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Essential Nutrients in a Balanced Raw Dog Diet

by Scott Marshall June 05, 2024 14 min read

Essential Nutrients in a Balanced Raw Dog Diet

Raw dog diets are often overshadowed by commercial kibble and canned foods, yet they offer a unique approach to canine nutrition that closely aligns with a dog's natural dietary needs. This feeding method stands out for its emphasis on fresh, unprocessed ingredients, delivering a level of freshness and wholesomeness that is hard to match with manufactured options. At the heart of a balanced raw dog diet are essential nutrients that cater to every aspect of a dog's health—from robust bones and a shiny coat to optimal digestion and immune function.

These nutrients are sourced from a variety of raw foods, including meats, bones, organs, vegetables, and fruits, each contributing its unique set of benefits. The core categories of a raw diet include Proteins, Fats, Carbohydrates, Vitamins, and Minerals, with each playing a critical role in maintaining the health and vitality of our canine friends. Diving deeper, the raw diet philosophy advocates for a tailored approach to feeding, where the proportions of these nutrients can be adjusted to meet the specific needs of individual dogs based on their age, activity level, and health status.

This section will explore the nuances of each nutrient category, the best sources for these essentials, and how to strike the perfect balance to ensure your dog not only survives but thrives on a raw diet.

Table of Contents


A balanced raw dog diet is a nutritional approach that aims to replicate a dog's natural diet in the wild, focusing on raw meats, bones, organs, fruits, and vegetables. This diet is crafted to provide a comprehensive spectrum of nutrients, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, in proportions that foster optimal canine health. Emphasizing whole, unprocessed foods, it avoids the artificial additives prevalent in many commercial pet foods.

By carefully selecting and varying these raw ingredients, dog owners can customize the diet to meet their pet's specific nutritional needs, considering factors such as age, weight, and activity level. The overarching goal is to achieve a nutritional balance that supports a healthy immune system, digestive health, strong bones, and a vibrant coat, ensuring dogs not only lead a healthy life but also thoroughly enjoy their meals. Impact on Health and Behavior:

  • Energy Levels: Dogs on a balanced raw diet often exhibit higher energy levels due to the efficient absorption of high-quality nutrients.
  • Dental Health: Chewing raw bones and meat can help reduce tartar buildup and promote healthier teeth and gums.
  • Reduced Allergies: Many owners report a decrease in allergic reactions, as raw diets exclude many of the fillers and additives that can trigger allergies in dogs.


A raw dog diet requires a balanced mix of essential nutrients to promote overall health and vitality. These nutrients are categorized into Proteins, Fats, Carbohydrates, Vitamins, and Minerals—each serving a unique and vital role.


Proteins are the cornerstone of muscle growth, tissue repair, and vital body functions in dogs. They should be sourced from a variety of meats to ensure a wide range of nutrients. Key sources include:

Protein Source Biological Value Benefits
Beef High Rich in iron and zinc, supports muscle development and immune health
Chicken Medium Lean protein, good for muscle maintenance and energy
Lamb High Provides dietary fats and B12, important for nerve function
Fish Very High High in omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial for skin, coat, and cognitive health
Organ Meats Very High Liver, kidneys, and heart are rich in essential amino acids and micronutrients

Incorporating organ meats like liver, kidneys, and heart is essential for a well-rounded intake of amino acids.


Fats serve as a concentrated energy source and are essential for vitamin absorption and cell health. Beneficial fats include:

Fat Source Type Benefits
Fish Oil Omega-3 Reduces inflammation, supports cognitive function and skin health
Flaxseed Oil Omega-3 Plant-based omega-3 source, beneficial for heart health and coat
Coconut Oil Saturated Fat Supports cell structure, provides energy, and has antimicrobial properties


Though less emphasized, carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables are vital for:

Carbohydrate Source Type Benefits
Apples Fruit Provides vitamin C and fiber, supports digestive health
Blueberries Fruit High in antioxidants, supports immune system
Carrots Vegetable Rich in beta-carotene, supports eye health
Spinach Vegetable High in iron and magnesium, supports blood health


Vitamins play significant roles in immune function and overall well-being. Important vitamins and their sources include:

Vitamin Source Deficiency Consequences
A Liver, Dairy Night blindness, immune deficiencies
E Leafy Greens, Nuts Antioxidant deficiency, cellular damage
B Liver, Whole Eggs Energy metabolism issues, nervous system dysfunction


Minerals are crucial for bone health and various metabolic functions. Essential minerals include:

Mineral Source Role
Calcium Bones, Dairy Supports bone structure and dental health
Phosphorus Meat, Fish Aids in metabolic processes, complements calcium for bone health
Zinc Meat, Pumpkin Seeds Important for immune function and skin health
Iron Red Meat, Spinach Crucial for oxygen transport in the blood

Balancing these nutrients is key to achieving a diet that supports a dog's physical health, energy levels, and overall well-being. Each nutrient category must be carefully considered and incorporated to ensure that dogs receive the comprehensive benefits of a raw diet, highlighting the importance of understanding and applying these nutritional principles in raw feeding practices.


Ensuring dogs receive adequate protein in their diet is crucial for their health. A variety of high-quality meat sources should be included to provide the essential amino acids needed for muscle development and overall bodily functions. Key protein sources include:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Fish

Incorporating organ meats such as liver, kidneys, and heart is also vital, as these are particularly nutrient-rich and support a wide range of health benefits. A balanced approach to these protein sources ensures a comprehensive nutrient profile that supports a dog's overall health and vitality. To tailor protein intake effectively, consider the following adjustments based on a dog's life stage, activity level, and health conditions:

Life Stage Activity Level Health Conditions Protein Adjustment
Puppy High Growing Increase protein to support growth. Focus on easily digestible sources like chicken and fish.
Adult Moderate Maintenance Maintain a balanced protein intake from a variety of meats and organ meats.
Senior Low May have health issues Adjust protein levels to be lower but of high quality to ease kidney function, unless otherwise advised by a vet.
Active Dogs Very High Healthy Increase protein to support energy needs and muscle repair. Include more red meats for higher calorie content.
With Allergies Varies Skin, digestive issues Identify and eliminate protein sources that trigger allergies. Use novel or less common proteins like rabbit or venison.

Adjusting protein levels and sources according to these guidelines can help ensure that dogs at different life stages, with varying activity levels and health conditions, receive the optimal amount and type of protein for their individual needs. Always consult with a veterinarian to tailor dietary adjustments to your dog's specific health profile and nutritional requirements.


Beneficial fats are indispensable in a dog's diet, playing a pivotal role in supporting energy levels, cell function, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Key sources of healthy fats include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and flaxseed oil, crucial for a healthy skin and coat, and offering anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Saturated fats from coconut oil, important for cell membrane integrity and providing a readily available energy source.

Incorporating these fats into a raw dog diet ensures that dogs not only excel in their physical health but also enjoy benefits to their cognitive function and overall well-being.


Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a dog's optimal health, offering benefits like anti-inflammatory properties and support for skin and coat wellness. Key sources include:

  • Fish oil: A rich source of EPA and DHA, vital for cognitive function, joint health, and overall vitality.
  • Flaxseed oil: Provides a plant-based omega-3 option, beneficial for heart health and maintaining a glossy coat.


Saturated fats from coconut oil play a crucial role in a dog's diet by providing a high-quality energy source and supporting cellular health. Coconut oil is renowned for its antimicrobial properties, enhancing skin health and contributing to a strong immune system. Balancing Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids: It's crucial to maintain a balanced intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a dog's diet to prevent inflammation and promote overall health.

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats generally ranges from 5:1 to 10:1. Many commercial pet foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation if not balanced with adequate omega-3 intake. Incorporating sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil or flaxseed oil, can help achieve this balance, supporting a healthy immune system, reducing inflammatory responses, and promoting a shiny, healthy coat.


In a raw dog diet, carbohydrates serve a supportive yet significant role, primarily sourced from safe fruits and vegetables. These carbohydrates offer more than just energy; they are key for providing fiber, vitamins, and minerals essential for a healthy digestive system and overall vitality. Incorporating sources like apples, blueberries, carrots, and spinach ensures a balanced nutrient intake, aiding in everything from maintaining energy levels to bolstering the immune system.

Understanding the glycemic index (GI) of different carbohydrates is crucial in managing a dog's blood sugar levels. The GI measures how quickly food raises blood glucose levels, with lower values being preferable for steady energy release and minimizing spikes in blood sugar. Here's a brief overview of the GI values for common fruits and vegetables included in a raw dog diet:

Food Item Glycemic Index Range
Apples Low (20-40)
Blueberries Low to Medium (40-53)
Carrots Medium (39)
Spinach Low ( <15)

Selecting fruits and vegetables with a lower GI can contribute to a more balanced energy level and better overall health. Thoughtful integration of these carbohydrate sources is crucial for achieving a balanced diet, ensuring dogs receive a comprehensive array of nutritional benefits.


In a raw dog diet, key vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and B Vitamins are essential for maintaining health and vitality. Each vitamin plays a unique role in supporting a dog's overall well-being:

Vitamin Sources Benefits Signs of Excess
Vitamin A Liver, dairy Vital for vision and immune function Dry skin, joint pain, lethargy, vomiting
Vitamin E Leafy greens, nuts Powerful antioxidant, protects cells Uncommon, but can include bruising and bleeding issues
B Vitamins Liver, whole eggs Energy metabolism, nervous system health Signs are rare but can include excessive thirst and urination
  • Vitamin A: Vital for vision and immune function, can be found in liver and dairy products. Including these in a raw diet ensures dogs get sufficient amounts of this critical nutrient. Excessive intake of Vitamin A can lead to toxicity, manifesting as dry skin, joint pain, lethargy, and vomiting.
  • Vitamin E: Acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting cells from damage, and is sourced from leafy greens and nuts. Vitamin E toxicity is rare but can interfere with the body's ability to clot blood.
  • B Vitamins: Important for energy metabolism and nervous system health, present in liver and whole eggs. Excess of certain B vitamins (like B6) can lead to nerve damage, although this is uncommon.

Incorporating a variety of foods rich in these vitamins ensures that dogs receive a balanced spectrum of nutrients necessary for optimal health, underscoring the importance of dietary diversity in a raw feeding regimen. It's crucial to monitor the intake of these vitamins to avoid potential toxicity, although issues with excess are relatively rare with a well-balanced raw diet. Regular consultations with a veterinarian can help ensure that a dog's nutritional needs are being met without exceeding safe vitamin intake levels.


Essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron are crucial to a dog's health, each fulfilling vital roles.

  • Calcium and phosphorus are key for maintaining strong bones and teeth, ensuring structural integrity and support.
  • Zinc enhances immune function and skin health, playing a significant role in a dog's ability to heal and fend off disease.
  • Iron is indispensable for oxygen transport in the blood, supporting vitality and energy levels.

These minerals, found in bones, meat, and specific vegetables, are integral to a balanced raw diet. Incorporating a variety of sources ensures dogs benefit from a well-rounded intake of these essential nutrients, promoting overall well-being and supporting key bodily functions. To ensure a comprehensive understanding, here's a detailed table of these essential minerals, their roles, recommended sources, and the importance of maintaining the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio:

Mineral Role in Body Recommended Sources Notes
Calcium Bone and teeth structure, blood clotting, nerve signal transmission Bones, dairy products, leafy greens Calcium should be balanced with phosphorus at a ratio of about 1.2:1 to 1:1 to prevent bone and joint issues.
Phosphorus Energy metabolism, bone structure Meat, fish, eggs Phosphorus works closely with calcium and too much can lead to health problems.
Zinc Immune function, skin health, wound healing Meat, pumpkin seeds, spinach Zinc is crucial for DNA synthesis and skin health. Deficiency can lead to skin problems and a weakened immune response.
Iron Oxygen transport in blood, enzyme functions Red meat, spinach, organ meats Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, affecting a dog's energy levels and overall health.

Incorporating a variety of sources for these minerals ensures dogs benefit from a well-rounded intake of essential nutrients, promoting overall well-being and supporting key bodily functions. It's important to monitor the intake of these minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, to maintain their optimal ratio for bone health.


Achieving a balanced diet in raw feeding is crucial and involves careful consideration of meat, vegetables, and bones to fulfill a dog's comprehensive nutritional needs. A typical balanced raw diet is composed of approximately 50% meat, 25% vegetables, and 25% bones. These ratios, however, may require adjustments to cater to specific needs related to a dog's age, activity level, and health status.

For example, puppies may need more protein and calcium to support their growth, whereas adult dogs might need modifications for maintenance or health-related concerns. The essence of a successful raw diet lies in the adept application of these nutritional guidelines, ensuring dogs receive the full spectrum of essential nutrients for their overall health and vitality.


A balanced raw diet is rooted in calculating proportions thoughtfully: 50% meat for proteins and fats, 25% vegetables for vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and 25% bones for calcium and phosphorus. This composition is foundational for meeting a dog's comprehensive dietary requirements.


Adjusting for life stage is paramount in raw feeding. Puppies, with their rapid growth, need a diet richer in protein and calcium, often requiring adjustments towards more meat and bones. Adult dogs might need a diet tailored to maintain optimal health and manage weight, possibly with a greater emphasis on vegetables.

Customizing the diet according to the dog's life stage ensures the nutritional balance is appropriate for their specific needs.


To reinforce the importance of balance, it's crucial to understand how to adjust the diet for dogs with specific health issues, like kidney disease or obesity. Below is a detailed table outlining adjustments for common canine health conditions:

Health Condition Recommended Diet Adjustments Reason for Adjustment
Kidney Disease Increase moisture, reduce phosphorus, moderate protein, and ensure high-quality protein sources. To reduce strain on the kidneys and support kidney function.
Obesity Lower fat content, slightly reduce portion sizes, and ensure plenty of fiber. To manage calorie intake while ensuring satiety and nutritional needs are met.
Diabetes Low glycemic vegetables, moderate to high protein, low to moderate fat, consistent carbohydrate levels. To manage blood sugar levels and prevent spikes.
Allergies/Intolerances Identify and eliminate allergens, which may include certain proteins or grains; consider novel protein sources. To avoid triggering allergic reactions and support overall health.
Pancreatitis Very low fat, easily digestible proteins, avoid high-fat foods. To reduce pancreatic inflammation and discomfort.
Senior Dogs Higher protein (if tolerated), lower calories if less active, supplements for joint health. To support muscle mass, manage weight, and support joint health.

Customizing the diet according to the dog's specific health needs ensures the nutritional balance is appropriate, promoting healing, managing symptoms, and supporting overall well-being.


When it comes to raw feeding, certain common mistakes can significantly impact a dog's nutritional well-being. One major error is an over-reliance on chicken, which, while nutritious, doesn't provide all the nutrients dogs need. Different meats and organs offer a more diverse nutritional profile, underscoring the importance of rotating proteins and incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Another critical oversight is forgetting about organ meats; these are essential for delivering micronutrients that muscle meats alone cannot provide. Recognizing and rectifying these mistakes is key to ensuring a balanced, nutritious diet that supports a dog's health and vitality.


An over-reliance on chicken can narrow the nutrient spectrum a dog receives. Chicken, though a beneficial protein source, does not offer the breadth of nutrients available in a diversified diet.


Neglecting the variety and not understanding the importance of rotating proteins can lead to nutritional gaps. A varied diet, incorporating different meats, ensures dogs receive a balanced array of amino acids and essential nutrients.


Forgetting about organ meats overlooks their critical role in providing micronutrients essential for optimal health. Organ meats are nutrient-dense and offer unique benefits not found in muscle meats, making them indispensable in a raw diet.


Common Mistake Risks Mitigation Strategies
Inadequate Storage Bacterial growth leading to contamination Store raw meat at or below 4°C (39°F) and use within 3-5 days
Cross-Contamination Transfer of bacteria from raw food to other surfaces or foods Use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw meat; clean and disinfect all surfaces after preparation
Improper Thawing Rapid bacterial growth at room temperature Thaw raw meat in the refrigerator or cold water, never at room temperature
Overlooking Expiry Dates Increased risk of feeding spoiled food Regularly check and adhere to expiry dates on all raw ingredients
Handling Without Washing Hands Spreading bacteria to other objects or self Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling raw meat
Feeding Ground Meat Exclusively Missing out on dental health benefits of chewing bones Include whole, raw bones or partially ground bones in the diet for dental health

Recognizing and rectifying these mistakes, including those related to safe handling practices, is key to ensuring a balanced, nutritious diet that supports a dog's health and vitality while minimizing the risk of bacterial contamination.


Monitoring health on a raw diet is critical for ensuring dogs reap the nutritional rewards of their diet. Observing for signs of a well-balanced diet, such as vibrant energy levels, a shiny coat, and good digestive health, indicates nutritional needs are being met. Conversely, symptoms like lethargy or poor coat quality signal potential deficiencies requiring immediate action.

Regular vet consultations are invaluable for identifying and rectifying any nutritional shortfalls or health issues promptly. Being attentive to these health indicators is essential for sustaining a dog's well-being on a raw diet, facilitating timely adjustments to their nutritional plan as necessary. To enhance this section with specific tests or indicators veterinarians use to assess nutritional adequacy and overall health in dogs on a raw diet, consider the following additions:

  • Bloodwork Analysis: Comprehensive blood tests can evaluate a dog's overall health status, checking for signs of nutritional imbalances, organ function, and potential deficiencies or excesses in essential nutrients.
  • Fecal Examinations: Regular fecal exams help in detecting digestive issues, parasites, or the inability to absorb certain nutrients properly.
  • Physical Examinations: Veterinarians often perform thorough physical exams to assess a dog's muscle tone, joint health, skin and coat condition, and overall vitality, which can indicate the effectiveness of their diet.
  • Dietary Review: A detailed discussion about the dog's current raw diet, including the types of meats, organs, fruits, and vegetables fed, can help veterinarians identify any potential gaps in nutrition.
  • Specific Nutrient Tests: For dogs showing signs of deficiencies or health issues, vets may recommend tests targeting specific nutrients, such as vitamin D levels, calcium, phosphorus ratios, or amino acid profiles, to ensure balanced nutrition.


Observing signs of deficiencies, such as lethargy and poor coat quality, signals that the diet may not be fully meeting the dog's nutritional needs. These indicators suggest the need for immediate dietary reassessment and adjustment.


Consulting a vet is imperative when dogs on a raw diet exhibit persistent symptoms or encounter growth issues. Such signs may point to underlying health concerns or significant nutritional deficiencies that require professional diagnosis and guidance.


A balanced diet is the cornerstone of a dog's health, ensuring they receive the essential proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals needed for their body to function optimally. Adequate nutrition fosters a strong immune system, supports healthy growth and energy levels, and aids in disease prevention. Furthermore, it promotes a healthy skin and coat, efficient digestive health, and a robust skeletal structure.

Research findings and case studies underscore the long-term health benefits of a balanced diet in dogs. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine found that dogs fed a balanced diet tailored to their specific health needs exhibited fewer signs of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease compared to dogs fed a generic commercial diet. Another case study highlighted in The Veterinary Record demonstrated how a balanced raw diet significantly improved the coat quality, energy levels, and digestive health of a dog suffering from chronic atopic dermatitis and gastrointestinal upset, conditions that were previously unresponsive to conventional treatments.

Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been feeding a raw dog food diet for over 13 years. He lives in Utah with his wife Arianne, his 11.5 year old german shepherd Wolken, and his 2.5 year old labradoodle Montu. Scott has been teaching others about raw feeding since 2013, started Raw Feeding 101 in 2017, and has been solely focused on simplifying the process of pet parents meeting their dogs’ daily nutrient requirements since 2018.

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