The Myths About Offal, Taurine & Raw Diets

Updated September 3, 2021

I’m known for supporting clients who use raw diets. Done well, they should add to the health of your pet.

However, there are some persistent myths that get in the way. One of the most common is the idea that offal and organ meats are essential ingredients. As useful as they can be, (even with vegan diets!), they aren’t a cure all.

A Balanced Raw Diet

First, some background. I started my career working in the local zoo, where one of the jobs was developing diets for our carnivore guests. What we did was easy: look at the wild diet and copy it.

Actually, not easy at all. We had a very special supply of whole, ungutted, unplucked chickens that we would literally just throw in, feathers and all. Even then we still had to add supplements to bring it up to balance.

You see, many carnivores have evolved and adapted to a specialised diet. Their bodies have stopped making things that should be in the diet. Miss these essential nutrients and they will suffer.

Here is the crux: a balanced raw diet for an obligate carnivore must include nutrients from bone, skin, brain and especially the gut and its contents, all in the same proportion as a wild diet.

Offal In Dog & Cat Diets

So what I read constantly are people claiming that all we need to do is add organ meats and the diet is balanced. This is an oversimplification and misunderstanding of whole prey feeding.

Have a look at this analysis of just such a dog diet, as advocated by a very charismatic online personality. I certainly would not want my dogs or cat anywhere near this.

raw food balance

The truth is that offal or organ meats aren’t actually all that different from meat. They don’t contain unique nutrients.

What they do have is a different balance, but unless you feed them like nature intended (about equal quantities with meat, but please don’t do this), the overall dietary composition won’t change much.

The Danger Of Offal

The reason you shouldn’t feed too much offal is that some nutrients are actually in excess. This is especially true for Vitamin A in liver and thyroid hormone in trachea (often minced into ‘offal’). Manufacturers of pet offal supplements rightly say they should not exceed 10% of the diet, which is sensible advice.

At this level, the contribution they make to overall dietary balance is negligible.

The Taurine Myth

Mixed up in the offal discussion with cats is a major misunderstanding about the sources of taurine.

Taurine is an essential amino acid of cats, but not many other species. Early in the history of cat foods, this wasn’t known and diets were accidentally made without it. That caused a serious heart problem called dilated cardiomyopathy.

This has led to a myth that cats need to be fed heart muscle as a source of taurine. The truth is that taurine is plentiful in all muscle as well as many other tissues. Any normal diet will contain far more than a cat needs.

There is almost certainly nothing special about raw hearts. From the cat’s standpoint, they are probably exactly the same as any other muscle, just chewier.

How To Make A Balanced Raw Diet

So I’ve given you a lot of warnings, now let’s make some safer diets.

A Raw Dog Diet

Dogs are relatively easy. Visit this link for a raw dog diet I’ve constructed that’s as balanced as possible. Even then, I can’t promise it’s perfect.

You’ll note there are a lot more vegetables and rice than you see elsewhere, as well as a special vitamin/mineral supplement. You’ll also note there’s no offal at all, and a perplexed comment from someone asking why. Hopefully, now you know.

I don’t recommend it for puppies, but you can read what raw foods may help a puppy’s diet here. As for dog cancer diets, click here.

A Raw Cat Diet

Cat diets are hard, because cats are more specialised. This page gives you the closest thing to a raw diet for cats that I think is safe enough to recommend.

If you try to feed a completely raw diet in any other way than we did at the zoo, it’s very likely that the diet is missing something. I’m sorry, this is just the truth. To see this we have to go back to when cat foods weren’t widely used.

My parents were young vets in the 60’s and they tell me that kittens had it tough. The number one cause of death was panleucopaenia, or feline enteritis. We vaccinate for this nowadays.

The number two cause of death was nutritional disease. Caused by people trying to feed their kittens from what they had, with no support.

That leads me to one last suggestion. If you really want to make your cat’s diet from scratch, there is one way you can do it safely, but it’s not cheap. We can order you a diet from real nutritionists (not the bogus ones online). At last check it cost around $300.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

6 Replies to “The Myths About Offal, Taurine & Raw Diets”

  1. Hi
    I wanted to look at the table you show when you mention “analysis of just such a dog diet, as advocated by a very charismatic online personality” but (on my screen it is illegible) and there doesn’t seem to be anyway to enlarge it. Would it be possible o post a link so that it could be read?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Hayley. Rice is essential to make this diet balanced, so you can’t just take it out. That doesn’t stop you finding another meat-based balanced diet. It’s just that I believe dogs generally do better with it in- if you compare it with a high meat diet you might see what I mean.

  2. Just out of curiosity how much time is actually spent on nutrition in veterinary courses.

    1. I can’t speak for other universities but I was lucky to have quite a lot of nutrition training. There’s a myth that vets don’t get trained in nutrition; in fact they get more training in animal nutrition than almost anyone else. it’s also important not to focus on university training alone with any professional (like doctors etc). Like most vets, I have continued to need to learn, both in my job constructing diets in a zoo and subsequently in practice.

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