Homemade Diets for Dogs and Cats
Wouldn’t it be great if dogs and cats could eat like us? Many people think so and there are many benefits to home-cooking for your pets. However, there are downfalls too. Let’s take a look at the wonders and pitfalls of home-cooking for your pets.
There is something special about being able to present your family, including your pets, with a freshly prepared meal made from ingredients you purchased and lovingly prepared. Your pets might think so too since many dogs, and some cats, find home-cooked food very palatable, often-times more so than commercially available diets.
There are also times when home-cooking for your pet might be done more out of necessity than desire. When multiple health conditions are present at once it may be difficult to find a commercially available diet that achieves the various nutritional goals to meet your pet’s particular needs. A Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist® can help design a homemade diet tailored to your pet’s health needs. Also, when our pets don’t feel well, their food can become less attractive and palatable to them, and the increased palatability of a homemade diet can help get them back on all four feet.
Homemade diets for pets tend to have very good digestibility since they are made with whole meats. In addition, they can contain fresh produce which provides beneficial phytonutrients and fibers. The high digestibility and phytonutrient-containing produce are beneficial for all dogs but can be especially helpful for those with digestive issues. Again, the diet can also be tailored to meet the particular needs of an individual pet which helps to prevent or manage the disease as well.
While many dogs find homemade diets very palatable, cats are a different story. These pickier creatures can become accustomed to the texture, taste, and smell of the diet they are used to, and making a switch, especially when sick, to a homemade diet can be unsuccessful for a larger portion of cats than dogs. That said, there are some cats who will readily consume a homemade diet and for these guys, it can be just as beneficial as it is for dogs.
While homemade diets can be tailored to meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats whether it is for healthy pets or those with medical conditions, the diet should be balanced by a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist®. This is not the time to get creative in your kitchen. Dogs and cats have specific nutrient requirements that need to be met in the diet to prevent signs of deficiency over time. With certain medical conditions, some nutrients must also be restricted and so following the formulated diet is crucial to ensure that it is both safe and effective. Many diets can be found online but if they weren’t formulated by a professional, they almost always have nutritional deficiencies or do not meet the intended nutritional goals for the management of a disease.1-6
This brings us to the topic of diet drift. One issue with homemade diets, even those properly formulated ones, is that the recipe tends to change over time.7,8 Owners tend to begin not to measure and weigh the ingredients or change them thinking the changes they have made are small. In fact, changes, especially those made to the protein and starchy components of the diet, can vastly alter the nutrient profile of the diet either making it unbalanced or ineffective.
Other downfalls of home-cooking for pets are cost, time, and storage. Home-cooking, especially for large dogs or diets which are high in protein, can be very costly. The meat, carbohydrate, and vegetable portions of the diet are expensive but so are the vitamins and minerals that will need to be added to ensure it is complete and balanced. In many cases, these homemade diets are just as, or more expensive than commercially available prescription diets. In fact, a recent comparison study of homemade dog food, versus kibble, and canned diet for both maintenance and for therapeutic management of disease found that in all cases, kibble was the most cost-effective, followed by homemade, with canned food being the most expensive.9 In addition, they take time to prepare and a lot of refrigerator and freezer space, both for raw materials in the meal, and the finished prepared meals. Again, the larger the dog, the more of an issue this can become.
It may seem like the hurdles to creating a balanced homemade diet are too high but if you still think this is the way to go for your pet you can find a list of Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists® to help you formulate a complete and balanced homemade diet at www.ACVN.org.
- Larsen J, et al. (2012) Evaluation of recipes for home-prepared diets for dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 240:532-538.
- Heinze C, et al. (2012) Assessment of commercial diets and recipes for home-prepared diets recommended for dogs with cancer. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 241:1453-1460.
- Pedrinelli et al. (2017) Analysis of recipes for home-prepared diets for dogs and cats published in Portuguese. Journal of Nutritional Science. 6:e33.
- Pedrinelli et al. (2019) Concentration of macronutrients, minerals and heavy metals in home-prepared diets for adult dogs and cats. Scientific Reports. 9(1):13058.
- Stockman J, et al. (2013) Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs. 242:1500-1505.
- Wilson S, et al. (2019) Evaluation of the nutritional adequacy of recipes for home-prepared maintenance diets for cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 254:1172-1179.
- (2014) Short communication: Variability in content of homemade diets for canine chronic kidney disease. Veterinary Record. 174(14):352.
- Johnson L, et al. (2016) Evaluation of owner experiences and adherence to home-cooked diet recipes for dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 57(1):23-27.
- Vendramini T, et a. (2020) Homemade versus extruded and wet commercial diets for dogs: Cost comparison. PLoS ONE 15(7):e0236672.
About the author: Dr. Renee Streeter is a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist® and BSM Partners’ Nutrition Practice Principal. Her experience as a General Practitioner, Clinical Veterinary Nutritionist, and Consultant in the Pet Food Industry compliments her passion for food, health, family, and animals.
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