Author: Dr. Clarissa G. Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS
A new study was just published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) that explored the nutritional adequacy of recipes for home-prepared maintenance diets for cats (Wilson, S.A. et.al. 2019). The bottom line: in all the home-prepared maintenance diets (HPMD) evaluated, there were nutritional problems.
Let’s take a step back from this conclusion for just a moment to understand some of the reasons why owners might consider feeding homemade diets:
- The pet is a picky eater.
- Cost of some brands of pet foods.
- Desire to use organics/ natural approach.
- Medical conditions that may be managed with a nutritional component.
- Pet has not tolerated multiple brands that the owner has tried (i.e. developed vomiting and/or diarrhea) .
- Concern for food allergies.
Now, in this study, the authors were looking at maintenance diets in cats. So they were not evaluating, for example, homemade diets for animals with medical conditions. The study utilized computer software to determine the nutrient content of HPMD recipes. The content was then compared to the National Research Council’s (NRC) Recommended Allowances (RAs) for adult cat essential nutrients. The study also took into account who authored the HPMD (veterinarian versus non-veterinarian) as well as what additional supplementation may have been recommended.
The nutrients that the study found were most frequently below RAs included choline, iron, thiamine, zinc, manganese, vitamin E and copper. Additional concerns were also found in some of the recipes. For example, foods known to be toxic to cats (garlic, onions, leeks) were included in some of the recipes. Some recipes that included raw ingredients failed to mention the risk of bacterial or other pathogen contamination that could make the pet sick and also create zoonotic disease risk. Some recipes containing bones failed to advise that the bones should be ground prior to feeding to decrease the risk of tooth injury or gastrointestinal obstruction/ perforation.
The paper concluded: “Problems with nutritional adequacy were identified in all evaluated HPMD recipes. Appropriate formulation of HPMDs requires specialized knowledge of nutrition and use of computer software to avoid potentially harmful nutrient deficiencies.” In the discussion section, the authors also purport that the results of this study are consistent with results of similar recipe studies on homemade diets for dogs.
In closing, here are some important takeaways:
- Problems with nutritional adequacy are a concern in homemade diets.
- Consideration should be given to the source and information in the diet. Does it have sound veterinary recommendations, or does it include items that may be harmful to the pet?
- Seeking the knowledge of a veterinary nutritionist can be helpful in the evaluation of the nutritional adequacy of the diet.
- Homemade diets are not impossible to use for long-term maintenance, but they must come with a commitment of time and diligence from the pet owner.
- Wilson, S.A., Villaverde, C., Fascetti, A.J. and J.A. Larsen. 2019. Evaluation of the nutritional adequacy of recipes for home-prepared maintenance diets for cats. JAVMA 254(10): 1172-1179,