By Dr. Becker
I constantly stress the importance of balanced nutrition for dogs and cats, both here at Mercola Healthy Pets and in my practice. I certainly don’t do it to instill fear in pet owners or to discourage homemade diets for dogs and cats. I do it because I want to spare loving, well-intentioned owners and their animals the terrible outcomes vets often see as a result of homemade diets that are nutrient deficient.
I recently ran across another very sad story of a puppy fed an unbalanced homemade diet. Cases like this one and another I wrote about recently involving a kitten are why so many vets don’t want pet owners feeding homemade diets.
My goal in sharing this information is to convince as many people as possible of the absolute necessity of nutritional balance when it comes to their pet’s diet. It doesn't matter what form the food is in -- raw, cooked or dehydrated -- if it's unbalanced it can create health problems for your dog or cat.
The following case was reported in a recent issue of JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association). The article was authored by a group of veterinarians at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine Foster Hospital for Small Animals where the pup received treatment for a number of serious health problems resulting from significant nutritional deficiencies.
The Puppy’s History
The patient, an 8 month-old male Saint Bernard pup, was brought to Tufts for osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) in both shoulder joints and a 2-month history of lameness in both front legs. OCD is a disease affecting the cartilage around the various joints in a dog’s body.
The puppy’s owner got him from a breeder when he was 11 weeks old. At that time, the pup was eating a chicken-based adult dry dog food and began having diarrhea as soon as his owner got him home. The diarrhea went on for a week after the pup arrived, so his new owner had him dewormed and began feeding him cooked hamburger and rice (homemade).
After 3 days on the beef and rice diet, the diarrhea resolved, at which point the owner decided the dog had an allergy to chicken and continued the homemade diet. Over the next week, to the cooked hamburger and rice the owner added a small amount of the same chicken-based dry dog food the breeder had been feeding, a raw apple, some boiled broccoli, a whole raw egg in the shell (fed 3 times a week), and a vitamin/mineral supplement for dogs.
According to the owner, each time the chicken-based adult dry dog food amount was increased, the puppy had a recurrence of diarrhea.
The puppy ate this homemade diet for 5 months before he was seen at Foster Hospital. During that time, the pup received vaccinations and deworming and was determined to have a good body condition.
At 7 months of age, the pup was seen by his regular vet for the lameness in his front legs and painful shoulder joints. X-rays of the shoulder joints showed OCD. The vet prescribed NSAIDs for the pup and referred him to Foster Hospital at Tufts.
Pup is Evaluated at Tufts
The veterinarians at Foster Hospital for Small Animals noted mild generalized muscle wasting in the puppy in addition to the lameness and shoulder pain, but no other abnormalities were noted during the physical exam.
However, following that exam the puppy developed focal (partial) seizures, a rapid heartbeat and his body temperature spiked to 103°F. He was taken to Foster’s intensive care unit to be stabilized.
A biochemical analysis revealed several problems, including severe hypocalcemia (low blood calcium levels), hyponatremia (low blood sodium), hypochloremia (low chloride ion), hyperphosphatemia (abnormally high blood phosphate levels), vitamin D deficiency, and taurine deficiency. The severe hypocalcemia was assumed to be the cause of the seizures.
X-rays showed widespread osteopenia, confirming bone demineralization (loss of bone strength).
The Puppy’s Diet is Investigated
Since the puppy’s biochemical abnormalities and bone demineralization were thought to be associated with nutritional deficiencies, the Foster Hospital vets did a comparison of the nutrients in his homemade diet with the dietary requirements for growth in dogs. The results showed the puppy’s diet had:
“… multiple and substantial deficiencies, including calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D, all of which were < 50% below minimum requirements set by the NRC as well as the AAFCO. Additional dietary deficiencies in sodium, chloride, iron, iodine, choline, copper, folic acid, vitamin A, and linoleic acid were identified.”
Also, because the pup’s homemade diet contained a low amount of taurine, and taurine deficiency has been linked to dilated cardiomyopathy in giant-breed dogs, they also measured his serum and whole blood taurine concentrations.
Treatment and Discharge
The puppy was treated with various supplements, medications and a nutritionally complete commercial diet to resolve nutritional deficiencies and the resulting seizures.
He was discharged from the hospital after 3 days, at which time his owner opted to feed a fish-based commercial diet that met minimum AAFCO requirements for growth in dogs.
The pup’s biochemical values were monitored for several weeks after discharge, and ultimately all supplements were discontinued. The lameness in his front legs resolved, but I suspect the osteochondritis dissecans in his shoulders will be an ongoing issue that will affect his quality of life.
This Puppy’s Illness was Preventable
This was an entirely preventable situation caused by a lack of education on the part of the puppy’s owner.
At first glance, the homemade diet the pup was fed for a relatively short time may appear balanced to owners who haven’t carefully researched the specific nutritional requirements of their pet. It included beef, rice, fresh fruit, a cruciferous veggie, whole eggs, a bit of commercial dry dog food, and even a vitamin/mineral supplement. I’m sure the puppy’s owners thought they were feeding their growing giant breed dog a well-balanced diet.
They were mistaken, and as a result, their beloved Saint Bernard pup will very likely suffer from joint and bone problems throughout his life.
My hope is that pet owners who feed homemade diets, no matter how knowledgeable they believe they are about dog and cat nutrition, will take the time to thoroughly research the subject, consult their holistic vet about balancing their pet’s diet, and follow pet meal recipes written by experts in pet nutrition.