Calcium and the Raw Diet


With more and more people feeding raw natural diets or even cooked diets to their pets, it becomes more and more evident that many lack particular knowledge of what they are feeding and what exactly needs to be balanced.  Recipes for home cooked meals as well as raw meals, have proliferated the Internet and traveled via word of mouth ever since dog food and treat recalls became a nearly daily occurrence.  While it is incredible that so many people wish to feed their companions in a safer, healthier and more natural way, it is somewhat alarming that people don’t delve further into the diet before starting to feed it.  Intentions may be the best but there are certain aspects of feeding a raw or cooked diet that must be observed in order to ensure that your dog actually gets the best nutrition that he can.

Perhaps one of the most common mistakes people make is not paying enough attention to the addition of calcium in their pet’s food.  Arguably this happens most often with a cooked diet but raw feeders are certainly not immune.  Simply put, when feeding our pets, we need to first make certain that we are balancing the calcium and phosphorus in that food.  The recommended ration is 1-2 parts calcium to 1 part of phosphorus or 1-2:1.  Phosphorus is readily available in most foods, especially meat, which is what our little carnivores need the most of.  Calcium is slightly harder to pin down.  For raw feeders, giving raw meaty bones such as chicken necks and backs, pork and beef necks or ribs or turkey necks, balances the high levels of phosphorus found in the meat itself.  These bones are edible and
consumable and are easy to add.  For people who cook their dog’s food, or for those who are afraid to feed whole pieces of raw meaty bones, it can be a more difficult prospect.

Commercially made raw is generally ground meats with the correct balance of bones and organs blended right in.  For raw feeders who are a little gun shy about feeding raw meaty bones, these ground mixes can solve all of their problems.  Oftentimes, raw feeders end up with a source of ground boneless meat but no available means to add raw bone in a ground form.  Some of the larger table top grinders can handle small bones such as one would find in birds (though often not turkey bones as they are raised to alarming sizes in captivity) or small mammals such as rabbits.  Many don’t wish to spend the money on such tools and still others simply don’t have the time to dedicate a day to grinding.  In such cases, and in the case of people who home cook for their dogs (remember, cooked bones are always a NO NO!), a calcium supplement may be the right choice.

Many people believe that adding a calcium rich food like yogurt or cottage cheese will be enough to balance the meal.  In reality, those items contain enough calcium to balance themselves, not additional added meat products.  Calcium supplements are your best bet.  Raw feeders may choose to add something along the lines of a bone dust product such as A Place For Paws Bone Dust.  Beware of products such as bone meal that are sometimes sold just for this purpose and are in reality processed bone waste from questionable sources.  Next to bone itself (not an option for home cookers), eggshell calcium is the next best thing.  From a whole food source, this method of supplementing calcium is easy and nutritious.  Ground eggshells can be made at home from your own eggshell waste – the shells will need to be dried and baked at 300 degrees to make them more brittle and easier to grind into a powder.  Whole eggshells will not deliver the calcium your dog needs, they must be ground.  Another option is to purchase the eggshells already ground as with Eggshellent Calcium – a product made for just this purpose.  Finally, there are synthetic calcium supplements such as those formulated for humans that can be used but note that synthetic is the last option that you want to exercise as it is not nearly as nutritionally available or complete for your dog.  Recommended dosage for calcium is approximately 800-1000mg of calcium per pound of meat.  One teaspoon of ground eggshells constitutes approximately 1800mg of calcium and most calcium supplements in pill form come with the milligrams clearly marked on the bottle.

Calcium is one of the most important things we can add to our dog’s home made food whether it be cooked or raw in the absence of raw meaty bones or ground bone itself.  When too little calcium is present, the body will leach calcium from the bones of the animal itself in order to compensate.  Weakening the bones in such a manner can cause a host of issues such as hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD), osteochondrosis (OCD), hip dysplasia, general bone and joint weakness, pain and fragile bones that break easily.  Dental health can also be compromised.  All of these issues can easily be avoided by the simple addition of one important mineral – calcium.