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The Scoop on Homemade Dog Food

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Homemade pet foods have their pros and cons. Public awareness of the important relationship between diet and health has increased dramatically in recent years. Given Americans' devotion to our pets, it is not at all surprising that awareness of the diet-health connection has carried over to the area of pet nutrition. The recent nationwide recall of tainted pet food focused attention as never before on the issue of commercial pet food quality. The sale of organic and "natural" pet foods has increased significantly. In an effort to give their pets the healthiest possible diets, some pet owners have decided to assume a more direct role in the nourishment of their pets by making their own pet foods from scratch rather than relying on commercial pet food manufacturers to do the job for them.

The experts' advice

The idea of home-cooked pet food sounds appealing. After all, who doesn't prefer home-cooked food to something out of a can or packet? And certainly, there are legitimate concerns over the safety and quality of some commercial pet foods. While homemade pet foods can be safe and nutritious, the practice is not widely approved by veterinarians and is much more complex an issue than many pet owners realize.

In the wake of the unforgettable pet food recall, the American Veterinary Medical Association issued two press releases calling attention to the risks and complexities involved in a "do-it-yourself'' approach: "The AVMA does not recommend that people attempt to prepare home-cooked meals for their pets because pet nutrition is very complicated and unique to species and individual animals.''

One of the experts cited by the AVMA was quite pointed in her remarks: "Commercial pet foods are thoroughly tested. I don't know of any homemade recipes for pets that are put through tests before they are marketed.'' An article in the March 1, 2008 issue of the AVMA's Journal cites studies that highlight the risks of home-prepared foods for pets. These were some of the conclusions:

  • Dogs fed home-prepared diets had a greater prevalence of health problems than those fed commercially prepared diets.
  • Many home-prepared diets are not nutritionally balanced and can result in such complications as thiamine deficiency, thyroid disease, loss of bone density, and neurological deficits.
  • Cats fed homemade diets are at high risk for an inflammatory condition called pansteatitis.
  • Homemade raw meat diets present a significant risk of bacterial contamination.

If you're still determined

For the pet owner who is committed to going the natural diet route and home-cooking your dog's food, there are a number of steps you can take to assure that the product that comes out of your kitchen is wholesome and provides complete, balanced nutrition for your pet.

  • Do your research; pet nutrition is a complex subject. Learn all you can about it before taking the plunge.
  • If possible, talk to other pet owners who have made the switch to homemade; you can learn from their mistakes.
  • Make sure your give your pets a supplement containing the micronutrients that are essential for maintaining pet health and that are almost certainly missing from your ingredient list.
  • Don't start making substitutions because of convenience or personal preference; if you find a nutritionally balanced recipe, stick with it.
  • Remember that pets are not people; don't let currently popular human nutritional guidelines for such things as cholesterol, sodium, and fat affect your nutritional decisions for your pet.
  • Make frequent visits to your vet a part of your new pet nutrition regimen. Your vet will be able to spot any nutritional deficiencies before they have done serious damage.

Think twice, then get advice

Going the home-cooked route involves a substantial investment of time, money, and attention. Ask yourself if you're really ready to make the leap. It's a big decision with potentially serious consequences if not done correctly. But if you are ready and committed, don't forget your most important information resource: your veterinarian. It's too important a decision to make on your own.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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