Cook­ing din­ner for your pet? Read this first

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WEDDERBURN

THE topic of choos­ing what to feed your pet is one that comes up time and time again. The busy and clut­tered on­line world of­ten cre­ates and pro­motes un­true myths about pet food, and this un­der­stand­ably causes con­fu­sion to many pet own­ers.

Like many vets, I have strong views on pet nu­tri­tion, based on a com­bi­na­tion of learn­ing (vet stu­dents are taught a de­tailed course on an­i­mal nu­tri­tion) and ex­pe­ri­ence (I see pets ev­ery day as part of my work, and I rou­tinely try to dis­cuss what sort of diet is be­ing fed). With this back­ground, you might think that there would be a gen­eral ac­cep­tance of a vet’s views on nu­tri­tion. How­ever, there are two ex­cuses bandied around on­line that can un­der­mine be­lief in what vets say about pet food.

The first is that vet schools some­times re­ceive funds from com­mer­cial pet food man­u­fac­tur­ers. While it’s true that this type of fund­ing does ex­ist, (as does fund­ing from other com­mer­cial en­ti­ties: pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ships are part of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem), it does not de­value the sci­ence of nu­tri­tion: vet schools are there to teach the truth, not to tell some “ver­sion” of the truth, as dic­tated by fi­nan­cial back­ers.

The sec­ond ex­cuse for dis­be­liev­ing vets is the fact that most pet vet clin­ics sell dry pet food, in the form of kib­ble in bags. Some peo­ple feel that be­cause vets do this, they are no longer able to of­fer ob­jec­tive ad­vice. The truth is that vets se­lect pet food that they know is good for pets, and they sell it be­cause they know that it’s good for their pa­tients. This is the same idea as sell­ing pet ac­ces­sories, par­a­site con­trol and other med­i­ca­tions that vets know are ef­fec­tive: the job of a vet is to help pets, and it’s all part of the same mis­sion.If you talk to vets, you’ll find they don’t just rec­om­mend the foods that they sell. Ad­vice on pet nu­tri­tion is given on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, de­pend­ing on what suits the par­tic­u­lar an­i­mal.

I’m aware that those peo­ple who be­lieve the anti-vet myth will not be­lieve me as I write this. There are some who go much fur­ther, even believ­ing that vets de­lib­er­ately pro­mote food that they know will cause al­ler­gies and can­cers in pets, be­cause they will then profit from the ex­tra busi­ness of treat­ing those pets. This is crazy con­spir­acy the­ory stuff, but sadly, some peo­ple seem to think that it’s true.

So why can’t dogs and cats be fed on reg­u­lar in­gre­di­ents from the su­per­mar­ket, just as we hu­mans feed our­selves? Why are vets so keen on sug­gest­ing com­mer­cial pet food?

The rea­son is that com­mer­cial pet food is legally obliged to be nu­tri­tion­ally bal­anced and com­plete: pro­fes­sional nu­tri­tion­ists are em­ployed to en­sure that this is the case. Vets know that if pet own­ers choose this type of food for their pet, it will def­i­nitely pro­vide the cor­rect nu­tri­ents. It also happens to be con­ve­nient and rea­son­ably priced: it gen­uinely suits most pets and most peo­ple very well in­deed,

In the­ory it’s pos­si­ble to home cook for pets, but in prac­tice, it’s more com­pli­cated than you’d think. A pet’s nu­tri­tion must be prop­erly bal­anced, and it is not so easy to make that hap­pen. In­ter­net-sourced recipes for home-cook­ing for dogs and cats have been re­viewed by in­de­pen­dent nu­tri­tional re­searchers, and nearly all have been found to be un­bal­anced. Over time, this can re­sult in de­fi­cien­cies or ex­cesses of spe­cific nu­tri­ents.

One of the chal­lenges is that es­sen­tial sup­ple­ments – like cal­cium, potassium, Vi­ta­min B12, tau­rine and other nu­tri­ents – need to be in­cluded in pet di­ets. If hu­man ver­sions of these are used, it’s dif­fi­cult to split cap­sules de­signed for adults into cor­rect amounts for small pets. It’s easy to over­dose small pets, even giv­ing toxic doses. Pet food man­u­fac­tur­ers are able to make up their recipes in large batches, mak­ing it much eas­ier to get doses of sup­ple­ments cor­rect.

Er­rors in for­mu­la­tion of a diet may take months or years to de­velop, so if a home made diet is in­cor­rect, it’s rarely im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous. Pet nu­tri­tion­ists say that around 1 – 3% of pets on home made di­ets have prob­lems linked to im­bal­anced nu­tri­tion, com­pared to less than one in a mil­lion of those eat­ing com­mer­cial di­ets.

It’s true that a small mi­nor­ity of pets do suf­fer from al­ler­gies and sen­si­tiv­i­ties to par­tic­u­lar di­ets. And this mi­nor­ity of pets may ben­e­fit from be­ing fed home cooked, raw meat based, or spe­cific types of com­mer­cial di­ets. But the most com­mon nu­tri­tion based prob­lem seen by vets is obe­sity, most of­ten caused sim­ply by giv­ing pets too much tasty food. You don’t need to start to home cook to solve this prob­lem: you just need to start to mea­sure how much you feed your pet, and given them a strict daily amount. It’s no ac­ci­dent that it’s ex­cep­tion­ally rare for a vet to own an obese pet. The rules for keep­ing a pet slim and trim are ob­vi­ous when you know how.

My view is sim­ple: choose a com­mer­cial diet (be­cause you know it will be bal­anced), make sure that you pet en­joys eat­ing it, and feed it for two months. If your pet looks well, with a glossy coat and well-defined mus­cu­la­ture, with a gleam in their eye, then the diet suits them. If not, try a new diet. And you don’t need grain free or exotic in­gre­di­ents. No more than you need these your­self in your daily diet.

It isn’t rocket sci­ence: it’s nu­tri­tional sci­ence.

Home cooked pet food needs to be for­mu­lated very care­fully

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