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WSV18-0039
WSAVA GLOBAL NUTRITION
HOMEMADE DIETS: WHEN AND HOW TO USE THEM
C. Villaverde1
1Expert Pet Nutrition, Veterinary nutrition consultant, Fermoy, Ireland
HOMEMADE DIETS: WHEN AND HOW TO USE THEM
Cecilia Villaverde, BVSc, PhD, Diplomate ACVN & ECVCN
Expert Pet Nutrition, Fermoy, Ireland
cecilia.villaverde@gmail.com
Commercial diets are frequently used due to their cost and convenience. The number of calories provided
by commercial food varies depending on the region
but can be very high in some countries (up to 90% in the USA). Some pet owners home cook for their pet. There are several reasons as to why. Some of those reasons1 include palatability (some dogs and cats do not find overall commercial diets appetent, even though there are hundreds of options in the market), mistrust of processing or ingredients, a wish to feed pet according to their own feeding habits/philosophy (vegan, organic, etc), wish to include/exclude certain ingredients, or a wish to have a tighter control over what is being fed
to their dog or cat. Finally, some owners choose home cooking because there are no commercial diets that are adequate, for example, when a pet has multiple diseases.
Independently of the reason, a homemade diet for a dog or a cat should be formulated in a way to ensure that all nutritional and energy needs are met.
How are homemade diets formulated?
The formulator needs to know
1) the nutritional and energy requirements of the species and life stage of the pet,
2) any maximum/safe upper limits set for specific nutrients for species and life stage, and
3) the nutritional and energy content of the foodstuffs chosen to formulate the diet.
Nutrition and energy needs are compiled by the NRC2 (2006) from experimental data. Different associations (like AAFCO in the USA, or FEDIAF in Europe) base their recommendations for commercial diets on the NRC values. These are for healthy pets, and any modifications required for disease needs to be checked in the existing literature. The NRC also reports safe upper limits for those nutrients that can have deleterious effects when fed in excess (such as vitamins A and D).
In order to meet these requirements and avoid toxic levels, the formulator will combine different ingredients (plus any required supplements). The nutrient and energy content of these ingredients is obtained from databases, usually public ones that each country maintains. These are usually less complete than pet food manufacturers’ internal database and do not contain ingredients that humans do not commonly eat. A home cooked diet is as good as the database, and all have serious limitations.
Risks associated with homemade diets
This is common when diets are formulated by lay people (not a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist) and if generic recipes are obtained from books or the internet. One study3 found that a vast majority of diets published in books and online for healthy dogs had nutritional inadequacies, plus almost no guidance on calorie intake. Similar results were observed in diets for pets with cancer4 and kidney disease5.
Other problems associated to “generic” online and
book recipes include outdated strategies or nutritional requirements, over-complexity or simplicity, and use of dangerous ingredients (such as garlic). And they do not have the main benefit of homemade diets: customization to the pet.
Homemade diets properly formulated are prone to be changed over time6 (“diet drift”), and these changes can result in the diet becoming inadequate for long term feeding or for the disease it was formulated for. The reasons owners give for these changes include lack of palatability, inability to obtain a specific ingredient, etc.
Even in properly formulated diets, database limitations include an element of risk. Homemade diets are not analyzed after preparation, and their formulation relies on theoretical values provided by the database. This means that the following assumptions are made: that he database reflects accurately the nutritional composition of the ingredients used; and that digestibility, bioavailability, and energy density of the ingredients
is the same as in humans (most databases used for homemade diets are for people). Moreover, databases for human foodstuffs do not include concentration of some important nutrients for pets such as taurine and choline. Also, some ingredients are missing from the database, or we have incomplete entries. Moreover, the rarer the ingredient, the less reliable the database.
Finally, homemade diets, when properly done, are usually more expensive than commercial dry food, plus they require an important time and space investment.
Pros of homemade diets: when to use them
Homemade diets are a good option in several situations, as long as they are complete and balanced, and the patient has frequent veterinary visits. Homemade diets have the ability to be fully customized to patient and
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