For some pet owners, treating their furry little friends as members of the family extends to their diet. If everyone else is getting homemade meals, why shouldn’t they? It’s not a bad idea—it can actually be cheaper to make your own pet food and healthier than commercial foods if you do it right.
But making the switch isn’t as simple as dishing up a portion of the Sunday dinner for your pet. There is science behind what your pet needs, and pet diets should be developed for each pet individually with his specific needs in mind. Your best bet before you start cooking for Fido is to talk to your vet first and make sure that your meal plans meet your pet’s nutritional needs.
That said, here are some tips for preparing your pet’s food at home.
Keep it healthy. Not all foods people eat are good for dogs and cats. Just as is true for people, low-fat, lean cuts of meat trump fatty bits, which are more likely to cause gastrointestinal problems. But good-for-us foods aren’t always good for them. Foods like grapes and onions should never be given to your pet. Some foods fit for humans are toxic for animals.
Use a homemade food as a topper. There’s no need to make all your pet’s food to see some savings or health benefits. You could scale back the amount of commercially prepared food you serve, and either top it with a homemade mix or blend one in.
Seek out supplements. It’s not enough to give your dog or cat some chicken and rice every night—you’ll need extra vitamins, which might be achieved through mixing in different vegetables and grains, a powdered pet-food supplement or other add-ins recommended by your vet.
Make treats. They’re a good entry point into homemade foods. Here’s one quick recipe for dog treats: Mix 2 1/3 cups oatmeal, two mashed ripe bananas, one cup peanut butter and a half-cup chopped peanuts. Spoon batter onto cooking sheet, keeping each drop the size of a bottle cap — an optimal treat size. Cook at 375 for 12-15 minutes.
Among foods to avoid for your pet—raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and raw meat, which exposes dogs to risks, such as salmonella and E. coli. All meat should be cooked before feeding to your pet.
The bottom line: Home-cooked diets can be very healthy and rewarding for both owners and pets, but require a time commitment and consultation with a veterinarian.