Making your own pet food

Should you make your own dog food? A vet weighs in on this serious but often overlooked matter.

Pet food recalls, table scraps and toxic foods for pets

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.

Toxic food
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.

Page 1 of 2 – Find out if it's safe to make your own pet food on page 2.

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