Home Cooked Dog And Cat Foods

Home Made Diets And Pet Nutrition 

Ron Hines DVM PhD

  Low-iodine diets for hyperthyroid cats   

  Issues associated with store-bought pet foods

My Pet’s Too Fat!

  I’m a vegetarian or vegan. Shouldn’t my dog and cat be one too?  

Dog Chews Are Helpful  

As a dog or cat owner you can never be certain about the quality of the food you buy for your pet . No mater what brand  you purchase, it is likely being manufactured by a subsidiary of one of the international mega-pet food firms (eg Nestlé Purina , Mars .aka Pedigree, Royal Canin,  Colgate-Palmolive aka Hill’s/ Science Diets, etc.). Those firms dominate the business world wide. Smaller companies often use the services of the same bulk generic plants ( private label plants eg  Menu Foods etc.). Then they give their product a unique flashy name, snazzy bag or can and an expensive marketing hoopla conducted by folks without the faintest understanding of animal nutrition.

Despite USDA, FDA and individual state regulations, anyone can bag, sell and distribute pet food – regardless of their knowledge of animal nutrition science. 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 to the Association Of American Feed Control Officials, the AAFCO. The AAFCO is a trade organization representing the interests of the manufactures of dog and cat food.  Review of 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 or ongoing ingredient quality control. The source of pet food ingredients constantly changes, since they buy their ingredients from the most cost-effective suppliers. Cost is often 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. Preparing a healthy, nutritious diet is likely be considerably more expensive than purchasing pet foods in bags and cans. But there is really no reason you cannot prepare a diet that is at least as nutritious – and certainly more tasty – than any that is sold commercially. That includes diets that are sold by veterinarians for pets with special nutritional needs.

Dogs:

Although your dog can survive on an all-meat diet (when 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 by evolution to eat is closer to what we were designed to eat. During the last 30,000 years that dogs have lived as our companions, our diets were less than half meat. ( read here ) The rest of what stone age people ate was grain, seeds, fruit and vegetables. What our ancestors left around their camps and dwellings was what their dogs ate as well. On that their wild ancestors domesticate, on that they thrived. That means that dogs probably evolved to thrive on a diet that is 30-50% animal protein. They do not require the 70-90% protein levels found in many all-meat diets.

Unlike us, dogs and cats evolved to not suffer from the ill effects of high levels of animal fat that we do. Veterinary pathologists have found that animal fat and cholesterol rarely if ever cause clogged arteries in dogs or cats the way these saturated fats do in us humans. Even on a very high-fat diet, dogs and cats are quite resistant to coronary artery disease. Only pets with unusually high caloric needs and a very energetic lifestyles (such as sled dogs) need high fat diets. In most dogs, a high fat diet is a fast track to an overly plump pet who is at risk for many health problems. Read about overweight pets here .

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 your dogs boredom and exposes your pet to a healthier range of nutrient sources. It also prevents single ingredient addiction. 

There are a few food ingredients that dogs and cats should not consume. Those include chocolate, grapes, raisins, garlic, onions, macadamia nuts, tomatoes and avocado. (other chemical compounds that do not harm humans, like xylitolsweetener, must also be excluded from your pet’s diet.) You will find them all listed on the ASPCA website and elsewhere online . Many dogs like variety and surprise in ingredients and presentation of their diets is important to them – just as it is to us. There are endless food combinations you can prepare by varying the meat and carbohydrate ingredient from day to day.

Cats

Cats have very different nutritional needs than dogs. That might be because cats have only been living with people about 9,500 years – considerably less time than dogs. Besides, during the majority of the time they have been with us, cats lived almost exclusively on rodents and other small animals they could catch. They snuggled up to us in ancient Egypt because the Egyptians warehoused  grain. It was not until the 1500s that people’s fear of black magic and the “evil powers” of cats subsided enough to allowing cats to be fully accept as pets. In the 1890’s the first commercial cat foods were marketed. So cats haven’t had the time that dogs have had to match their nutritional needs to human diets (if that is even possible). Cats still need considerably higher animal protein and fat in their diets than dogs or people do. Cats also lack the digestive pathways necessary to thrive on diets high in carbohydrates. Something that some cat owners find difficult to accept. Pet food companies are quite willing to perpetuate the myth because quality meat ingredients are considerably more expensive than grain carbohydrates and plant-based protein. 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 preformed vitamin A in their diet because they cannot convert beta-carotene to active vitamin A as we humans can and they probably cannot synthesize sufficient vitamin D from sunlight exposure either. ( read here ) Cats also have difficulty digesting starch and other carbohydrates. When they succeed, these carbohydrates form sugars that can affect their body in negative ways (eg diabetes).

Another characteristic of cats that many veterinarians believe to be the root of many chronic cat health issues is the reluctance of cats to consume sufficient water when fed dry diets. They do drink water after consuming dry kibble, but rarely in amounts 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 now. Cats suffer from more than their share of urinary tract and kidney problems. Some believe that is due to chronic dehydration brought on by the consumption of dry cat foods.

The Protein Ingredients (2-3 Parts Of Your Dog’s Diet, Considerably More For Your Cat)

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.

Carbohydrates

Rice

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.

Wheat Products

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.

Potato

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.

Oatmeal

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.

Sweet Peas

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.

Carrots

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.

Pumpkin

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 Of Your Pet’s Diet

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.

Supplemental Minerals

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 those sold by Balance IT veterinary nutrition group or Mazuri (owned by Purina Mills).

Don’t rely on questionable internet or pet store “complete” supplements provided by slick marketers. You can read about one sad outcome here.

Vitamins

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 pet food 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™ (a division of Purina Mills).

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. 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.

Add any vitamins you do provide after the pet’s food has cooled.

Fiber

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.  This is a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber. 

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. ( read here ) 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.  Megacolon, a disease we see primarily in cats, might also improve on a high fiber diet.

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.

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.  Do not give it more frequently than suggested on the label.

Fermentable fiber, is utilized by intestinal bacteria to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These compounds seem to have a positive effect on general health.

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.  Never-the-less, feed only enough to keep your pet at a healthy body weight. Read about that here.

Recipes:

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. 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. Read my thought on vegetarian dog and cat diets here.

How About A Raw Diet?

Cooking unlocks many nutrients in foods (but it also destroys a few). My personal feeling is that there are considerably more risks of bacterial and viral contamination in feeding a raw dietary ingredients to your pet than there are conceivable health benefits. 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.

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.

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 and animals that consume less protein and carbohydrate calories tend to live longer. Problems associated with protein and calcium levels are most often a problem in giant breeds of dogs which lay down bone abnormally. 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.

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  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.

I suggest that you 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 Pets With Special Health Needs 

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.

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 (oxalate) forms when the urine is acidic and the other (struvite) when your dog or cat’s urine 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. You need to periodically test your cats urine pH to be sure that the diet is keeping the pet’s urine pH slightly below 7.

Some veterinarians once suggested moderately increasing the salt content of your pet’s diet to encourage it to drink more. It was generally thought that salt results in increased thirst and water consumption and we thought that greater volumes of urine would help keep the pet’s blood urea and creatinine levels under control. But in early 2017, several scientists found that humans and lab animals on a moderately higher salt diet actually drink less.  No one – to my knowledge – has done anything similar in dogs or cats. Increased salt might do other undesirable things to the kidneys as well. 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 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. Try Not to 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 “stoneformers” 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.

Diets For Pets With Failing Kidneys (High BUN &  Creatinine)

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 might 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. Pets with kidney disease often loose appetite and weight and might benefit from additional B vitamins also. 

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.

Cats do not tolerate low protein diets as well as dogs. And they do not metabolize added carbohydrates as well. ( read here ) 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. Ketoacids (as sold through human body building outlets) can also act as a substitute for dietary protein without increasing kidney nitrogen-load, but I know of no veterinarians that have used them 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 and a more complete protein than meat or fish. In some cases, they may be the best protein source for your pet. 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.)

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. 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.

Remember that sufficient calcium supplement as well as increased amounts of a multivitamin source have to be added to these diets as well.

In advanced kidney disease 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.

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. 

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.

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 about a study on puzzle feeders here. If you want a full copy, ask me and I will send it to you.

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 that  here .

Weight Loss Recipes For Dogs

One quarter pound of ground 99/1 beef, chicken or turkey
One cup of non  creamed cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese
(Freeze/thaw the cottage cheese and pour off the liquid to remove the lactose)
Three cups of canned pureed pumpkin, drained cooked carrots or cooked cabbage
One cup drained canned peas or Rosarita fat-free pinto beans
One half cup of rice bran

Cook the beef, turkey or chicken in a skillet, stirring until lightly browned
Add the remaining ingredients or serve them separately.

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.

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.

These diets rely on higher protein, lower carbohydrate and higher fiber to help stabilize blood glucose since the protein in food is converted to glucose slower than the starch. The results of increasing ( read here ) or decreasing ( read here ) 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.

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  glucose test strips.

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 or they break the animal and plant protein molecules into small sizes that do not provoke (cause) allergy.

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.

Diets For Cats With Digestive Tract Problems, Diarrhea and/or Vomiting

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 158 F (70 C) for 2 minutes. That temperature is sufficient to kill dangerous bacteria. Read more about that here.

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 house cats. Those institutions have been quite successful feeding small prey animals with an added vitamin supplement, often one produced by Mazuri/ PMI Nutrition International or a similar one with added calcium when no bone material is fed.  Good vitamin/mineral supplements are also sold directly to pet owners by online veterinary nutritionists. 

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. 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. 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. 

Might My Cat Have Problems On An All-Meat Diet?

Yes. 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 boneless 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.

If your cat consents to having you brush its teeth, it will retain a healthy mouth. If not, consider offering a small portion of a product similar to this one as an after-meal treat.

Senior Diets

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.  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 as we do 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.

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.

Are There Diets I Can Prepare At Home That Might Affect My Pet’s Anxiety Level, Mental State And Behavior?

Perhaps.

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 .

That 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). 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). Canadian pediatricians found B6 to be helpful in treating OCD in children. A Taiwanese physician also found it helpful in controlling epilepsy. I cannot verify that either of those conclusions were correct.

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?

Perhaps.

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 read here , in diabetes read here, in obesity read here, and in certain cancers read 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 To Remember

With all home cooked diets, you need to remember that cats need more quality, absorbable, protein in their diet than dogs do (about 30% of their dry diet weight). Cats also need more fat in their diet than dogs.

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.

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