The answer is ideally yes, but in practicality no, not every meal has to be 100% complete and balanced. The reason is dogs, just like humans, can acquire their nutrient requirements over several meals and days (with some exceptions, like B vitamins which are needed in the diet every day). Some meals maybe deficient in certain nutrients and other meals may have an oversupply of nutrients.
The concept of feeding a complete and balanced meal to our pets originated with the pet food industry. As it became popular to feed pets a commercial dry food (kibble) daily as their only source of nutrition, the recipe had to be formulated to meet all nutrient requirements. There are three main bodies that specify the nutrient requirements of dogs and cats, the National Research Council (NRC), The Association of American Feed Control Officals (AAFCO) and FEDIAF. Another blog will explain the differences between them, but now is not the time to get into that.
Ideally every meal should be complete and balanced but it is not always feasible. After all, we don’t ensure our meals are complete and balanced before we eat them. And just like us, our dogs won’t die if every meal is not complete and balanced but it is important to ensure that the diet is balanced over time - that means that all nutrient requirements are met in other meals. The important thing to remember is to feed a variety of foods and not feeding the same home-made meal at every meal. If you do this, then yes, nutrient deficiencies can occur and ill health can manifest.
Meat, chicken, turkey, lamb, goat etc. all contain different nutrients and levels of protein. Even white and dark meats of chicken and turkey contain different nutrient profiles. Rotating these meat sources means that over time your pet consumes balanced meat-based nutrients. The same is true for fat % in meat. Different meats and cuts have varying amounts of fat. Organs (kidney, liver, pancreas, spleen etc.) also contain different nutrients and varying levels of nutrients. This is another reason to rotate the meats and organs in your pets meal.
Carbohydrates, there is so much to write about carbohydrates that they warrant a blog of their own. But guess what, the same holds true for carbohydrates (which includes vegetables and fruit), variety and rotation across many meals is key to ensuring enough nutrients are consumed to meet nutrient requirements. Again, not every meal needs to be 100% balanced but do strive to provide the B vitamins as they are needed daily.
I do formulate recipes balanced to National Research Council (NRC) nutrient requirements for clients to make it easy for them to feed a balanced meal if they wish too without having to think about it. I’m in the process of writing a recipe book.
You may wonder if my dogs meals are all complete and balanced. No, they are not as sometimes I don't have the ingredients available to meet all their nutrient requirements. If the meal is unbalanced, I make sure to supply the missing or low nutrients via ingredients in another meal.
To demonstrate this, below is a meal I fed my dogs based on brown rice, kidney, chicken leg, parsley, ground pumpkin seeds and fresh fruit. It is seriously deficient in calcium. But guess what? The next meal I fed was a raw, meaty bone which is a wonderful source of calcium. It made for two easy meals. This is not a recipe I feed every day and certainly don't want you to recreate, but on this particular day I hadn't been to the shops so was very low on ingredients. My dogs didn't care, they scoffed up every morsel of their dinner. The purpose of sharing this recipe is to demonstrate that not all dogs meals must be balanced, but again I reiterate that the nutrient deficiencies must be met in subsequent meals.
When I plugged this recipe into my nutrient calculator (after I fed it) I was surprised at how many nutrient requirements it did meet. Other than zinc and calcium this recipe provided a minimum of 30% of my dogs daily nutrient requirements for minerals. You will notice that this recipe is high in carbohydrates. I’m not worried about that; my dogs eat rice or oats only twice a week. Again, over time this balances out. As an FYI, brown rice is an excellent source of the mineral manganese. As for vitamins, other than vitamin B12, this recipe provides a minimum of 30% of my dogs daily vitamin requirements. It also provided 67% of my dogs daily protein requirements. As you can see, it is neither complete or balanced, but it didn't matter as this is not a meal I will feed every day, as a once off it is fine.
My dogs are two healthy 15 kg dogs and here is the meal I fed them.
1 cup steamed brown rice
1 teaspoon chopped apple (skin on)
½ Medium banana
1 Raw egg
5g Beef Kidney
20g Chicken Foot, with skin
20g fresh parsley
1 teaspoon ground pumpkin seeds
Total calories: 536 kcal
Hopefully, this article has helped to explain that not every meal needs to be complete or balanced and you don't have to stress about it. However, if you want complete and balanced recipes, I can help you with that.