Please be aware that this article relates to our Big Dog Pet Foods range.

The term “complete and balanced” causes a lot of confusion. But it was designed to give pet parents confidence that they are feeding food which is nutritionally sound. So how is it actually defined? And can it be applied to a raw food diet?

Complete, when referring to pet food, is meant to answer the question “does the food contain all of the nutrition required to sustain the life of the pet?”

Balanced, when referring to pet food, is meant to answer the question “does the food contain the accepted amounts of these nutrients to sustain the life of the pet?”

Nutritional guidelines for pet food

In combination the term “complete and balanced” sets a minimum nutritional benchmark for the commercial pet food industry. It is especially important when it comes to processed pet foods, e.g. dry food (kibble, biscuits) and cooked food (tinned wet food, cooked rolls, cooked meatballs etc.). This is to ensure that adequate vitamins and minerals and in some instances, protein and amino acids are added back into cooked foods to compensate for any loss of nutrition during the cooking process.

There are two kinds of pet food products that can claim to be “complete and balanced”:

  1. A pet food formulated to meet a certain set of recognised international standards (AAFCO, the American Standard or FEDIAF, the European standard).
  2. A food which doesn’t meet the standards, but has been fed to pets as part of a feeding trial, for the accepted period of time without any issue.

But are these standards suitable for raw pet food diets?

While the international standards stipulate the minimum and, in some instances, maximum amount of macronutrients and micronutrients in a pet food, they don’t take into account the source of these nutrients. I.e. protein in a pet food could come from a fresh piece of meat, or it could come from corn or soy meal.

Nor do the standards take into account the differences in absorption of nutrition from natural food vs. synthesised ingredients that have been added after cooking. For example, vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals often occur in different forms in nature, than can be synthesised in a laboratory. These natural forms are highly absorbable and bioavailable to the system. Synthetic vitamins and minerals aren’t often as bioavailable as those found in nature so more of them are required to prevent deficiency.

Zinc for example, is highly bioavailable in meat. When consumed as part of a natural raw food diet low in carbohydrates, zinc is easily absorbed and utilised by the body. For this reason, your pet doesn’t need as much zinc in a raw food diet as you’d find in a processed diet. If zinc were added supplementally in a raw food diet, this could contribute to long term toxicity. When it comes to an evolutionary raw food diet, it’s about quality over quantity.

Complete and balanced by nature

So how can a pet parent gain confidence that their pet is getting the nutrition they need from a raw commercial pet food that isn’t complete and balanced to processed food standards? Well, for a start, you’re feeding your pet real food and that’s the most important thing. Real, minimally processed food is higher in nutrition and is easier for the body to absorb and utilise.

Variety is key. Different protein sources and different cuts of meat will provide protein and amino acid variety and contribute to “completeness” over time. You can achieve this by rotating different single protein raw food diets or feed mixed-protein meals such as the Big Dog Core Range of diets. A diet formulated using varied pet-friendly seasonal fruits and veg will also contribute to balance over time.

Real food trumps ‘complete and balanced’

There are components of a raw food diet that aren’t covered by the complete and balanced guidelines but contribute to the health and longevity of pets. These include enzymes which are naturally occurring in raw natural ingredients. These assist digestion and absorption of food and getting the most out of the diet. Coenzyme Q10 is another naturally-occurring component of raw meat which is associated with healthy heart function and energy levels. Other phytonutrients found in healthy raw ingredients act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and assist with the promotion of optimal health and longevity.

When it comes to raw food diets, the aim isn’t to “sustain the life of pets”, it’s to help them thrive and have the longest, healthiest, happiest lives possible.

At Big Dog we believe that nature gets it right which is why we don’t add anything synthetic to our diets. Natural ingredients when eaten as part of a varied diet provide both complete and balanced nutrition throughout a pets’ life. Founded in 2000, Big Dog have seen pets live their entire life on our food achieving both quality and quantity of life.

Complete and balanced claims

Despite our philosophy of 100% natural, we understand that the feeding a pet food that is complete and balanced provides peace of mind for some, including many veterinarian professionals.

For this reason, Big Dog have completed a series of AAFCO Feeding Trials to substantiate the nutritional completeness of our food without going down the path of adding synthetics to our recipes.

Working with our charity of choice, Smart Pups Assistance Dogs, and under the supervision of a Veterinarian, these feeding trials substantiate Big Dog diets as Complete and Balanced for healthy growth in puppies and for the maintenance of health in adult dogs.

This is the case for all of our 'Big Dog Pet Foods' brand dog diets with the exception of our Kangaroo and our Wellbeing diets. These recipes match the nutritional profiles of our other diets in protein, vitamins and minerals, however they are much lower in fat having been specifically designed to support weight loss, allergies and the health of ageing dogs.

For more information on our feeding trial, get in touch with our team here.

To read our lifelong feeding trial with Napoleon the Labrador head here.

For more information on pet food standards and raw food diets, see the following links:
Raw Pet Food and AAFCO
Why AAFCO Guidelines are Useless for Raw Dog Food
What is AAFCO?

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