My Food Is Your Food?
Is there a difference between feeding pets ordinary pet food, scientifically created pet food, and table scraps?
Commercially manufactured pet food from U.S. companies are scientifically formulated and nutritionally balanced to ensure that pets receive all of the nutrients they need for a healthy life. Veterinary researchers have identified between 42 and 48 essential nutrients for cats and dogs. These nutrients include protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Formulation of commercial pet food is a computer-driven process. Complex calculations are necessary to ensure appropriate amounts of each of 40+ essential nutrients are provided.
(Our food is healthy, so doesn’t it follow that it will also be healthy for our dog/cat?)
Creating nutritionally complete pet food is a complex process and will be difficult to do at home. So when pets are consistently fed a diet of table scraps or leftovers, these pets are sure to be missing out on several essential nutrients in the quantities needed for long-term health and well-being. Even home-made pet food may be deficient, based on a clinical research study conducted by the University of CaliforniaDavis which analyzed home-made dog food recipes found on the web (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in June 2013, “Evaluation of Recipes of Home-prepared Maintenance Diets for Dogs”). Some of the diet deficiencies, particularly those related to choline, vitamin D, zinc and vitamin E, could result in significant health problems such as immune dysfunction, accumulation of fat in the liver, and musculoskeletal abnormalities.
In contrast, most commercial pet products available in the market are carefully formulated to be “complete and balanced,” which means they are designed to provide all the nutrients a pet needs for a long, healthy life. The regulatory requirements of cat and dog food from the US exceed the regulatory requirements of human food (with the possible exception of infant formula), so pet owners can be assured that US pet food products have been exhaustively tested to be wholesome, truthfully labeled, and free of harmful substances. Products that do not provide complete nutrition will be labeled that they are intended for supplemental feeding or for special use (such as for pets with particular health issues).
(Can I add things to spice up my dog’s/cat’s diet, like treats from my table? They seem to like it so much!)
Since pet food is designed to be the sole source of nutrition for a healthy dog or cat, supplementing a pet’s diet with leftovers or other foods for people is not necessary and may cause health problems. Many leftovers or table scraps contain too much sugar, salt, fat or other ingredients that are not good for pets. Some foods, like chocolate and onions, can actually make a pet very sick. Pancreatic problems can result when fat intake is too high—often a result of feeding pets the same poultry skins and meats common in human foods. Furthermore, feeding pets table scraps may promote begging and other undesirable behaviors in pets.
Pet owners who are having trouble choosing the right pet food for their pet should seek the advice of a veterinarian. Those who wish to make their own home-made pet food should consult with a certified veterinary nutritionist to ensure that it the diet is healthy and balanced. It would not be advisable for pet owners to rely heavily on recipes from the Internet -- the best source of advice about pet diets is a veterinary nutritionist, and the second best source is their veterinarian.