By Dr. Becker
Listen as Dr. Karen Becker discusses the advantages of feeding the pets in your family a healthy, wholesome diet prepared right in your own kitchen for a fraction of the cost of high end commercial pet food.
Have you ever wondered what, exactly, is in that can or bag of pet food you’re serving your beloved four-legged family member every day?
If so, you’re not alone.
In my experience, the number one reason pet parents look into homemade diets for Fluffy or Fido is because they’re concerned about quality. What’s really in that giant bag of dry dog kibble or that tiny can of food your kitty seems addicted to?
Commercial Pet Food is Loosely Regulated
You may not be aware that unlike the food you eat, there’s very little government regulation of pet food quality. The USDA doesn’t control it, nor does the FDA or the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).
Not one of these agencies watches over what private pet food manufacturers put in their products.
Pet food quality control is governed by each state, and while certain regulatory codes exist, they do not pertain to the absorbability, digestibility or overall quality of commercially prepared foods for pets.
What this all means is you must place your trust in the companies that make the pet food you buy, and you have to count on the accuracy of the labels on the packaging as well.
For many people -- especially those of you who’ve had a bad experience feeding commercial foods to your dog or cat -- this is just not good enough.
Even the pet food brands many veterinarians endorse don’t live up to their marketing claims and have caused health problems in pets.
Given the lack of regulation and the questionable quality of many commercial pet foods, more and more dog and cat owners have become leery of serving them to their furry family members.
This is not to say there aren’t good quality pet foods on the market, but many people have simply lost trust in the pet food industry and are eager to learn how to make their own pet food at home.
The Biggest Drawback to Feeding Homemade
As an integrative wellness veterinarian who understands the vital connection between nutrition and health, I applaud all pet parents who make the commitment to prepare and feed only a homemade diet to their pets.
But here’s the rub – if you’re going the homemade route, you must do it right. And by right, I mean balanced. A growing problem in my practice is pets with compromised health as the result of being fed an unbalanced homemade diet.
Even with the best intentions, if you switch your dog or cat to an unbalanced homemade diet, you can do a great deal of damage to their health – which is exactly what you are trying to avoid by serving homemade in the first place.
I’ll discuss how to avoid this pitfall shortly.
Human Grade Food: It’s Not Just for Humans
Unless the commercial dog or cat food you’re buying is made with human-grade ingredients, you are feeding your pet rendered protein. Rendered meat is essentially pieces and parts of this animal or that -- there’s really no telling. This low quality protein is less than desirable nutrition for your pet.
Unfortunately, commercial pet food made entirely with human-grade ingredients is usually at least three times as expensive as food containing crude protein.
This is one of the main reasons for switching your pet to a homemade diet. You have complete control over what goes into your dog’s or cat’s mouth, and you can insure you’re feeding high quality, human-grade protein and not the crude, pieces-and-parts variety.
Get the Grain Out
Another reason to consider feeding a balanced homemade diet is that you can insure it is species-appropriate for your pet.
Many pet owners today are becoming more knowledgeable about what constitutes biologically correct nutrition for companion animals.
For example, many of you realize your carnivorous dog or kitty should not be fed carbohydrates like grain, corn, wheat, rice, and in particular, soy. Canines and felines have no biological grain requirement and dogs, in particular, can have problems digesting grains, so I don’t recommend feeding them to your pets.
Depending on where you live, you might already know just how difficult it can be to find commercially available pet foods that are:
- Made from human-grade ingredients
This is another reason increasing numbers of pet owners are looking into homemade diets – it can be less expensive and less frustrating than trying to find affordable, high quality commercial pet food.
Additives and Preservatives
The vast majority of commercial pet foods on the market contain chemicals, preservatives, emulsifiers and artificial colors that pet parents don’t want to subject their animals to.
Even high end commercial brands use flavor enhancers and extra fats that make the food more palatable to your dog or cat, but also less healthy.
Other Benefits of Homemade Pet Food
We’ve already covered some of the advantages of preparing homemade meals for your dog or cat, including:
- You have complete control over the ingredient list and the ability to eliminate all additives and preservatives
- You can pick just the right veggies for your pet’s particular needs, including those with higher antioxidant or medicinal properties, for example
- You can decide which meat sources to feed your pet, which is especially important if you have a cat or dog with an allergy to certain types of protein
Another benefit of switching to homemade is you can save money by buying large quantities of meats and vegetables when they are on sale. You can prepare, package and freeze your homemade pet meals weeks or even months ahead of time.
You can also pair up with friends who have pets to buy ingredients in even larger quantities. It can be both economical and a time saver if you can spread the expense and meal prep work among the entire group.
Another wonderful benefit of preparing a homemade diet is that when you follow a recipe for balanced meals, which is what I’m about to recommend, you’ll know for a fact you’re doing the best job possible in nourishing your pet. You’ll be:
- Fulfilling your dog’s or cat’s vibrant, living food requirement
- Providing nutrient balanced, species-appropriate food that is rich in omega fatty acids and contains vitamin-mineral supplements in the correct proportions
Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats
Together with my pet lifestyle coach and pet nutrition consultant , Beth Taylor, I’ve written a book of homemade pet food recipes, Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats.
The recipes in our book are not only AAFCO compliant, they also meet the nutritional requirements for biologically appropriate, healthy diets for all stages of a pet’s life as outlined by the National Research Council (NRC) and the Ancestral diet for dogs and cats.
So whether your four-legged pal is canine or feline, young or mature, there are recipes in our book that will meet your pet’s nutritional needs.
Another great thing about Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats is if the thought of preparing food for your pet is intimidating, we’ve provided easy-to-follow, balanced recipes that even a complete novice can handle.
The recipes in our book offer lots of nutritional variety and we also provide instruction on how to prepare and store meals efficiently.
There’s a chapter on how to select healthy treats for your pet.
There’s also a chapter on how to incorporate commercially prepared raw foods into a homemade diet.
For pet parents who want to prepare balanced, species-appropriate meals but aren’t ready for raw, there are recipes for cooked homemade diets as well.
Beyond food preparation, our book shows you how to create essential vitamin-mineral mixes from products you can purchase from your local health food store. We explain how to blend supplements in appropriate quantities and then add them to each batch of homemade food in the right amounts for your pet’s body weight.
Vitamin-mineral supplementation coupled with homemade food allows you to prepare meals for your pet that are nutritionally complete in accordance with all standards for suggested baseline requirements.
Beth and I are proud to be able to offer our book to you. There are few things as fulfilling as knowing you’re preparing nutrition packed, species appropriate homemade meals for your dog or cat right in your own kitchen.
The recipes we offer in Real Food are not only easy to prepare, they’re also designed to create vibrant health in your beloved pet.