Homemade Pet Food – not always the best option
Elsie Lodde, RPNC Founder
Lately, I have seen a reverse problem when it comes to pet food. I have found that many people are making their pet’s foods at home. Do to the mistrust many of us have, and wanting to feed our animals more organic and natural ingredients, it seems like it is ideal and would make you an excellent pet parent. But the truth is simply that most people (even vets) really have no idea about the nutritional needs of their pets. I discussed in a previous blog (http://recycledpetsnorcal.org/watching-what-they-eat/) that dogs are carnivores. This is one of the factors that many people still are unable to get. Since many bags of food say they are made of chicken and rice, people think their animals can survive on chicken breasts and rice, and this is nutritionally about as healthy as a human living off of purely chicken and rice. Or furthermore, one of the other issues that presents is that people feed their dogs (carnivores) like they are human (omnivores) or even rabbits (herbivores). Nutrition is important not only for the longevity of your pet, but can cut down on unwanted behaviors and allergies as well, so it is something we should all consider.
In just this last week, I have had two people come to me with nutritional issues stemmed from feeding home cooked meals. One woman was concerned about her grandmother who feeds her dog that staple chicken and rice, and truly believes it is better than buying dog food. When her granddaughter (and animal advocate who was concerned since her grandmother’s last dog died at 7 and she feels the same will happen to her current dog) approached her grandmother about it, she said “I buy dog vitamins from Wal-Mart, so they are ok”. I think most people recognize that there is no number of Flintstones vitamins that would keep a starving child in Ethiopia healthy. I had someone else come to me with advice about a new dog. She was licking constantly and thought this was a behavioral issue. Immediately I thought there were food allergies. When I asked the owner what she ate he said he had “stopped feeding yucky dog food” and said he made this dogs food which consisted of “Eggs, oats, cooked and pureed veggies.” This food issue stemmed from the owners being a vegetarian and so thinking that their dog could be one as well.
I have seen many vegetarians want to feed their dogs meat free meals, but (unless you own a Chow Chow) that is one of the more harmful things you could actually do. Dogs do not share your morality when it comes to animal deaths, they gladly will kill a squirrel and eat it or eat the road kill raccoon; it makes no difference to them. Their nutritional requirements, such as the need for relatively high amounts of protein (meat) and calcium (which generally comes from bones), and their short intestinal tracts show than they are not built to have diets heavy in plant material (Dzanis). If you have issues with owning a carnivore, I would suggest checking your local shelter for a rabbit with which you can share your values about food with. I have known people who think they can supplement calcium using yogurt, but the amount needed means that a 35 pound dog would need over 20 cups of yogurt weekly which, again, that short intestinal tract doesn’t have room for that much dairy (Lane). Those bones provide calcium that animals need and for this reason, animals should be fed copious amounts of bone (in full form or meal).
It seems like most of the homemade dog foods are like this one from another loving pet parent whose dog eats a homemade diet of “Oatmeal carrots peas and either diced chicken or beef.” The first thing that concerns me is that 30%-50% of a dog’s diet should be raw meaty bones. I usually give duck wings or pork neck bones but some others include chicken necks, backs, wings and leg quarters, lamb breast, pork, turkey or lamb necks, pork riblets, beef necks (for big dogs) or similar boney meats. You can also use fresh or canned fish, such as jack mackerel, pink salmon, anchovies or sardines but try to avoid those in oil and stick with ones soaking in water (Straus). Some people think tuna may be sufficient, but since it does not include the bones, keep those for your sandwiches and use something else for the animals. Homemade diets also should include organ meat (since in the wild again they would eat the animal whole). The best percentages really would be to include 5% liver and between 5-10% heart. One way people often can tell about whether there is enough bone in their dogs raw diet is by looking at the poop. Their feces should be solid and turn white and powdery in a day or two (this is one of the benefit to raw feeding is the lack of clean up needed). If the poop is runny, it generally means you need to feed more bone. If it is white and powdery when it comes out, feed less bone (Carnes). How much time do you want to spend watching your dogs’ poop to try to decipher diet? Probably no more than I want to either (complicated especially if you have many animals) and this is another down fall to trying to know what is best.
The Problems of Homemade Diets
Doing the research for this article made it very clear that there is so little consistency amongst those who believe in raw or homemade diets. Some say you should feed 15% bone and others 50% bone. With all this conflicting information it is really not a shock to me that a study by UC Davis found that of the 200 recipes they found in books, online, and other sources “that only nine of the 200 recipes —including eight of the nine written by veterinarians — provided all essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards established for adult dogs by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, while only five recipes — all written by veterinarians — provided essential nutrients in concentrations that met the National Research Council’s Minimum Requirements for adult dogs” (UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, 2013). Based on the research of these diets it is pretty clear, unless they are coming from a nutritionist, you may wish to stay clear or run the risk of causing “significant health problems such as immune dysfunction, accumulation of fat in the liver and musculoskeletal abnormalities” for the dog or cat you were trying hard to spoil and keep healthy.
Although I appreciate people wanting to provide their animals with great quality ingredients, and understand that we have little trust in dog food companies; deciding you know what your pet needs would be a lot like someone with a high school diploma being solely responsible for teaching children. Unless you are given a very complex diet from a nutritionist, and you are willing to do the work that is required to prepare a complex meal for your four legged child, then it is best to look at commercially made dog foods. I often supplement my dogs kibble with raw and cooked meat (they get duck feet daily and oftentimes get duck wings, chicken hearts, pork liver, and big pork and beef bones.) As for kibble, we use Taste of the Wild, but you can also find a detailed list of the most recommended dog foods online at: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/best-dog-foods/
There are also Raw commercial pet foods available (my cat eats Primal Raw or SmallBatch depending on what is available and the dogs also love them as well) if you love the idea of raw feeding, which I do, but understand that you may not be the best person to come up with the recipes.
Carnes, B. (n.d.). Raw Feedings 101. Retrieved from Skylar Zack: http://www.skylarzack.com/rawfeeding.htm
Dzanis, D. D. (n.d.). Vegetarian Diet For Dogs. Retrieved from Dog Nutrition: http://www.dognutrition.com/vegetarian-diet-for-dogs.html
Lane, C. (n.d.). 10 myths and misperceptions about homemade dog food. Retrieved from The Bark: http://thebark.com/content/10-myths-and-misperceptions-about-homemade-dog-food?page=3
Straus, M. (n.d.). Home Made Diets for Dogs. Retrieved from Dog Aware: http://www.dogaware.com/diet/homemade.html
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. (2013, July 15). Homemade dog food recipes can be risky business, study finds. Retrieved from UC Davis News and Information: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10666