Previously, we looked at why so many pets react to mass-market, commercially prepared foods. For this reason, more and more people are choosing to take control of their pets’ diets by preparing their meals. In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits of homemade diets and the do’s and don’ts of preparing them.
Benefits of homemade diets
Homemade diets offer several advantages:
- Complete control over the quality of the ingredients.
- No “mystery” ingredients.
- Fresh, wholesome ingredients support optimum health.
- Minimally processed.
- Ingredients can be rotated for variety. You wouldn’t want to eat the same food everyday, so why should your dog or cat?
- Ability to prepare large batches and freeze them in convenient, single-serve quantities. No worrying that the next pet food recall will include your beloved pet’s brand!
A main benefit of preparing your pet’s food is that you can steer clear of ingredients known to cause sensitivities or intolerances. For dogs, the main offenders to avoid are:
- Beef, unless grass-fed
- Corn, and cornstarch
- Dairy, cow
- Wheat and other glutens
Dogs are typically least reactive to novel animal proteins, including:
- Buffalo or bison; preferably grass-fed
- Goat and goat dairy; preferably grass-fed
- Lamb and sheep dairy; preferably grass-fed
- Pork; preferably grass-fed
- Venison (a “hot” food in Chinese medicine)
Fish is also an excellent protein source for dogs, but steer clear of shellfish. Opt for fish low in mercury, such as sardines, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Pollack and catfish. Avoid high-mercury species such as tuna (especially albacore or “white” tuna), King mackerel, tilefish, shark and swordfish.
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I have found that highly intolerant dogs may benefit from a vegetarian-based diet. Although the question of whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores continues, research clearly demonstrates that a properly-balanced vegetarian diet can provide all of the essential amino acids and other nutrients necessary for optimum health. Excellent plant-based sources of protein, in descending order of their protein, include:
- Hemp seeds 33 g/100g (shelled)
- Lentils 9.02 g/100g (cooked)
- Chickpeas 8.86 g/100g (cooked)
- Kidney beans 8.7 g/100g (cooked)
- Split peas 8.3 g/100g (cooked)
- Lima beans 6.8 g/100g (cooked)
- Quinoa 4.4 g/100g (cooked)
- Millet 3.5 g/100g (cooked)
- Buckwheat groats (kasha) 3.4 g/100g (roasted)
- Kale 3.3 g/100g (raw)
- Black eyed peas 3.2 g/100g (cooked)
- Spinach 3 g/100g (cooked)
- Brown rice (long grain) 2.6 g/100g (cooked)
- Green beans 1.9 g/100g (cooked)
- Sweet potatoes 1.4 g/100g (cooked without skin)
To pump up the protein of a plant-based diet, you can include eggs (preferably organic) and some goat or sheep’s milk cheese or yogurt — if your dog tolerates these foods.
Note that cats’ requirements are different. Cats should NOT be fed a vegetarian diet, as they are true carnivores that require meat.
The best protein sources for cats include:
Doing it right
The biggest concern with homemade diets is that, unless properly formulated and followed, the diet may not be nutritionally balanced. For this reason, I strongly advise that you obtain your recipe from a reputable source, such as a book published by a holistic or holistically minded veterinarian, board-certified veterinary nutritionist, or canine/feline nutritionist where the recipes have been tested and verified as nutritionally balanced. If you are able, you can also consult with a reputable animal nutritionist to design the diet.
When preparing a homemade diet for your dog or cat, it’s essential to stick to the ingredients listed. Substituting ingredients can result in a diet that is no longer nutritionally balanced. Also, be sure to add all vitamin/mineral and any other supplements as directed; these supplements are essential to ensuring that the diet is properly balanced.
In addition to providing fresh, wholesome nutrition and limiting exposure to reactive ingredients, home prepared diets offer your pet an interesting mealtime experience, further enriching the bond you share. Bon appetite!