Over the past few years, as we’ve all become more aware of what’s going into our foods, more and more pet owners have turned to homemade diets for their pets. Whether it’s due to concerns about GMO ingredients, overly processed foods and filler ingredients, or simply a picky pet turning their nose up at kibble, there are a number of potential benefits to homemade pet food. However, there are also some downsides, and it’s important to know how to formulate homemade meals correctly, to ensure your pet gets the nutrients they need. Read on to find out everything you need to know about homemade pet food.
What are the Benefits of Homemade Pet Food?
The main benefit of cooking at home is that you know exactly what’s going into your pet’s food. If you have concerns about GMO, non-organic, processed or filler ingredients, a homemade diet can give you some additional peace of mind.
Some pets may also have sensitive stomachs, or are simply picky, and so may turn their nose up at regular pet food. These pets may find homemade diets more palatable.
What are the Downsides of Homemade Pet Food?
Homemade diets, if not prepared correctly, may not provide the right balance of nutrients needed by our pets. Pets have somewhat complex nutritional needs, which are different from that of humans, and so it’s important to do your research before commencing a home-cooked diet. Cats in particular are very sensitive to essential nutrient deficiencies (specifically taurine), so their diets must be formulated very carefully.
Conversely, it’s easy to ensure your pet is getting all the nutrients they need from a store-bought food, by choosing one that has an AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the packaging, certifying that it is nutritionally complete.
Making homemade pet food can also be extremely time- and labor-intensive, and it can often prove inconvenient if you’re traveling with your pet, or you need them to stay in boarding or with a friend. Pets that are used to eating homemade food may turn their nose up at kibble, so you may not be able to easily switch back to store-bought food temporarily in these situations.
Lastly, homemade diets may be more expensive than commercial foods, over the course of your pet’s lifetime, particularly if you are buying nutritional supplements to ensure their food is well-balanced.
What’s the Best Way to Make Homemade Pet Food?
It’s important to follow some guidelines when cooking for your pet at home, to ensure their diet is complete and balanced. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as throwing together a few ingredients or leftovers and serving them.
Firstly, you should consult your veterinarian to ensure there are no underlying medical issues that may make certain types of diets less desirable for your pet. They can also help advise on specific goal calorie counts, if your pet is currently under- or overweight.
We then recommend formulating your planned diet in one of two ways:
- With the help of the Balance It website. Designed by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, this website can help to formulate a balanced diet based on your preferred ingredients, species (dog/cat), and weight. They also sell a pet-specific vitamin/mineral supplement, which can help to ensure that the homemade diet is balanced.
- In consultation with a veterinary nutritionist. If your pet has specific medical needs or conditions, they will need a more specifically controlled diet. In these cases, you should consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to help design a diet suitable for your pet. Some examples of common pet ailments with specific nutritional requirements include kidney disease (requires lower protein and phosphorus levels) and pancreatitis (requires a very low fat diet). Your primary veterinarian can organize a referral consultation for this either in-person or via telehealth, depending on the nutritionist.
It’s important to make sure any homemade diet is providing all the nutrients your pet needs to stay healthy.
What Ingredients Can be Used in Homemade Pet Food?
Assuming your pet is healthy and has no chronic conditions or allergies, there are many safe and healthy ingredients you can choose from, including chicken breast, ground chicken or turkey, ground lean beef, salmon, tuna, sweet potato, bell pepper, squashes, pumpkin, zucchini, spinach, beans and cooked barley or oats, quinoa, pasta and rice. Ensure you remove all bones from meat and fish, and remove big seeds and rind from vegetables (such as pumpkin), as they may pose a choking hazard.
If you need to moisten the food, unsalted, unseasoned broth (or just water) works well. Pets generally also prefer home-cooked meals at room temperature or slightly warmed, as this enhances the flavor of the ingredients compared to food freshly taken out of the refrigerator. You could consider warming in the microwave for a short period of time, or by adding a little warm water.
Ingredients to avoid include garlic and anything in the onion family, avocado, very fatty meats, nuts, and dairy. These should be avoided as they are either toxic to pets or have a fat content that’s too high, which can cause pancreatitis and obesity, amongst other things.
How Can You Make Homemade Food Preparation Easier?
You can meal prep for your pet, just as you can for humans! Consider batch-making enough food for 1-2 weeks at a time, separate into individual portion sizes, and freeze them until a few hours before mealtime. While this will be labor-intensive on the prep day, it can help to minimize the work required during the week.
When preparing batched meals, remember that the same rules apply for safe food handling and storage as for human meals – food poisoning in pets is not fun, and can quickly lead to dangerous levels of dehydration.
What are the Alternatives to Homemade Pet Food?
If the benefits of homemade pet food appeal to you, but you don’t have the time to cook homemade, there are a number of ‘fresh’ pet diets on the market that might work for you. Check out our articles on dog nutrition and cat nutrition for a list of our recommended brands.
You also shouldn’t feel worried about feeding your pet kibble; as long as the brand has an AAFCO statement of nutritional completeness for your pet’s life stage, you can be assured it is providing them with all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. Pets don’t necessarily need ‘fresh’ food or variety in the way that humans crave, and they can quite happily exist only eating kibble for their entire life!
You should choose whichever diet works best for your situation and preferences, whilst ensuring that it provides nutritional completeness for your pet.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian for further advice. At Small Door, we offer nutritional consultations to help you ensure you’re feeding your pet the best diet for them.