I don't promote any method of feeding. My job is to provide nutritional information for dog owners. However, I do prefer home-prepared diets, raw or cooked. I believe there are many advantages to preparing your dog's food yourself but I must stress the importance of balanced nutrition or it could cause your dog serious trouble.
Clearly, owners have the best intentions at heart when they prepare their dog's meal but what most don't know is that many home-prepared dog food recipes found in books and online are lacking in nutrients and are not safe for long term use. Nutrition has many impacts on health. A dog might seem OK at first but he will not stay that way. This is a big reason why some vets are against home-prepared dog food as they are the ones who see the casualties resulting from unbalanced diets.
A sad case involved an eight-month old St Bernard puppy that became seriously ill after consuming an unbalanced homemade diet over a five-month period. The diet consisted of cooked meat and rice, raw apple, cooked broccoli, raw egg and a vitamin/mineral supplement. At seven months old, the puppy was evaluated by his vet for painful shoulder joints and lameness in both front legs and diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, a disease that affects the cartilage surrounding various joints in a dog's body.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were prescribed and the puppy was referred to the Foster Hospital at Tufts, US. The vets at Tufts noted generalized mild muscle wasting along with the shoulder pain and lameness. Following the physical exam, the puppy developed partial seizures, a rapid heartbeat, and his body temperature rose to 39.4 degrees C. A biochemical analysis revealed low levels for calcium, blood sodium, chloride ion, abnormally high blood phosphate levels, vitamin D and taurine deficiencies. The seizures were attributed to the low calcium levels. X-rays revealed widespread bone demineralization (loss of bone strength).
The veterinary team investigated the puppy's diet by comparing the nutrients in the homemade diet with the dietary requirements for growth in dogs and determined that the puppy's diet had
"multiple and substantial deficiencies, 50 percent below the minimum requirements set by the National Research Council (NRC) and American Association of Feed Control Officials. (AAFCO)"
The puppy was treated with medication, supplements and a nutritionally complete diet to resolve the dietary deficiencies and seizures. After three days of hospitalization he was released, and his owner chose to feed the pup a diet that met the minimum requirements for growth in dogs. The puppy's biochemical levels were monitored for several weeks and his lameness was resolved but he may suffer from bone and joint problems for the remainder of his life.
The owners of the puppy obviously thought they were doing their best and feeding a healthy well-balanced diet. Sadly, they were wrong. Of all the diets I have analyzed for clients (and I have done a lot), not one met NRC recommendations. This is particularly concerning when a sick dog is involved.
So many recipes share the same deficiencies so rotating between different homemade diets over time will likely not make up for the deficiencies either. Generic diets just don't cut it. It is best to consult a vet or an expert in dog nutrition and take a proactive rather than a reactive approach.
A brief word about FEDIAF, AAFCO and NRC - what are these?
There are three organizations that set the nutritional guidelines for cats and dogs.
- AAFCO - Association of American Feed Control Officials
- FEDIAF - The European Pet Food Industry Federation
- NRC - National Research Council
Both AAFCO and FEDIAF rely in part on recommendations from NRC. NRC levels define what the individual animal needs for optimal health. FEDIAF and AAFCO levels are for "practical diets", i.e. what must be in the pet food so that the animal receives the required nutrients for a healthy life. When balancing a home-prepared diet, NRC numbers should always be used.