Not so long ago I met a nine-year-old standard Poodle who looked like a two-year-old dog. Molly’s teeth were white, her coat was shiny, and she would play like a puppy. Molly’s owner, an experienced veterinarian, told me that, as a puppy, her dog used to suffer from food allergy. She tried all the conventional solutions without success until one of her friends suggested she fed Molly with a homemade diet. “I have been cooking for my dogs for years, and they have never been healthier,” she said. Being a veterinarian, it wasn’t difficult for Molly’s mom to create a healthy balanced diet for her. And a few months later, she was free of allergies; feeling and looking better than ever.

This story spiked my interest in homemade dog food. Could this be the answer to food allergies in dogs? Could I help my patients by prescribing homemade diets? Keep reading to find the answers to these and other questions about homemade dog food.

A Word in Favor of Commercial Dog Food

As a vet, one of the first things that I ask pet parents is what do they feed their pet. And since the majority of pet parents believe that the “right” thing to do is to feed their pets with commercial dog food, they usually give me that answer. However, for the most part, vets can tell when dogs are eating “human food”. And this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It is not that the food made for human consumption will be necessarily harmful to a dog, the problem relies on the nutrients balance. Commercially available pet food is nutritionally balanced for dogs (cats or other pet). These foods, provided that they do not always have the best ingredients, have been created with the proper ratios of macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins to meet pet’s nutritional needs.

Does this mean, that commercial pet food is the only (or the best) option? Of course not. But, honestly, it is the easiest route to feed a nutritionally-balanced diet to our pets.

Raw or Cooked?

Cooked, please! In 2012, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released a policy which discourages the use of raw or undercooked ingredients from an animal origin in pet food. The guidelines refer to meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk (aside from the bitch’s milk when feeding her puppies). The main concern behind AVMA’s policy is the possible contamination of raw or undercooked animal-source protein with a variety of pathogenic organisms, including Salmonella spp, Campylobacter spp, Clostridium spp, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus.

According to AVMA’s experts “dogs and cats may develop foodborne illness after being fed animal-source protein contaminated with these organisms if adequate steps are not taken to eliminate pathogens”. Secondary transmission of these pathogens to humans (e.g., pet owners) is also a big concern. In other words, raw or undercooked animal proteins could lead to foodborne illness in both pet and their owners.

AVMA’s pet feeding recommendations to owners include:

  1. Avoid feeding inadequately cooked animal-source protein to pets.
  2. Restrict pets’  access to  carrion and animal carcasses.
  3. Provide fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced food to pets (commercially prepared or home-cooked).
  4. Practice personal hygiene before and after feeding pets.
  5. Dispose of any uneaten food after feeding.

Advantages of Homemade Dog Food

The most significant benefit of preparing a homemade meal for your dog is the fact that you can choose the ingredients to include. You will be able to control exactly what goes in and what is left out. Although there are commercially prepared dog foods that contain high-quality ingredients, for the most part, homemade dog foods have better quality ingredients than commercially prepared dog foods.

Being able to choose the ingredients that go or are left out is great when a dog is suffering from food allergy. Changing the diet’s components allows vets to exclude allergens (substances that can cause an allergic reaction) one by one, thus allowing the identification of the allergy’s culprit.

Better ingredients translate into better health. Homemade dog foods contain no additives or preservatives, which just like in humans, are known to be a potential cause of serious diseases such as cancer.

Should I Try Homemade Dog Food?

There are several reasons to consider a homemade dog diet. But before you start cooking, you should head to the vet’s office. If you have a medical concern and you think that your dog may benefit from a homemade diet, you should start by consulting with your dog’s doctor to see if your pet will indeed benefit from such change.

You may consider a change because you are concerned about the ingredients in commercially prepared dog food or just because you believe that homemade diets are a better alternative. All of these are valid reasons to try a homemade dog diet. There are several resources on the web including recipes for dog food; however, the single best way to choose a balanced diet for your dog is having it specially prepared for them. A veterinarian or an animal nutrition specialist will create a diet based on your dog’s specific nutritional needs. Otherwise, you could be risking to feed a nutritionally-unbalanced diet to your dog, which could have harmful health consequences.


References:

Raw or Undercooked Animal-Source Protein in Cat and Dog Diets https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Raw-or-Undercooked-Animal-Source-Protein-in-Cat-and-Dog-Diets.aspx