RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—People are paying a lot more attention to the quality of their food, with millions dodging corporate food manufacturers and opting for local, organic food. That concern isn't limited to the dinner table, either. More and more dog owners are more closely focused on the ingredients they serve to man's best friend. Some of those ingredients are enough to send you sprinting out of the pet store with your tail between your legs. (If you had a tail.) Tainted pet-food scandals serve as reminders that nasty stuff can and does sometimes wind up in our beloved pet's food supply. But you might be shocked to find out what dog-food makers can legally include in your dog's dinner.
THE DETAILS: Pet food, even brands labeled "natural" or "organic," may contain 4D-grade meat. This type of meat could come from animals that were dying, disabled, or diseased before being slaughtered, or even decaying carcasses, "It's an animal-grade, rancid product," says naturopathic doctor Lisa Newman, ND, PhD, author of Three Simple Steps to Healthy Pets: The Holistic Animal Care LifeStyle. She notes that shoe leather, used restaurant cooking oils, animal hair and skin, and even euthanized cats and dogs are regularly used in the pet-food industry. This rather sickening fact, along with the melamine-tainted dog-food outbreak several years ago, has prompted some dog owners to invest in preparing healthy homemade dog food for their pups. However, that can be very dangerous if you don't do it right, warns veterinarian Kathryn E. Michel, DMV, MS, DACVN, associate professor of nutrition at Philadelphia School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "You may produce a good meal for yourself, but not a balanced meal for your pet," she explains. A healthy diet for you probably lacks proper nutrition for dogs, who need more protein, calcium, and certain amino acids to stay healthy. For instance, a small dog needs 800 milligrams of calcium a day, the same as a grown woman, and a big dog needs even more, explains Dr. Michel. [UPDATE: Since this story posted, Dr. Michel has expressed disagreement with the above contentions about the content of commercial pet food.]
Another pitfall? Nutritious, home-cooked meals for your dog can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with a large-breed dog.
WHAT IT MEANS: With the rise of doggy spas and canine-friendly mainstream hotels, it's clear the humanization of pets is a growing trend in this country. But Dr. Newman, who holds a doctorate degree in nutrition and developed the holistic pet-food and supplement line Admira, hopes people pamper their dogs in the food department, too. She believes the lack of quality ingredients in many brands is leading to a rise of health problems in dogs, including irritable bowel disease, allergies, arthritis, and certain cancers.
Here's how to work healthy homemade dog food onto your pooch's menu.
• Find a reputable recipe. The Internet is chock-full of recipes for healthy homemade dog food, but some of them can be quite dangerous, warns Dr. Michel. If your dog is in good health and you want to find a reputable recipe, she recommends visiting the Balance It pet lovers' site, where you can pick key ingredients, and they will provide you with a healthy food/supplement recipe for $20. The cost is lower the more recipes you buy. You can also find reputable healthy homemade dog recipes at PetDiets.com. If your pet has a medical issue, Dr. Michel recommends consulting with a credentialed veterinary nutritionist. One who is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition is a good choice. And it's always a good idea to run a new diet—store-bought or homemade—by your veterinarian first. Also, don't forget to talk to your vet about using supplements from vet-recommended companies. "You'll never be able to make a complete and balanced diet without adding supplements," Dr. Michel says.
Cat owners: It's important to note that you shouldn't try to make your own cat food at home because of the very unique dietary needs of felines. Dr. Michel says only vets with a strong background in nutrition should do this; even then, cats often turn up their noses at the food because they don't like the texture.