Within the past five years, pet deaths linked to commercial pet food caused a surge in the sale of cookbooks for pets. On the heels of pet food recalls, pet owners were left questioning the safety of commercial pet food; however, the decision to turn to homemade pet food worries many veterinarians.
Why the recent pet deaths?
According to Dr. Danny Joffe, medical director at the Calgary Animal Referral and Emergency Centre, the two chemicals (melamine and cyanuric acid) involved in a surge of pet deaths in 2007 are fairly inert individually. The trouble happens when you find them together.
"When they combine they can produce crystals that can damage kidneys," says Joffe. "Pet food and human food use wheat gluten and rice protein as components of various nutritional products. Companies that are buying these raw materials pay based on the protein content of the material, and these chemicals added in falsely elevate these protein levels."
There's nothing wrong with wheat gluten or rice protein themselves -- they're valuable nutrients used in human food as well, says Joffe. The problem is in the chemicals that were added. "It's just bad luck that this contamination occurred and, once the tainted lots of wheat gluten and rice protein are not being used, the foods that were recalled will be perfectly safe again."
Should you serve table scraps or people food to your pets?
Don't assume that what's good for you is good for your pet as well. Our nutrient needs differ, says Joffe. And not only do animal nutrient needs differ from human nutrient needs, but your pet's nutritional requirements will differ depending on whether it's a cat or a dog, how much it weighs, and other prevailing health and medical issues specific to your pet.
In fact, some foods people enjoy regularly are actually toxic to our pets. "Chocolate is probably the classic example," says Joffe. "The toxicity of chocolate increases with the darkness of the chocolate. While milk chocolate is not very toxic [to pets], and white chocolate is almost nontoxic, bittersweet baking chocolate is very toxic."
Other foods dangerous to our pets include raisins, grapes, Xylitol (a sugar substitute used in baking), coffee, onions, onion powder, walnuts, alcoholic beverages and salt.
"Another thing people sometimes do is feed their pets human food that might be a little spoiled," says Joffe. "Rather than throwing it out, they'll give it to the dog, but the same problems that would occur for you or me eating spoiled food occur in dogs."
Human treats your dog can eat
There are human foods, however, that are good for your pet. Certain animals can't tolerate vegetables -- they cause them to suffer from diarrhea or constipation -- but if they can handle it, celery, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, and cauliflower make good, healthy treats for your dog.
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What's the best approach to making homemade pet food?
1. Talk to your veterinarian.
2. Know that preparing homemade pet food can be a time-intensive project.
3. Choose recipes that are good for your animal and that match her size and fitness requirements.
Your vet can either provide you with suitable recipes or suggest appropriate outlets to get recipes from, says Joffe. "There are websites that are staffed by veterinary nutritionists who, for a fee, help you balance a diet for your pet."
What about raw pet food?
"A current fad that's getting a lot of play on the Internet is feeding raw food like chicken or fish to pets," says Joffe. "It's one of those areas with a lot more anecdotal information than research."
Proponents of this diet cite raw meat as the way wild animals in nature eat. The problem, says Joffe, is that wolves and coyotes are not like our domesticated pets.
Literally members of our family, our pets eat in our kitchens, sleep in our beds and lick our kids' faces -- and so what our pets eat has implications for the whole family unit. At the same time, there is no scientific research to back claims that a raw food diet is nutritionally advantageous for your pet.
Also note that "raw foods can be very highly contaminated with bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, which may or may not make the dog sick," warns Joffe. "The bacteria can be passed in the animal's stool where it is then available for people to pick up. It's a public health accident waiting to happen," he says.
What's the bottom line in choosing the best pet food for your pet?
The bottom line in pet food is that the good-quality commercial pet food is probably still your best option.
"The companies that I recommend are the science-based companies," says Joffe. "They are companies that have research and development departments, they have nutritionists employed by them, and they constantly do research into pet nutrition and then alter their formulations based on what these new findings are."
Whether you opt for quality commercial pet food or homemade pet food, your veterinarian is the best person to contact to find the best options for your beloved pet.
Pet food recipes
-Dog Breath Biscuits
-Classic Canine Cookies
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Dee Van Dyk is a freelance writer. Visit her website at www.deevandyk.com.