The trend in pet nutrition is shifting today, as more and more pet parents are now exploring the importance of feeding fresh homemade diets, as opposed to the processed pet foods that are dominating the market. And it should come as no surprise, especially with the growing number of pet food recalls today.
Here’s the truth: The pet food industry, which promotes biologically inappropriate, "feed-grade" foods that are loaded with synthetic vitamins to meet minimum nutrition standards, thrives on the idea that feeding dogs and cats should be done for them to survive — but not to thrive.
In fact, they believe that the cheaper the ingredients, the bigger the profit margin. These industry players are more invested in how much money they’re going to make — they do not have your pet’s best interests in mind. This is why it’s such a breath of fresh air whenever I see pet parents doing their best to feed their beloved dogs and cats a species-appropriate diet that’s suited to these animals’ needs.
5 Benefits of Feeding Cats and Dogs a Balanced Homemade Diet
The optimal way to nourish your four-legged family member is to give them a carefully balanced, raw or gently cooked, homemade species-appropriate diet. If you have previously fed your dog conventional pet food or kibble, now’s the time to make the shift. There are many benefits with feeding your pet a homemade diet:
- You get to handpick the ingredients — You can be certain about the quality of the meat you’re feeding your pet, and that you’ve purchased it organic. You’ll also know that any produce you use is appropriately washed and cleaned before it’s used for your pet’s meals.
- You can give your pets their much needed enzymes and phytonutrients — These nutrients are typically destroyed during food processing. If you feed a raw diet, then there’s no shortage of these beneficial nutrients.
- You can be flexible about what you’re feeding — With preparing homemade meals, you can be flexible and make sure that you’re providing nutritional variety in your dog’s foods. You can give them fresh fruits and veggies from your local farmers markets or backyard.
- You can mimic your pet’s ancestral diet as close as possible — I would advise feeding as much unprocessed, fresh foods as you can afford. So if you can't afford to feed an all-fresh, living, raw food diet, then just offer fresh food as snacks instead.
- You’ll have peace of mind — You know you’re completely in control of all the ingredients you use. This is crucial, especially now that it’s a struggle to find ethical pet food companies that use locally sourced ingredients.
Feeding any amount of fresh food to your pets can let you reap benefits. Even if you’re only feeding two to four fresh food meals every week, it can still have a significant impact on your pet’s nutritional status. What’s important is that you take small but sure steps to ensure your pets are getting the best diet to allow their health to thrive.
How Do You Define ‘Fresh Food?’
Here’s what I discovered: Apparently, the words “fresh food” mean different things to different people. Some pet owners think that fresh food is anything that does not come from a can or bag labeled “dog food” or “cat food.” But this very simple definition means that processed foods like donuts, pizza and hotdogs can be considered “fresh food.”
This is not what I’m talking about when I’m referring to fresh diets for pets. Here’s how I define “fresh food:" a diet that is as species-appropriate as possible — meaning it's low in carbohydrates, with high moisture content and is unprocessed — and has a variety of fresh, whole foods that are nutritionally complete and optimal for the species.
Pets thrive best on fresh, whole foods that are unadulterated and moisture-dense. They need fats, good-quality protein and roughage: small amounts of vegetables and fruits, which provide fiber and antioxidants. Their diet should also include trace minerals, vitamins and fatty acids.
So to summarize, the best foods to place in your pet’s bowl come from the fridge — not from the pantry. But this doesn’t mean that everything you have in your fridge, no matter how fresh or perishable, is safe for your pets. Here’s why.
Not All Foods You Eat Are Safe for Pets — Even Ones That Are Healthy for You
A 2016 study published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science reported that foods that are perfectly safe for humans can be toxic to dogs and cats, and are responsible for cases of poisonings among pets worldwide. The study authors noted that:1
“Dogs and cats may be fed harmful foodstuffs by owners unaware of the danger or given the wide occurrence of these products in the home, pets may easily have accidental access to them … Dogs are undiscriminating in their eating habits and will readily ingest potentially harmful foodstuffs, thus being far more commonly affected than cats.”
They further noted that poisoning episodes occur mainly because there’s “lack of public knowledge of the serious health threat to dogs and cats that can be posed by these products.” So what particular food items are dangerous to your pets? Here are a few common examples:
- Chocolates contain theobromine and caffeine, which can cause hyperactivity, tremors, increased heart rate and even death (the more bitter a chocolate is, the more toxic it is).
- Macadamia nuts can lead to weakness, vomiting, depression, tremors, loss of coordination and hyperthermia in dogs.
- Onions, garlic, chives and other plants in the genus allum can make some pets sick (although others are not affected), and cause diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite and other symptoms.
So while it is a brilliant idea to feed your pets a fresh food, homemade diet, the devil’s still in the details — and it is up to you to be completely vigilant on what you should or should not be feeding them.
This Resource Can Guide You in Feeding Safe Foods to Your Pets
Most pet parents usually become flustered or confused when it comes to identifying which foods are safe and healthy for their pets, and which ones can cause trouble. And when they find it too challenging or time-consuming, most would give up and resort to feeding their pets a dry food or kibble diet — probably the worst food you can give your pet.
If you need help in this area, you’ve come to the right place. These Pet Food Facts pages will give you the lowdown on feeding specific foods to cats and dogs, including their safety profile and which ones are best avoided. Through these articles, you can learn:
- What’s the ideal amount to feed and the best way to prepare these foods
- Safety considerations when feeding certain foods
- Potential reactions to watch out for and how to avoid them
Other Pet-Feeding Tips to Keep in Mind
Some of the foods in this list may not be something that you see often, or may not be a staple on your grocery list. So here’s what I’d advise: Go slowly when introducing new foods to your pet. If your cat or dog also has a history of digestive issues and other health concerns, consult your integrative veterinarian before feeding them new foods. Here are other tips to keep in mind:
- Wash and clean your pet’s food bowl and water bowl regularly — This is crucial if you’re giving them raw or gently cooked meals. I also advise using ceramic, stainless steel or glass bowls instead of plastic.
- Prepare the right portions — One consideration would be to adjust the calories down or up according to how much exercise your dog gets every day. If you feed treats, you'll also have to factor them into the total daily calories that your pet needs.
- Make sure they’re sufficiently hydrated — On average, a cat consumes 5 to 10 ounces of water per day. A healthy dog, on the other hand, needs between one-half and 1 ounce of water for every pound of body weight each day.
I urge you to browse these pages so you can learn more about the best foods you can feed your pets. The more informed you are, the better you can be at making sure you’re giving your pet the balanced, species-appropriate nutrition they deserve.
About Dr. Becker