By Jean Hofve, DVM
Preparing a home-made diet for one’s pets is a bit of a challenge. However, it is no more difficult than feeding one’s children a balanced and nutritious diet. Most human beings seem to be able to do that, since we have survived as a species. As any parent knows, it is not essential to balance all the nutrients in each individual meal, but over time the intake of nutrients in a varied, healthy diet will be balanced.
What parent would ever consider feeding their children only processed food out of cans, boxes and bags? We know it’s important to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Similarly, it is better for our animal companions to eat fresh, whole foods appropriate to their species, than to be fed processed, preserved foods for their entire lives. The popularity of commercial pet foods is due mainly to their convenience; and to massive advertising by pet food companies seeking even more profit than the tens of billions of dollars they already make each year.
Commercial Canned Food and Raw Meat Diet
If you’re considering home-preparing food for your pets, get educated about it. There is a wealth of books, articles and Internet sites to go to for information and guidance on suitable foods and nutritional balance. See www.catinfo.org or www.rawfeddogs.com for more information on how to get started; and www.celestialpets.com for recipes and whole-food supplements. Don’t take shortcuts, and don’t get lazy—preparing your pet’s food at home takes a firm commitment.
You’ll have to decide between raw and cooked meat diets. Raw meat diets are very popular, but not all pets will eat or can handle raw meat. For instance, a cat with gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease might be better off starting with a cooked homemade diet, then gradually converted, if desired, to raw. There are things you need to know about feeding raw before making the leap, but it’s easy to find out how to do it safely by reading books or checking the Internet.
The dangers of handling raw meat in the preparation of a pet’s meal are really no greater than those associated with making yourself a hamburger for dinner. No one advocates forsaking ordinary hygiene in the handling of raw meats (and items in contact with raw meats, such as food bowls, utensils and cutting boards), and in other animal-related activities. To acquire a zoonotic (animal-to-man) infection is not all that easy, if you use common-sense precautions.
If you’re not up for making the food yourself, there are pre-made raw frozen foods, as well as freeze-dried and dehydrated varieties, that are also very convenient.
The weight of practical experience by owners, breeders, and the holistic veterinary community is on the side of natural diets. Very few problems have arisen; compared to the legion of allergies, skin disease, dental disease, obesity, bladder infections, diabetes, and other health problems encountered by animals on commercial diets, not to mention many hundreds of recalls compared to just a handful for commercial raw diets.
Conventional veterinarians, whose nutritional education is limited and commonly provided by pet food companies, are generally very resistant to the idea of feeding homemade meals and/or raw meat, claiming that it poses a danger not only to the animals, but also to the humans who prepare the meals. We’ll look at the “dangers” of raw diets next month.
The most impressive evidence for homemade diets is the testimony of dozens of pet guardians, breeders, and veterinarians. Not only have I personally seen the improved health and well-being of pets on good homemade diets, but I have received dozens of first-hand reports from pet guardians citing increased health and vitality, as well as rapid disappearance of medical problems, from itchy ears to seizures.
People everywhere are turning to organic foods and non-toxic medical treatments for themselves—do our animal companions—who trust us utterly to provide for them—deserve any less? While most commercial foods are “adequate” and will keep our pets alive, they do not provide the “optimal” nutrition our animal companions need for vibrant good health and long life. And even those few courageous pet food companies who are truly trying to produce a decent food at a reasonable price, suffer from the same problem as all pet foods—it’s all highly processed, “dead” food.
Even if you can’t commit to completely home-preparing your pet’s diet, adding a little bit of fresh meat, even a couple of times a week, will be very helpful and provide many benefits that processed food simply doesn’t have.