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Are home cooked meals the right choice for your pet?

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Dog owners – particularly those who have pets diagnosed with cancer – want to provide the best nutrition possible for their pets.  These owners frequently cook home made meals instead of feeding commercial diets.  By doing so, they hope to optimize their pet’s health.  Some dog owners also have concerns about recent dog food recalls.  Other owners have general concerns – appropriate or not – about the dangers of feeding commercial dog food.

Recipes for homemade dog food are easy to find, but how good are they for a pet?

Dr. Jennifer Larsen, an assistant professor at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, recently evaluated 200 available dog food recipes and showed that most did not meet the established nutritional recommendations for healthy dogs.  The study analyzed 200 recipes from 34 sources that included textbooks, websites, and pet care books.  Only nine recipes met the minimum nutritional standards for healthy adult dogs established by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials.  Only four – all written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists – met the minimum requirements of both AAFCO and the National Research Council.  Ninety-five percent of the recipes lacked at least one major essential nutrient.  Eighty-three percent lacked multiple essential nutrients.

The conclusion?

For long term feeding, we recommend that owners avoid general recipes from the internet or books, even veterinary books.  Owners who wish to make their pet’s food should use recipes provided by board-certified veterinarians who have training in nutrition and/or seek consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to create a recipe for long term feeding.  These recipes can be specifically formulated to suit the needs of your pet.  Otherwise, for long term feeding, it is safer to use a recommend commercial dog food that has met or exceeded AAFCO nutrition standards and has been evaluated with feeding trials.

Briefly, to claim that a food is “complete and balanced” for a given life stage, a dog food company must validate the nutritional value of the food through laboratory analysis, or, ideally, through laboratory analysis and feeding trials.  AAFCO-approved foods carry a label that states that they have either been “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO” or that “animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures” have been performed and substantiate claims of complete and balanced nutrition.  Otherwise, the label states that the food is “intended for intermittent or supportive feeding only.”

The obvious advantage of a home cooked diet is that the pet owner has control over the products used in a particular diet.  However, home cooked diets should also be formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO so that they can allow balanced and optimal nutrition for a pet.

How can we at CARES help?

Owners who wish to make their pet’s food should ask for recipe recommendations from our board-certified veterinarians at CARES.  We can help to guide you to resources that can help create recipes that meet the nutritional needs for your pet.  For owners who wish for more specific information, we can help set up a consultation with a veterinary nutritionist as well.

By:  Dr. Beth Overley, DACVIM (Oncology)

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