Home cooking meals for your pets is not all it’s cracked up to be. There are often many unbalanced, dangerous recipes floating around the internet that owners who don’t know any better decide to try out and the proponents of these diets continue to reinforce the misconception that making your own pet food is simple and safe, despite the fact that they are unable to back up their claims with any real scientific evidence. Home-cooking for pets continues to grow in popularity, which means we are beginning to see the detrimental effects of poorly prepared diets are having on our patients. If you insist on feeding a homemade diet, what should you keep in mind to ensure your pet is getting the best nutrition? It can be done, but there’s a few golden rules you must follow!
When to avoid a home cooked diet:
- Growing animals: puppies and kittens should not be fed a home-cooked diet as they are extremely sensitive to vitamin deficiencies and excesses, and can suffer from bone deformities if not fed an appropriate diet formulated especially for growing animals – this includes mixing puppy or kitten food with human food (adding rice, meat, vegetables etc) as this can unbalance the formulation.
- Cats: majority of cats won’t eat a home-made diet, in addition to the fact that taurine deficiency is a huge concern with home-made diets. It is not an easy fix like ‘just feed fish’ or ‘add a vitamin supplement’ as taurine absorption can be blocked or affected by a variety of factors. It can be done, however its even more difficult than cooking for dogs.
- Pregnant or lactating animals: as with growing animals, a lack of calcium from a homemade diet can have severe consequences for both the mother and her babies.
- Pets with specific medical conditions: speak with your vet about a therapeutic diet option before considering a home-made diet, as not all conditions can (or should) be managed with a home-cooked diet
Common health complications to watch for:
- Chronic constipation and in severe cases, megacolon: some home-made recipes lack the necessary fibre to help the passage of faeces through the gut and the water balance in the body. These can also hinder the absorption of necessary nutrients that require water and soluble fibres to nourish and provide energy to the colonic cells. You may also see anal gland issues in some pets as a result.
- Diarrhea: a lack of fibre can affect the formation of the stool and absorption of water
- Malnutrition: if the diet is lacking or exceeding certain nutrients, malnutrition can occur potentially causing weight loss, weight gain, metabolic conditions, hair loss/loss of coat condition and growth defects
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or excesses): Most recipes available online have a number of vitamin deficiencies or excesses that if left unchecked, can severely impact the health of your pet. Commonly calcium and magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin B’s as well as essential amino acids (such as taurine) and omega 3 & 6 fatty acids are found to be lacking. Some recipes may also contain very high levels of phosphorus or protein, which can place pets at higher risk of certain disease processes.
- Skin conditions: Home-cooked diets do not ‘cure’ skin diseases and allergic conditions, in some cases they can exacerbate them due to using common meat proteins that are common triggers for allergies or a lack of essential fatty acids causing dry skin and dandruff.
- Increased risk of dental disease: Some homemade recipes suggest adding bones will provide the necessary calcium levels needed for dogs and cats, however bones are not designed to be eaten. They are designed to be gnawed on, chewing the remnants of meat and sinew off them. The risk of broken teeth or obstructions from ingesting bones or chewing on bones outweighs any benefit of adding them to the diet.
- Increased risk of urinary and kidney disease: High levels of protein in some home-made diet recipes can place your pet at higher risk of urinary stones, in addition to placing undue stress on the kidneys (which break down and excrete protein) that may trigger or exacerbate underlying renal disease.
If your pet encounters one of the above complications, reassess if home-cooking is right for your pet, and seek the opinion of your vet. If you really do still want to try home cooking, it is very important that you undertake thorough research on the risks and benefits, what is involved, how much time and money it will cost and what to watch out for. To avoid complications, it is always recommended you seek the advice of a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist or BalanceIt.com if you insist on feeding a homemade diet, to ensure your recipe is complete and balanced.
My top tips on successful home-cooking:
- Seek the help of a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist (DACVN): majority of DACVNs provide online consults, or may be available for consulting at a specialist clinic near you. These specialists are able to formulate diet recipes for your pet’s specific needs, ensure it is balanced and ensure the diet is as safe as possible. Alternatively, check out BalanceIT.com which is created by a DACVN – it allows you to formulate a balanced recipe with the inclusion of links to purchase supplements to guarantee the diet is complete. Avoid using recipes you find elsewhere online or in ‘pet cookbooks’ as these are rarely balanced or formulated by a DACVN, instead use BalanceIT or speak directly with a specialist who has assessed your pet and their needs.
- Follow the recipe exactly: This means absolutely no substitutions or changes to the recipe, including how the recipe instructs you to cook the ingredients. Every ingredient has a certain nutrient profile, so any changes to the recipe will unbalance it and change the nutrient profile of the overall diet.
- Ensure you follow strict hygiene protocols: just as you would handle and cook your own food to ensure its safety, apply the same principles when cooking pet food. Use quality ingredients and thoroughly cook any meat used in the recipe. Using raw meat is never recommended.
- If making batches to freeze, add the vitamin supplement after heating, not before as reheating can degrade the vitamins and cause deficiencies.
- Determine how much time it will take to prepare food for your pet, and how much money it will cost to feed to your pet: for most people, a commercially prepared diet is a safer, less time consuming and more affordable option. Be realistic about how much time you will have to spend on cooking for your pet, and if you can afford to cook for them long term.
- Do not mix home-cooked diets with commercially prepared diets: the two foods should not be fed together as this can affect the formulation and balance of both foods and have unexpected results.
Home cooking is not impossible, however it is very important to follow these few rules to make sure your pets are getting all the necessary nutrients from their diet. Do you home cook for your pets? What recipes do you follow?