Home Cooked Pet Diets, Home Made Recipes And
Ron Hines DVM PhD ...............Go directly to home-prepared all-meat diets for cats
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Dog and cat owners can never be certain of the quality of the commercial pet foods they buy. No mater what brand of pet food you purchase, it is probably being manufactured by a subsidiary of one of the international mega-firms (Nestlé aka Purina, etc. Mars aka Pedigree, Royal Canin, etc., Colgate-Palmolive aka Hill's/ Science Diets, etc. ) that dominate the business, or the few private label plants with production capacity (Menu Foods etc.) and then given a unique flashy name, bag or can and marketing hoopla by folks without the faintest understanding of animal nutrition.
Despite USDA, FDA and State regulations, anyone can bag, sell and distribute pet food - regardless of their knowledge of animal nutrition. (ref) You can read a bit about the ingredients that go into some of those products and their deceptive advertising here.
The duty of policing the pet food industry falls instead to the Association Of American Feed Control Officials. (ref) AAFCO review of a pet food's ingredients is strictly voluntary. Just because a product says "formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO" does not mean its was approved by the AAFCO, that it underwent feeding trials. (ref) or ongoing ingredient quality control. The AAFCO represents agricultural interests with products to sell - not the interests of pet owners, veterinarians or pets. It is controlled by the large pet food conglomerates. (ref) The source of pet food ingredients constantly change, since they buy their ingredients from the most cost-effective supplier. (ref) And cost is always inversely related to the quality of the ingredients.
Not every pet owner has the time or inclination to cook for their pet. Doing so is quite time consuming and demanding. And preparing a healthy, nutritious diet can be considerably more expensive than purchasing pet foods in a bag or can. But there is really no reason you can not prepare a diet that is at least as nutritious - and certainly more tasty - than any that is sold commercially. This includes diets that are sold by veterinarians for pets with special nutritional needs.
Although your dog can survive on an all-meat diet if certain nutrients and minerals are added, dogs have evolved with humans long enough that they often do better on diets more similar to ours. What they are now designed to eat is what we were designed to eat. During the last 30,000 years that dogs have lived with humans, our diets were less than half meat. (ref) The rest of what stone age people ate was grain, mixed with seeds, fruit and vegetables. What our ancestors left around their camps and dwellings was what their dogs ate as well. On that, they domesticate, on that they thrived. That means they probably evolved to thrive on a diet that is 30-50% animal protein, and do not require the 70-90% found in an all-meat diet.
Unlike humans, dogs and cats have evolved so as not to suffer from the ill effects of moderate amounts of animal fats. Veterinary pathologists have found that animal fat and cholesterol rarely cause clogged hearts and brain arteries in dogs or cats the way these saturated fats do in humans. Even on a very high-fat diet, dogs and cats are very resistant to coronary artery disease. But only pets with unusually high caloric needs and a very energetic lifestyles - such as sled dogs - need high fat diets. In most pets, a high fat diet is a fast track to an overly plump pet who is at risk for many health problems. The optimal amount of dietary fat is higher in cats than in dogs.
You can make a diet for your dog that furnishes about 20-45% protein, 5-10% fat and 20-35% carbohydrate if the food you serve it is made up of about 2-3 parts meat and 2-3 parts plant carbohydrates. To that diet, you need to add all the bone minerals (calcium) that you pet needs. If you stay with that formula, the individual ingredients you supply in each group are up to you and your pet's taste. Varying the ingredients from day to day lessens boredom and exposes your pet to a healthier range of nutrient sources.
There are a few food ingredients that dogs and cats should not have. They include chocolate, grapes, raisins, garlic, onions, macadamia nuts, tomatoes and avocado. (Other chemical compounds that do not harm humans, like xylitol, must also be excluded from your pet's diet.) You will find them all listed on the ASPCA website. (ref) Pets like variety and surprise in ingredients and presentation of their diets just like we do. There are endless combinations you can prepare by varying the meat and carbohydrate ingredient from day to day.
Cats have different nutritional needs than dogs. Cats have been living with people for about 9,500 years - considerably less time than dogs. And during the majority of that time, domestic cats lived exclusively on rodents and other small animals they could catch. It was not until the 1500s that people's fear of black magic and the "evil powers" of cats subsided and allowed them to accept felines as pets. It was not until the 1890's that the first commercial cat food was marketed. So cats have not had the time that dogs have had to match their nutritional needs to human diets (if that was even possible). Cats still need considerably higher animal protein and fat in their diets than dogs or people do. They also lack the digestive pathways necessary to thrive on diets that are high in carbohydrates - something that pet food companies find very difficult to accept. Pet food companies are all to willing to perpetuate the myth that cats have nutritional needs and desires that are the same as their owners; that is because quality meat ingredients are considerably more expensive than grain carbohydrates and plant-based protein sources. Both will fill your cats stomach and satisfy its hunger, but only high quality animal protein will satisfy your cat's nutritional needs.
Cats also have unique needs for the amino acids, taurine and arginine, the fatty acid, arachidonic acid, and the vitamin, niacin. Cats need pre-formed vitamin A in their diet because they can not convert beta-carotene to active vitamin A like humans can and probably can not synthesize sufficient vitamin D from sunlight exposure either. (ref) Cats also have considerable difficulty in digesting starch and other carbohydrates. When they succeed, these carbohydrates form sugars that affect their body in negative ways.
Another characteristic of cats that many veterinarians (me included) believe to be the root of many chronic cat health issues is the typical cat's reluctance to consume sufficient water when fed dry diets. The do drink water after consuming these dry biscuits, but rarely if ever in an amount equal to what they would consume had they eaten water-rich prey. None of that presented a problem when cats lived on whole wild rodents and small birds; but it is a serious problem when cats are fed convenient dry kibble biscuit diets or un supplemented meat, poultry or fish. Cats suffer from more than their share of urinary tract and kidney problems. Much of that could be due to a chronic dehydration brought on through the consumption of dry cat foods.
In discussing percentages of ingredients such as protein, carbohydrate and fat, some labels give their values as the amount present in a completely dried product, some as amounts in a drier kibble with a 7-12% moisture content, and some as amounts in canned or home cooked recipes that are about 75% water. This can be very confusing. I have tried to give percentages as in a moist, home-cooked diet would be fed.
The Protein Ingredients (2-3 Parts Of Your Dog's Diet,Considerably More For Your Cat)
Remember, plant proteins commonly found in pet foods do not have the same amino acid profile as animal origin proteins , that is, soybean proteins and meat proteins are not the same.(ref) That problem is compounded in many commercial pet foods that use cheaper digests, meat meals, and by-products as their animal protein sources. Any time a word such as meat, beef, chicken, lamb, etc. is followed by an adjective - like by-product, digest or meal, it is a reprocessed waste product unfit for human consumption.
Most supermarkets sell three grades of ground beef: ground extra-lean (96/4) , which is 7% fat; ground chuck which is 34% fat, and regular cheap ground beef which is 46% fat. If you use two-thirds to three quarters of the extra-lean product and the rest the ground chuck, you will supply your dog with a diet that contains meat with adequate fat and no added fat will be needed. If you are preparing an extra-low fat diet, use only the 96/4 product or leaner.
Cats of healthy weight require more fat in their diets (10-35%) than dogs - so when cooking for cats, use the less-lean products or add refrigerated chicken fat, beef tallow or suet. Avoid products that have had chemicals added to allow unrefrigerated storage (propyl gallate, BHA, etc.) or those that have nitrites added.
Ground turkey is sold in three grades: 1, 7 and 15% fat. If you are not adding additional fat, use the 93/7 or 85/15 product for dogs and the 85/15 product for cats. If you are preparing an extra low fat diet for your dog, use the 99/1. If you are preparing meals for a cat, add some diced dark leg meat for added taurine.
Ground chicken breast, or skinless chicken breast is about 99% muscle meat and 1% fat. Ground chicken is about 15% fat. Use it the same as you would turkey. If you are cooking for your cat, add some diced dark leg meat, hearts and gizzard for added taurine.
Wild fish, particularly those caught in colder waters, are an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Halibut, salmon and orange roughy are good choices. Of the three, salmon usually has the highest omega-3 fatty acid level and the lowest mercury level. US-produced, pond-raised catfish are also a fine and reasonably priced fish. (A recent study (ref) appeared to find benefits in adding fish oil extracts to puppy diets. However, it was conducted by Hills Dog Foods staff as a prelude to a marketing campaign for a Hills product line) There is certainly no harm in supplementing your pet's diet with human-grade DHA - I take it myself.
Because toxic chemicals and heavy metal concentrations in fish are unpredictable, I limit fish-containing meals to two days per week. I avoid feeding canned tuna. I have found that cats that eat a lot of it, soon will eat nothing else and do not seem to thrive. Cats love fish-flavor cat foods. However the portions of the fish that end up in cat food can be the ones too high in iodine.
Human quality cooked fish fillets are a fine food ingredient for cats (and dogs). But the quality of fish ingredients in pet food tend to be poor. You can read about health problems in cats, possibly associated with that, here and here. Raw fish can also be high in thiaminase leading to a B-1 vitamin deficiency. (In my zoo practice day, I would have the keepers stuff B-1 capsules into the raw fish before feeding them to the seals and penguins)
Whole cooked egg is an excellent source of complete protein and fat for your pet. The biological value (BV) of protein in egg is the international standard (94-100% BV) to which all other protein sources are measured. (ref) The protein in eggs is very high in quality - higher than that of meat, poultry or fish. It is also the most easily digested protein source. The protein in eggs is more available to your pet when the eggs are cooked rather than fed raw. Powdered egg shell is also an excellent source of calcium. Boil the eggs for 12 minutes. (ref)
Dairy products in moderation are an excellent source of balanced proteins and calcium. The primary protein in dairy products is casine. But most cow's milk products also contain lactose sugar which many adult pets can not digest. When pets can not digest lactose, it ferments in their intestines causing flatulence and diarrhea - but no damage. Dairy products also contain a sizable amout of fat. Keep track of your pet's weight. I your pet begins overweight or gains unhealthy weight, lactose-free skim milk and low-fat dairy products are a better choice.
Dry cottage cheese, used for baking, and farmer's cheese are very low in lactose. Freezing ordinary low-fat or no-fat cottage cheese and then pouring or squeezing off the separated liquid also eliminates most of the lactose. In this form, its protein content is quite similar to meats. Some pets that can not tolerate dairy lactose will handle live-culture unpasteurized yogurt as well.
It is fine to feed dairy products to your cat in moderation if the lactose in it does not cause diarrhea. However, it must not be the primary protein ingredient over time. This is because cats fed the milk protein, casein, exclusively developed blindness and heart problems. (ref) It was found that this was related to a deficiency in the amino-sulfonic acid, taurine. Turkey legs, hearts and gizzards are an excellent supplemental sources of taurine.
The Carbohydrate Portion (2 parts of your dog's diet, 0-1 part of your cat's diet)
One of my cats has a fondness for peas; but as with all cereal grains, starchy tubers and vegetables, your cats were not anatomically or metabolically to designed to process them. So remember that cats need a diet that is higher in meat ingredients than dogs do. Felines absorb the carbohydrates in grains and potato poorly and can neither tolerate nor thrive on a high-carbohydrate diet. Instead, they need to get most of their energy from metabolizing the proteins and fats in meats.
Measured after adding water and cooking.
Rice is an excellent carbohydrate source for your pet. Fewer animals are intolerant of rice than they are of wheat, corn or soy. Rice also contains protein, phosphorus, iron and some calcium. Using brown, unpolished rice preserves more of these important nutrients than highly processed white rice grain.
Most dogs and cats have no problems eating wheat-based products such as pasta and bread. The easiest forms of wheat to deal with are macaroni shells or twists. Pick a size of pasta your pet likes best.
Well-cooked boiled or mashed potatoes are fine ingredients for dogs and cats. They are a good source of vitamin B-6, copper, potassium, manganese and dietary fiber. Peel the potatoes leaving a thick skin rind, throw that away and avoid any potatoes that are greenish or sprouted.
Higher Fiber Carbohydrate Sources
Pets that receive the following higher fiber carbohydrate ingredients may develop diarrhea. Usually, the only thing necessary, is to make the addition of these products gradual or add them in reduced quantity. They will also cause the pet to produce more bulky stools. This can be very helpful in dogs (and cats) with anal sac or constipation problems or for those that are obese or in kidney failure.
A little cooked oatmeal is fine for pets. However, the high fiber content of oats tends to give pets loose stools when too much is added. It is a fine minor ingredient for diets prepared to help with chronic pet constipation (as is canned pumpkin and canned or cooked carrots) as long as cow's milk, onion or garlic are not in the product.
Most dogs and cats have no problem consuming moderate amounts of canned or cooked , unseasoned, peas. They are an excellent source of dietary carbohydrate and fiber. They are a good alternative to cereal grains in pets that might have food allergies. In cats their amount should be limited because of their high carbohydrate content.
Cooked carrots are fine ingredients for dogs that accept them. When they remain moderately crunchy, they help clean the pet's teeth and keep its breath fresh. Cooked diced or shredded carrots can be fed in moderation to cats.
Canned pumpkin when added to your pet's diet in moderation, is a great source of fiber. Added pumpkin sometimes helps prevent loose stool as well as constipation. Use cooked fresh or pure canned pumpkin - not pie filling.
The Fat Ingredient (1 parts of your pet's diet)
If you serve your dog a home- cooked diet that is 50-60% meat or poultry with a 10-15% meat fat content, your dog or cat is getting adequate fat in its diet. When I increase the fat content, I prefer adding one part fresh chicken fat or beef suet and a small amount of flax seed oil for its omega-6 content. Too much fat in your pet's diet will become evident as a greasy stool. It will also contribute to obesity and it is thought to be a predisposing cause of pancreatitis.
If you just fed the meat, carbohydrate and fat ingredients, your pet would not thrive. This is because the ingredients are too low in calcium and vitamins. Animals on their own got around this by consuming the prey animal's bones and internal organs. Meat and fish are also quite high in phosphorus, which inhibits the absorption of the calcium that is present in the total diet when the ratio of calcium to phosphorus is not the ideal (1.2:1)
Pet food manufacturers solve this problem by adding powdered bone meal or calcium carbonate to their pet diets until they contain 1 to 1.2% calcium on a dry-matter basis. You can do something similar. The most readily available calcium supplement are 500 mg calcium carbonate antacid tablets (Tums, etc). I add 1.5 tablets per 10-15 pounds body weight per day - but no one really knows the daily calcium needs of individual pets. Do not use calcium supplements that are fortified with vitamin D because we will add D elsewhere. Alternatively, you may feel more secure just adding a reputable supplement such as Balance IT or Mazuri.
Don't rely on questionable internet or pet store "complete" supplements provided by slick marketers. You can read about one sad outcome here.
There is really no need to add synthetic vitamin mixes to a well-balanced variety diet for healthy pets or humans. (ref) (but you must add calcium if your pet does not consume bones or other high-calcium ingredient ) You are always safer supplying your pet's nutrient needs from a variety of wholesome, natural foods rather than those cooked up in some chemistry laboratory. The best way to insure that your pet gets all the vitamins it needs is to serve your pet a wide variety of wholesome foods - even if your dog or cat is particular fond of only one or two ingredients.
However most of us veterinarians worry that pets might not be getting enough of one nutrient or another - after all, it's the pets that get into nutritional trouble that show up at our offices - the ones that don't stay home. That, plus a constant bombardment of petfood and supplement propaganda, cause many vets to shy away from recommending home-prepared diets. Fortifying your pet's diet with an moderate amount of vitamins can alleviate that worry and insure that the pet will receive all the vitamins and micronutrients that it needs when it isn't eating a balanced diet , when it is ill, or if your pet is a very picky eater. In those situations, the safest way is by using a human multivitamin product (in an amount proportional to the pet's weight ) or an animal supplement similar to Pet Tabs the Balance IT services or a vitamin mineral supplement like those marketed for wild felines and canines by Mazuri.
The amount of vitamin you add needs to be thought out with care. That is because too much vitamin A or D can be as toxic to your pet as too little. In fact, dogs probably do not need vitamin D added to their diets. (ref) Your pet will receive adequate vitamin A if you include chicken and beef liver, giblets, or whole eggs in its diet. Good natural sources of D-3 are salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Eggs are also a good source. Vitamin D and vitamin A are stored in your pet's body so they do not have to be present in every meal.
If you decided a vitamin supplement is desirable, another option is to use a human product similar to Centrum (given in a reduced amount proportional to your pet's weight). There are many generic equivalents. Pets and humans require vitamin D. However, humans can convert ergocalciferol (D-2) into active vitamin D-3, while pets can not. So be sure the vitamin tablet or liquid that you purchase contains cholecalciferol (D-3) and not ergocalciferol (D-2). Also, cats, in particular, can not convert beta-carotine (ß-Carotene) into vitamin A. So be sure the human vitamin is not supplying most of the vitamin A content as beta-carotine. In deciding how much of a vitamin tablet to add, remember that the dose recommended on a bottle intended for humans is for an average, (110-175 pound) person. Zoos have relied for years on Centrum-fortified diets. (ref)
Why would you look to a Zoo to learn about housecat nutrition ?
a large number of species with distinct nutritional needs and achieving
breeding success requires a deep understanding of nutrition that
few vets possess. Zoos do not sell pet food or supplements. They
have no inflexible points of view or doctrines on the subject of
diet that they are out to prove and they are not lobbied by commercial
interests in the pet food industry.
Purchase a pill cutter to break the tablet into appropriate sized portions for your pet. I give smaller adult cats approximately one eight of a Centrum- like tablet per day. Larger house cats get approximately one sixth of a tablet. I give dogs about one quarter of a human centrum-type tablet for every 30 pounds body weight. (Remember, multivitamin tablets such as Centrum do not supply the calcium that your pet needs. That must be added separately by you - unless ground bones are also fed)
Add any vitamins you do provide after the pet's food has cooled. Crush or dissolve the tablets.
Fiber comes in two forms, insoluble fiber and soluble fiber (fermentable fiber) . Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. It is the substance that gives structure to all plants. When we or our pets ingest it, it expends with water and helps move and lubricate food down the intestine. Soluble fiber is high in oats, beans, peas, barley, fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fiber is high in wheat bran and carrots, but all fiber sources contain a mixture of the two.
We do not know how much fiber dogs and cats need. Intuitively, we think they need less fiber than humans because their natural carnivorous diets contained considerably less and their relatively short digestive tracts have less time to metabolize it. This is especially true for cats. Commercial dry pet foods typically contain 2.5 - 4.5 percent crude total fiber. (ref) This is a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber. (ref)
Excellent sources of additional fiber for your pet include rice bran, whole oats, canned pumpkin, beets, millers bran, and carrots. Rice bran is especially tasty.
If you increase the fiber content of your pet's food to over 10% a number of bad things might occur that include digestive upsets and blockage of nutrient absorption. Always increase fiber levels slowly, while monitoring your pet because some pets handle high fiber levels better than others.
We know that additional fiber seems to help pets with certain problems. That is why high-fiber prescription diets are sold by veterinarians. These diets usually contain sugar beet pulp - a waste product left over from sugar production - because it is inexpensive and readily available to them. It is also sold as a horse feed. If you prepare your pet's diet at home, stay with a human-grade product such as Fibrex.
The first of the conditions in which additional fiber seems beneficial is diabetes. Diets high in fiber appear to lower blood glucose levels (10%) in humans. (ref) In pets, we know that additional fiber seems to lessen blood glucose spikes that occur after your pet eats.
Many diabetic pets are also overweight. You can read about the healthful effects of limiting your pet's caloric consumption on its general health here. An added benefit of high bulk-high fiber diets allow these pets to feel full after consuming less calories. If you can not bear to just feed your pet less, try bulking its diet with high-fiber, low caloric ingredients and lowering the fat content of its diet so that it feels pleasantly full without eating a lot of calories. The best fiber for this purpose is insoluble or non-fermentable fiber. This is because fermentable fiber is more likely to cause loose stools and gas. Commercially prepared low-cal diets usually have (sugar) beet pulp or lignocellulose (powdered wood) added to supply fiber. Wheat and oat bran and root vegetables are probably your best source.
Another common pet problem that benefits from a diet high in fiber is anal sac disease. These glands are normally emptied by the pressure of feces passing out the pet's anus. When the volume of stool is to small, or too firm or too loose, these two glands do not empty well and often become enlarged, inflamed and painful. Adding fiber to your pet's diet is one of the best ways to cure this problem. After repeated attacks, the exit tubes from these glands become scared and narrow and the gland may permanently loose its ability to contract. Once these changes have occurred, fiber will not solve the problem.
Quite a few pets suffer from an over-active large intestine and chronic diarrhea called irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease. Some of these pets do better when certain food ingredients are eliminated, some do better when the amount of fiber in their diet is lowered and some do better when the amount of fiber in their diet is increased.(ref)
Megacolon, a disease we see primarily in cats, might also improve on a high fiber diet. (ref)
It also seems that a diet high in fermentable fiber is beneficial in chronic kidney disease. In kidney failure, nitrogen-containing waste, including (BUN), builds up in the pet's blood stream. Diets high in fermentable fiber (A specialized carbohydrate) seem to allow some of this waste to leave the body through the large intestine rather than the failing kidneys. (ref)
The best way to prevent hair balls is to groom your cat regularly. However, when hair ball problems do occur, more than once every week or two, additional fiber in the cat's diet can help. That is the thought behind commercial high-fiber cat foods that advertise as preventing hair balls. Because the added fiber provides no calories, the manufacturers can also call them lo-cal, lite or indoor formulas. My favorite way to give this fiber is as two tablespoons full of canned pumpkin per day. If your cat does not like pumpkin taste, try rice bran. If you give too much, the cat will have diarrhea. So keep the cat confined to an easily-cleaned area while you are experimenting. If fiber does not cure your cat's hair ball problem, you will need a fur ball remedy that contains petrolatum. (ref) Do not give it more frequently than suggested on the label.
Fermentable fiber, is utilized by intestinal bacteria to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These compounds seem to have a positive effect on general health, intestinal function and flora and the prevention of colon cancer in humans. (ref) We do not know if this is the case in pets as well.
The ingredients in commercial pet foods that are referred to as "fillers" by their competitors are often the same ingredients that add fiber. So they are not, necessarily, bad. Actually, even the no-filler pet foods have fillers. They just call them something else (usually bran).
If I Feed Such A Good-tasting Moist Diet, Won't My Pet Become a Blimp ?
Probably not. Dry pet foods are extremely high caloric and energy rich. Their compressed formulations encourage animals to consume more calories than they need. When cats were fed moist diets, their weight actually went down. You can read that study here. (Never-the-less, feed only enough to keep your pet at a healthy body weight)
How About Turing My Dog or Cat into A Vegetarian ?
Dogs and cats were created as carnivores. They were designed to eat meat. One can argue if they are strict carnivores or just partially carnivores. But one peek at their teeth should remove any of your doubts as to what the Creator designed them to eat. That is why I do not recommend unnatural vegetarian (or vegan) diets for dogs or cats (although I, myself, am a vegetarian). There are other ways of showing your love for living things than depriving a carnivore of meat. (ref) There was a time when it was thought that a pet with a failing liver might benefit from a low protein, high carbohydrate or vegetarian diet. We now know that is not true. (ref)
How About A Raw Diet ?
Cooking unlocks many nutrients in foods (but it also destroys a few (ref)). My personal feeling is that there are considerably more risks of bacterial (such as this incident with salmonella) and viral contamination in feeding a raw dietary ingredients to your pet than there are conceivable health benefits. (ref) You can always supplement your pet's diet with additional vitamins if you are worried that some were lost in the cooking process. There is no reputable scientific evidence that raw foods are better for your pet - but we do know that cooking can make available more food energy from the meat protein your pet eats. You can read about that here.
Recommendations you read on the internet that suggest you feed raw food ingredients to your pet are based on unsubstantiated conviction - not science or unbiased observation. A 2011 study conducted by the Division of Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois (the only one I know of) found no significant difference between raw diets and cooked diets in the nutrients available to your cat, nor in digestibility. You can read that study here. Feeding your cat (or dog) raw milk also exposes it to the risk of toxoplasmosis. (ref)
Do Growing Pets Have Special Needs ?
Yes, growing dogs and cats need more calcium and protein than mature pets. They are also more susceptible to problems arising from poor nutrition. Most commercial puppy and kitten formulations have 20- 50% more protein and 1.5 - 2 times as much calcium than do adult formulas. There is really no precise information on this subject. However, giving too much of anything can also be bad. We suspect that pups that grow too fast are more susceptible to hip dysplasia later in life (ref) and animals that consume less protein and carbohydrate calories tend to live longer. (ref) Problems associated with protein and calcium levels are most often a problem in giant breeds of dogs which lay down bone abnormally. (ref) If you prepare a balanced diet for your mature pet, you will do quite well, feeding the same diet to puppies and kittens - if you supply them with all they wish to eat. You just need to feed them less of it once their growth has ended (other than to endurance, pregnant or lactating pets). Do not feed growing animals special diets that are high in fiber or restricted in protein, nutrients or minerals without specific advice from your veterinarian or nutritionist.
Are Commercial Pet Food Preservatives Dangerous ?
Perhaps. Read more about their potential dangers here.
Recipes For Healthy Dogs And Cats:
The most professional information you will find regarding recipes for home made dog and cat diets are provided by firms such as Balance IT that are staffed by experienced veterinary nutritionists. (You can also rely on a service such as the one offered by Michigan State (ref) to check that the diet you prepare for your pet is nutritionally adequate.) Those individuals have the credentials to suggest recipes that are nutritionally balanced and, through trial and error, hopefully good tasting. I prefer them when they just give advice and do not try to sell you their products. You will find many pet owner recipes on the internet, they are all probably fine if they follow general guidelines regarding ingredient balance.
Do not use recipes if they are designed around "magic" or wonder ingredients, product they sell, or if they stray too far from accepted dog and cat nutritional standards and, most importantly, common sense. Generally the more spectacular the claims , the less spectacular the product.
If you can, pick several that your pet likes that contain entirely different protein and carbohydrate ingredients and rotate them. In that way, you will "cover your bets" and your pet's body will have access to a wide variety of nutrients and will not get bored.
Diets For Special Needs Pets
Should I Purchase Or Make Special Needs Diets ?
You can purchase diets commercially that were designed to help pets with certain illnesses. To guard their profit margin, manufacturers sell them only through veterinarians or with a prescription from a veterinarian. These diets are expensive, but many of the ones your vet sells are well thought out. None of these diets cure the diseases for which they are intended (other than for struvite bladder and kidney stones) , but we hope they slow the speed at which these problems progress . (Some thoughtful veterinarians believe that veterinary prescription diets sold for cats contain too much plant carbohydrate.(ref))
However optimal dog and cat nutrition is not as cut and dried a science as animal nutritionists and these companies would have you believe. A few prescription diets, like those to dissolve struvite bladder stones, and weight loss formulas have solid results to back them up, but those marketed for kidney and heart disease, liver problems and diabetes have less science to back them up.
I still suggest that to most of my clients that they buy prescription diets that their veterinarians sell if they can afford to. This is because you may feel guilty when your pet eventually does deteriorate as you wonder if your pet would have lived longer if you had bought the diet your vet recommended. It probably would not have - but it is a question that can never be answered and it is just human nature to ask that question and fret about it. Also, when you purchase these diets, in addition to the food, you are getting the expertise of a large production staff with quality control procedures that you just can't duplicate alone in your kitchen. But if your pet does not respond adequately to a commercial prescription diet, don't assume that a carefully crafted diet that you make can not help it. Try to prepare one at home before giving up. If you do decide to prepare these foods at home, here are some base recipes you can use:
Diets For Pets With Urinary Tract Disease (FUS And Struvite Stones)
If you have a cat with a struvite (ammonium-magnesium-phosphate) bladder or urinary tract problem, read this article as well.
The majority of kidney and bladder stones and urinary "sand" in pets are one of two kinds. One forms when the urine is acidic and the other when it is basic (alkaline). A diet made for cats and dogs with certain lower urinary tract problems that produce bladder stones or crystals in a neutral or basic pH urine (struvite) consists of:
1.5 lb. of cooked ground chuck beef, with the fat retained, 1/4 lb. of cooked calf’s liver, one cup cooked brown rice or mashed potatoes , 1 teaspoon canola oil, 1 teaspoon of phosphorus-free calcium (crushed calcium lactate or calcium gluconate) or 8 "regular Tums" tablets, and one quarter Centrum or Pet Tab-type tablet given as directed on the bottle. The two most important factor in dissolving struvite stones are feeding a diet that maintains an acid pH urine and adding as much water as possible to your pet's diet to dilute its urine. (ref) (You need to periodically test your cats urine pH to be sure that the diet is keeping the pet's urine pH below 7) Adding a moderate amount of salt or potassium chloride salt substitute will help encourage drinking. Taste the food. If it tastes too salty for you - it's too salty for your pet. Although salt encourages water consumption, there is evidence that too much salt can worsen kidney problems (ref). You are safer to just gradually feed the diet more soupy.
To know if your home made diet is working, you will need to monitor your pet's urine pH and specific gravity.
You can add 56 - 84 ml (2-3 ounces) of water during cooking if the cat or dog will accept it. The more water your pet consumes, the more dilute its urine will be and the more likely it will regain urinary tract health and remain free of stones. The addition of a taurine tablet is advisable in cats of all kinds. Taurine deficiencies in cats can lead to heart and eye problems.
Feed approximately 1/4-1/2 lb. per ten pounds body weight each day but never more or less than the amount that maintains your pet's optimal body weight. This formula, in variation was disseminated many years ago by Hills. It is designed to keep magnesium and phosphorus levels in the food to a minimum. In dogs, bladder stones can sometimes be dissolved using a diet lower in protein (not under 15%) which has added salt or potassium chloride to increase water consumption (many of these dogs will need antibiotics as well).
Pets With Calcium Oxalate Urinary Tract Stones (Calculi)
All dogs and cat that have developed oxalate bladder or kidney stones need special attention to their diet and water intake for the rest of their lives. Please read my articles specifically on that subject. The one on oxalate problems in dogs you can read here. Cats suffer oxalate stone problems as well. Management of the problem in cats is quite similar to that of dogs. However, diets prepared for felines should be lower in carbohydrate and higher in fat. You will find an article on oxalate problems in cats here.
Diets that you prepare at home for pets with calcium oxalate urinary tract stones needs to be special in several ways: They need to be fed very soupy, to encourage the pet to produce dilute urine. They need to contain no vegetable, grain or fruit ingredients that are high in oxalates.
Plants (vegetables, legumes,) are quite erratic in the amount of oxalate they contain. It depend on soil and growing conditions. Certain plants, like soy, are persistently high in oxalates. Others are not. I would avoid including any ingredients that you see in any of the high or intermediate oxalate charts you find on the internet. For dogs, I would have red meats and poultry constitute 60-70% of their diet by cooked volume. For cats, I would make the meat portion and fat content larger.
Your pet will still need a calcium/vitamin supplement. I would use a calcium citrate product if possible.
Dogs and cats on home cooked diets tend to gain wait because the food tastes so much better. Never feed more or less than the amount that maintains your pet in a lean, fit condition.
Much of the oxalate in vegetables ends up in the liquid in which it is boiled. So do not feed pets plant products raw. Boil them separately and throw away the liquid you drain from the pot. Vitamin C is not suggested for pets or humans that have an oxalate stone problem. But the small amount found in standard pet or human vitamin tablets should be of no consequences.
There is a lot of conflicting advice as to what to feed pets with calcium oxalate problems. It is also possible that some pets are born “stone-formers” that handle dietary ingredients differently than normal pets. So what is most important is that you feed your pet a diet that produces a very dilute, mildly-acidic urine in your specific pet, day after day in an attempt to keep urine oxalate from reaching concentration levels that precipitating out of solution.
Some pets just won’t drink enough. When added water in their diets does not produce urine that is dilute enough, you can try giving them some warmed turkey or chicken broth in a dish. (don’t leave it out at room temperature too long)
You can make a diet suitable for dogs and cats with failing kidneys at home when your pet's kidneys can no longer cleanse its body of waste and fluids.
The results of failing kidneys is a condition called uremia. Pets with uremia loose their appetite and waste away. So the most important thing you can do for your pet in these situations is to prepare the most tasty diet you can and encourage your pet to eat enough of it. If diet alone is not enough to improve your pet's blood values, your veterinarian has medications that may help.
The toxic wastes that build up in your pet's blood are primarily the by-products of protein digestion and muscle metabolism. These include urea- BUN, creatinine and phosphorus. As your pet's blood phosphorus level increases, its bones loose calcium and weaken. (You can see what those values should be here.)
Pets with kidney disease often loose appetite and weight and might benefit from additional B vitamins also. Sometimes, their blood pressure rises in which case, a low sodium diet might also be beneficial.
Commercial diets, designed for kidney failure are considerably lower in protein (1/3 - 1/2 the amount) and sodium than ordinary pet foods. They also have added omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and compounds like potassium citrate to counteract body "over-acidity" and they are drastically lower in phosphorus.
But your pet's health on protein restricted diets needs to be monitored carefully. Blood tests need to be done periodically to be sure that its blood protein levels have not dropped too low and that the pet's body weight remains stable. When you do that, and the pets BUN and Creatinine levels drop or remain stable, protein restriction is a very positive step. But there are periods in a pet's ongoing fight with renal disease when restricting protein might not be a good thing to do. (For example, when 7/8th of its kidney's filtering apparatus has been lost) (ref 1 ) (ref 2)
Cats do not tolerate low protein diets as well as dogs. And they do not metabolize added carbohydrates as well. (ref) It may be wiser to depend more on added fat and fiber for dilution of the cat's protein consumption rather than a large amount of added plant carbohydrates. (Higher fat diets can be beneficial to kidneys. (ref)) Ketoacids (As sold through human body buildng outlets) can also act as a substitute for dietary protein without increasing kidney nitrogen-load (ref) (But I know of no veterinarians that have used them yet in dogs and cats).
Always make your pet's dietary changes gradually.
No mater what you feed your pet, we still want to limit its consumption of phosphorus. The foods naturally highest in phosphorus are the common high-protein foods, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, peas and beans. Beef and chicken contain about 8 mg phosphorus per gram of protein, whereas low-fat milk has 28 mg phosphorus per gram of protein. Cooked egg whites have the least phosphorus per gram of protein (ref) and a more complete protein than meat or fish. In some cases, they may be the best protein source for your pet. (ref) There is no need to separate out the yolks unless your pet gains too much weight.
Iams also found that fermentable fiber seemed to help the pet eliminate urea through its intestine when its kidneys could no longer do so adequately. So all common commercial kidney health diets now have higher soluble fiber levels. Iams has patented their particular soluble fiber mixture which consists of fructooligosaccharides, sugar beet pulp, and vegetable gum . Do not exceed the amount of fiber that maintains your pet at its optimal body weight with an acceptably firm stool. (Fiber does not satisfy your pet's nutritional needs and it may feel full before those needs are met.)
Limiting the amount of sodium these ill pets ingests is also wise - so commercial diets limit the amount of sodium-rich ingredients in their foods and you should too. They also add omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are found in cold-water fish and fish oils combined with flax seed to obtain a ratio of about 1:5. In a reference (ref) I mentioned earlier , you will see that although high salt intake increases your pets thirst and urination (good), it may hasten fibrosis in its kidneys (bad). Instead, to encourage adequate fluid consumption, gradually feed your pet's diet with as much added water or meat broth as it will tolerate.
Pets with kidney problems often suffer from poor appetite, weight loss, anemia and debility. B vitamins are often given in increased amounts to these pets as appetite stimulants. (Sometimes certain antihistamine medications help stimulate appetite in pets as they do in humans. (ref)
Remember that sufficient calcium supplement as well as increased amounts of a multivitamin source have to be added to these diets as well.
In very advanced kidney disease (when your pet's BUN is over 55 mg/dl) most vets still believe that moderately restricting protein in your pet's diet does become more important. In advanced kidney failure, blood tests need to be run periodically to be sure that blood calcium and phosphorus levels remain within acceptable limits and that the pet does not become overly anemic or develop high blood pressure.
Probably the most important thing you can do in preparing a homemade diet for your pet with failing kidneys is to prepare it with as much added water as possible. The more fluids your pet consumes, the more toxic waste products it will flush from its body through the fewer health kidney filter units (nephrons) that remain. The more flavorful and savory the diet you prepare, the less likely that your pet will be to lapse into its inevitable downward weight spiral.
In 2012, a study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association concluded that many recipes that you find on the Internet and in print for kidney disease are too low in balanced, absorbable protein for use in the early stages of kidney failure. They also noted that we really have no scientific studies that compare the results obtained from one diet recipe with those obtained from another. But they agreed that protein level should never be more that the amount required to meet your pet's current needs at its particular stage of kidney failure , that water soluble vitamin levels and dietary water levels should be increased, phosphorus levels decreased and calcium and potassium levels tailored to fit the blood abnormalities your pet is encountering. They suggest that a board-certified veterinary nutritionist review your pet's diet plan - making necessary ingredient adjustments as the disease progresses. Expert council like that is always a good idea, and veterinarians in general practice rarely have the deep knowledge of nutrition to do it. You can read their study here.
Over-Weight Pets And Pets With Constipation or Anal Gland Problems
Other things being equal, we think that pets that live their lives at optimal weight live about two years longer, have less arthritis, lower blood pressure, and maintain a more healthy immune system. (I linked to Purina's 14-year study on that, earlier in this article.)
Once your veterinarian has eliminated the possibility that your pet has a thyroid or adrenal gland problem or a physical abnormality in its digestive tract, you can treat all these conditions using diets which are high in fiber and contain reduced levels of fat. If you have a tough enough disposition, your pet will also loose weight gradually if you feed it only two-thirds of what is currently eating. Safe weight loss should be very gradual (1% or so a week) - never rapid.
To help your pet loose weight, food should be fed two or three times a day and any remaining after one hour should be removed. In between, rawhide chews will keep your dog occupied. Cats snooze away their unoccupied time but you can bake them lo- cal cat treats as well. Pets that are given their food all at once often consume more than nibblers. You may find that an automatic feeder actually allows your pet to eat less.
Some cats loose weight when they are switched from dry to canned cat food. It is also quite simple for you to add additional fiber to canned food. How you present foods to your cat also influences the total amount it will consume. More frequent but smaller meals and things like puzzle feeders will add interest to your cat's life (some cats overeat from boredom). You can read a study on puzzle feeders here.
It usually takes quite a bit more than just offering a low-cal diet to get your cat or dog to loose weight. No mater if you prepare the weight loss diet yourself or purchase it from your vet; it requires a strict feeding and lifestyle plan as well. It's going to have to be a joint effort that you can read about here.
Weight Loss Recipes For Dogs
quarter pound of ground 99/1 beef, chicken or turkey
Cook the beef, turkey or chicken in a skillet, stirring until lightly
Add or give a Pet Tab-type vitamins according to directions on the label, an appropriate portion of a centrum-type vitamin or the Balance IT suggested products. Keep the container covered on an upper shelf in your refrigerator for no more than a few day. If you are feeding a cat, add 500 mg of taurine.
Introduce your pet to the vegetable items in this diet gradually. If the vegetable items cause diarrhea , gas or bloating, reduce the amount you add or substitute other high-bulk items such as more finely, ground bran, or psyllium seed husk.
Low Sodium Diets For Pets With Heart Problems Or High Blood Pressure
Diets with reduced salt are often recommended for pets with heart failure because these pets tend to retain excess salt and water in their bodies. This is true in humans and appears to be the case in pets (but to a lesser extent) as well. (ref)
Dogs and cats with kidney problems or hyperthyroidism are also prone to develop high blood pressure. Low sodium diets seem to help these pets as well. However, significantly elevated blood pressure in pets will need medications as well as dietary changes. (ref)
Many supermarket and premium dog foods have relatively high salt levels. Professionally prepared low-salt diets are sold by your veterinarian or online with a prescription from your veterinarian. But sometimes, a finicky pet or just an old one, will refuse new commercially made diets.
No sodium restriction is necessary in pets with heart disease unless the condition has progressed to retention of fluid in the lungs (night cough) or in the abdomen (tummy). In this case, a diet prepared similarly to that for kidney disease is a good idea. When preparing this diet, the object is to keep salt (Sodium Chloride) to a minimum. No added salt should be used and ingredients high in salt must be avoided. Potassium chloride , rather than sodium chloride is the ingredient of choice if the diet is too bland or blood potassium levels fall on diuretics, but the pet's blood potassium levels need to be periodically monitored to be sure they do not rise too high.
Beef round steak, whole egg, chicken or turkey white meat and leg of lamb all have only a moderate amount of sodium. (ref) Certain fish, shrimp and shellfish are quite high in sodium and so should be avoided. Milk based products, salted snack foods, mixed seasonings and canned vegetables are also high in salt – unless the package states that they are salt-free.
Over the years I have modified a low salt diet recipe , published in a 1995 issue of Veterinary Forum. The diet is composed of ¼ pound ground beef, or white chicken or turkey meat , 2 cups of cooked white rice, one teaspoon of flax seed oil, two teaspoons of canola oil, 1000mg of Calcium carbonate (Tums) and Pet Tab vitamins given according to the bottle recommendations. For cats, the addition of taurine, an essential amino acid that is necessary for feline heart function, is highly advisable.
Many pets with heart disease loose weight. In those animals high caloric a product like Nutrical or Energel and high-protein-low salt treats can help them maintain their weight. Pets and people in decline often die of malnutrition before dying of a specific disease. In those situations , feed your pet whatever it will accept. Any form of nutrients is better than none.
Diets For Diabetic Pets
These diets rely on higher protein and lower carbohydrate to help stabilize blood glucose since the protein in food is converted to glucose slower than the starch. The results of increasing (ref) or decreasing (ref) fiber content in the diet of diabetic cats are not consistent. What is probably more important is that your cat stay at a normal body weight, get exercise, and consume its diet slowly throughout the day and limit its consumption of starch and carbohydrates as much as possible. Dogs seem to do better when their fiber intake is increased. (ref)
A well-established routine that combines regularly scheduled meal times, treats, and exercise is very important in maintaining your diabetic pet's good health. Reducing your pet's weight to an optimal level is also very important. You do not want your diabetic pet to be too fat or too thin.
You will need to experiment with various recipes and feeding times and see what works best to control your pet's blood sugar level. The best way to monitor your pet's blood sugar is to use a glucometer at home to check its blood sugar level. In obstinate cats, you may have to get by using Glucotests.
In people, dietary changes and weight control alone often make insulin therapy unnecessary. This can occur in pets as well. (ref)
Commercially formulated diets for diabetic pets have increased omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid levels supplied by fish oils and flax seed and increased levels of vitamin E . Sunflower and canola oils are good sources of natural vitamin E.
Hypoallergenic Diets (For Allergic Pets)
Signs of pets with food allergies can include chewing at the webs of their paws, generalized itchiness of the skin which results in rash, redness and hair loss, chronic ear disease (otitis) and chronic diarrhea. However, like humans, many more pets develop allergies to things in the air they breath rather than to things they eat.
If your pet is allergic or sensitive to a food ingredient, the problem should lessen or go away within a month after eliminating the ingredient. Commercial pet food companies produce hypoallergenic diets in two ways. They either supply a protein and a carbohydrate source that the pet has not eaten before (ref) or they break the animal and plant protein molecules into small sizes that do not provoke (cause) allergy. (ref)
Providing novel (new) protein and carbohydrate sources is an option for you when you prepare your pet food yourself. But pets that have a tendency to food allergies often become allergic to the new foods over time. When that occurs, it is time to change ingredients. Remember, the ingredients in ordinary pet treats and table scraps can be enough to cause problems in food allergy-prone pets. Hypoallergenic treats can be made at home. All family members have to cooperate and not sneak the pet their favorite snacks.
Feline digestive health problems that often respond favorably to diet change include IBD , Triad Disease , diabetes and certain types of early lymphoma (Don't make guesses about your cat's health problems - many other things can cause a cat to vomit or loose weight) . Cats with these inflammatory problems will usually benefit from a balanced nutrient diet prepared from human-quality ingredients that contains minimal amounts of grain and starch-containing products. We humans tend to think about consuming a "bland" diet or withholding solid foods for a few days when we have digestive upsets. But "bland" is often a synonym for a high-carbohydrate (rice, starch, etc.) - something cats are just not designed to process; and withholding food from a cat is a recipe for hepatic lipidosis.
Feeding a home-cooked, properly prepared diet in small amounts during the day rather than at two or three feedings is just as important. You can read an article on what those diets should contain, here.
I have noticed that my client’s pets seem to do considerably better when fed all-meat diets that the owners prepared at home (being careful to add the required amount of vitamins and calcium) than they do when feed commercial veterinary prescription diets sold at animal hospitals. No mater whether you purchase a ready-made special diet or prepare one yourself, change your cat over to the new diet very gradually to avoid an increase in symptoms or rejection of the diet change. Some cats accept diet change readily, others need encouragement – like a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese or tuna juice to break the ice. Weigh your cat frequently to be sure it is not loosing weight. Even overweight cats should not loose more than 1% - 1.5% of their weight in a week.
Most of those cat owners base their cat’s homemade meals on chicken with an added vitamin supplement. Many purchase commercial meat grinders so that they can grind the chicken with approximately half its bones still present and avoid the need for a calcium supplement such as edible bone meal. Others just bake the chicken, discard the bones and add a vitamin calcium supplement to the lightly-cooked meat.
Many begin with whole Cornish game hens, a small chicken that is sold whole. These chickens are sold very young (less than 5 wks old), so their bones are softer than those of more mature chickens and they grind more easily, they have less fat and more protein per pound. (Two-thirds of those sold in the US are produced by Tyson Foods)
For variety, some cats appreciate similar recipes that use turkey, rabbit or beef. If you buy pre-ground products, be sure they contain no flavor enhancers or seasonings . Others cats find chicken thigh meat tastier than breast meat.
Should I Feed Ingredients Raw or Cooked ?
I do not believe that there is any benefit of feeding meat or poultry to your cat completely raw. But I would not overcook it either. If raw diets appeal to you, heat it just long enough to destroy any dangerous organisms that might be present but not at a temperature of for a long enough time to destroy nutrients. Place a meat thermometer in the center of the chickens thickest flesh and bake them until the thermometer reads 158F (70 C) for 2 minutes. That temperature is sufficient to kill dangerous bacteria (ref 1 , ref 2 )
There is no problem with preparing large amounts and freezing it in containers until it is used. When you do feed home prepared diets, feed them warm- at the same temperature you would prefer it. Feed these diets as soupy as your cat will agree to – urine is a prime way toxins are flushed from the body. Do not leave moist foods out at room temperature for more than an hour or so. If your cat did not finish its meal, place it back in the fridge in offer it later.
Should I Add Vitamins and Calcium If I Do Not Feed Bone And Organ Meats ?
Yes, that will be very important. Feeding home cooked all-meat diets to wild felines is not a new concept. It has been going on for the last 60 years in zoos that house the small feline relatives of housecats. Those institutions have been quite successful feeding small prey animals with an added vitamin supplement, often one produced by Mazuri/ PMI Nutrition International (ref) or a similar one with added calcium when no bone material is fed. (ref) Good vitamin/mineral supplements are also sold directly to pet owners by veterinary nutritionists. (ref)
But I feel more secure when you rely on vitamin and mineral products that are marketed for human consumption when home cooking for your cat or dog. That is because product miss-formulation seem to be more common in the animal vitamin industry than the human vitamin industry. (ref). That is probably because the financial and legal consequences of injuring the health of humans exceeds those that occur when pets are injured. That is why I prefer you give a human vitamin supplement such as Centrum and a human calcium supplement added to your cat’s home cooked diet. Institutions that house wild cats generally add 15 grams of steamed bone meal and one Centrum tablet to every 4.4 pounds (2 Kg) of meat that is fed without bones. When bones are included, they omit the bone meal. (ref) Add the crushed portion of a vitamin tablet after the food has cooled.
It is very important that your calcium supplement be sufficient to meet your pet's needs. That is especially true in animals that are still growing. Use a mineral supplement offered by a well respected large company that employs veterinary nutritionists - not some unknown online newbie. You can read of the dangers brought on by one untested supplement here.
Might My Cat Have Problems On An All-Meat Diet ?
Changing from a dry or canned commercial diet to a home cooked , all meat or substantially meat diet is a major adjustment for your cat. Owners who make the change very gradually are more likely not to encounter, feline resistance, diarrhea, or constipation issues.
Constipation can be an issue. If you are feeding un-boned chicken, be sure that the bones have passed through the grinder sufficient times to pulverize them to sand-like consistency. If constipation remains an issue, feed only a quarter or so of the totals bones in the chicken. Lower weight chickens are younger chickens and so have softer, more easily digested bones. You can also add high fiber vegetable items to the grind for bulk and easier stool passage.
Many diets are marketed for senior pets. But there is no more science to back them up than there is for the stuff offered on TV to keep you young. (ref) What is important is that you keep your senior pet at an optimal weight, provide a diet that contains all the nutrients all dogs and cats need and encourage as much exercise as you can for your pet. If they have developed a specific health problem, feed them a diet to address that problem.
Almost all elderly pets develop health issues (just like us) and it is important that you have your vet tend to them when they occur. Preventing gum disease in older pets is also very important. (ref)
Diets for otherwise healthy, older cats and dogs are best when their fat content is reduced - particularly if the pet is less active and needs less calories. If you feed dry chows, they may do better on a smaller kibble size if their teeth are not what they used to be.
Many veterinarians and owners intuitively think that increased antioxidants including alpha-tocopherol, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, and increased in fiber can also be helpful for their old pets. This is based on studies from Harvard Medical School that showed that diets rich in these ingredients- slowed the incidence of cancer in humans.
But please do not jump to conclusions - not all psychological problems can be cured with diet. When one or two small areas of your pet’s skin are damaged by persistent licking and chewing (acral self-trauma) and your vet has found no parasites or fungi in a skin scraping, the most commons causes I have found in dogs are boredom, separation anxiety, arthritis and obsessive compulsive behavior (OCD) (pretty much in that order). A high-strung temperament, early separation from their mothers or early life neglect make the psychological causes more likely. When similar problems occur in cats, the most common causes I have found are allergies and ghost pains. (possibly both being forms of eosinophilic complex disease (ref))
interesting possibility was recently brought up by some Finnish
and French veterinarians. Those scientists looked for similarities
in the lifestyle and nutrition of dogs that chased their tails compulsively.
Many veterinarians believe that that trait is a mild form of obsessive
compulsive behavior (OCD). Their statistical
analysis of the lifestyles of 368 dogs appeared to suggest that dogs receiving
vitamin-mineral supplements were less likely to have that problem.
When that factor was examined more closely, the authors found that
only supplements with vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
and vitamin C appeared to reduce this OCD behavior.
Among it many functions, vitamin B6 is involved in the creation of neurotransmitter chemicals within the brain – some of which influence mood (serotonin). (ref) Thorough cooking and processing of meat can destroy much of its vitamin B6 content.
The Finish and French veterinarians were not the first to suggest that B6 supplements might be helpful in treating behavioral and neurological problems (too much vitamin B6 vitamin supplement (pyridoxine) can be toxic). In 2002, Canadian pediatricians found it helpful in treating OCD in children. (ref) In 2007, Taiwanese physicians found it helpful in controlling epilepsy. (ref) In 2009 it was again reported as helpful in Obsessive Compulsive treatment (ref) In 2010 it seemed helpful in elevating depressed mood. (ref)
Egg yolk, liver and kidney as well as chicken and turkey as the basis of a home cooked diet are all excellent sources of vitamin B6. If you cook them only lightly, your pet should be receiving adequate pyridoxine. (B6 exists in multiple forms, so supplements with B6 may not be as effective as natural meat sources)
Will More Tartar Build Up On My Pet's Teeth If I Feed A Home Cooked Diet ?
Yes. But you can deal with that by offering your pet rawhide chews, dental chews similar to these and by brushing your pet's teeth if it will allow it.
Might A Nutritionally Balanced, All-meat, Ketogenic Diet Benefit My Pet In Surmounting Other Health Issues ?
There is some evidence that dietary ingredients and the metabolic changes they produce affect the way the body deals with a number of health issues. Diets high in fat and low in carbohydrates are called Ketogenic. There is some evidence that those diets can be beneficial in a number of human health problems. You can read about their possible benefits in epilepsy here , in diabetes here, in obesity here, and in certain cancers here. (these were human-directed studies; and nutritionally balanced, all-meat diets are closer to the natural diets of dogs and cats than they are to natural human diets. But there is no science yet on what the true affects of ketogenic diets might be on our pets - most things that have an up side also have a down side.)
Some General Points
Many commercial adult feline diets only appear to have quite high nutritive protein levels. There are two reasons for this. The first is that they are not using human-grade meat protein sources. Things labeled as "by-product ","meal" or "digest" are thought to be poorly absorbed. The second reason is that plant protein often constitutes some of the total protein content listed on the label.
Temporary diarrhea often accompanies any diet change just as it does in people. The way to avoid this is to make the diet changes very gradually. Doing so also makes it more likely that the pet will accept the change.
No one diet will suit all individuals. Experts do not know your pet as well as you do. You are in the best position to decide if your pet is doing well on any given diet. It is a tribute to the design of the special animals that live with us that they are so adaptable in their food sources. If they were not, they would still be roaming around in the wild.
Young puppies, kittens and growing animals have less body reserves of specific nutrients and greater needs than mature pets. They are also at a point in life when deficiencies are more likely to cause lasting effects. Be particularly cautious when preparing home made diets for these animals, stay with the tried and true.
In general, disregard the claims of individuals or companies with products to sell. The more amazing the claims, the less likely they are to be true.