Sorting through the confusion…
Geeezze… I’m beginning to wonder why I would choose such a topic to write about… it’s all so confusing. You can read just about anything online – pro or con – with great common sense and convincing research & knowledge. How do you know what to believe? We do not claim to be Veterinary Nutritionists at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, but it is our responsibility to be knowledgeable about all things pet related, as it impacts what we do every single day. Let us help you sort through all the confusion and give you some practical advice on cooking for your pet.
In the past few years, many people have ditched the idea of buying conventional food for their pet. There are several reasons for this… Some consumers were scared-away by the large-scale pet food recalls in 2007. Some felt that homemade food would be healthier and more nutritious than kibble or commercially available foods. Then, there are those who began making their own pet food to correct their pet’s health issue… whether it be a skin problem or general health issue. Others just wanted to return to a more “natural” way of feeding. And, of course, there are some canine & feline picky eaters who just wouldn’t eat dry or canned commercial pet food so their owners were forced to make their food for them.
First, the Pros: Is Homemade Pet Food a Good thing?
Holistic veterinarians will often encourage feeding our pets a homemade diet. If we’re not prepared to go 100% homemade, even supplementing our pet’s diets with “people food” is recommended.
There are so many positive things that come with making your pet’s food at home.
- You KNOW what your pet is eating. When you read the back of a bag of kibble or canned food, sometimes it is hard to understand. There are many wide-ranging ingredient phrases, like “meat-by-products” that leave you wondering just exactly what that entails. When you make your own pet food, you know exactly what is going into their little bodies.
- You can avoid questionable additives that are generally a part of any commercial pet food… Things like chemical preservatives, flavor enhancements, dyes, rendered fat, etc., all can be eliminated by feeding fresh, organic “people” food.
- If you are feeding your family a healthy, balanced meal, it will generally consist will of meat (proteins), vegetables (carbohydrates) and starches. Many times, the food your make your pet can be a portion of what you are making for your family’s meal each day. How convenient would that be?
- It is believed that one of the reasons our pets develop food allergies is because we feed them only one food over and over. By making your own food, you can provide your pet with a variety of foods, without them having to consume an entire bag of only one kind.
- Kibble, particularly, is obviously a processed food. As we are becoming more aware of the health problems for humans associated with processed foods, it’s not something we really want to give our furry family member, right?
- Making homemade dog food or homemade cat food also allows you to tailor the food according to your dog’s likes, dislikes, and needs. I had a cat one time that loved her food but hated that it contained peas. She would polish off everything else, but leave every single pea (licked clean!) in the bottom! Homemaking pet food allows you to make those types of changes easily.
- If eating organic is important to you, you could feed your pet an all organic, and/or all-natural diet too.
- Homemade tastes better (I mean, I’ve never eaten pet food, but it’s bound to taste better)!
- This is so sweet… I have read that making your pet’s food creates a closer human-animal bond. I can totally buy into that idea. Here is an interesting quote: “Dogs are pack animals; there’s a social process to food with wild dogs. When you’re sitting at the table and not sharing with your dog, there’s a disconnect. Our dogs want to be part of a pack and have the social connection of eating together.” * Awww…
Now, the Cons…
We humans have a pretty good idea of what we’re supposed to eat each day for optimal health. We need to have a certain amount of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals and water for optimal health. But I would argue that most of us are not all that good at balancing our own diets, let alone diligent in ensuring our pet’s nutritional needs. Our pets have certain nutritional demands that are unlike our own. Feeding them what we eat without knowledge of their requirements, could put them at a health risk.
Let’s delve into this a little deeper… Homemaking pet food is not as simple as it seems.
- First of all, you need the advice of a professional, board-certified Veterinary Nutritionist or a PhD-trained animal nutritionist. This is a must. Your veterinary should be able to put you in contact with the right person. You need to know the detailed nutritional demands of your particular pet, and how to avoid not only deficiencies in your pet’s diet, but toxic quantities as well.
- Are you familiar with all foods that our pets should not have? Seemingly innocent onions, grapes and raisins can be toxic to dogs and cats. Milk and dairy products are a no-no. Dogs and cats should never have garlic or chives. Avocado is questionable for both species. Cats should not have peanut butter. Raw eggs, rhubarb, tomato leaves, yeast, apple seeds, too much sugar, too much salt, too much liver, certain mushrooms, and fat trimmings should not be given to your pet. Are you scared yet? I would be!
- Do you have the time to devote to preparing meals? You will probably need several hours each week. Then you have to be ready to do the whole process again the next week, then again the next, and… well, you get the idea. It’s a huge commitment.
- Done well, homemaking pet food can really be expensive. You’ll have to buy high-quality protein in various forms (i.e., organ meat, muscle meat, etc.) (yes, organ meats are kind-of gross, but important), then several vegetables, a certain amount of oils, and assorted vitamin and mineral supplements. It can really add up.
- Storage is often an issue. Homemade food has to be refrigerated. If you have a big dog (or dogs!), or plan on making large batches of food, you may even need a separate refrigerator.
- Changes in ingredients can change the nutritional profile of the food. So if you have a well balanced recipe that you follow and decide to change from lamb to chicken (for example), you may need to recalculate total nutrients to be sure nothing is lost.
- Food preparation is more involved than what we could consider “normal”. You will probably be doing a lot more prepping and chopping. And since you are dealing with raw meat, there is a lot of soap and water clean-up between steps.
Putting it all together
We’ve looked at both the good and bad of making your pet’s food, so how do we make sense of it all? Something I think we can all agree on is this: IF DONE RIGHT, either can be a good choice. We’ve put together a guideline for you to follow so that you can rest assured you’re doing all you can do to provide your pet with the very best nutrition possible.
If you want to make your pet’s food, this is what we recommend:
Consider using a premix in the beginning. Premixes are available at premium pet food stores and they would be a great start to making homemade. You can get several different types. Some contain everything you need for a healthy balanced diet, except for the meat. You just add in whatever kind of meat your pet enjoys. These mixes typically contain vegetables, vitamins, minerals, herbs and enzymes. Some have grain, some do not. Sojo’s and Honest Kitchen are two good examples. It’s as close to homemade as you can get, and very convenient.
If you think you’re ready to jump in full bore, please keep the following in mind:
- First and foremost, do your research. Talk to nutrition experts to identify your pet’s needs.
- Before putting together your recipes, make a list of the foods that provide the nutrients your pet will need. Then incorporate them into your recipes. Do some additional research about how these nutrients are affected by cooking and by storing. Remember to make sure that all the foods you use in your recipes are safe for your pet. If you’re not sure that it’s safe, just don’t use it.
- Practice safe handling of all foods to avoid contamination or food poisoning (for you, your family, and your pets!).
- In addition to basic vitamins and minerals, remember to supplement your recipes with digestive enzymes, essential fatty acids, and possibly probiotics. Double-check calcium as it is often needed as a supplement. When adding supplements, use natural [whole food] supplements rather than synthetic. It is difficult for pets to completely utilize the synthetic variety and they can cause stress to the liver and kidneys.
If you choose NOT to make your own pet food, this is what we recommend:
Again, so important… Do your research. Most all dog food brands on the supermarket shelves these days say “complete and balanced” but this means that the formula contains only the minimum amounts of nutrients necessary for your pet. I wonder, though… does that simply mean that it keeps your pet “alive”, or does it mean that your pet will thrive? I’d rather my pet thrives.
It’s a good idea for you to shop for your pet food at a premium pet food store rather than pick something off the supermarket shelf. Although there are some good brands in the grocery stores, foods found at a premium pet food store are generally more quality oriented.
Be objective when reading food labels and ingredients. Learn how to recognize useless fillers, chemical additives, preservatives, dyes, and feed-grade vs human-grade ingredients. Ask for help when needed. Locally, RedRidge Pet Market has a wide range, well-trusted variety of pet foods. The owner, Mike, is very knowledgeable about pet foods and will help you decipher all the jargon.
Additionally, websites such as DogFoodAdvisor.com and Whole Dog Journal are great resources when choosing a dog food. For cats, I find CatFooddb.com to be very thorough. These sites provide a simple rating of what is considered a good food and what isn’t. They also break down ingredients and give you an explanation of why the food received the rating that it did.
Final Thoughts on DIY Dog Food and Cat Food
As we mentioned before, if you have chosen not to cook your pet’s food, it is recommended that you supplement their diet with some good, wholesome food choices. Give a boost to their health by feeding them small portions of carrots, apples (no seeds), bananas, melons, green beans, and pumpkin (to name a few).
For all pets, nutritional needs change with age. The needs of a puppy are much different than that of an adult dog. Whether you’re making your own food or buying conventional food, make sure it is appropriate for your pet’s age and size.
Also, a cat’s nutritional needs are very different than a dog. They cannot eat the same food. Nutrient deficiencies can be harmful and even fatal.
If your pet is fit and active, has a firm healthy stool, clear eyes, shiny coat and hard nails, their diet is probably working very well for them. It is vitally important to visit your veterinary on a regular basis, but if you’re feeding homemade food, you should check in more often. A vet can detect any deficiencies before it does any harm to your pet.