It's always exciting to see pet parents who want to be more involved with their pet's nutritional plans! Individual dogs and cats have different requirements, and it’s critical that their diets meet those needs correctly. Many people love the variety and personalized nature homemade diets offer; however, they can be potentially harmful to your pet if not prepared properly. The following are some things to consider when thinking about a homemade diet for your pet.
What types of food do I feed my pet?
Dogs are omnivores, so they benefit from a diet with the proper balance of meat, vegetables, and starches. Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores, but this does not mean they can simply be fed purely animal-based protein. Cats do require meat, but it needs to be balanced with carbohydrates for energy. A diet comprised entirely of meat can be too high in protein while lacking essential vitamins and minerals, which can be particularly tough on kidneys and other organs.
Also keep in mind that some foods that are healthy for people can be toxic for pets. For instance, dogs and cats should not be fed grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, dairy products, or certain nuts and artificial sweeteners, among other things. Please visit the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center’s website for a more complete list of foods to avoid for your pet.
How can I make sure my pet gets all the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it needs?
Homemade diets are very tricky because getting the right balance of nutrients is difficult. Both dogs and cats require certain amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that are likely not supplied in the correct proportions by homemade food unless supplemented. In fact, dogs need to have forty-two essential nutrients supplied by their diet, while cats need forty-four. While you may not notice the effects of nutritional deficiencies right away, in the long term, they can cause problems with several organ systems and structures in the body. These include bone growth and development, the heart and cardiovascular system, the nervous and reproductive systems, and the digestive tract. Over a lifetime, these problems can shave years off the lifespan and health of your pet.
At the same time, it’s important not to add too many supplements because this can cause problems as well. While it may seem easy to just toss in vitamins and minerals, feeding excesses of certain nutrients can have drawbacks. For example, although calcium is needed for strong bones, too much calcium during growth can cause skeletal malformations, especially in large and giant breed puppies. Excess calcium can also be tough on the kidneys of certain animals.
There are several companies looking to combat vitamin and mineral deficiency issues in homemade food by offering vitamin and mineral packs developed by veterinary nutritionists to fortify homemade diets. The packs are added to specific homemade diet recipes to supplement necessary nutrients missing in the diet alone.
Because the precise balance of nutrients in pet food is so critical, many pet nutrition professionals strongly discourage pet parents from feeding a homemade diet unless they are working directly with a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist to make sure the diet is complete and balanced. Homemade diets are not recommended for puppies, kittens, or pregnant and nursing animals because they require higher levels of certain nutrients and can have serious health issues if any deficiencies occur.
How much should I feed my pet?
Homemade diets are often quite a bit higher in fat and calories than commercially made foods, so you’ll need to be sure you feed your pet the right amount to avoid weight gain. Your vet is a great resource to help you determine the nutritional needs of your pet, which can vary based on their breed, age, body condition, and activity level. For example, a sled dog requires different protein, fat and calorie content than a dog that is happy to sit on your lap all day.
If you’re interested in cooking for your pet, but don’t want to take on too much risk, another alternative to consider is using homemade foods as a topper (no more than 10% of your pet’s total diet). This is a wonderful compromise and when added to a complete and balanced commercially prepared food, you can feel confident that your pet’s nutrient requirements will be met for optimum health.
Are there any dangers I should consider?
We recommend that you always cook any food before feeding it to your pet.
Although raw diets are becoming more popular, uncooked foods can carry bacterial pathogens that can be a risk to immune-compromised animals. The digestive tracts of dogs and cats are more able to combat potential pathogens than those of humans; however, this does not negate the risks of feeding raw foods. There is also the potential for bacteria to be transmitted to people, either when preparing the meal or when exposed to the stool of the animal. Many commercially available raw food manufacturers have found ways to address pathogen concerns, but these techniques are not available for home use.
It’s also important to be very cautious when feeding bones to your pet. This is especially true for cooked bones since they are prone to splintering and can cause intestinal perforations or obstructions. Raw bones are very hard and can cause tooth fractures or other oral injuries, as well as intestinal problems.
Even when planned and prepared carefully, a homemade diet can still have its troubles. Though the proper nutrients can be added into the diet as ingredients, it’s not a guarantee the food will supply complete and balanced nutrition for your pet. There is naturally occurring variation in all pet food ingredients, whether commercial or homemade. The commercial manufacturing process includes rigorous testing for nutrient content and fortification to ensure the food delivers everything your pet needs in the proper proportions. While there’s probably an extra dose of love in a homemade diet, the average home kitchen does not have the tools or capability to investigate the food this closely .
Where do I get help formulating a homemade diet?
If you decide to prepare your pet’s diet at home, we strongly recommend that you work with a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist to ensure the food is properly fortified and nutritionally balanced for your pet. They can be found throughout the country, and many offer remote consultations. Once the nutritionist formulates a homemade diet recipe, it’s important not to make any substitutions as each ingredient offers a different nutrient profile. While some changes might feel like they make sense, the balance of nutrients can be thrown off by substitutions, even small ones.
Caution should be used when looking for other resources. Many online resources and cookbooks may offer simple recipes, but they are not developed by experts. Be sure to fully research any sources and look for advice from credentialed veterinary nutritionists.
We know you have your pet’s best interest in mind, but most homemade diets are incorrectly formulated and nutritionally imbalanced. They tend to be too calorically dense while lacking essential vitamins and minerals. Any pet parent wishing to feed a homemade diet should work with their vet to monitor their pet’s health as nutritional deficiencies can lead to chronic health conditions or exacerbate underlying problems.
Still have questions?
Our pet nutrition team is here for you. While we do not specialize in developing homemade diet plans, we can help get you started in the right direction! Send us an email, give us a call, or connect with us through LiveChat. We’d love to talk through your pet’s unique nutritional needs!