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Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. Technician  
Male, 49
Indianapolis, IN

Interests: animals, Reading (sci-fi and fantasy)
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Home-cooked meals and raw diets...Helpful or Harmful?

Aug 10, 2009 - 3 comments
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I know that there are still a lot of pet food myths, misconceptions and “old wives tales” out there, but I think I am going to end my “series” on pet foods with a brief discussion of raw food and homemade diets.   These diets are becoming more popular with pet owners, especially in light of the pet food recall of 2007.

Back in the spring of 2007, veterinarians and pet owners alike were shocked at the extent and severity of the pet food recall.   It seemed as if every day brought word of a recall of yet another brand of food.  Over the course of two months, dozens of companies were affected and hundreds of brands were pulled from store shelves.

Because people were afraid, many started cooking at home for their pets.  And while this action was helpful in the short term, the long term use of a homemade diet can have detrimental effects on the pet.  Simply put, making a diet for your pet at home sounds easy enough, but studies have shown that about 90% of diets prepared at home by individuals are lacking in nutrients needed by the pet.

As our pets have become a bigger part of our families and our lives, pet owners want to do what is best for them and for many that means avoiding the commercially prepared diets.   Some people fear their pet being sickened by another supply problem, others think they can do just as well with their own cooking, and still others simply don’t like the idea of a corporation making their pet’s food.

Whatever the reason, IF you choose to try a homemade diet, you must talk with your veterinarian first.   He or she can give you trustworthy resources to help design the diet and you might even consider consulting with a veterinary nutritionist.  It is vital that you follow the guidelines for balancing nutrients to avoid any long-term problems.  There is a website (balanceit.com) that was set up by veterinary nutritionists to help people who are considering this type of diet for their pets.

That said, I applaud people who can effectively prepare diets for their pets at home.  I personally feel that I don’t have the time (and I know myself well enough to know that I won’t make the time) to spend balancing and cooking a diet for my pets when there are sound, well researched, and very good diets available on the shelves of my local pet store and/or veterinary office.  My pets are on a premium commercial diet and, in my opinion, they are doing just fine.

Raw diets are also another popular alternative for some pet owners.   Using the fact that dogs and cats are taxonomically classified in class Carnivora, the theory is that they need to have a diet that is composed of a high percentage of meat.

I have no real big issue with people who choose to feed raw diets other than, as mentioned above, it needs to be properly balanced.  A diet of strictly meat can predispose animals to bone fractures as there is not near enough calcium in meet to balance with the excessive phosphorus.

My other concern with raw diets is that many people dismiss the potential for bacterial contamination (Salmonella).   I am not sure I understand this casual dismissal given the number of human food recalls I see every week due to Salmonella contamination.  Look at the recent peanut/pistachio recalls!   More than 2000 products recalled over a period of 4 months because of potential Salmonella contamination and hundreds of people were sickened.

Proponents of raw diets maintain that dogs and cats can tolerate Salmonella and other pathogens and aren’t sickened by the bug.   In essence, this is true.  Most pets won’t get sick from ingesting Salmonella, but, (and this is what the proponents forget) your pet can be a reservoir for Salmonella and that means your family is at risk.   Kids playing in the grass where the dog was defecated can pick up Salmonella…a dog who just ate raw chicken and now wants to lick your face can give you Salmonella…and so on.

And, some pets do get sick from Salmonella, especially if their immune system is compromised in some way (Feline Leukemia, chemotherapy, etc).  

Some people have the belief that raw diets are more “natural” for the pet.   While I understand this belief, again, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.   “Natural” would be allowing your cat to hunt small rodents, birds, lizards, and other critters to her heart’s content.   “Natural” would be putting a goat in your backyard and letting your dog’s kill it and gorge on the carcass.  My point here is that if you are going to feed a raw diet, fine, just don’t say you are doing it because it is natural.   The raw meats we feed our pets look nothing like what they would go in kill in the wild.   As one veterinarian put it, packs of wolves don’t hunt in meat processing plants.

Again, if you cook for your pets at home or feed raw diets, I commend you for your commitment.  I don’t think either are necessarily wrong, but I when I see people promoting “recipes” or raw diets without recommendations or oversight from veterinarians, it bothers me and I truly believe some of these pets are at risk for a multitude of problems.  Similarly, when people dismiss the potential human health risk of Salmonella, I believe they are doing a disservice to people who don’t understand the potentials risks.

So…now that I am off of my soapbox…what are your thoughts?   Any raw diet feeders out there?  Also, I am planning a brief discussion of flea and tick products soon…any other thoughts for blogs you would like to see?


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by swampcritter, Aug 10, 2009
Most of the medhelp users either live in the US or a developed nation.

However, Swampy's brother lives in a "middle income" country -- per capita income is a little under half of the US. What this means is that pets are cared for very differently.

Some dogs get dog food, but a large percentage of them get table scraps or pet meat which the stores all have in a little scrap cooler near their butcher shop.

Swampy's brother's dog is typical. When she was younger, her diet was a piece of cheddar cheese in the morning, and at night she got kibble with oil poured over it (oil was extra from humans frying their dinner, usually fish or chicken). Sometimes she would get a piece of fish or chicken (with the bone), sometimes she would get a little pet meat. Occasionally, she would get boiled chicken feet with curry powder which was her favorite.

As a treat, she loves fast food sandwiches, especially the fried fish sandwiches made by the place down the street.

All this discussion probably makes US pet owners really nervous.

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by ginger899, Aug 10, 2009
Thanks for this blog. I've often wondered about whether dog food cooked at home really had in it all the things a dog needs. I agree with the idea that to research this properly before making this kind of commitment is the most sensible thing to do. Dogs need certain nutrients that humans don't -and vice-versa. Their digestive system is different.

I got a good quality complete-food kibble (all-natural ingredients without chemicals) and add cooked (human quality)beef, chicken, or fish with some vegetables, which I cook up specially for her every 2 weeks, bag into portions and keep in the freezer. Sometimes she gets eggs, about once every 10 days. I am pretty sure she is getting everything she needs from this combination, but hope so. I went off giving her canned dog meat because I wasn't sure what went into it, and how over-processed the meat was.

I work hard to do this food for her, and do hope she is getting the right food. I spoke to the vet about it and he said it sounds ok.

But the weird thing is (like Swampy's brother's dog)....many years ago when I knew little at all about dog food, food allergies, food toxic-to-dogs, etc we had a Jack Russell. That dog ate everything and anything. ANYTHING! from the ridiculous to the sublime. And I didn't know any different. I didn't know grapes were toxic for dogs! (He got fed lots of grapes, as we were under the erroneous impression they were GOOD for him!!) If he found half a melted chocolate bar in the street, and snaffled it quickly I didn't rush him to the vet! (he never had any ill-effects) Apart from his canned (usually cheap) commercial dog meat and carbohydrate mixer biscuit, he ate cucumber, avocado, onion bread, greasy fried bacon, burgers, sausages, curry sauce, you name it!

O...M...G!! It makes me cringe now, as I know better.

But oddly, that dog only went to the vet once a year, for his vaccinations, once because he got bitten by a rat, and once because he cut his leg.....He was never ill! He was not overweight, he was not lethargic, he had no organ diseases, or diabetes, or Cushing's.....He died when he was 14 of prostate cancer. He might have lived to 18?? If we had known better and fed him a healthier diet....who knows?

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by Piparskeggr, Aug 11, 2009
I recall reading the results of a study at Harvard about 18 - 19 years ago.

The testing was based upon cat eating preferences.

Least favorite amongst domestic cats was live food.

Most favorite was prepared, cooked food.

Baseline protein source was mice.

Seems our "civilized" kitties are gourmands ,-)

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