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Monday, July 29, 2013

Study on homemade pet food recipes finds that most are nutritionally incomplete

Flickr photo by EraPhernalia Village

“I can’t believe that as someone who knows as much as you do about the pet food industry, that you don’t feed a homemade diet,” an acquaintance of mine asserted a few months ago.

“Doing otherwise is so risky…”

I think it’s safe to say that the topic of the diet of companion animals evokes a lot of emotion in pet owners.

It’s no surprise, really.

Although the pet food industry was branching and embracing a holistic, natural approach a few years ago, the largest pet food recall in history surely propelled the movement to consider what pets are eating everyday a bit more closely. Then, a far-reaching recall involving Diamond Pet Foods seemed to be the tipping point for a lot of people.

It’s one thing for quality control tests to occasionally find salmonella contamination in a batch of food, but as many of you have noted in your emails and phone calls to me, for one company to overlook such huge lapses in the safety and quality during production is alarming.

Months and months later, I am still getting telephone calls from people regarding the Diamond recall. Several of these calls involved pets that were believed to have died as a result of consuming food produced by the company.

People want to feel empowered that the choices that they are making on behalf of their dogs and cats are the right ones, so it seems natural that they’ll be willing to choose what they deem to be wholesome and healthy — and if they are controlling the ingredients, they feel, ‘so much the better’. There's nothing wrong with that, certainly.

Enter the popularity of feeding raw diets (especially with the availability of formulas that are now commercially available) or at the very least offering food that is made at home.

It seems that one can’t pick up a magazine geared toward pets or surf the web without finding at least one article or blog post touting the benefits of homemade pet diets, right along with recipes.

This prompted researchers at University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine to do a study on recipes for home cooked pet diets, and the results were released in the June issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Jennifer Larsen, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis and Jonathan Stockman, a veterinary doctor and second-year resident in clinical nutrition at UC Davis, selected 200 recipes from more than 30 sources, including pet care books, websites — even veterinary textbooks.

The findings are bound to set off some fireworks.

"The results of this study, however, indicate that most available recipes for healthy dogs, even those published in books by veterinarians, do not provide essential nutrients in the quantities required by the dog," Larsen noted.

"It is extremely difficult for the average pet owner—or even veterinarians—to come up with balanced recipes to create appropriate meals that are safe for long-term use."

The conclusion of the study? Out of 200 recipes, only nine provided all essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards established for adult dogs by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Eight of those recipes were written by veterinarians.

Only four of the 200 recipes could pass muster when it came to meeting acceptable nutrient profiles of the AAFCO and the National Research Council's minimum requirements.

Those four recipes were written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists.

Commonly found nutrient deficiencies were linked to choline, vitamin D, zinc and vitamin E and could possibly result in profound health issues like immune dysfunction.

Many stick to the idea that as long as recipes are rotated, any deficiencies that might occur with one specific recipe can be avoided with the "balance over time" concept.

Larsen, who is lead author on the study, says that’s hard to achieve, since most of the recipes share many of the same nutrient deficiencies.

So how can pet owners be empowered and equally mindful?

Larsen makes clear that "homemade food is a great option for many pets, but we recommend that owners avoid general recipes from books and the Internet and instead consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.”

"These specialists have advanced training in nutrition to help formulate customized and nutritionally appropriate recipes."

Click here to read more on the findings of the study.

Lorrie Shaw is a blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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