Home-made diets vs. commercial pet food diets.

It’s officially 2014, time for resolutions, goals, and plans. Your resolutions may include eating healthier, learning to cook more nourishing food, or spending more time with your family. You may be planning to start a new diet, one full of whole foods, by choosing to cook at home with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. Although you may have planned this diet for yourself and your family, did you think about including your pets in your nutritional goals? If you haven’t, consider it. An overwhelming majority of pets are fed a commercial diet, purchased from the local pet or grocery store, yet very few of these foods are species-appropriate for your dog. In fact, many people think that commercial diets contain ingredients that can be detrimental to your dog’s health and wellbeing.

dog food

Food is body fuel and you or your dog cannot exist without it. The strength of your dog’s immune system, his resistance to disease and illness, and his overall wellbeing depend on diet. Although commercial pet food is convenient, it provides only a fixed formula without any variety and as seen with recent recalls, may be contaminated with bacteria or toxins.(1) But, people need to realize that pretty much all pet food out there right now has been touched by a recall and if they haven’t yet, I am willing to bet their day will come. Not even so-called holistic brands are safe from recalls. When you mass market foods, you are bound to have issues at some point and I do not believe that any products right now are above recalls.

Many commercial pet foods also contain additives and preservatives for extended shelf-life. Some use artificial flavors, colors, and flavor enhancers to make the food more desirable to your canine.

A huge benefit of feeding a homemade diet is the fact that you have complete control over what your dog consumes. Unless a commercial pet food specifically says that it is made with human-grade, whole-food ingredients, it can be made with rendered meat (remember “pink slime”?) — which is meat that has been stripped from the bone and can include connective tissue. Now, again not all commercial dry dog diet are made of rendered meats and there are reputable dry commercial companies out there that have excellent sources of meat in their diets that are not rendered. I appreciate that every part of a meat animal is used for something instead of being wasted, but rendered meat has higher bacterial levels, potentially containing dangerous Salmonella. This meat has to be treated with chemicals, such as ammonia, to be considered “safe.”(2) But, I have heard accounts of rendered meat making its way into Raw Diets and sometime sit explains why some Raw diet suppliers are able to supply their clients with much cheaper alternative to the commercially pre-made raw diets available at pet stores.

Because manufacturers are only required to list the amount of crude protein on the pet food label, they will include cheap sources of protein that aren’t usable by your dog’s body. The term “meat by-products” can be translated to mean poultry feathers, gristle, fecal waste, and horse hair. Carbohydrates can also mean something much different than labeled. Examples of carbohydrates used in pet food can include sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, rice flour, beet sugar, and rancid or moldy grains.

The lack of variety in commercial pet food is also worrying for some clients. Humans would be repulsed by the idea of eating a formulated food that contained every nutrient necessary day after day. So, some prefer to do rotation of commercial kibbles or raw meat protein sources. To each their own preferences when it comes to feeding themselves and their pets and I respect that.

However, even though feeding a homemade diet sounds like the obvious option, it can be overwhelming and difficult, especially without help. If you have the opportunity, work with an experienced veterinary nutritionist who can help you formulate and adjust a diet according to your dog’s specific needs. If not, there are a variety of books and resources available on the internet. Be sure to only use recipes that have been formulated and tested by actual veterinary nutritionists.

We recommend that you visit holistic vet Dr. Susan Wynn’s website (www.susanwynn.com). She has a free, complete and balanced recipe for adult dogs and cats. Beware that many diets available online and in books don’t offer complete nutrition, so do research and determine what’s best for your dog.

Is it hard to balance home-made diets ?

Preparing a homemade diet is a great step towards helping your dog be the healthier he/she can possibly be. But, it is extremely hard to balance those diets. They will need to be supplemented with vitamins, especially in cats that have special requirements like their need for tauring. Home-made diets end up being a lot more costly than commercial diets. They are also more time consuming. Any pets on home-made diet should have regular check-ups and routine blood work. As far as what can be included in the recipe, again it depends on each pet. I like Hilary’s Blend book of recipes because she offers a lot of different options (ingredients) in it and all the diets are balanced for you (if you buy the vitamins she recommends). She tells you how much to feed and so forth. The dog guide sells for about 25$, it is an easy guide to follow and offers a lot of variety. She just recently came out with a cat recipe book.

hillary blend

The Balance It website is also another good option. You could also consult with a board certified pet nutritionist and I can refer you to one if needed. I can do nutrition consult for Chinese Food Therapy, but those diets are best suited for treating diseases and abnormal patterns.

If your pets are healthy and you are just looking for a basic diet guide, then you should check out Hilary’s Blend book. Another book I like is from Dr Barbara Fougere and it is called the Pet Lover’s Guide to Natural Healing for cats & Dogs. Dr Fougere is a great teacher and I call her my own like walking encyclopedia. If I have a question about alternative medicine, she is quick to answer and guide me on the right path. She is also the author of one of the best text book out there for western herbal learning, it is called Veterinary Herbal Medicine which she co-authored with Dr Susan G. Wynn. I have probably 30 alternative medicine books, so I will not be listing them all, but Dr Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats is another reference guide for people looking for home-made recipes. You can also get a Free Homemade Dog food Recipes guide and subscribe to CIVT newsletter about veterinary natural health.

Pets with food allergies that tolerate a protein may develop allergies to that protein over-time. Which means, we need to heal that gut before more allergies and intolerance develop. Pro-biotics, multi-vitamins and gut repairing herbs are our friends in that battle! So, usually I recommend Whole Food Vitamins mix to be added to home-made diets. So, that is why I like the RX vitamins, because they are hypoallergenic supplements and Mindy can tolerate it. I also recommend pro-biotics (RX Vitamins, Herbsmith, Purina Fortiflora, Animal Essentials) for every pet regardless of the diet they are on! I usually evaluate the need on a case by case situation. Not every pet will do well on a certain supplement and that is why it is important to consult with a vet and work as a team before you start playing doctor with your pet! Natural does not mean safe. In regards to pro-biotics, some have added herbs for digestive support, while some are just pure and simple pro-biotics. Any pet on a dry commercial diet should be receiving daily multi-vitamins too. We always forget that even if the label says well-balanced, that dry food as been in storage for how long before you feed it to your pet? How much of those vitamins are still intact by then?

There was an article I read online about the fact that a lot of written veterinary books with recipes in them are not well balanced. I am pretty sure that is true. But then I ask myself, “Do I eat my 8 portions of fruits and veggies a day?” “Do I follow the Canadian Food guide for myself?” I would have to admit that my answer would be a resounding “no!” Yes, I need to exercise more and eat better. But, why do we worry so much about balancing our pet’s diet and not ours? A lot of people, like their pets, are overweight and this leads to a ton of medical problems. Is dry food to blame for all problems with pets or are we just simply over-feeding ourselves, our kids and our pets? So, at the end of the day, this is what we need to remember: regardless if you chose to feed dry commercial diets, home-made diets or raw food to pets, the important thing to remember is: Portion control. If your putting in more calories than you are burning off, then you are going to gain weight and be more prone to diseases. The same goes for our pets!

Free Dogs Naturally Raw food feeding guide download. 

Unsure if your pet’s food has been recalled?
Check out an up-to-date list of pet food recalls, including dates and lot numbers: https://www.avma.org/news/issues/recalls-alerts/pages/pet-food-safety-recalls-alerts.aspx?fvalue=Dog
Flock, E. April 5, 2012, Salmonella or Pink Slime? Consumers Don’t Have to Make a Choice. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/salmonella-or-pink-slime-consumers-dont-have-to-make-a-choice/2012/04/05/gIQA6y4fxS_story.html

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)

Thanks to Dr Murray Alexander Gillies, DVM for editing this blog for me!

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3 thoughts on “Home-made diets vs. commercial pet food diets.

  1. Pingback: Spring allergies in pets | Dr Cindy Lizotte, Integrative Veterinary Care, Moncton.

  2. Pingback: Urinary Tract disease in dogs and cats | Dr Cindy Lizotte, Integrative Veterinary Care, Moncton.

  3. Lise

    Thank you Cindy! I fully agree with you and I wish you were my doctor, you have so much common sense along with wonderful knowledge. On another note I have been making my dog’s food since I discovered when he was a puppy that he has incontinence issues when on commercial pet food. It is most likely an allergy to a grain or by-product. I didn’t bother looking into what was the offender I simply decided that he should eat in the same way that I do: Real food, as whole as possible. So with the guidance of Hilary’s Blend Recipe book and my own nutritional knowledge I came up with a concoction that I believe to be balanced, and one that has been adapted through his growth stages. Today he is 18 months old, healthy, confident, energetic and sheds only 1/3 of what a ‘normal’ Bernese Mountain Dog would. Yes, it takes time, and yes it costs more than commercial dog food but the investment is in the long term benefits to his mental and physical health. Thank you for the additional resources!

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