September 04, 2019 Cats Dogs Nutrition

How to Cook for Your Pet Responsibly

A Siberian Husky sits at a table and licks a pastry

How to Cook for Your Pet Responsibly

The recent surge in pet food recalls and the ongoing Food and Drug Administration investigation into diet-related heart disease in dogs has made pet owners wary of commercial diets. So why not just serve up some of your dinner to your pet? In this blog post, I’ll look at some of the things you should consider when cooking for your pet.

Nutritional Differences between Dogs, Cats and Humans

Although we ascribe many human characteristics to our canine and feline companions, dogs and cats are not the same as humans when it comes to nutritional requirements. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have an absolute requirement for a meat-based diet. Regularly feeding your dinner to the family cat is likely to result in deficiencies of protein and certain amino acids, required by cats and contained only in meat. Taurine and my favorite amino acid, felinine, are just two meat-sourced dietary essentials for cats. Humans and dogs are both omnivores, but canine nutritional requirements differ from our own. For example, dogs have a greater requirement for calcium and phosphorus than we do. Plating a bit of our home-cooked dinner may leave our pets with inadequate nutrition.

Research on Home-Cooked Diets for Dogs and Cats

Food is an emotional topic no matter what family member is being fed. No one wants to be accused of not feeding a family member the best diet possible. Even though my heart loves home-cooked food, my head says I should see if there’s any research into the adequacy of home-cooked diets for pets.

A common reason pet owners cook for their pet is a medical condition requiring a special diet. One study looked at diets for dogs and cats with kidney disease. The recipes used in this study did not result in complete and balanced diets for either dogs or cats. Deficiencies were detected in amino acids and minerals such as selenium, zinc and calcium. A study of home-cooked diets for dogs with cancer found similar problems with home-cooked diets.

Another study found that over time, most pets eating home-cooked foods experience diet drift. Diet drift occurs when you take the nutritionally complete diet your veterinary nutritionist has formulated for your pet and substitute turkey for chicken or barley for brown rice. Changing the protein or carbohydrate source may unbalance the diet and make it nutritionally inadequate.

In short, the data suggests home cooking may not meet your goal of feeding your pet the best diet possible.

Cook for Your Pet Responsibly

For most pets, veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists recommend commercially produced pet foods that meet the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional recommendations. However, there is some wiggle room built in to this recommendation. Up to 10% of your pet’s daily calorie requirement can come from treats lacking AAFCO certification.

If you want to cook for your pet, why not make homemade treats, keeping in mind the 10% limit recommended by veterinary nutritionists? I have an organic dog treat cookbook, Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook from the Bubba Rose Biscuit Company that I use to make “snickerdoodle-poodle-poos” and “gingerbread mailmen.” These treats are very popular with the dogs in my life and some friends claim they are the only treats their dogs will eat! Even though the title says the recipes are for dogs, I have been eyeing the “going all the way upstream” recipe as a cat treat since it contains salmon. The second edition of the Bubba Rose book has even more pages and more recipes to facilitate your desire to cook for your pet. Cooking not in your skill set? How about feline millinery as a way to indulge your favorite fur person?