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Dog Food Vitamin & mineral deficiencies on a raw meat diet

Dog VitaminsPeople are funny, dog owners doubly so. I recently visited a UK forum that brags about its raw feeding credentials, however when I put up a detailed post about getting raw meat diets balanced and complete, I was 'hounded' down.

It seems that this is all too complicated for people. However, with massive over-farming of soils around the world, some major vitamins and minerals are missing from our soils, and so are missing from cattle and our dogs diet (if you feed raw).

If you think that the aafco (or nca or any other) nutrient table minimum and maximum nutrient values are not valid, you may also like to see what nutrient deficiencies or excesses can do to your dogs.

One popular counter argument on said forum was that the benchmark standards do not take into account micro nutrients. my counter, counter-argument is that is  because micro are micro in size  they are also generally considered micro in effect. Only the big very obvious nutrients are tabled by aafco, the ones your dog really needs. It is very unlikely you will accidently feed too many micro nutrients to your dogs. ONLY the large ones with  very serious side effects if you don't meet minimum standards are in these tables.

If you feed your dog kibble, particularly the cheaper stuff, then your dog may also be malnutrition-ed.  Because kibble and cans is mostly grain with a little meat and a bunch of vitamins and minerals in, it is up to the ease of access to absorption of the vitamins and minerals that will decide how much your dog can actually use. A synthetic vitamin or mineral may only provide a little bit of the vital nutrient, so even on kibble you may need to consider if your dog is getting the bare minimum they require.

How are minimum dog nutrient levels created?

Apparently by a lot of testing of dog blood and dog stools to see what vitamins, minerals and amino acids are available to a dog to use. These tests plus feeding trials then apparently create such tables as the aafco and nca minimum nutrient tables for adult dogs, puppies, lactating dogs etc.

THE trick with understanding the tables and knowing what is available in a raw diet (from global nutrient tables is that many of the minerals in the aafco tables are expressed as mg/kg. While meat and offal nutrient tables are just expressed as mg, micro grams etc per 100g or food.

"Minimum recommended daily amount of a tabled nutrient in mg/kg of DRY food consumed." Ref 5.

% Affco conversions

Example: Affco has minimum requirement (adult maintenance of) 0.6% Calcium.

100g Beef has 6 mg Calcium per 100g, Beef is 70.5% water.

That means the Calcium % in Dry beef is:

(6/ 100,000) x 100 x (100/(100-70.5))

=  0.006 x 3.38 = 0.02% well below the 0.6% minimum requirement. That is of course why we add raw bone to their diet, and make sure that the Ca:P ratio is correct. More on that later.

This aafco value (mg/kg) Calculation

Example: Affco has minimum requirement (adult maintenance of) 80mg/kg Iron.  (NCA is 32 mg/kg)

100g Beef has 2.4 mg Iron per 100g, Beef is 70.5% water.

That means the Iron mg/Kg in Dry beef is:

(2.4 x 10) x (100/(100-70.5))

=  24 x 3.38 = 81.12 mg/kg Close to the AAFCO minimum requirement.


The B group vitamins are expressed as a mg/kg unit of measurement while Vitamin A, D and E are in IU/kg units.

These need to be converted using the following information.

Vitamin A: 1 IU is the biological equivalent of 0.3 ?g retinol, or of 0.6 ?g beta-carotene

Vitamin C: 1 IU is 50 ?g L-ascorbic acid

Vitamin D: 1 IU is the biological equivalent of 0.025 ?g cholecalciferol/ergocalciferol

Vitamin E: 1 IU is the biological equivalent of about 0.667 mg d-alpha-tocopherol (2/3 mg exactly), or of 0.45 mg of dl-alpha-tocopherol acetate.

However it is speculated that the affaco standards were made artificially higher to account for the lower digestibility of grains. If this is so then following the original NRA table values for raw meats would make more sense, and potentially be achievable.

How complete is a raw diet in vitamins and minerals?

"In general the calcium and phosphorus in plant products are less available than the minerals found in animal products. Cereal grains contain phyrate, a phosphorus containing compound that can bind other minerals, including calcium, and make them unavailable for absorption." (R 1, p 112)

The reference's main concern is "the low calcium and extremely high phosphorus content of an all meat diet leads to inadequate absorption of calcium and transient hypocalcemia."

Low calcium can lead to bone fractures, loss of teeth, lameness, splaying of the toes, and many other issues.

Reference FOUR is one of the best sources of dog food BONE information I have found.

Without BONE in a dogs diet, meat and offal provides around 0.02% Calcium and 0.6% phosphorus.

Thus with a raw meat diet with NOBONE the Ca:P Ratio is 0.03   NOT 1:1 or  2:1

Phosphorus %: AAFCO = 0.5% NRC= 0.44

Calcium %:  AAFCO = 0.6% NRC= 0.59

Phosphorus and Calcium are Vital in the maintenance of the dog's skeleton and a wide range of metabolic functions.  Besides the absolute amounts, the ratio of  1:1 or 2:1 is also important, but if the bio availability of each mineral must be taken into account. In raw diets these minerals are very available.

We see that Eukanuba use (Calcium Carbonate) but no direct phosphorus compound and Advance uses Dicalcium Phosphate to add Calcium and phosphorus to their mix.

" That the trans-membrane potential difference and composition of the skeletal muscle cell are adversely affected by phosphorus depletion seems evident from these studies. Studies on skeletal muscle after 4 wk of phosphorus depletion showed an abnormally low resting Em, abnormally low content of potassium, and abnormal elevation of sodium and chloride content. Magnesium content was not affected. The extracellular fluid volume of skeletal muscle increased. Upon restoring phosphorus to the diet, weakness and anorexia cleared rapidly. After 4 wk of repletion, Em, cellular composition, and muscle water content had essentially returned to normal. (ref 2)

Balancing The Calcium:Phosphorus Ratio

"10 grams of raw bone (is said to) give us a total supplement of 1,000 milligrams of Calcium and 1,000 milligrams of Phosphorous." Ref 4

Being close to the absolute amounts is important, but being as close as possible to the ratio is VERY important.

And this is where using the data tables for the food you feed your dog is vital. For instance do you know how much bone you should feed your dog to achieve the minimum and maximum levels or Calcium and Phosphorus, including the meat and offal you provide?

If you use a summary table of the meat components (in an excel spreadsheet), you can easily change the wet weight of the bone to get the right dry weight equivalent and the equivalent of calcium and phosphorus that it will contribute. For instance for my 20 kg dog, with the meat and offal diet I used in the previous articles you can see that the ratio is massively slanted towards Phosphorus. Bone will supply approximately the same amounts of Calcium and Phosphorus in the diet, so the more bone you add, the closer the ratio will approach 1:1. HOWEVER as phosphorus has an UPPER aafco limit of 1.6% you should only add bone until it reaches this limit.

For my dog this means approximately 28g of chicken bone (wet), with an estimated dry weight of 19g. Then the Ca and P supplied will be around 1.1 % of the dry weight of the food. Add this to the dry weight of the meat and offal and the TOTAL Phosphorus in his diet is near 1.6% (maximum aafo allowed). The Ca to P ratio is now 0.7 % which is not ideal, however it is much closer to 1.0 than if bone was not used. If you can find a Calcium source that your dog will eat that doesn't include phosphorus then you will be able to boost the ratio some.

Potassium %: AAFCO = 0.6 NRC= 0.44  Raw = 0.72%

Dogs depleted of potassium show a marked increase in fluid exchange. The increase begins usually within 24 hours after being placed on the potassium deficient diet provided the dog is healthy at the start of the experiment (ref 3)

How dog foods do it:  Eukanuba - the first ingredient in its trace foods is Potassium Chloride (this is even above all the vitamin additions. Advance: Potassium Chloride is the fourth ingredient after the bulk foods.

Sodium %: AAFCO = 0.06% NRC= 0.06  Raw = 0.22%

Chloride% AAFCO = 0.09% NRC= 0.09 Raw =  undetermined.

How dog foods do it:  Eukanuba has Potassium Chloride and Salt (most likely NaCl) as the first two supplement ingredients. Advance has Iodised Salt as its second supplemental ingredient, and Potassium Chloride as its fourth. If you feed your dog dog treats, there is a chance that some salt will be added for taste and this will increase the amount of Chloride.

Magnesium %: AAFCO = 0.04% NRC= 0.04  Raw = 0.05%

The reference says that "magnesium is present in both soft tissues and bone (of prey animals)."

Iron mg/kg  AAFCO = 80 mg/kg NRC= 32  Raw = 108

Eukanuba uses Ferrous Sulfate, Advance uses Iron Sulphate

Phylates in grains are known to reduce the amount of free iron, zinc, and calcium so the aafco standards are often higher assuming that a grain based food will be fed to a dog.

"  Because of very poor bioavailability, iron from carbonate or oxide sources that are added to the diet should not be considered as components in meeting the minimum nutrient level." ref aafco

Lamb kidneys have approximately four times the iron content of Beef meat, so the inclusion of kidney with most meals will help achieve the required amount of Iron.

Copper mg/kg : AAFCO = 7.3 NRC= 2.9  Raw = 11 mg/kg

Copper is required for iron absorption and transport, haemoglobin manufacture. formation of collagen, bone and connective tissue,

Eukanuba and  Advance dog foods both use Copper Sulfate.

Copper is found in liver, fish, whole grains, and legumes. While Copper is only found as 1 mg/kg in beef it is 140 mg/ kg in beef liver. This is because Copper tends to accumulate in animal livers, and in fact can cause damage to a dogs liver if excess copper is consumed.

"Because of very poor bioavailability, copper oxide sources should not be used to meet the minimum nutrient level." ref aafco.   High levels of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), increased levels of calcium, zinc, iron, and sulfur can decrease the absorption of copper.

Manganese mg/kg : AAFCO = 5 NRC= 5.1  Raw = 0.53

Manganese occurs in the body principally in the liver, but it is also present in appreciable amounts in the kidneys, pancreas, and bone. The lowest concentrations are found in skeletal muscle.

In the raw diet, it can be found in lamb kidneys 1 mg/kg and liver 4.4 mg/kg

Manganese is essential for the proper use of protein and carbohydrate by the body, reproduction, and the action of many enzymes in the body responsible for the production of energy and making fatty acids.

Manganese is present in whole grains, seeds, nuts, eggs, and green vegetables.

Eukanuba add Manganese as Manganese Sulfate

The symptoms of manganese deficiency are: poor growth, skeletal abnormalities, reproductive failure, and ataxia (loss of equilibrium). A supplement that includes a useful amount of manganese should be found.

Manganese needs to be supplemented when feeding a raw meat diet.

Zinc mg/kg : AAFCO = 120 NRC=35  Raw = 132 mg/kg

In the raw diet the biggest contributors of zinc are beef flesh 233 mg/kg and lamb liver 128 mg/kg, DRY food.

It is interesting how much the aafco limit changed up from the NRC values since 1985.

Zinc and Iron are the most abundant minerals in the body. It serves MANY functions some of which are epidermal integrity, taste acuity, immunological functions. It is essential for the conversion of linoleic acid (OMAGE 6) to arachidonic acid and is a cofactor for RNA and DNA polymerases, which means it is vital for rapidly dividing cells such as found in the skin.

Zinc deficiency is most easily seen by abnormalities in hair and skin conditions in dogs, gastrointestinal disturbances and impaired reproductive functions.

Specific signs of zinc deficiency - "dogs will develop desquamating skin lesions on the foot pads, extremities, joints and groin. Lesions first appear as small erythematous areas that eventually enlarge and merge into dry, crusty, brown lesions. Coat changes have also been reported where dogs develop dry, harsh hair coat with fading coat colour." (ref 1 p 114)

Another dietary cause of a relative zinc deficiency is feeding excessive calcium.

Iodine:  mg/kg : AAFCO = 1.5 NRC= 0.59  Raw = undetermined

Iodine is used by the thyroid gland and the production of thyroid hormones.

Usually added to food via fish and iodized salt. Iodine deficiency results in lower than normal production of thyroid hormones. Symptoms of this 'hypothyroidism' include poor growth, hair loss, weight gain in older animals, weakness, and some behavioural changes such as irritability.

The very interesting thing is that Iodine does not appear as an element in any of the data sources that were used in preparation of the tables, so its value in the meats cannot be determined.

Eukanuba perhaps uses iodised salt. Advance has Iodised Salt as its second largest supplement.

Iodine needs to be supplemented in a raw meat diet.

Selenium:  : AAFCO = 0.11 mg/kg NRC= 0.11  Raw = 1.43 mg/kg


Vitamin A IU/kg AAFCO = 5000 - 250,000 NRC= 3,710  Raw =    2,700 IU/kg

It would appear that beef flesh and lamb heart have almost no vitamin A, but lamb kidney has around 5000 IU/kg and Lamb liver has nearly 170,000 IU/kg. You can start to see how nutrient vital liver is in a raw diet.

Eukanuba add Vitamin A Acetate and Advance just adds ' Vitamin A'.

Vitamin A is vital to all mammals, but along with most mammals (except for the cat) dogs can turn pre-cursors into Vitamin A in their body. However these precursors are mainly found in plant material as carotenoids. "The most common forms of 'preformed' vitamin A are in foods that have retinol. The largest quantities of these compounds are found in fish liver oils and animal livers." (ref 1 p 107)

Vitamin A deficiency causes bone deformities and neurological disorders in young animals. In adult dogs vitamin A deficiency affects reproduction, vision and epithelium. "clinical signs include anorexia, xerophthalmia, conjunctivitis, corneal opacity and ulceration, skin lesions, and multiple disorders of the epithelial layers in the body.

Vitamin A toxicity is rare because the precursor of Vitamin A is not toxic.

Vitamin A needs to be added to a raw diet by supplements.

Healthy raw food dog vitaminsVitamin D - IU/kg AAFCO = 500 - 5,000 NRC= 404  Raw =   unknown.

The data sheets say that beef flesh, lamb liver, lamb kidney, lamb heart either has NO Vitamin D or that it is not recorded.

"Dogs and cats have a nutritional requirement for vitamin D even when sufficient sunlight is available, since vitamin D3 is not produced in skin through action of UV irradiation on 7-dehydrocholesterol in sufficient quantities to prevent rickets "  (How et al., 1994a, b; 1995). Hazewinkel et al. (1987)

It is suggested that carnivores do not need to provide their own vitamin D, since fat, liver and blood of their prey will fulfill this need (How et al., 1995).

Vitamin D requirements of cats and dogs are suggested to be sufficiently high to produce normal growth, calcification, production and reproduction, provided that diets contain recommended levels of calcium and available phosphorus. Cats and dogs have low vitamin D requirements when calcium, phosphorus and the ratio of the minerals are correct. The need for vitamin D depends to a large extent on the ratio of calcium to phosphorus. As this ratio becomes either wider or narrower than the optimum, the requirement for vitamin D increases, but no amount will compensate for severe deficiencies of either calcium or phosphorus. A calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1.2:1 is suggested for dogs (NRC, 1985) with no optimum ratio yet established for cats (NRC, 1986).  (ref 4)

"When a diet containing low levels of calcium (0.08%) and phosphorus (0.1%) was fed to pups, they developed rickets. Three of five pups fed the low calcium and phosphorus diet with 100 IU vitamin D per kg (45.5 IU per lb) of body weight daily did not develop rickets while a fourth had very slight rachitic changes."

40 IU equals 1 µg of vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency leads to osteomalacia or the decalcification of bones with an increased chance of fracturing.  Excess vitamin D lead sot hypercalcemia and calcification of soft tissue.

Main sources of vitamin D are fish meal and fish oils.

It is believed that there is 0.5-1 micrograms per ml of vitamin D in (20-40 international Units)

"Because processing may destroy up to 90 percent of the thiamin in the diet, allowance in formulation should be made to ensure the minimum nutrient level is met after processing." ref aafco

Typically I would feed my dog about 5 ml of Salmon Oil for Omega 3. That means that he would get about 200 IU per 5 ml.

Aafco requires a minimum of 500 IU/kg. 180 g of dry food weight means that he only needs 500 x 180/1000 = 90 IU, so in theory, by using Fish Oil as an Omega 3 source, It also provides adequate Vitamin D.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E - IU/kg AAFCO = 50 IU/ kg NRC= 22  Raw =   unknown.

"Acts as a biological antioxidant, and is required for normal reproduction. There are several forms of vitamin E. The most biologically active form is know as alpha-tocopherol, which should be supplemented as alpha-tocopherol, alpha-tocopherol acetate, or alpha-tocopherol succinate. Other forms, like gamma-tocopherol or beta-tocopherol, do not provide the same level of protection.

A deficiency of vitamin E can lead to decreased reproductive performance, retinal degeneration, and impairment of the immune system.
Toxicity: None known, but high levels of vitamin E can adversely affect the absorption of vitamins A and K, causing deficiencies.

Stability: Vitamin E is sensitive to heat, light and oxygen and significant losses have been found after relatively short times of food storage.
Sources: Wheat germ, corn, nuts, seeds, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, asparagus, vegetable oils." Ref 6

Vitamin E needs to be added via a supplement.


As you can see from this article a raw meat and offal diet is remarkable complete by itself.

The only minerals that need supplementation are Chloride (available through common salt), Manganese and Iodine.

If you choose to feed your dog Omega 6 oil and Omega 3 (fish oil) you will cover the Vitamin D issue.

Thus the only other aafco listed nutrients required are Vitamin A and Vitamin E.

It is noted that the aafco guidelines do not list all nutrients that can be found in foods, only the ones that they consider to be of vital importance to a dog's health. Some of the nutrients they list have maximum limits, half do not. See previous articles on raw feeding.

A natural meat and offal diet exceeds most of the minimum requirements without exceeding the maximum limits. The nutrients with the tightest tolerance appear to be those of Calcium and Phosphorus. The ratio issue with these two nutrients seems to be able t be handled by a fairly close watching of how much easily edible bone is supplied to your dog.

The next article looks at what human vitamins can be used to supplement your dogs diet to satisfy the affco guidelines. In that way your dog will be able to eat meat (which is what a carnivore should do) and also meet aafco guidelines that were mostly created for manufactured pet food. This means that your pet will have the best of both worlds and the healthiest diet possible.


Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please refer to the article as a reference and provide a link to

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Ref 1 Ref 1  Canine and Feline Nutrition  Case et al 3rd edition

Ref 2 Reversible Changes of the Muscle Cell in Experimental Phosphorus Deficiency


From the Department of Medicine, Veterans Administration Hospital, Dallas, Texas 75216 and the Department of Medicine, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas 75235

Ref 3   A Diabetes Insipidus-like Condition Produced in Dogs by a Potassium Deficient Diet   Susan Gower Smith Thomas E. Lasater. From the Department of Neuropsychiatry, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N. C.

Ref 4

Ref 5

Ref 6

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