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Dogs are too good for us, that's what we know. It is therefore logical that many of us want to treat their puppies like angels by giving them the best of everything. For some people, this means feeding their canine mates homemade meals, filled with fresh burger meat and delicious carrots.
The growing number of home dog diets follows the general trend highlighted by veterinarians for years: more and more pet owners are refusing to feed their companions with dry foods made by a large company. Natural dog food sales jumped 43% in 2018 compared with the previous year, and sales of kibble with no artificial colors increased 27%. "Whenever there is a major booster of pet foods, more and more people are interested in making their own food," says Rebecca Remillard, veterinary nutritionist, who has created a consulting service for other veterinarians. Many people are simply looking for a business alternative (which is not always a safe bet), but many decide to prepare their own solution.
The problem is that very few recipes available to pet owners are nutritionally complete. "Nutritional adequacy is lacking in almost any homemade diet found online or in books," says Jennifer Larsen, veterinary nutritionist at UC Davis. In a review of 200 recipes in 2013, she and her colleagues discovered that only five were providing the minimum amount of all the essential nutrients for dogs. A handful more met the less stringent nutritional requirements, but 95% of the recipes were deficient in one way or another. About 83% had multiple disabilities.
The problem is not so much that dogs do not get enough protein or calories. On the contrary, most pet owners overestimate the amount of protein their puppy needs (cats are the real carnivores in our homes and many dogs can stay healthy with a vegan diet). And the caloric needs are easy to follow; Hungry puppies usually do not stay silent about their belly belly. But most people do not consider essential micronutrients. Most recipes reviewed by the Larsen team lacked zinc, choline, copper and EPA plus DHA (two essential omega-3 fatty acids).
It's maybe partly because people do not realize you can not make dog food without adding an extra multivitamin. "You can not do it," says Remmilard. "I'm trying to formulate I do not know how many diets I do not know how many years – without added synthetic vitamins and minerals, that's not possible." She even tried to introduce the entire FDA food database into a computer algorithm in order to design a diet with the right number of calories and balanced macro- and micronutrients. The resulting schemes always lack something key. Even the largest pet food companies, with their funding in research and development and their expert teams, have not been able to do that. Whole foods contain a lot of vitamins and minerals that dogs need, but they can not physically eat enough fruits and vegetables to get enough.
This could be a surprise to many people. The dogs evolved alongside humans, eating all the leftovers we threw at them. How could they have such delicate food needs? This is the same reason why we should not all stick to strict Paleo diets. Our ancestors evolved to survive with the food they had, but that does not mean that they were as healthy as humans hope to be today. The first dogs did not need to live long, they just had to survive long enough to produce a litter of puppies and transmit their human genes. As Remillard points out, most people want their pets to be over two years old. Research has shown us which is the best diet to keep dogs happy and healthy for as long as possible (or at least close to it). This is what responsible pet owners should strive to feed their dogs, whether or not dogs find this diet in the wild.
It is entirely possible to do this with a home-made diet, but this requires the addition of a multivitamin and the scrupulous respect of a recipe developed by a veterinary nutritionist. Even your regular veterinarian will probably not know how to formulate a good diet, says Remillard. It takes about five years of school to obtain this degree. "You should not feel bad about not being able to formulate a good home diet," she says. "Not everyone should be able to build a rocket either."
If you want to prepare your puppy's food, Remillard and Larsen recommend you to go see a veterinary nutritionist. These specialists will formulate diets adapted to your pets. You can search on the website of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition to find one near you. They will provide you with a specific recipe, and you should not deviate from it. It is reasonable to think that substituting one fruit for another will not hurt if it's all you have on hand, but you do not want to make the habit of making small changes. Following the exact The recipe is imperative to maintain the health of your dog. The diet will also recommend a specific vitamin with the extra nutrients needed, which you will probably need to order online.
It is possible to find recipes yourself on the internet, but the only tool recommended by both nutritionists was BalanceIT. You can choose which foods you want to include, then recipe options will be available. Again, follow the recipe to the letter and make sure to get the multivitamin recommended by the site. It is best to have this recipe checked by a veterinary nutritionist, but if you can not find one (or can not afford it), BalanceIT is a good alternative.
Do not forget that it is important to follow the advice of the experts you have given. All pet owners who decide to prepare their own dog food do so with the best of intentions: they feel they are stepping up their obligations as pet owners. But dogs can tolerate a lot without showing you obvious signs: they do not get the nutrition they need, and you may not realize you're wrong before it's too late. "Dogs can hide deficiencies for a very long time," says Remillard. One of the most common signs is a broken bone, says Remillard, because many homemade foods are deficient in calcium. She saw babies enter with fractures during normal activities. Other signs of nutritional deficiency can be subtle and can simply mean a shorter and less healthy life. But in some cases, they can be extreme. "I once had a lady who had been eating the same home diet for 11 years before the dog had a problem," says Remillard. "The vet who saw her for the first time said that the dog had come in with the falling teeth, the woman was devastated, she was just trying to do the right thing."