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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Most Home-Prepared Diets for Dogs are Not Nutritionally Balanced

June 29, 2012 / (5) comments

Do you or someone you know feed their dogs a home-prepared diet? I’ve worked with several clients throughout my career who have. Most of these folks think they can provide their pets with a healthier diet using ingredients bought at the grocery store in comparison to feeding a commercially prepared food.

I often hear the argument, "People don’t eat a diet where every bite is nutritionally balanced and identical to the previous bite, why does a dog need to?" That’s a valid point, but with the increasing incidence of diet-related diseases in people, I’m not sure we should be turning to human dietary norms for guidance on how to feed our pets.

There is a lot of hype around the home versus commercially prepared diet debate. The results of two scientific studies have convinced me that in almost every case (except in those incidences where a pet suffers from a diet-responsive disease that cannot be adequately controlled on a commercial diet), feeding a nutritionally balanced, commercially prepared diet made from high-quality, natural ingredients is the wisest (and certainly the simplest) course to follow.

In "A Comparison of the Nutritional Adequacy of Home-Prepared and Commercial Diets for Dogs" (EL Streiff, B Zwischenberger, RF Butterwick, E Wagner, C Iben, JE Bauer. J. Nutr. 2002 132: 6 1698S-1700S), researchers determined that "…some macrominerals, fat-soluble vitamins, including antioxidants, and trace minerals, potassium, copper and zinc were below AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] recommendations … which may place animals at risk for nutrient deficiencies."

The study found that that 76 percent of the 77 different home formulations that were examined were not nutritionally balanced.

More recently in "Evaluation of Recipes for Home-Prepared Diets for Dogs and Cats with Chronic Kidney Disease" (JA Larsen, EM Parks, CR Heinze, AJ Fascetti. JAVMA. 2012 240:5, 532-538), scientists investigated whether or not 39 recipes intended to manage chronic kidney disease (CKD) in dogs and 28 recipes claiming to do the same for cats were nutritionally complete and balanced. These recipes were published in books aimed at veterinarians or pet owners, or were collected from online sources.

An analysis of the 67 recipes determined that "None of the recipes assessed in the study reported here provided adequate concentrations of all essential nutrients, compared with the NRC's [National Research Council’s] RAs [recommended allowances] for adult dogs and cats. Furthermore, many recipes did not accommodate currently accepted nutritional strategies for managing CKD, and none provided guidelines for use at any particular stage or type of disease."

If you find yourself in a position where you have to (or are simply determined to) feed your dog a home-prepared diet, enlist the help of a veterinary nutritionist. He or she can design a recipe tailored to the specific needs of your pet and make any necessary adjustments based on how its body responds to the food.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: can I eat at the table? by James Clear / via Flickr


Comments  5

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  • Home Cookin'
    06/29/2012 11:12am

    There are so many things that our critters need for a completely balanced diet.

    Years ago I attempted cooking for a kitty with allergies. The recipe was from a veterinarian and included several supplements (do I remember crushed shells of some kind?).

    I learned a very important lesson: No diet is balanced if the critter won't eat it.

  • 06/29/2012 12:01pm

    Not a surprise you don't support home prepared diets when Hills is your sponsor.
    For years dogs lived on table scraps and they lived long lives. Now everyone wants the convenience of dry kibble and we wonder why our dogs have so many health problems and shorter life spans.
    A quote from Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins (2007), who once served as Director of Technical Affairs at Hills Pet Nutrition, the largest proprietary pet food manufacturer in the world.
    “Virtually all pet foods contain unsubstantiated claims for safety, completeness and balance that no human food in the world would ever be able to”

  • Home Prepared Diets
    06/29/2012 05:28pm

    Thank you for this article. I have been a breeder of Labrador Retrievers for 36 years, and I have always been concerned about the lack of a proper balance of nutrition in home prepared meals for animals. One of my excellent veterinarians, Dr. Randy Robinson, told me years ago, that many of the top students in Veterinary school went on to become Nutrition Specialists for Dog Food Manufacturers. Alot of research has gone into provding the optimum diet for our pets. I take it one step farther and recommend people research the company to make sure it has the highest ingredient standards, has in house production, so that it can have the highest inspection standards.

    I am including your article in my "Puppy Packet."

  • Home cooked meals for dog
    06/29/2012 06:14pm

    Nine years ago I adopted a sick and undernourished 6-week old puppy from the Humane Society. This was my third dog (in sequence). With 30 years of experience under my belt, I had some idea about dog ownership!
    Both my previous dogs came from dog shelters. Although they were healthy, lived relatively long lives and died of old age, in their mid-life they started to exhibit obvious signs of aging, including weigh gain, lower energy and strong odor. They were fed high quality, commercial dog food recommended by trusted vet.

    Because of the way I feed my family now, my dog, like the rest of us, eats home-cooked meals. I do not buy processed, canned, poorly labelled " stuff " full of fat and fillers manufactured in some far away lands...My family lives on real food: fresh, healthy,mostly organic and home-made, just like the food I grew up on, except I am much more adventurous cook than my mother was!

    I read all I could about what food is suitable for dogs, what to avoid, and how to supplement their diet. I received a recipe from our vet for home-made supplement consisting of kelp, lecithin, nutritional yeast, bone meal and VitC. My dog eats meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, some grains plus occasionally gets fish or olive oil. Her food will not be re-called due to deadly contamination and her chances of getting salmonella or e-coli are very slim.
    This 9- hear old "senior" is slim, has the shiniest red coat (she is a golden retriever / NS
    ducktoller mix) , runs like the wind and is known in the neighborhood as the happiest and
    friendliest dog. There is no odour, no scratching, and she is a perfect health. Is her diet not-balanced? I don't think so.

  • balanced diet
    06/29/2012 10:49pm

    I have a 13 year old male jack russell who is a confirmed urate stone firmer. He has eaten Hills UD both dry and kibble, but for the past 3 years he has been on Royal Canin UC 18 low purine. I have home cooked for him 3 times a week using Dr. Strombecks homemade diets for dogs and cats. It is rice and lowfat cottage cheese, then I add supplements to make it balanced. He loves all and any of it. A year ago, I had a diet made up for him from UC Davis nutritional center and you had the option of using a product BalanceIT. that is handy. He has had 2 surgeries and 2 hydropropulsions for stone removal(URATE) but the last two were xanthine stones from the allopurinol. Between homecooked and Royal Canin, he is balanced as well as could be.