WTH is a NRC Balanced Diet?
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
There are many philosophies on what constitutes a balanced diet for dogs. Some people simply rely on variety, others use ratios and some follow a ‘prey model’ diet. I put prey in quotes because it’s rarely a true wild prey diet- often they use the head or other body part of one commercially raised animal, organs from another – not the same thing as wild, whole animals.
It's hard to distinguish facts from opinions when it comes to feeding dogs because points of view are presented quite boldly as fact. Many commercial raw foods are labeled as 'balanced' but don't even have a nutritional analysis.... so how do we know they meet nutrient requirements? Are we just supposed to trust the manufacturer? Would we just trust a kibble manufacturer??
The NRC committee is a group of independent scientists - they are not employed by the pet food industry but meet when required.
In 2006, after close to two years of meetings with veterinary specialists, the NRC came out with updated numbers to reflect optimal recommended allowances vs the 1985 numbers of minimum requirements. These meetings allowed internal medicine specialists, dermatologists and other specialists to give direct, invaluable feedback on the reality of issues they see in clinic with real patients vs a lab. These nutrient requirements came after painstaking study!
What's important to know is that NRC numbers are not suitable for kibble diets - those diets are based on processed feed, not fresh foods and they have a much higher carbohydrate content. Both factors impact bioavailability of nutrients, absorption and digestion. For the same reasons, it’s not really appropriate to use kibble diet guidelines (AAFCO/FEDIAF) for fresh food diets.
In summary, a NRC balanced diet doesn’t use ratios- it’s not this % of bone, % organ, % muscle meat, % plant matter etc.
We meet NUTRIENT requirements (calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine etc) and the goal is to meet them with high quality, high biological value foods that the dog tolerates. This is key because with a % based diet it is very hard to tailor a diet for a dog’s intolerances. If they don’t tolerate important nutrient dense foods there is no real protocol to fill that gap.
If stools are too hard bone gets cut back, if a dog gets diarrhea from organ meats that gets cut or reduced - you can see how over time the %'s change. Add to that the number of dogs with food intolerance who can only eat one protein.
If you're curious, a true prey model diet - meaning whole prey of undomesticated animals does meet the NRC requirements. So if we believe that is the ideal way to feed our dogs, then we can't dismiss the value of the NRC method.