Considering a homemade diet for your dog

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 3/6/11
By: Gail T. Fisher

It’s been nearly four years since “the Great Pet Food Recall of 2007.” In the wake of that event, in which numerous cats and dogs sickened and died, many pet owners started making their own dog food. As regular readers of this column know, I’m a fan of feeding “real” food (that is, not commercial diets) and have been doing so since the late 1970’s. Over the years, I think I’ve fed just about every approach to home cooking there is.

There are pros and cons to home-prepared diets. The dog food industry discourages even thinking about making your own dog food, claiming they alone, can make a “complete and balanced” diet. But really the “natural” canine diet is really pretty simple, and doesn’t include rice, wheat, corn, barley and oats, carbohydrates that make up 50% (some as much as 70%) of most commercial diets. A canine in the wild consumes some carbs in the form of berries and in the partially digested stomach contents of prey animals, but carbs won’t constitute more than about 25% of their diet. Dogs’ digestive systems aren’t able to digest the carbs in most commercial diets.

To me, it makes sense to feed dogs closer to the way Nature intended. Although dogs are often considered omnivores since they can survive on many different diets, they are structurally and functionally carnivores. Their shorter (faster) digestive system and more powerful stomach acids are designed to digest meat rather than carbohydrates and vegetation, and their jaws and teeth are functionally to rip and tear chunks of flesh, rather than grinding and chewing plant food as herbivore’s do.

Over the past ten years or so, there have been a growing number of “real food” diets on the market including many frozen raw diets. While some are reluctant to feed raw food, most dogs do fine with it. A healthy dog rarely gets sick from the bacteria we worry most about, Salmonella and E coli. Consider that their bodies are designed to eat carrion and that wolves and wild dogs—with the same digestive system—eat meat that has been buried for weeks or even months. 

If you’re concerned about bacteria, there’s little harm in cooking your dog’s food. While cooking destroys some nutrients, it is far less than the intense heat used to cook commercial dog foods.
Some people like to feed dry food believing it’s important for cleaning teeth. Unfortunately the carbohydrates in commercial food are a likely cause of much of the plaque that forms on dogs’ teeth to begin with, and brushing does far more to control plaque than feeding crunchy food.

Before undertaking the task of “home cooking” for your dog, do your own research. Interestingly, the latest issue of “The Whole Dog, which I highly recommend (it’s the “Consumer Reports” of dogs), has an article reviewing the latest books on home-made diets. These 3 books won the respect of the reviewer for covering minimum daily requirements as well as including recipes and supplements: DR. BECKER’S REAL FOODS FOR HEALTHY DOGS AND CATS by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM; UNLOCKING THE CANINE ANCESTRAL DIET by Steve Brown; and Monica Segal’s K9 KITCHEN.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2011. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.