Please plug URL into your favorite browser:
Green Tripe: What’s all the stink about?
Nutrient info on tripe came from:
Green Tripe: 2009, Monica Segal, AHCW. K9 Kitchen, Your Dogs’ diet:
THE TRUTH BEHIND THE HYPE, second edition. Doggie Diner Inc., Toronto, Canada
Order the book or e-book via: https://www.monicasegal.com/
Beef Tripe, raw: Entry #13341 USDA Food Composition Database, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb. Accessed January 6, 2018.
Beef Tripe, raw, New Zealand: Entry #23445, USDA Food Composition Database. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb. Accessed January 6, 2018.
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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:
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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?
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.
The first set of photos below are ones 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 with some commentary. Next is a photo of a case of frozen “backs” I used to get from a raw pet food buyer’s group I belonged to, and finally are photos of a typical pack of chicken backs and necks from the plain old grocery store.
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 birdie 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.
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A common hurdle for people new to raw feeding is knowing the size of the pieces to feed to their dog, especially when they have a dog who seems to just swallow food instead of chewing it. Internet groups are full of suggestions for “gulpers” which range from chopping or grinding the food (including bones), to feeding the pieces frozen, to holding onto the food in hopes the dog ‘learns’ to eat more slowly and ‘carefully’. All of these suggestions neglect one important fact: Dog’s don’t chew. In fact, dogs can’t chew. Not like people do.
Take a look at your dog and watch him or her eat. It becomes obvious when you’re conscious of it: A dog’s jaws don’t move in a side-to-side or circular motion. It’s only up-and-down. This completely eliminates the ability to create a grinding motion like omnivorous and herbivorous animals use. Dogs are capable predators who are equipped with what they need to hunt and eat. They don’t require that grinding range of motion and have never developed it.
Holding onto the end of a piece of meat is far more likely to result in an accidental but damaging bite to the hand than it is a dog who thoroughly mashes each mouthful before swallowing. A frozen chunk of food isn’t going to be safer than the same chunk not frozen. Grinding reduces food to “just food” and eliminates all the other purposes a meal satisfies for a dog – toothbrush, exercise routine, puzzle, even promoter of emotional well-being.
When a dog is presented with a food item, the one and only requirement that must be satisfied before it is swallowed is that it will fit down the throat. Well, probably fit. Choking is a very real possibility and happens all the time with food, toys, treats, and other objects when “small enough to fit” is misjudged or disregarded. If you give a dog something small enough and/or throat-shaped enough, it will not get chewed. People report varying levels of success to the contrary, but you can’t teach a dog to chew food into a mush any more than a person sitting on their hands can eat a steak dinner when presented with a whole deer. Possible? Yes. Efficient? No. Absurd? Totally.
The key to safe, successful, and healthful meal times is to FEED BIG: Big chunks of bone-in-meat, big chunks of meat-on-bone. Since dogs range in size from about 4 pounds to over 150, there’s no one ‘good’ animal or cut, but the rule of thumb is that if a chunk is bigger than the dog’s whole head it will require work and not be horked down too fast for health or safety. A piece that can be worked on for upwards of 20 minutes is a satisfying meal, and generally speaking a satisfying meal is a safe meal.
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I have noticed a trend towards feeding for a “good poop”: A uniform poop with a median consistency and color. That’s a perfectly fine poop to see, but it’s not the only poop that exists. Those pointy-eared logic loving Vulcans from the Star Trek franchise live by the philosophy of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”. I urge you to approach your raw fed dog’s diet and poop with the same thought in mind.
What goes in is not the only factor that influences color or consistency of what comes out, but it’s a big one. A proper raw diet is not absolutely the same from meal to meal, as kibble and other processed diets are. The poop won’t be either, and this is just fine! Soft poop, medium hardness poop, hard poop, light colored poops, dark poops, and poops in between are normal and healthy. A half-soft and half-hard poop is fine too! You will learn what’s normal for your dog given different meals – ones with edible bone, part or all organs, different kinds of animals and cuts of meat. You will learn the spectrum of descriptions that are normal for your dog, and you’ll know if something is amiss. Feed for nutrition, health, and satisfaction, not the poop a meal will produce.
Poop can tell you a lot about health, but does it really give you an accurate picture if you engineer the diet to produce the poop you want to see? The purpose of keeping tabs on poop is to note when a dog isn’t handling normal things normally, and then addressing the reason. If things go awry, artificially increasing fecal bulk with plant fiber (people love those cans of pumpkin) or edible bone in excess of about 15 percent of the diet is just covering up the problem, not fixing it.
Poops that you do NOT want to see as even a semi-regular thing are absolutely liquid poops, poops that cause an adult dog to wake up out of a dead sleep at 3am and need to go out now, and poops so hard they cause undue straining and come out in crumbles. If you see tarry looking dark poop and you can’t correlate it to feeding organs or rich meat, you need to see a vet. This is also the case if you see persistent bright red blood in or on stools. Poops that are super duper gross, funny colored, excessively mucusy and/or smell absolutely awful or unnatural more than a couple times in a row are vet worthy. Do not even hesitate to go to the vet if poop is super funky, urgent, and/or accompanied by other symptoms of illness.
BONUS!!! This is the full IDIC: A Lesson In Raw-Fed Dog Poop infographic. Feel free to share!
Also available as pins on Pinterest!
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