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Posted on Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Study on homemade pet food recipes finds that most are nutritionally incomplete

By Lorrie Shaw

EraPhernalia Vintage dog kitchen.jpg

Flickr photo by EraPhernalia Village

“I can’t believe that as someone who knows as much as you do about the pet food industry, that you don’t feed a homemade diet,” an acquaintance of mine asserted a few months ago.

“Doing otherwise is so risky…”

I think it’s safe to say that the topic of the diet of companion animals evokes a lot of emotion in pet owners.

It’s no surprise, really.

Although the pet food industry was branching and embracing a holistic, natural approach a few years ago, the largest pet food recall in history surely propelled the movement to consider what pets are eating everyday a bit more closely. Then, a far-reaching recall involving Diamond Pet Foods seemed to be the tipping point for a lot of people.

It’s one thing for quality control tests to occasionally find salmonella contamination in a batch of food, but as many of you have noted in your emails and phone calls to me, for one company to overlook such huge lapses in the safety and quality during production is alarming.

Months and months later, I am still getting telephone calls from people regarding the Diamond recall. Several of these calls involved pets that were believed to have died as a result of consuming food produced by the company.

People want to feel empowered that the choices that they are making on behalf of their dogs and cats are the right ones, so it seems natural that they’ll be willing to choose what they deem to be wholesome and healthy — and if they are controlling the ingredients, they feel, ‘so much the better’. There's nothing wrong with that, certainly.

Enter the popularity of feeding raw diets (especially with the availability of formulas that are now commercially available) or at the very least offering food that is made at home.

It seems that one can’t pick up a magazine geared toward pets or surf the web without finding at least one article or blog post touting the benefits of homemade pet diets, right along with recipes.

This prompted researchers at University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine to do a study on recipes for home cooked pet diets, and the results were released in the June issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Jennifer Larsen, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis and Jonathan Stockman, a veterinary doctor and second-year resident in clinical nutrition at UC Davis, selected 200 recipes from more than 30 sources, including pet care books, websites — even veterinary textbooks.

The findings are bound to set off some fireworks.

"The results of this study, however, indicate that most available recipes for healthy dogs, even those published in books by veterinarians, do not provide essential nutrients in the quantities required by the dog," Larsen noted.

"It is extremely difficult for the average pet owner—or even veterinarians—to come up with balanced recipes to create appropriate meals that are safe for long-term use."

The conclusion of the study? Out of 200 recipes, only nine provided all essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards established for adult dogs by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Eight of those recipes were written by veterinarians.

Only four of the 200 recipes could pass muster when it came to meeting acceptable nutrient profiles of the AAFCO and the National Research Council's minimum requirements.

Those four recipes were written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists.

Commonly found nutrient deficiencies were linked to choline, vitamin D, zinc and vitamin E and could possibly result in profound health issues like immune dysfunction.

Many stick to the idea that as long as recipes are rotated, any deficiencies that might occur with one specific recipe can be avoided with the "balance over time" concept.

Larsen, who is lead author on the study, says that’s hard to achieve, since most of the recipes share many of the same nutrient deficiencies.

So how can pet owners be empowered and equally mindful?

Larsen makes clear that "homemade food is a great option for many pets, but we recommend that owners avoid general recipes from books and the Internet and instead consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.”

"These specialists have advanced training in nutrition to help formulate customized and nutritionally appropriate recipes."

Click here to read more on the findings of the study.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for and is owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.



Sat, Aug 10, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

Best PR campaign strategy ever! Partner with a major university; create your own proprietary measuring tool, measure competitors to your standards instead of the well accepted Gold Standard, then publish in a major journal like JAVMA posing as science. Sorry JAVMA, but you've been fooled, and are being used as a tool for publicity. These are the same tactics and pseudoscience that has been used by the same industry for too long now. It needs to end. One of the authors of this study is an owner of the Balance It balancing system. This is also the autobalancer used by the research team and UC Davis to make their diets. Does it seem strange to anyone else that the very researcher involved in the study, and for that matter the research team and very university, has a financial gain in finding 200+ other methods for making a homemade diet, including those of 120+ veterinarians as inferior to their own? Balance it founders are linked to Natura Pet Products, Inc. and Procter & Gamble. This "study" is essentially a Press Release from UC Davis attempting to stop people from making potentially more wholesome diets at home. Vets should be outraged that this group is trying to kill a trend toward more wholesome options instead of supporting them. It is essentially the same as a reputable human doctor fighting tooth and nail for some "Balanced Human Kibble" or processed "Human Meal Replacement Powder" against a balanced whole meal, simply because he's part owner and his parent company is Proctor and Gamble. It wouldn't make any sense there, and it makes no sense here. There are many flaws with this study including: 1) potential conflict of interest 2) novel methodology that has not been used before 3) proprietary methods 4) small sample sizes used to make very large generalizations (only 15 diets were actually prepared and lab tested, but 200+ were claimed to have been concluded on.


Mon, Jul 29, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

I think that it's easy to focus on the amounts and types of protein, carbohydrates, etc in our pets' food, simply because that is what we are used to doing for ourselves. However, as Lorrie pointed out in this article, animals have requirements for vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids that need to be met to avoid health issues. This is where you need to be extremely careful if you choose to feed your animal a homemade diet - I would urge anyone who wishes to do so to do it correctly and consult a veterinary nutritionist. They should be able to recommend you recipes which are complete and balanced - i.e. they will provide your pet with all the nutrients they require in the correct proportions.


Mon, Jul 29, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

You would have to buy a lot of those vitamins just to add something nutritious to the dog food that you are making homemade. Science Diet has never been on the recall list. But every other one has. I don't do homemade because the people at this company? When you have a question or problem? They are there to listen. Lets keep our pets healthy.


Mon, Jul 29, 2013 : 12:25 a.m.

This study should not set off any fireworks, as several similar studies have been published in the past. No doctor would tell her human patients to eat only highly processed food. The highest level of canine and feline nutrition standards in the US is published by the National Research Council. It is telling this study did not even disclose the recipes supposedly studied. It would be a more credible study if it identified quality sources of information. and are good sources of information. Also, simply look for a book on canine or feline nutrition based on NRC guidelines.


Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

I'm so glad to see this article. The non-science in the alternative pet food movement is appalling. I hate to see animals mistreated through ignorance.


Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 2:18 p.m.

Don't include the good recipes or anything Why would we want that? Just tell us that most recipes are terrible. Nice.

Lorrie Shaw

Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

I should also note that the authors of the study emphasized that if one is inclined to feed their pet a strictly home cooked diet, it is best for them to have a consultation with a veterinary nutritionist so that their pet's individual needs can be assessed properly. Not all home cooked diet recipes are created equal.

Lorrie Shaw

Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

beard: The study did not disclose which of the recipes were optimally suited for pets, and that may have been intentional (perhaps the authors of the study did not want to show partiality). In my research, I wasn't able to dig up that information. However, if one is intent on learning how to feed their pet with a homemade diet, it shouldn't be too hard to do some research, since the four recipes that were found to be the best were written by veterinary nutritionists. I hope that helps! Lorrie


Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

That was supposed to be a thumbs up! Grrr.


Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

I hope that veterinary nutritionists are better than human nutritionists, because the official guidelines for human nutrition are insane. Given all the cereal fillers and what not in your average store bought kibble I'm doubtful.

Lorrie Shaw

Sun, Jul 28, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

Technojunkie: Vet nutritionists are awesome and yes, there are those that have practices locally. As far as the study goes, the nutrient profiles were under scrutiny. Also, there is some dissent about grains, carbs, etc being included in pet food in the veterinary field. I'll wager that one would be hard-pressed to find a group of veterinary nutritionists that could agree on the amounts of carbs, protein and fat that a kibble should contain. The reason? As any one of them will note, each animal regardless of species, age, breed and health profile has different needs. Thanks for pointing that out! Lorrie