Some pets are fed home cooking intentionally, others on an occasional basis via table scraps. In some European countries homemade foods already supply an estimated 35% of cats with 60% of their caloric intake. When the pet receives more than half its daily calories from table foods, the whole diet should then be formulated to ensure a proper nutrient intake and avoid the dangers of obesity or other health problems.
Some pet owners begin feeding home cooked food because they find that their pet is not too interested in the commercial food being offered. Eventually they find themselves trapped because the pet will now not eat any commercially prepared food, and home cooking now constitutes 100% of the animal’s daily intake. In these cases, arranging a diet composed of foods commonly used in the household may be the only way of delivering a balanced diet to the pet.
The alternative to home cooking is a commercial moist food that contains natural ingredients, but commercial foods are not cheap, and to feed a 20kg dog with natural moist food can cost over £3/day. This could be cut to 80p by home cooking, so is well worth thinking about.
The first thing to remember when considering home cooking for your pet is the simple truth that you are NOT cooking for a person, you are cooking for an animal - that might seem obvious, but so many pet owners treat their pets as if they were children.
Dogs, cats and people have different nutritional needs and some foods which are fine for you can be dangerous to them.
There are a few "No's" when it comes to selecting ingredients for home cooking. Veterinary Surgeons would tend to advise against the following foodstuffs, or at least to be wary of feeding large quantities:
Mushrooms: best avoided as some dogs will not tolerate mushrooms well and they can cause serious toxicity.
Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine. Theobromine is a similar compound to caffeine and stimulates the heart and nervous system. In dogs it can poison them with death occurring from heart failure. Cats may not metabolise chocolate in the same way as dogs but are also thought to be at risk.
Onions (and garlic) OK in small quantities, but be careful. Can cause blood problems including anaemia.
Cows milk: Cats and dogs along with most other mammals lose, to a variable extent, their ability to digest lactose (milk sugar) with age, because the activity of the enzyme lactase declines with age
Macadamia nuts: The toxic compound is unknown but the affect of macadamia nuts is to cause locomotory difficulties. Dogs develop a tremor of the skeletal muscles, and weakness or paralysis of the hindquarters. Affected dogs are often unable to rise and are distressed, usually panting. Some affected dogs have swollen limbs and show pain when the limbs are manipulated.
Tomatoes: a small amount of ripe tomato is unlikely to cause any problems, but green tomatoes can cause stomach upsets so it’s best to avoid them.
Grapes: The ASCPA (Animal Poison Control Centre in the USA) has published information stating the toxicity of raisins and grapes in dogs (they do not know how they affect cats yet, but advise to avoid feeding them anyway). Eating just a handful of raisins and grapes has been shown to cause kidney failure.
Fatty foods: Very fatty foods may lead to problems such as pancreatitis. The pancreas releases enzymes to help digest the food. Pancreatitis is a very painful inflammatory condition associated with the ingestion of fatty foods.
Vegetables - Green vegetables are a great way of boosting your dogs immune system, you can feed these raw or cooked. Raw carrot makes a healthy treat. Vegetables are possibly better for dogs than fruit. Potato must be cooked, and mashed potato is a suitable ingredient for home cooking.
Fruit – in the wild, dogs would have scavenged windfall fruit as well as digesting the remains of fruit eaten by other animals when they pick over the carcass, so giving your dog fruit is not as strange as it might sound. Fresh fruit is packed full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and all sorts of other healthy nutrients, so it’s great for keeping your dog in top condition. Some fruits are quite acidic (as well as sugary) and may not be good for dogs with skin or digestive complaints.
Grains - Rice is universally recommended, and brown rice preferred, but make sure that it is well cooked so that your pet can get the maximum goodness.
Meat and fish - Vary the protein that you are feeding, so that a good range of amino acids is provided. Fish, particularly oily varieties are a good source of omega 3 and 6 oils.
Yoghurt – this is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamins, and is particularly good for dogs with diarrhoea thanks to the probiotics it contains.
Brewer’s yeast - Can be purchased from health food stores or chemists as a food supplement and is full of nutrients and vitamins. You only need to use about 1/2 tsp a day with recipes.
Really, it's up to you and the ingredients that you have to hand, but a good guide to follow would be that given by Veterinary Surgeon John Burns of Burns Pet Nutrition who advises the following proportions of a home made diet for dogs
1/3 rd by volume boiled brown rice
1/3 rd by volume meat (this should be varied regularly using chicken, fish, lamb, beef)
1/3 rd by volume vegetable, again varied using roots and greens and to include some seaweed (dried or fresh)
John Burns adds 'I have less experience in the use of home made food for cats but in general cats need a higher level of protein and less carbohydrate.
'This could be achieved by increasing the meat portion to 50% with the rice and vegetable portions of 25% each. Again, some seaweed should be included to provide trace minerals.'
Cats have a very specific requirement for meat, and can’t survive without several essential amino-acids found only in meat. So a vegetarian diet for a cat is really not on. Also limit the amount of liver you feed your cat (to avoid an excess of Vit A) and make sure to cook fish (regular feeding of raw fish can apparently lead to a vitamin B deficiency)
Here's a sample recipe for daily rations for a 20lb dog
1/4 lb meat
You can find recipes on Vet Joe Inglis' website
You need to be aware that there has always been a voice out there arguing that home cooking is not the best way of feeding. Here is a quote from the Canadian Veterinarian Association pamphlet on pet food, A Commonsense Guide to Feeding Your Dog or Cat:
”Why Are Homemade Diets Not Recommended? Homemade diets are not recommended because there is a good chance that all the necessary nutrients or the proper proportions will not be provided. Incorrect preparation and cooking may also deplete certain nutrients and result in a deficient diet. As well, homemade diets are usually more expensive to produce, without providing better nutrition.”
And from from the US Pet Food Institute’s website, on Pet Nutrition: “A Well-Nourished Pet is a Happy Companion! Your pet’s good health and happy disposition are dependent on good nourishment, exercise, grooming, and visits to the veterinarian.
”Good nourishment is important, and, with today’s wide assortment of commercial pet foods fully formulated for all stages of pet growth, it is easy to feed your pet well-balanced meals. These foods allow you to cater to your pet’s preferences (including food rewards and treats) and, yet, ensure a healthful diet.
”Veterinarians and animal nutritionists have determined that table scraps are not balanced meals for pets and are deficient in nutrients. Adding scraps to a balanced diet often adds extra calories that are detrimental to the pet’s health.
”Supervise your pet’s diet carefully. For your pet’s basic diet, make sure the food you use is specifically labeled ‘complete and balanced’. Products intended for special use or supplemental feeding will be labeled as such. Make certain that the pet has plenty of water to drink and do not overfeed. If, for any reason, you feel that your pet is not doing well on a particular diet, talk with your veterinarian.
”Remember, a healthy pet is a happy pet which will bring you years of happiness and companionship.”