HOW TO Switch Your Dog to a Home-Cooked Diet




dog licking chopsDo all the recent dog food recalls have you thinking about preparing home-cooked food for your pooch?

Here’s more incentive: A 2010 Belgian study found that dogs who ate processed foods died an average of three years earlier than those on a diet of home-cooked food.

Sarah Abood, DVM, told pets.webmd.com that although the “vast majority” of pet parents use store-bought food, “We have seen a steady increase in the number of people who are asking for help with making a homemade diet.”

But be aware that a major problem with making home-cooked food is that it’s challenging to meet your dog’s daily nutritional requirements for protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and even fat. “Animals do have a requirement for a small amount of fat,” Abood told pets.webmd.com.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) guidelines for home-cooked pet food, released in 2007, state, “AVMA does not support owners cooking for their pets, but says if they insist on doing so they should first consult their veterinarian to ensure the very unique and complicated nutritional needs of their animal are met.”

Abood recommends that you have your veterinarian check both your dog and his diet at least twice each year, since there are different dietary requirements for dogs in various life stages and for dogs with medical conditions.

If you still want to try making the switch from commercial to home-cooked dog food, here are some tips and recommendations for a smooth transition.

What Types of Food Should I Prepare for My Dog?

You can combine proteins and carbohydrates such as lamb and rice, beef and potatoes, and chicken and pasta, Abood said. Vegetables are also fine, except for onions and garlic, since they can be toxic to dogs (as can these other foods).

In the AVMA guidelines, Roger Mahr, DVM, the association’s president, warned pet parents not to include table scraps, gravies, meat fats or poultry skins. These can all cause intestinal problems and even result in pancreatitis, which is often fatal.

Look for online recipes by board-certified veterinary nutritionists (on the AVMA website, Dr. Tony Buffington, DVM, recommends petdiets.com), or consult with a veterinary nutritionist to plan healthy meals for your dog.

Both Abood and Claudia Kirk, DVM, DACVN, DACVIM, told pets.webmd.com it’s essential that dogs on home-cooked diets are given vitamins and supplements.

“Calcium is probably the most common deficiency in a homemade diet that isn’t professionally balanced,” Kirk said. She said that dogs that don’t get sufficient calcium can suffer from nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, a condition that makes their bones soft and easy to fracture.

Abood added that dogs also need magnesium, iron and zinc. All of these can be found in multivitamins for dogs.

Can I Feed My Dog a Raw Diet?

Just last week the AVMA passed a resolution that discourages feeding raw meat to dogs and cats.

“This proposed policy is about mitigating public health risks, not about restricting or banning any products,” according to the AVMA@Work blog.

The AVMA noted that raw or undercooked proteins can be the source of Salmonella, E. Coli and other infections that may sicken both pets and people.

How Can I Get My Dog Used to Home-Cooked Food?

In his blog, “April Fool Your Dog Into Eating a Healthier Diet,” Patrick Mahaney, VMD, suggested replacing a portion of your dog’s existing diet with raw or cooked fresh vegetables.

“Veggies pack a moisture, nutrient and fiber-rich punch to kick start your dog’s depleted body,” he wrote. “Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers and spinach are my first line of cruciferous ammunition. They can be used singularly or in combination. Other options include asparagus, kale, beets and squash.”

In the June 2007 issue of The Whole Dog Journal, Mary Straus advised, “If your dog is prone to digestive problems, then you may want to make the change gradually. Add just one new ingredient at a time and wait a few days to see how your dog does before adding something else new, gradually increasing the amount of new food and decreasing the amount of the old.”

If your dog should begin vomiting or has diarrhea, Straus recommended reverting to his previous diet. Once he feels better, you can start adding the home-cooked food again, but more carefully this time.

“That may include feeding the new food separately from the old (at least a few hours in between meals), and feeding only one new food at a time, to see if your dog reacts to any of the new ingredients,” she wrote.

How Long Can I Keep Homemade Food?

“It’s a ‘pro’ that you’re choosing fresh ingredients; it’s a ‘con’ that you don’t have a long shelf life,” Abood told pets.webmd.com.

If you have small dogs, you can make large quantities of food and freeze it. But for large dogs, it’s best to keep the food in the fridge, Abood said. “It’s going to be gone in two or three days.”

Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.

PHOTO: Gopar Aggarwal

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Laura Goldman

Laura Goldman is senior social media writer for i Love Dogs, Inc. She does love dogs. And elephants and turtles. Along with writing about the loves of her life, Laura likes to play with her two pound pups and tell anyone who'll listen just how awesome Pit Bulls are.

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