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Are Supplements Necessary?

Elly the Dog

Variety in the diet will provide balance over time (every couple of weeks) and doesn’t need to be present in each individual meal. When following these guidelines for a raw food diet with a broad variety of good quality local and seasonal ingredients, then all essential nutrients should be available in the diet. There are a few exceptions, especially if you are not so confident of the variety or quality of the diet. The following are some useful supplements:

Kelp is a source of iodine and other trace minerals, and Alfalfa contains a range of minerals, trace minerals, and vitamins including A, B complex, C, D and E. For dogs, Clare Middle advises add kelp powder at 1 level teaspoon (or alfalfa at two heaped teaspoons) per 40kg bodyweight per meal, or mix a quarter kelp with three quarters alfalfa and add one and a half teaspoons per 40kg bodyweight. A pinch of kelp powder per meal for a cat is fine.

Fat and Essential Fatty Acids in a raw diet will be provided in raw meaty bones and offal. Due to modern farming practices, sometimes the quality of essential fatty acids (EFAs) is not optimum and needs to be supplemented. The relative balance of omega-3 and 6 EFAs required in the diet is complex, and is important for good health, especially in relation to chronic inflammatory diseases. All oils must be stored carefully according to directions, and rancid oils should not be fed.

A good omega-3 supplement for young healthy dogs is crushed flaxseed (linseed), which is also a prebiotic and excellent source of fibre for both dogs and cats. Fish oil and cod liver oil are active omega-3 supplements useful for all cats and dogs. Feeding about 10% of the diet (up to 30% for cats) as fresh raw or tinned small fish will provide enough fish oil in the diet, or it can be supplemented. Clare Middle recommends 500mg fish oil daily for cats and small dogs, and up to 6000mg for large dogs. For animals with fish allergies coconut oil, milk or flesh (fresh or desiccated) is another good omega-3 source.

Cod liver oil is not the same as fish oil. It also contains Vitamin A and D, and care should be taken not to over-supplement with it. Ian Billinghurst, in The BARF Diet, recommends daily (or weekly for very small animals) cod liver oil for both dogs and cats. He advises giving enough oil to supply 20 to 40 iu of Vitamin A per pound body weight per day, using the lower dose for larger dogs.

Omega-6 EFAs will generally be provided in raw meat and offal. For dogs with particular conditions extra omega-6 EFAs may be helpful and can be supplemented, for example in evening primrose oil. In many cases though, extra Omega-3 is more likely to be needed. Extra virgin olive oil (first cold pressed) is another healthy oil for dogs and contains Vitamin E, but no EFAs. Vitamin E is also present in red meat, nuts and seeds.

A raw diet as described here will promote healthy gut function by encouraging the growth of natural gut flora (‘friendly’ bacteria) and additional probiotics are probably not needed. However, they are safe to add to the diet for any animal, may be helpful while changing diets or at stressful times, and for animals that need extra gastrointestinal support.

As a guide to supplements, I would suggest that if you have a young healthy dog and you are confident of the variety of raw ingredients (including fish and offal) that you are feeding, then supplement with kelp or alfalfa powder and crushed flaxseed daily, and cod liver oil once a week. If you have a young healthy cat and are feeding a good variety of raw foods including fish and offal, then supplement with kelp powder daily (one pinch) and cod liver oil once a week. If your animal does not like fish then add fish oil or coconut oil as recommended above. It is best not to feed supplements that contain extra calcium or processed bone meal, as this will alter the mineral balance of your natural diet.

Remember that variety is the key to an overall balanced diet. Problems mainly occur if you are repeatedly feeding the same ingredients. For example, if cats are fed exclusively on fish this can cause serious Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. In certain cases it may help to use a multi supplement product such as Pet Plus or Missing Link. Pet Plus ingredients include probiotics, alfalfa, flaxseed, taurine (in cat formula), digestive enzymes and garlic (for immune support). Missing Link is similar and also contains kelp, but no probiotics.

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