Balancing Home-Made Diets

With so many pet food recalls cropping up, it's no wonder pet parents have a strong desire to prepare their own meals for their furkids. Unfortunately, this desire to do the right thing has led to doing a lot of the wrong thing. Every day in the office I speak to clients who are cooking meals that are lacking vital nutrients for pet health. Chicken and rice is not a balanced diet! Turkey and pumpkin is also not balanced, nor is beef and peas. (These are a few I heard this week.)

I love feeding fresh foods to dogs and cats, but it's vital to cover all nutrient needs. Almost all "recipes" posted on the internet are lacking in essential vitamins and minerals. Simply adding a "complete" vitamin will NOT cover all bases. Rotation of ingredients and protein sources will help provide differing arrays of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Cats have more difficult nutrient requirements than dogs, making home food preparation a bit more challenging, but not impossible. Websites concerning cat nutrition have made it easier for cat owners desiring to feed nutritionally balanced raw or cooked diets.

Some of the most commonly overlooked nutrients include:

Calcium: Approximately 500 mg calcium should be added to every pound of meat in the recipe. When making raw food, ground bone can be used. For cooked food, ground eggshells or a commercial supplement should be used. The goal is to provide a Calcium to Phosphorous ratio of 1.2:1

Vitamin D3: Adult dogs and cats need approximately 225 IU of Vitamin D3 per pound of food fed per day. Over-supplementation of Vitamin D3 can cause kidney failure. Under-supplementation can cause osteoporosis and rickets. Kittens require higher doses. Vitamin D3 is found in high quantities in egg yolks and fish. Supplements are available. Human supplements are too concentrated and will harm dogs and cats.

Trace Minerals: Selenium, zinc, copper, iron, and manganese are important nutrients for skin, blood, tendon, immune system, and ligament health. When overlooked, pets may suffer with poor hair coat, anemia, decreased wound healing, poor immunity, and ruptured ligaments. Spirulina and chlorella are natural sources of some of these trace minerals.

Fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K: Many pet owners have a desire to feed low-fat diets, particularly if their pet has ever suffered a bout of pancreatitis. There are many factors that contribute to pancreatitis. Healthy fats are a necessity in the diet. Vitamin K does not need to be supplemented. Vitamin A is found in high quantities in liver, but many pet owners bulk at handling liver. Organ meats should be included in home-prepared diets. Vitamin E can be found in cod liver oil or small seeds such as sunflower.

Salt: Sodium and chloride, along with iodine, are required in the diet. It is often recommended to feed a "low salt" diet to dogs with heart disease. Low salt does not mean "no salt". Sea salt is closest to the salt content in blood and should be added to the diet. Potassium salts may be required for pets on diuretics.

Blood testing should be performed at least twice annually for pets on home-prepared meals. Vitamin D testing should be added to the routine chemical profile. Deficiencies may take years to show up and may not be reversible if allowed to progress too far. Seek help from a veterinary pet nutritionist if you want to make meals for your pets at home and are unsure what to feed. When finding recipes on the internet, make sure they are complete and balanced or that you are well-versed in what supplements will be needed to make the diet complete. While it is not imperative that every meal is balanced, it is imperative that every nutrient is provided over the course of each week. Cats can suffer ill health much more quickly than dogs when fed unbalanced diets lacking essential nutrients.