Ratio raw diets for dogs: facts, benefits & risks

In recent years, feeding by percentage, or ratio raw diets for dogs have become very trendy. When dog owners hear about these types of diets, they often search online or join a Facebook group to find the right guidelines and what to do.

But it can get confusing as many suggestions are based on opinions rather than more evidence-based approaches. So, in this blog, I am going to go through some facts you should know before starting a ‘ratio’ raw diet.

The basics of ‘percentage’, or ‘ratio’ diets

Ratio diets refer to a guideline on how to create a ‘do-it-yourself’ (DIY) raw food for your dog. The idea is that feeding a variety of foods in the suggested ratios, will create a balanced diet that meets your dog’s nutritional requirements while prevents deficiencies or excess.

A common guideline is an 80:10:5:5 diet, which involves feeding your dog 80% muscle meat, 10% raw meaty bones, 5% liver and 5% other organs. The amount of each food type is based on your dog’s body weight.

So, what does that mean in real-world terms? Let’s take a look at a simple scenario of how a ratio diet might look.

What does a ratio diet look like?

Let’s say you have a 20kg healthy dog. Most people recommend calculating the amount to feed per day by using simple percentages: around 2-3% of body weight for a healthy adult. Your dog is young and active so we use 3% which would be about 600g daily.

If we apply the 80:10:5:5 ratio, these are our goals for a 20kg healthy adult per day:

  • 480g muscle meat
  • 60g bones
  • 30g liver
  • 30g other organs

This look like a straightforward, adaptable, and nutritious feeding plan for your dog, right? Well, not quite!

Key concerns with ratio diets

Feeding by ‘percentage’ or ‘ratio’ are simply guidelines and if we take a deeper look, raw ratio diets for dogs have several weak points. Here are a few areas of concern worth focusing on:

  1. Raw bones and calcium: The first weak point is calcium. The intake of calcium should be very carefully calculated. An excess or deficiency can lead to serious health problems, such as skeletal abnormalities. It is very difficult to accurately predict the bioavailability of calcium from ingested bone. Calcium is a large mineral that is not easily broken down in the gut. It’s absorption rate varies based on the life stage of the dog, breed differences, and other dietary components. There is also great variation in how dogs eat bones. Some dogs swallow large bone chunks, while others diligently chew them up – this will clearly affect digestibility and absorption.
  2. Nutritional imbalances: Ratio diets are based on the principle that feeding a variety of foods prevent deficiencies. There’s some truth to this idea. However, good nutrition is a much bigger puzzle than just meeting your dog’s minimal requirements. It’s about feeding a healthy balance of each nutrient. That’s because most nutrients don’t work alone, they interact, join forces, or even compete with each other. For example, calcium and phosphorus work together to promote optimal bone health, and Vitamin D helps your dog’s body absorb and retain these minerals. Large amounts of zinc can interfere with copper and iron absorption. Similarly, large amounts of iron can interfere with zinc absorption, and so forth. It’s also equally important to bear in mind that overnutrition can be just as damaging as a deficiency. Take Vitamin A, for example. Large amounts of liver or cod liver oil fed over several weeks to months can lead to Vitamin A poisoning. So, balance is key!
  3. Vitamin E: Another concern with ratio diets is their consistent lack of vitamin E. This deficiency is especially worrying because ratio diets often have a high fat content. Vitamin E is the main fat-soluble antioxidant that works alongside selenium to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals produced during the breakdown of dietary fats.

But my dog looks better than ever: Understanding the changes

You’ve swapped your dog to a homemade raw ratio diet, and the changes are amazing. Your dog has more energy, and the coat is shiny and soft, even better than before! The trouble is that appearances can be deceiving. Here’s why:

Ratio raw diets are high in fat, and high-fat diets will result in a shinier coat. So, you’re feeding a high-fat diet, and your dog’s coat looks excellent and shiny. Naturally, you think your dog is healthy. Unfortunately, although high in fat, the diet is deficient in essential minerals, but this is unknown to you because all you see is the shiny coat.

And here’s the trouble: your dog’s body has a storage system of vitamins and minerals, which it draws on when the diet falls short. At first, it might be fine because the reserves will cover up any problems. But as time goes on and those reserves become lower and lower, your dog will start to struggle. If your dog is old, it might pass away due to old age, and you might never notice a problem because the reserves were good enough to keep things going. However, if your dog is young, chances are that problems will surface over time. Once those reserves are gone, your dog is in very, very big trouble.

So, what should you do if you are feeding a ratio raw diet and you are concerned your dog is not getting the correct amounts of essential nutrients?

Key takeaways to ensuring a healthy & balanced ratio diet

Homemade dog diets – raw or cooked, have multiple health benefits (as many of my clients would agree), but please don’t rely solely on percentages and variety. Do some research and apply a little math.

  • Create a spreadsheet and use the NRC (National Research Council) numbers to set up the target nutrient requirements of your dog.
  • Access the nutritional data of various food ingredients from The FoodData Central. Enter the information into your spreadsheet and calculate exactly how much of each essential nutrient is in a diet until you reach the required goal.
  • Address any deficiencies by incorporating appropriate supplements.

I want to clarify that the purpose of this blog is not to discourage you from feeding a ratio raw diet to your dog. Instead, it’s intended to encourage you to think carefully about the vital importance of ensuring that the diet meets all your dogs nutritional requirements.

We all want our dogs to be the healthiest they can be, and my goal is to help you achieve just that.

If you’d like to learn more about raw diets for dogs I encourage you to read my blog: Is a raw diet right for my dog?