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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Are Homemade Diets Recommended?

John sent the following message to me...

My question is: Will you, as a veterinarian, ever recommend home cooked dog/cat food to dog/cat owners? If a client, like myself, insist, could you prescribe some recipes and supplements for individual dogs?

I'm a believer in homemade pet food. But most vets I spoke to recommend that I buy commercial pet food. I understand commercial foods are approved with a balanced nutritional formula. I have done some research (online and books) and I choose to cook for my 2-year-old mini dachshund and 3-months old Yorkie.

John, I'll first answer briefly:  yes and no!  It really depends on the pet and the client.

In general I have the same view as most of my colleagues that you have spoken with.  Commerically prepared pet foods are good nutrition (though some better than others), cover the pet's needs, are easy to prepare and give, and are easy to acquire.  The research on nutritional requirements has already been done for you and many decades of extensive testing has been done to figure out which are the best foods and ingredients for pets.  Veterinary nutritional specialists spend their entire careers analyzing and developing diets and the vast majority of them feed commercial pet foods to their own pets rather than making them at home.  When the experts (nutritionists, internists, cardiologists, endocrinologists, etc.) chose to buy a bag of food rather than prepare it themselves I have to believe that there is validity in their view. 

The problem with many homemade diets is that there are many trace nutrients and minerals that are important but aren't easily found in many foods we use.  We have to keep in mind that a pet's digestive tract is not the same as ours, especially the closer you get to true obligate carnivores (such as cats and ferrets).  So we can't base a dog or cat's nutrition on what would be good for us.  A proper homemade diet requires a lot of work in preparation, including using trace vitamin supplements.  Most people won't do the research or talk to experts before trying to make the food themselves.  In these cases the pets end up with nutritional deficiences.  And many of these deficiencies aren't obvious quickly, often taking long periods of time before you see a problem.  You also need to make sure that advice on homemade diets is coming from a veterinarian or ideally a veterinary nutritional specialist.  Human nutritionists don't understand the differences in physiology enough to make proper judgements for pets.

So does this mean that I never recommend homemade diets?  Nope.  I have given owners recipes in certain cases, especially if there is a medical need and the pet doesn't like a prepared food for that disorder.  But I am very careful who I give such recipes to, and I make them a copy of pages from a veterinary nutrition text book.

My question is...why would anyone want to make their pet's food?  You can get as good or better nutrition from a prepared food and do so much easier and with less mess.  You also don't run the risk of major deficiencies with good quality commercial foods. 

Nutrition has become a pet interest of mine (no pun intended) over the last few years, and I've really been doing self-education on the issue.  Knowing what I know, I have chosen to purchase commercial foods.