Homemade Pet Food or Store Bought Pet Food – Which is Better for Pets With Cancer? Part 3

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
By Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ on Mar. 18, 2016

Now that you’ve read the first two parts of this series (Processed Food vs. Whole Food for Pet Cancer Patients — What’s Better? Part 1 and Human-Grade Foods Are Better for Pets Than Animal-Grade Foods - Part 2), we’ll continue with what I feel are some crucial feeding strategies for cancer patients based on my holistic veterinary perspective.

Can My Pet Eat Homemade Foods?

Yes, your pet can eat foods that you make at home, provided some guidelines are followed.

Before commercial pet food was an option for owners, our canine and feline companions just ate the same foods we did. Now that there are many cat and dog kibble (dry food) and canned (wet food) options ready for purchase at grocery and pet stores and online, the concept of cooking for one’s pet has become completely foreign for most owners. However, homemade pet food has of late been an area of growing interest for many owners who want their pets to have healthy, long lives.

Here are some of the aspects of home-prepared ingredients that make them ideal for pets of any health status, but especially for cancer patients:

1. Human grade

The majority of commercially-available pet foods and treats are made with feed-grade ingredients that have been deemed unfit for human consumption and have higher than permissible levels of a variety of toxins, including mold-produced mycotoxins (aflatoxin, vomitoxin), animal excreta (feces and urine), and can include 4D components (dead, disabled, diseased, and dying animals).

2. Free from grain and protein “meals by-products”

In order to make a product that meets Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards, and that also is less-expensive to manufacture and for the owner to purchase, grain and protein “meals and by-products” are used instead of whole grain and protein ingredients. Grain and protein “meals and by-products” don’t exist in nature, are produced through a process that damages nutrients’ bioavailability, and are generally less-bioavailable (less-efficiently absorbed) as compared to whole foods.

3. Lacking chemical preservatives or artificial colors

To prevent spoilage, chemical preservatives (BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin) can be added to pet foods and treats and may be used to preserve the rendered fat that is sprayed on kibble to enhance palatability, as well as for protein meals like fish meal. If the chemical preservative is added before the ingredient arrives at the final food production site, it does not even have to be included on the product’s label.

Artificial colors that are added to pet foods and treats include Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellow 5 and 6, and others, which contribute to hypersensitivity (allergic-type) reactions, behavior problems, and cancer in humans. Caramel color that is used to make foods and treats appear more like real meat contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MIE), a known animal carcinogen.

As a result, owners need to be extra vigilant about reading food and treat labels to make sure that what is being offered to their pets are free from chemical preservatives and artificial colors.

4. High moisture levels

When nature makes protein, grains, vegetables, fruit, and other nutrients, they are all created in a format containing relatively high levels of moisture. Rendering and high-heat cooking removes much of the essential moisture that is crucial to the digestive process. Instead, dogs and cats must drink water to aid the body’s digestive juices and pancreatic enzymes to facilitate digestion.

Consuming moist foods also helps create a feeling of satiety (fullness) that can ensure that an appropriate number of calories are consumed; this also reduces the potential for obesity-related health problems, like high blood pressure, arthritis, traumatic ligament rupture, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, others.

5. Freshly prepared

Why owners think that feeding a kibble-based diet that can sit in a bag or container for months at a time will best suit their pets’ nutritional needs is beyond me. It’s such a counterintuitive concept from the manner of eating that is recommended for humans via the Choose My Plate initiative. Although we humans have differing nutritional needs from our canine and feline companions, similar concepts of consuming high-quality and fresh nutrients applies across all species.

Home-prepared diets for pets may not be100% nutritionally complete and balanced from the get-go, but owners can receive guidance on making pet food with appropriate ratios of protein, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to meet their pet’s nutritional needs.

Owners can partner with their veterinarians to pursue a consultation with a university’s Veterinary Nutrition Support Service—University of California Davis and University of Tennessee are excellent options—or use a service like Balance IT.

Which Human Foods Can Be Fed to Pets?

There are many pet-appropriate human foods that can be served as treats or used as meal-formulating components, including:

Vegetables: Beet, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, mushroom, spinach, sweet potato, ripe tomato, and others can be fed raw or steamed and finely chopped or pureed and added to any food. Any vegetable that you would cook before eating (beet, sweet potato, etc.) should also be cooked before being served to your pet. Vegetables with skins should have the skins, especially any areas of discoloration or “eyes” (like on sweet potatoes), removed before serving.

Fruits: Apple, banana, blackberry, blueberry, cantaloupe, cherry, melon, pear, raspberry, watermelon, and others not only are tasty, they also provide essential moisture, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Vitamins in the format created by nature are generally absorbed better than synthetic vitamins that don’t fit binding sites inside the digestive tract as well as their natural counterparts.

Vegetables and fruits should always be washed before serving. If available, always choose an organic option to cut down on potential pesticide exposure.

Meats: Cooked, defatted, low-sodium proteins like chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, and fish are great options to use as the basis of home-prepared meals. Additionally, preservative-free and U.S. sourced meat jerky, tuna water, or meat-broth cubes can be given as snacks.

Before feeding your pet any human foods besides those mentioned above, reference the ASPCA’s People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets.

Can I Feed My Pet a Raw Food Diet?

Yes, your pet can eat a raw food diet, depending on his overall state of health, individual nutritional needs, and the components you are considering feeding in a raw state. Generally, consumers interested in raw diets seek to feed raw meat, but in actuality uncooked vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts can also be components of a raw meals and snacks.

Diets liked kibble (dry) and canned foods are heated to > 400 F to kill pathogenic bacteria (campylobacter, listeria, and salmonella, etc.). While the goal of killing potentially harmful bacteria is ideal, the high-heat cooking also denatures proteins and deactivates enzymes essential to the digestive process.

FoodSafety.gov provides a chart of Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures with recommendations to cook meat to 140-165 F (depending on the type of meat) to kill bacteria. So, if meat-cooking temperatures only need to reach 140-165 F for humans, is it really more beneficial to high-heat cook the components of our pets’ diets?

Raw diets have not been structurally altered by heat, so they retain their natural integrity along with beneficial or pathogenic microorganisms. My recommendation is to have the raw components of your pet’s foods and treats include certain fresh fruits or vegetables and to cook meats to a recommended bacteria-killing temperature before serving.

The potential for pets and human family members to face life-threatening illness if pathogenic bacteria are ingested motivates my perspective and the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Policy on Raw or Undercooked Animal-Source Protein in Cat and Dog Diets. No owner would want to see their pet suffer from flu-like symptoms such vomit, diarrhea, fever, and muscle aches, or have the condition progress to kidney and liver failure, seizures, coma, or even death.

Juvenile (puppies and kittens), geriatric (pets older than seven years), and pets having immune system-compromising ailments like cancer, immune-medicated (“autoimmune”) disease, or pets taking immunosuppressive drugs (chemotherapy, steroids, etc.) are at greater risk for toxicity from pathogenic bacteria and should only eat cooked-meat diets.

Thank you for reading this multi-part series. I strongly believe that our pets’ overall health and the prevention of many disease conditions depends on the purity, quality, and format of the foods and treats they consume.

Do you feed your pet foods and treats besides kibble and canned? Do you feel your pet’s health benefits from such a feeding strategy? Share your perspective in the comments section.


Raw Food Diet for Dogs

What People Foods Are Harmful to My Pet?

How to Safely Feed Your Pet People Food

Why Your Homemade Dog Food is Not Good Enough

Image: Homemade pumpkin and bacon dog biscuits

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ


Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ


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