By Dr. Kathy Boehme
To be fair, let me say that I don’t cook for Otis all the time. In general, he gets between 30 and 50 percent of his calories and nutrients from a dry kibbled diet. The rest of his diet is made up of a “stew” that I make on weekends. I follow a balanced recipe that I obtained online at www.balanceit.com, although I have experimented with several other recipes as well. I always cook his human food, even the prepared raw diets that I have tried.
I started this process when I got into gardening and had a nice little organic vegetable garden for my family. My family, however, did not eat certain parts of these plants that I knew were edible, like broccoli stems. I began studying herbology and saw the tremendous value of eating whole plants, so I slowly started adding cooked vegetables to his diet from unused plants from our garden.
Adding vegetables or fruit to a pet’s diet adds a tremendous variety of phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber. This is especially true if different colored fruits and vegetables are used as they add different substances that can only be found in whole plants. Common sense says that if these are good for a human body, they would be good for a dog body, too. Our dogs live in the same environment we do and although their physiology is not the same, it is similar enough to see the benefit.
I think pet food companies do a great job of making adequate, balanced food, but I personally do not see commercial pet food as the optimal diet to feed if it is being fed exclusively. The problem is that no one really knows what optimal is.
Dogs are not little humans, nor are they wolves. Different breeds evolved in different parts of the world eating vastly different things. There probably is no such thing as the optimal, one-size-fits-all diet, so we do the best we can with the knowledge we have. Remember, however, that times change constantly as do dietary recommendations. If your veterinarian makes one recommendation one year and recommends something else the next year, it is because the knowledge has changed. This is true of anything in medicine.
Do I think feeding a dog a dry kibbled diet his or her entire life is bad? No. Many dogs thrive on these diets and live good quality lives. Many people simply cannot afford the time and money it takes to prepare whole, fresh or frozen food diets and that is okay. Thank goodness we have good options on the market today and these options improve every day.
Is there a downside to home cooking? Absolutely, if you are using a diet that is not balanced or if you drift from your recipe. It seems to be human nature that over time we start to modify our nice, balanced recipes. As long as there is enough variation in the “drift” that allows adequate nutrients to be absorbed, then this is fine. The problem is that we can’t really know that type of information unless we have a degree in nutrition. We need to either follow a set of recipes closely or we compromise and feed the majority of the food from a balanced, prepared diet and supplement with other things like vegetables. Purchasing balanced fresh or frozen diets is another option, but we must carefully research and trust the source.
Any diet changes must be implemented slowly and gradually as we are asking the bacteria in the gut to change. In some dogs, if this is done rapidly, they may become very sick. The biggest problem I see in people that love the idea of cooking is that they push too quickly and their pet develops diarrhea. Thankfully, this kind of problem is preventable.
For me, I feed Otis a variety of whole fresh foods because I believe they add beneficial nutrients and fiber to his aging body. I suspect they add a whole lot of other good things as well, things we do not even know about yet. I hope these efforts will also help prevent some of the chronic diseases that seem to plague our companions in increasing numbers.
Do I know it will help? No, but common sense tells me it might, so I try. Mostly, cooking for him is one of the ways that I love and care for him. It brings me tremendous joy to see him so happy to eat and I feel really good about that.