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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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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?

whole_ck_cross

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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Dogs Can’t Chew Like People Do! (With Infographic)

Dogs Don't Chew full image

Click on pic or download to see larger. Separate panels to view and share below! Text in middle panel same as article.

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.

Dogs Don't Chew

Wisdom From T'Paw - Chewing

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IDIC — A Lesson In Raw-Fed Dog Poop (With Infographic!)

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!

IDIC of Poop -- packlunchraw.com
If you’re interested in just the slogan and “Vul-canine”, here’s a simplified version: 

IDIC Poop (Simple) -- www.packlunchraw.com

Also available as pins on Pinterest!

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