In raw feeding it is crucial to feed organs, but a lot of people get confused about what exactly organs are, and why they’re important. Reading about raw feeding, you’ll see that heart should be considered as meat, not organ. But the heart is an organ, right? What is organ vs. what is meat is a classification issue. Organs are body systems and consist of epithelium, specialized cells, nervous and connective tissues, and muscle tissues. We’re talking nutrition, not function when we talk about animal parts as food, though. No, you weren’t wrong this whole time; While body parts like the heart and stomach are functionally organs, they are nutritionally more of a muscle. It’s not really necessary to have a working knowledge of anatomy and physiology of a prey animal to feed a raw diet, but understanding some basics can help, especially if you struggle to find a full complement of organs and/or whole prey food and get to wondering about what’s really necessary and what might not be. At the end of the page is a list of organs and their classification when it comes to feeding a raw diet.
Let’s back up a bit first…. If you think way back to the basic biology you learned when you were likely younger than you are now, you’ll remember that there are three different types of muscle: skeletal, smooth, and cardiac. Skeletal muscle is the “meaty meat”. When you think ‘steak’ or ‘pork chop’ you’re thinking skeletal muscle. It is the tissue involved in motor function. Smooth muscle is associated more with involuntary movement and is different than skeletal muscle. This is the type of muscle that allows the stomach to churn, blood vessels to constrict and expand, and the pupils in eyes to dilate — stuff like that. Cardiac muscle is the heart muscle and is unique within the body. Different parts of the body require different physical/chemical compositions to do the things they do, lending a different nutrient profile to each part, and in turn the animals who eat them.
Carnivores were designed to take in the nutrients their bodies need pretty much solely from eating animals, who get the nutrients they need by way of foraging. Of course plants get the nutrients they need directly from soil and sunlight. Pretty neat system. The reason why organs are so important to a raw diet is because some of them contain certain vitamins and other essential nutrients that are not found in similar concentrations in any other part of the body — any body. A diet without an adequate concentration of these nutrients will not be complete. You could, of course, try to identify what nutrients a diet that doesn’t include organs is missing and try to fulfill the requirements though other food sources or supplements, but why do that when just 10% or so of the overall diet can provide both macro- and micro-nutrients in combinations that are already adequately distributed, species appropriate, and in exist in relative synergistic harmony?
When using a “prey model” as part of the feeding style namesake process, the goal is to feed or recreate a prey animal and all that makes it work in some semblance of the same proportion as it’s found in a likely natural prey animal. When we’re trying to simulate this feast with parts from the grocery store, butcher, co-ops, game meats, and/or your local independent pet store that sells raw foods, one can break the main parts of the model down into three significant parts: meat, bones, and organs. The ‘prey model’ has popularly been simplified as the ratio of about 80% “meat” (including fat and connective tissue), about 10% edible bone, and about 10% organs. Among organs classified on nutritional grounds, there are some that are necessary and some that are really not — good if you can/want to get them, fine if not at all.
If you participate in online group discussions, especially, you’ll run into the full gamut of opinions on organ consumption ranging from “Eh, feed some liver” to very detailed sets of instructions for choosing organs and the importance of feeding all manner of things that are actually unnecessary and probably impractical. You also get people warning to not feed too much organ for a variety of reasons (and definitions) from the realistic to the just plain silly. It can be very confusing and overwhelming, but it really doesn’t have to be. As I’m fond of pointing out, if your head starts swimming when you’re trying to plan meals you’re probably the victim of overthinking and/or poor advice. The reality when it comes to organs is that some are nutritionally crucial (e.g. liver), but use of others is actually quite flexible. Nutrition is not a tidy set of figures with a definite “right” and “wrong”. It’s more of a spectrum of “good/better/best”, and even “best” is dependent on individual needs. The overall diet can influence what you should be including for organ content, likewise what you can source for organs will affect the profile of the overall diet you feed. As with the “meat” part of the diet, VARIETY is always key to ensuring adequate nutrition without necessitating a deconstruction and total understanding of each food item you feed. (For more on that subject check out the post titled: Spicing Up Life: The Importance Of Variety.)
Sidetrack: A little popular internet damage control. It has caught on with many online raw feeding communities to separate organs into two groups — those that “secrete” and those that don’t. It’s also getting more and more common to see recommended part ratios as “80/10/5/5”, which represents the suggestion to feed 80% meat, 10% edible bone, 5% specifically liver, and 5% ‘other organs’ or ‘other secreting organs’. This ‘secreting’ business all started out as a useful guideline for figuring out what exactly of the identifiable (or not-so identifiable) squidgy stuff inside of an animal you really should feed, which bits aren’t as important; and whether to think about them more as meat if you are going to offer it, or to consider it with your all-important but relatively small organ allotment. Anyone with a grasp on biology and physiology probably cringes at the secreting organ thing, and I, personally, think — like many other popular feeding guidelines — it has morphed from witty and helpful to inflexible and rather unhelpful.
AND FINALLY……. Following are the most significant organs when considering a raw diet and the ones that will mostly make up your “organ” allotment in the overall diet. (The ones endowed with “secreting” properties.) In part two of the organ discussion you can read more about each one and an overview of its specific place in the diet:
Then there are the “organs” that aren’t considered as such nutritionally, and are fed more as “meat”, or are so small and/or nestled in muscle and bone tissue they are hard to separate:
- Gizzard (found in birds, not mammals)
- Stomach (Tripe)
- Esophagus (Gullet)
- Lymph Nodes
- Salivary and hormone-secreting glands
- Testicles, uterus, and other reproductive system parts
- Spinal cord and other nervous tissue
- Eyes and other sensory organs
There are a few organs that you’re unlikely going to feed unless you are offering a completely whole animal. Even then it’s likely you’ll want to remove them (or they’ve already been removed) as part of basic ‘dressing’ of the animal for reasons of tainting of the meat during freezing for parasites and storage, and the potential mess created by a dog who doesn’t want to eat it anyway. There’s nothing wrong with these parts, but there is no benefit to be had by purposely including them in the diet:
- Urinary Bladder
- Gall Bladder
Fun with organs is continued in part two! Please continue to Organ Menu: Body Systems and Their Place in the Diet where you’ll learn a bit more about each organ. Practical feeding guidelines coming soon in part 3!
Some dogs don’t make feeding a good diet easy. Got a problem eater when it comes to organs? Check out this post for ideas on how to get things on the right track:
Help! My Dog Won’t Eat Organs
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