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