Dog Food Recipe Formulation BalanceIT Tutorial

My absolute favorite tool to introduce pet parents to who are looking to create complete and balanced dog food recipes is BalanceIT. BalanceIT is a formulation software that allows for anyone to create balanced recipes for their pets (which is great!). But using a formulation software can be overwhelming – thus this BalanceIT tutorial aims to walk you through the creation of your first recipe, and discuss common issues I see pet parents have.

In this BalanceIT Tutorial we will discuss:

  1. What BalanceIT is
  2. The Positives and Negatives of Using Formulation Software vs. Purchasing a Recipe
  3. Supplement Options for Homemade Recipes Using BalanceIT
  4. Where to Start with BalanceIT Formulation
  5. Selecting Ingredients in BalanceIT
  6. Changing Recipe Composition in BalanceIT
  7. Editing Individual Ingredient Amounts

Why Use Formulation Software like BalanceIT?

The number one concern that I hear from pet parents looking to start cooking for their dogs is wondering if the recipe they are feeding is complete and balanced.

And it’s no wonder – according to over 8 different research studies (linked at the end of this post): over 95% of the dog food recipes you find online OR in books are not complete and balanced. Even those written by veterinarians. Over 80% of these recipes had multiple deficiencies in key essential fatty acids, vitamins or minerals. All of the recipes written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists were complete and balanced according to this research.

Basically if you are having difficulty finding a recipe that is balanced, or are wondering if the recipe you are using is balanced. There is a high likelihood it is!

Why is BalanceIT different?

First thing you need to understand is that BalanceIT is not just one recipe, or just a multivitamin. BalanceIT is a dog food formulation software. What this means is BalanceIT allows you to select foods, and then it helps you create a dog food recipe that is complete and balanced for your dog.

BalanceIT was created in order to allow for you – the pet parent – to create complete and balanced recipes for your dog.

BalanceIT is also unique in that it was created by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist – Dr. Sean Delany. Dr. Sean Delany current formulates dog food through UC Davis Veterinary Services, and through individual consulting with pet parents. He also teaches nutrition at UC Davis veterinary school.

What is a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist?

The second thing you need to understand is the qualifications that BalanceIT was created under. An animal nutritionist by definition is “a person with an interest in animal nutrition”. No level of education is required in order to call yourself an “Animal Nutritionist”.

And though there are those with “Cerficiations in Canine Nutrition” – these certifications are not standardized and can vary from a weekend class (8 hours) , to several university level courses (300+ hrs).

A board-certified veterinary nutritionist is someone who has obtained their doctorate of veterinary medicine (aka is a veterinarian). Then they have to do an additional 3-5 year residency in just animal nutrition. Finally they must pass a board-examination to get their nutritional board-certification.

There are currently only a hundred board-certified veterinary nutritionist in the world, and only about twenty of them formulate diets for pet parents.

The Positives and Negatives of Formulation Software

Probably the best and worst part of using a formulation software in order to create complete and balanced recipes for your dog is that it’s open-ended. Basically, you can create whatever composition using whatever ingredients you want. Meaning that – the recipe you create can be fully customized for your dog.

But the hard part of having so many options is, if you have no idea where to start – you can fairly easily get lost.

Another good thing about BalanceIT in particular is that it does have some “guard rails”. This means that instead of giving you access to every food in the USDA database they have omitted some food items. Usually this is because we lack full nutritional information on these foods for key vitamins, minerals, fats or amino acids.

The other thing is BalanceIT takes into consideration current research and concerns.

For example – currently there are some concerns about high inclusion of legumes (peas, lentils, beans) being possibly linked to DCM. Since pet parents that make homemade dog food are not doing feeding trials or digestibility trials on the foods they cook – BalanceIT has limited the inclusion to these ingredients to less than 10% of the recipe.

And of course probably the hardest part of using a formulation software rather than just a premade recipe is – learning the software.

Supplementation Options using BalanceIT

BalanceIT Carnivore Blend

BalanceIT Canine: currently comes with the black label and is the original formulation of the supplement.

  • Heat Sensitive
  • White Powdered Supplement, easy to mix into food
  • Has a “Flavor”, may need to add over time.
BalanceIT Canine Plus

BalanceIT Canine Plus: comes with the white label. Amount of the BalanceIT Plus for recipes is found under the “view” tab in the notes section.

  • Can be heated ONCE
  • White Powdered Supplement, easy to mix into food
  • Has a “Flavor”, may need to add over time.
BalanceIT Canine

BalanceIT Canine: currently comes with the black label and is the original formulation of the supplement.

  • Heat Sensitive
  • White Powdered Supplement, easy to mix into food
  • Has a “Flavor”, may need to add over time.

Human Supplements: using a “toggle function” you can see a list of human supplements that you can use instead of the BalanceIT supplements.

  • Great for minimally supplemented recipes using whole foods.
  • Can be difficult to measure in recipes for small dogs.
  • Heat Sensitive
  • Can have a “flavor”
  • May be difficult to source.

Where to start with BalanceIT

The best place to start with BalanceIT is first doing an assessment of your dog’s nutritional needs, then building a recipe around that.

Things that drive nutritional needs in dogs are:

  1. Age
  2. Activity Level
  3. Medical Conditions
  4. Stools Quality
  5. Skin/Coat Health
  6. Breed

The challenge is: What if you don’t know your dog’s nutritional needs? What if you aren’t sure how dog food recommendations change for things like activity level or stool quality?

In these cases, if your dog is doing well on their current diet – your best option might be to “match” that recipe.

Example of a Dog Food Recipe Using BalanceIT
Simple Homemade Dog Food Recipe Ingredients using easy to find ingredient using BalanceIT supplements.

Matching a Pre-Made Recipe Using BalanceIT

The first thing you need to do when you want to match a premade recipe using BalanceIT is “translate” your kibble or pre-made fresh food diet into a fresh food recipe. This involves translating the ingredients, the composition, and the calories fed.

Ingredient definitions for manufactured diets can be a bit confusing. But here are some general guidelines when you are looking to understand an ingredient label.

Protein Sources:

There are a variety of protein sources for dogs. Protein within the diet supplies the animal with essential amino acids which function in a variety of ways within the body. Without these essential amino acids dogs would suffer decencies that could lead to a decline to skin/coat health, body/muscle condition, and even organ function.

Generally speaking animal-based proteins have a higher biological value than plant-based protein sources. They have higher digestibility, and have a more complete amino acid profile. In homemade recipes we tend to rely more on these animal-proteins for our recipes. Especially since we are not doing digestibility studies on our homemade diets to ensure optimal nutrition.

Proteins can come from four main sources within the diet for dogs:

  1. Whole proteins such as chicken, turkey, poultry, beef, lamb. In kibbled diets these are typically fattier grinds of meat unless specific cuts of meat are defined.
  2. Protein “meals” are rendered. What this means practically is the water and fat is removed during the rending process. This leaves a source of lean protein.
  3. Protein By-Products are typically organ meats, and may or may not include bone. What this means practically is if you see by-products of a particular species on a label this may indicate you want to consider easily accessible organ meats within your recipe.
  4. Plant-based Proteins: soy, tofu, corn gluten, quinoa – all can provide some protein to the diet. However generally speaking these proteins are less bioavailable animal proteins and may not provide a full amino acid profile. These proteins are often used within “novel” protein diets for certain medical conditions or to complement certain other purified protein sources.

When we consider matching protein sources within a recipe we need to both think about the amount of protein used, and the cut of protein we are looking to use. For example – chicken breast is a lean protein source, however is lower in many essential minerals, and lower in essential fatty acids like linoleic acid. Whereas Chicken Thigh is a fattier cut of protein, higher in minerals like iron. And chicken thighs with skin can offer additional linoleic acid (and essential fatty acid) to a recipe.

Carbohydrate Sources:

Carbohydrates in dog foods serve several specific purposes: an energy source, a fiber source and a source of vitamins and miners. For carbohydrate sources in homemade dog food, depending on your dog’s needs you may want to choose highly digestible carbohydrates, high fiber carbohydrates, or ones with certain fiber sources, vitamins or minerals.

  • Highly Digestible: White Rice, White Bread/Pasta, Brown Rice, Oats (instant), Couscous
  • Starchy Carbohydrates: Potatoes, Turnips, Beets, Tapioca
  • Higher Fiber: Sweet Potato, Quinoa, Millet, Barley, Oats (rolled), Whole Wheat Pasta/Bread
  • Legumes: chickpeas/garbanzo bean, black beans, pinto beans, lentils, peas

When you evaluate the carbohydrates in the premade dog food your pup is currently doing well on your may see several mentioned. This is fairly normal. We typically will look to use carbohydrates in combination in order to provide a good profile of insoluble and soluble fiber, along with energy or certain vitamins/minerals to the diet.

But be cautious – since kibble recipes are often make using feed-grade ingredients or by-products of the human food industry sometimes carbohydrate sources will be “purified”, or processed in a different form than we typically see in our grocery store. This difference can change the nutritional profile, bioavailability, and fiber content.

A good example of this is corn – whole corn kernels are not highly digestible by dogs. However cooked milled corn (used in dog food) is a highly digestible source of carbohydrates and certain essential fatty acids like linoleic acid. In case – whole corn used in our homemade recipe would not provide the same nutritional profile, and instead we might want to reach for other alternative carbohydrate sources such as quinoa or millet.

You will see purified fiber sources listed such as inulin, chicory root, tomato pomace, beet root, psyllium husk. Some of these fiber sources may be available via BalanceIT (such as psyllium husk), however unless recommended by your veterinarian I would not add in purified fiber sources. It is very easy to over-do these and end up with loose stools.

Fat Sources:

There are two main types of fats that you will want to focus on within a recipe. Omega 3 fatty acids in the form of EPA & DHA, and Omega 6 fatty acids Linoleic Acid. These are both considered essential fatty acids and should be provided within the diet.

  1. Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids within a recipe may be whole fish or fish meal, fish oil, or algal oil. Other plant-based omega 3s such as hemp or flax seeds are less bioavailable forms of omega 3s.
  2. Sources of Omega 6 fatty acids within are recipe may be poultry skin, safflower oil, corn oil, soy bean oil, walnut oil, and canola oil.

Other fats or oils such as coconut oil or beef fat may be added to recipes as well. Coconut oil may be used as a source of Medium Chain Triglycerides. We have some research to support their use in combination with fish oil for cognitive health. Beef fat is often added at a flavoring agent, or as a source of saturated fat.

Example of a Minimally Supplemented recipe created using BalanceIT
Minimally Supplemented Dog Food Recipe Using Variety of Ingredient using BalanceIT Formulation Software

How Much Protein should be in my Homemade Dog Food Recipe?

Once you have chosen your ingredients, it is now time to narrow-in on the composition of your dog’s homemade recipe. As with choosing your ingredients – if you are unsure as to what composition is ideal for your pup – matching their current recipe might be a good option.

To do this you will need to convert the guaranteed analysis of your dog’s current diet to a percent caloric basis. You can learn more about converting the guaranteed analysis to a caloric basis in this blog post:

Once you have converted your guaranteed analysis to a percent calorie basis, you can use this as a guideline for the macronutrient content of your dog’s homemade recipe.

If you would like to adjust this profile later – you can do so! But matching the composition will give you the highest likelihood of your new homemade dog food recipe formulation working well for your pup on the first attempt.

Example of How to Use BalanceIT to Make a Dog Food Recipe

For this example we are going to use a very popular kibble diet, the Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials, Chicken and Rice – and we are going to create a complete and balanced homemade dog food recipe using BalanceIT based on this recipe.

Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials Nutritional Information

Step 1: Matching the Ingredients within the recipe

The first thing we are going to do is match the main ingredients within the recipe. Ingredients are listed from highest weight prior to processing to lowest. Thus ingredients within the recipe that are higher on the list will compose a larger portion of the diet.

The main ingredients in this recipe are:

Chicken, Rice, Whole Grain Wheat, Poultry By-produce meal, soybean meal, beef fat, corn gluten meal, whole grain corn, dried egg product, fish meal. After this point we see “natural flavoring” along with vitamins and minerals, which will likely be a small portion of the recipe.

Minor ingredients of note are:

Fish oil, Wheat Bran, and Probiotics

If we are to pull ingredients and sort them by their “purpose” within this recipe it might look like the following: Chicken (protein), Rice (carbohydrate, fiber), Whole Grain Wheat (carbohydrate, fiber), Poultry By-Products (protein – organ meat, vitamins/minerals), Soybean Meal (carbohydrate, minor protein, source linoleic acid (essential fatty acid)), beef fat (fat source – saturated, energy/palatability, nonessential), corn gluten meal (protein), dried egg product (protein), fish meal (protein, EPA/DHA essential fatty acids), Fish Oil (EPA/DHA essential fatty acids), Wheat Bran (fiber), Probiotics (gut health).

When considering the recipe we are creating – its important to note that “mealed” ingredients are “rendered” meaning that fat content is removed. This may be why we need the additional beef fat added to the recipe. We can fill this need by just using non-rendered fattier cuts of meat.

Since plant-based proteins are typically less digestible protein sources and since we are not performing digestibility studies on this diet it’s a good idea to avoid plant-based proteins such as soy and corn. This prevents us accidently cause un-intended amino acid deficiencies due to poor digestibility or ingredient interactions.

Ingredients Chosen within BalanceIT to Match this Recipe:

Main Protein Source: Chicken Thigh and Chicken Liver, Chicken Heart
Secondary Proteins: Hard Boiled Eggs, Salmon
Carbohydrate: Brown Rice and Whole Wheat Pasta
Oils: Soybean/Safflower (linoleic acid), Nordic Naturals Omega 3 Pet (EPA/DHA)

Below is a screen-shot of what the ingredient selection screen will look like.

Certain Ingredients such as “Chicken Liver” you will need to use the search box on the top left. This will search the USDA database for less common ingredients. More common ingredients will be present on this graphic visual screen (shown below).

BalanceIT Tutorial - how to select ingredients for a homemade dog food recipe.
Selecting Ingredients In BalanceIT for Homemade Dog Food Recipe Formulation

Click the box for “create recipe” below in order to start with the recipe formulation process. This will take you to a new page with several different options.

  • Carnivore Blend
  • High Protein/Fat
  • Moderate Protein
  • High Carbohydrate (cost effective)

All of these options are complete and balanced, however they may not match the composition or the caloric needs of your dog. So instead of using one of these pre-made options we are going to further edit the recipe to customize for your dog.

Choose the “high protein/fat” and click the green “EDIT” button.

Step 2: Matching the Composition within our Dog Food Recipe

The next step of this process is matching the composition of the recipe. This means we are going to calculate out both the percent calorie distribution and the g/Mcal or g/1000 kcal of protein, fat and carbohydrates within the recipe. You can access several guaranteed analysis converters here.

BalanceIT Tutorial - how to convert guaranteed analysis to caloric basis.
Converting the Guaranteed Analysis from the Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials into a caloric basis for use in creating a homemade dog food recipe.

By keeping our macronutrients the same this will allow us to have a more smooth transition onto the homemade recipe. However, it would still be advised to do a slow transition over 7-14 days just in case, while adding on a probiotic to help support during this adjustment process.

Editing Composition of a BalanceIT Dog Food Recipe

Once you have selected your ingredients, and asked BalanceIT to calculate the first recipes, it’s time to start the customization process.

Choose the “high protein/fat” option and click the green button to “EDIT” the recipe.

From here we are going to use the slider toggle at the bottom to change the general composition of the recipe based on a calculated Caloric Distribution. Then click “Rerun Autobalancer Based on Edits Above”.

On the far right of your screen your will see a new recipe, created using the new composition you entered.

BalanceIT Tutorial - how to adjust the caloric distribution of a recipe
Changing Composition In BalanceIT for Homemade Dog Food Recipe Formulation

Step 3: Adjusting to your Dog’s Caloric Needs

The next big question comes down to how much should you feed your dog. And really that is answered by both evaluating your dog’s body condition, and how much you are currently feeding your dog.

Question #1: Is your dog at a good weight?

To figure out if your dog is at an ideal weight – asking your veterinarian is likely the best option. They are practiced in doing body condition scores and should be easily able to tell you if your dog needs to loose/gain a bit of weight.

However with practice anyone can perform a body condition score at home.

Dogs with an ideal body condition will:

  1. Have ribs that can be felt by petting them, but are hardly seen (maybe the last two ribs are visible)
  2. They will have a distinct waist when looking from above, with a slight hour-glass figure when looking from above. The waist should come in slightly behind the ribs, then go outwards again at the hips.
  3. Their stomach will tuck up into their spine without excess fat around the stomach.

You can see an example of a body condition score chart on the World Small Animal Veterinary Association website here.

If your dog is as a good weight, then matching their current caloric intake is likely ideal. However if your dog is underweight or overweight discussing your dog’s caloric needs with your veterinarian is likely a good idea prior to formulating a recipe with BalanceIT.

Question #2: How many calories is your dog currently eating?

The second set of information that you need in order to adjust your homemade recipe to your dog’s caloric needs is. How much your dog is currently eating. To calculate this you will need to look for the caloric information on the dog food you are feeding, then multiply that by the amount you are feeding.

For example: If you are feeding 2 and 1/3 cups of the Purina Pro Plan Complete Essentials per day. And we look and see it is 387 kcals per cup. That means… 387 kcals / cup x 2.33 cups = 902 calories per day.

Now assuming that 90% of your dog’s total daily calories is coming from complete and balanced diets, and your dog is at an ideal weight. 902 calories is likely ideal for your dog, and a great place to start with our homemade recipe!

CAUTION: if your dog’s caloric needs are significantly lower than the Resting Metabolic Rate for your Dog’s Weight speak to your veterinarian PRIOR to creating a recipe. For a chart of RER based on weight, check out this blog post.

Editing Caloric Needs of a BalanceIT Dog Food Recipe

Now that we know what our dog’s caloric needs are, it’s time to edit our recipe to match these needs.

Start by clicking on the “Edit” button of your green recipe you just edited the composition of.

This will take you back to the screen where you adjusted the composition. Now you to click on the top where the weight is present. Adjust the weight up or down in order to make the calories match your dog’s caloric needs.

Then click “Rerun Autobalancer Based on Edits Above”.

BalanceIT Tutorial - how to adjust to your dog caloric needs.
Personalizing to your dog’s Caloric Needs In BalanceIT for DIY Dog Food Recipe Formulation

Congratulations – You’ve Credited Your First Dog Food Recipe!

A new green window will show up with your customized recipe that matches both the macronutrient profile of a recipe your dog has down well on AND your dog’s caloric needs. From here you can switch out to which supplements you’d like to use, adjust individual ingredient amounts, and even see the full AAFCO nutritional profile.

To adjust individual ingredient amounts:

Click on “edit” – then click on “advanced option: edit ingredient amount manually”

This can be helpful for rounding out odd fractions of ingredients – like 8 3/4 mL fish oil. Or 5/8 tsp Safflower Oil.

To switch to human supplements:

On your new green recipe at the bottom it will say “BalanceIT”, next to that there will be a ” <-> ” symbol

This can be helpful if you’d rather not use BalanceIT or do not have access to BalanceIT supplements in your area (you are outside of the USA)

To see the amount of BalanceIT PLUS:

On your new green recipe at the top – Click on the “view” button

Below the recipe which uses the balanceIT regular you will see a highlighted black outline box. The amount of BalanceIT Plus will be described in this area.

To see the Full AAFCO Nutritional Profile:

Click on “see nutritional profile”.

Below the recipe you will see the caloric distribution, then the full AAFCO nutritional profile. This will allow you to see the g/Mcal so that you can compare them to your calculated values. Along with dosing for EPA/DHA, and more.

Creating a BalanceIT Dog Food Recipe based off an existing Dog Food your dog is doing well on.
Completed BalanceIT Dog Food Recipe Customized to Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs

About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, AS Animal Health -2013) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.

Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!

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