The Best Foods for Your Pet
To achieve nutritional balance in your pet’s homemade diet, you must provide variety. And the key to planning a variety rich diet is to take your animal’s individuality into account.
While commercial food is designed to be universal, your homemade food is designed by you for your specific pet, within your own household culture. There truly is an art to creating meals for your individual cat or dog.
Personalizing Your Pet’s Meals
Every animal is an individual, and an ingredient that works for one animal may not agree with another; even littermates can have very different reactions to food. Allergies are one obvious reaction, but there are other, subtler,reactions to food that should be taken into account as you buildyour pet’s diet.
For example, ground chicken may be the perfect protein source for your gentle and slightly lazy cat, seemingly giving her extra energy and a friendlier disposition, but it may lead to extra nervousness and even anxiety in your other, more high-strung, cat.
You’ll want to consider the individual and personal needs of your specific pet as you create meal plans
To get started in personalizing your pet’s meals, you need to understand your pet’s history, personality, eating style, and more. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.
Your pet’s history is a good starting place for evaluating what your pet’s individual diet needs may be.
If you bought your kitten or puppy from a caring and responsible breeder and she has been nurtured and pampered all her life, you may not need to worry much about addressing health issues.
But you do want to know what the breeder was feeding and if there were any adverse reactions to certain foods. Also, try to find out if the parents of your kitten or puppy are healthy or if the breed itself tends to have certain genetic issues or diseases.
If you are adopting your animal from a shelter, you may not have any real background information available to you. Ask the people at the shelter to tell you as much as they can about the animal you are adopting.
Questions about how your new pet interacts with the other animals and how she eats, sleeps, and displays aggression or anxiety will help you make comparisons and allow you to build a historical profile.
Take this background information into consideration when thinking about your pet’s mealtimes; food and eating are huge parts of animals’ lives and can play a significant role in their emotional and social reactions.
For many animals, feeding time may be associated with stress and competition.
If you have a multiple-animal household, make sure you are aware of what is happening socially at feeding time, and if you see that one of your pets is becoming stressed, be ready to provide alternative feeding arrangements.
We worked with one client whose mixed-breed dog was experiencing constant diarrhea no matter what types of food we tried.
She was the only animal in the household, but she gulped her food and fretted and became snappy if anyone approached her while she was eating.
Apparently she had some experience in her background where feeding time was stressful and she couldn’t get over it.
We decided she needed privacy and reassurance and moved her feeding time out of the busy kitchen and into a small and dimly lit bathroom and closed the door.
The human family made sure to be relatively quiet and calm outside the bathroom while she ate.
At first, she continued the pattern, but after a couple of days, she started feeling comfortable enough to eat more slowly, and the diarrhea started to ease up.
A year later, she is now eating back in the kitchen and even sharing with us at the supper table, finally realizing that the stress from her past no longer exists.
If you find that your pet is experiencing stresses derived from the past, consider making some routine changes.
For example, if your cat was bullied by other cats in the past while eating, a good change might be to feed each animal in your household in a different room.
For genetically linked health issues, talk with your veterinarian—he or she should be able to give you nutritional advice.
A holistic or integrative veterinarian can provide detailed nutritional information you can apply to your individual pet.
Consider your pet’s food background. If your cat has only been fed kibbles or canned, mushy cat food, she may have no idea what to do if you present her with a whole chicken heart.
Introduce it gradually—start by grinding or finely chopping the heart; then once she’s used to that, start chopping it less and less, slowly working up to serving a whole one.
Don’t be discouraged if this doesn’t work out for your cat. My one cat will never get used to a whole heart; I have to chop it a little or she just bats it across the kitchen floor!
Also, you will be introducing all sorts of new flavors that your pet may love eventually, but may be nervous about when first introduced. Be prepared to be patient and creative.
You may find that the transition period to a new, homemade diet lasts longer than you expected.
Be aware that if you are switching from a commercial food to a homemade one—particularly from a grain-based, bulky food to a concentrated, mostly meat food—your pet will have to go through a certain amount of adjustment.
Your pet may feel cheated if he’s used to a big bowl of food and is now presented with a smaller serving of high-quality food.
Also, your pet’s metabolism may need some time to revamp itself and process the food properly.
You can make the transition easier by taking your time. Don’t rush it! You may be excited to start your pet on a new way of healthy eating, but take little steps.
Start by adding a couple spoonful of new food to your pet’s current food. Use simple ingredients with tastes and textures similar to what you’ve been feeding up until now.
You don’t want to overwhelm your pet. I know many pets, especially cats, who have become overwhelmed by too many new ingredients at once, were turned off from variety, and became suspicious at mealtime.
In addition to considering your pet’s past events and experiences, you must also take his or her personality into account.
Some animals are naturally nervous, while others are overtly friendly and easy-going. Sometimes a trait can seem like a genuine part of your pet’s personality but is really a reaction to certain foods.
With over hyper dogs, be especially aware of the percentage of carbohydrates in the diet. Often people associate protein in the diet with hyperactivity, but it is usually due to low-quality carbohydrates often found in commercial foods, which break down into sugars too quickly.
If your pet has this tendency, you’ll want to integrate higher percentages of protein into the diet. High-quality, meat-based protein provides energy, stamina, and well-being to most carnivores.
For a dog who appears fatigued and slow, higher-protein food would also provide natural energy.
Keep track of the amount of protein and the type of protein, and your pet’s reactions to it.
you may find that your pet is sluggish after eating a beef based meal and is vibrant and energetic after eating a chicken-based meal.
It is important to always be observing and critically assessing your pet’s reaction to the food you’re feeding.
Your pet’s food can affect his or her mental and emotional states as well.
I have seen many animals who were depressed or dealing with separation anxiety make remarkable improvements after they were switched to a homemade diet.
Energy Levels and Exercise
When you switch your pet from a commercial diet to a homemade one, you’ll probably notice that your pet is more energetic.
Providing regular exercise will not only help your pet burn off some of that energy but will also promote a more efficient and fully functioning metabolism for proper digestion.
Animals need exercise to feel at their best emotionally and physically.
But some animals don’t have the opportunity to get regular exercise, and as they age, they start to slow down more and more.
It is important to be aware of how much exercise and energy your animal puts out and adjust his meals accordingly.
This will help to prevent weight gain as well as hormonal imbalances
Your pet’s eating style can be very important when choosing meals. For instance, if you have a Labrador retriever who basically inhales his food in one gulp, you should avoid including chunks of bone and whole vegetables in his meals, and instead grind the bones and raw vegetables to promote better digestibility and avoid a choking hazard.
Grind chicken necks and other meat pieces that are small enough to be swallowed whole.
On the other hand, a Siberian husky who carefully chews and introspectively eats can be allowed such things as bony chunks and whole carrots in his meal because you know you can trust him to chew everything, and this introspective eater will enjoy the variety of textures.
It’s important to watch your pet’s reaction as you prepare the food and present him with his bowl.
Does he start eating before it even leaves your hand? Is the food gone within seconds? Watch his jaws and get a sense of how thoroughly he is chewing.
Most animals who eat too fast also don’t chew well. Cats and dogs are meant to use the chewing process to clean their teeth and to fully start the digestive processes and metabolism.
And finally, check the stool! If you can recognize bits and pieces of what he ate the day before, then you can assume he’s not chewing properly, and he’s not taking full advantage of all the nutrients in his meals.
Some pets who eat too fast are doing so because they are stressed. In that case, you need to eliminate stresses in the eating environment, such as other pets who might cause a competitive atmosphere.
You might also consider changing up the feeding routine to break your pet out of what has simply become the bad habit of gobbling his food. Try feeding a series of smaller meals in a row rather than one big meal.
At the other extreme, some cats and dogs like to browse at their food throughout the day, having a few bites, wandering off, and going back to it later.
If your pet is one of these super-slow eaters, make sure you are not feeding too much.
Is your animal at optimal weight? Keep in mind that fresh foods do not last as long as a bowl of kibble, so if you find the food is sitting out in the bowl all day, cut back to two half meals, keeping the second half in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it.
Breed is mainly an issue for dog owners. (Although a Persian cat and a Siamese cat may seem quite different, the differences between a dachshund and a Great Pyrenees are much more pronounced.)
Certain dog breeds have developed very different responses to food and how they metabolize it. Breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes, raised for centuries on an Arctic diet where zinc is plentiful, have rather restricted zinc metabolisms.
Most Alaskan Malamutes will need zinc supplementation to really thrive unless they are fed a diet that includes lots of Arctic elements such as salmon and seaweed.
By the same token, it also makes sense that dogs bred over time in hot desert and tropical environments may have trouble fully metabolizing the same food as Northern European hunting dogs.
For an ingredient to get metabolized fully and effectively, the body has to recognize the food.
Of course, all dogs are still canines and are very similar genetically, so I wouldn’t make the type of breed a huge influence in choosing foods for your dog, but it does feel very right to feed salmon to Malamutes and rabbits to Whippets
The size of dog can also make a difference in what you are feeding. For example, you wouldn’t give a Chihuahua a beef shank bone to chew on.
But it is also interesting to consider what size prey the dog would be able to bring down in the wild. This is one reason why many pet nutritionists are against using beef in homemade diets.
There are not many breeds of dog that can bring down a steer! And if they did bring down a large animal like that, they would be eating it for a long time—going back to the carcass as it starts to rot and break down.
This breaking down provides all sorts of nutrients and enzymes that you can actually integrate into a homemade diet without having to resort to a rotting steer carcass.
And keep in mind the history and purpose of the breed. In the example of Chihuahuas, they usually do very well on beef—probably because they were bred for households where they shared people food; this breed was never on its own in the wild.
I like the idea of feeding the meat of smaller animals to my dogs because I believe that in nature, they would have been eating lots of smaller animals. Even wolves eat mostly mouse- and rabbit-size prey.
Unlike dogs, cats are all similar in size and well connected to their original wild roots. Cats will catch and eat things that range in size from bugs to rabbits.
Although I watched my neighbor’s cat stalking a deer and chasing it, there is no way he could have actually killed it for dinner. The deer wasn’t so sure, though!
So while I wonder how good it is to feed large-animal meat like beef to such small predators, I also want to emphasize that every pet is an individual. If you find that beef works well for your pet, then go with it.
Dogs and cats have evolved with humans, and beef and other large game has been a staple in human diets and has been shared with household pets for hundreds of years.
That is also why I believe dogs and cats can thrive on foods such as dairy, grains, and vegetables that are unavailable to their counterparts in the wild.
A Word about Portion Size
There are many things to take into consideration when determining the amount of food you should be feeding your pet: the size, breed, and build of your pet; whether he or she is spayed or neutered; your pet’s activity level; the food quality; your pet’s temperament/nervousness level; your pet’s age; even the weather and climate.
Some foods will have a tendency to make some animals gain weight, and the amount you will need to feed will probably change throughout the course of your pet’s life.
The best way to determine the right quantity of food is to observe your pet and become familiar with his weight and structure.
Feel along his sides— how do his ribs feel? Some breeds such as greyhounds should have prominent ribs, but for most breeds of cats and dogs, the ribs should be about as prominent as a human’s.
Are his hip bones sticking out or snugly nestled in the flesh? Next, feel his spine. Can you feel knobbiness? Are the vertebrae protruding dramatically?
If you’re not sure what a healthy structure should feel like, ask your veterinarian to show you on your own animal. If you familiarize yourself with your pet’s body structure, you won’t get food amounts wrong.
You’ll quickly notice if your pet is feeling chubby, and then you can reduce the amount of food or choose foods that are less likely to cause weight gain, and provide more opportunities for your pet to exercise.
And, of course, if your pet begins to look too skinny or acts hungry after finishing a meal, you’ll know to add a bit more food.
In general, the nutritional needs of cats and dogs don’t change much as they mature. But you will see your pet’s food responses changing over time.
As a result, your meal planning will be a constantly changing and evolving art, and it’s up to you to be observant and reactive
The Best Foods For Your Kittens and Puppies:
Starting Out on the Right Track Kittens and puppies give you the opportunity to start from the very beginning with an all-natural, clean diet and lifestyle.
Although it is never too late to change a cat or dog over to a natural homemade diet, it is nice to be able to give such protection from the very start.
In the wild, baby animals basically eat the same diets as their parents. If your kitten or puppy is old enough to no longer require nursing, you won’t need to add extra dairy to the diet.
You may need to chop or grind the food up more, though. Kittens and puppies are impressionable—this is the age when many habits are formed, so be proactive with foods.
I put extra effort into exposing kittens and puppies to new foods and ingredients while they are young and open to such things.
Keep mealtimes calm and peaceful, add different textures for chewing, and introduce them to bones to start gnawing with their baby teeth.
It is important to allow them to become familiar with bones and learn now how to chew them safely, so once their adult teeth and strength come in, you’ll be much more confident about giving them whole bones.
I believe that one of the main reasons why so many adult dogs tend to splinter and crack bones is because they were not exposed to bones as puppies. They simply don’t know how to go about chewing them safely
I also believe that kittens and puppies should never eat so much in one meal that their sides stick out. It is much healthier to feed a series of small meals than a couple of overly large ones.
Keep in mind that your kitten or puppy has just gone through the most stressful period of her life, being separated from her mother, littermates, and original home.
The stress may make her seem overly hungry or competitive for food, so, again, I emphasize that it is important to keep everything as peaceful as possible
Considering all the changes kittens and puppies are going through, I like to add stomach-settling and calming ingredients to their food.
Slippery elm bark is an herbal soother for your pet’s digestive system, which is undergoing tremendous changes between weaning and joining your household.
The smell of it now always reminds me of puppies! Simply mix 2 tablespoons (9 g) of powder into every 2 cups (400 g) of food at least for the first two weeks after you bring your puppy or kitten home. Then you can cut back to 1 tablespoon (4.5 g) for the following two weeks.
I feed kittens and puppies more cooked and mashed vegetable matter rather than raw, ground vegetables.
In particular, I feed extra cooked carrots. I also add almond butter to their meals. If you feed grain, put the grain through a food processor for very young kittens and puppies, so the pieces are smaller.
You’ll have to keep a close eye while cooking these grains, though, because they will cook much faster than whole grains
Never Too Late: New Energy for Older Pets
As with kittens and puppies, older animals in the wild also don’t change their diets as they age.
If you have been feeding your pet a good natural diet, the only major change you may need to make is to cut back on the amount of food if your older animal starts to put on excess weight.
You may feel bad about doing so, but do not let your older animals become obese; this is extremely detrimental. As cats and, especially, dogs age, their joints are not as lubricated as when they were younger, and excess weight on the joints can damage and stress them dramatically.
Also, take a good look at the routines of your older pets. Many people and animals fall into a routine over the years, barely realizing that outside exercise time has been cut short.
Make an extra effort to ensure your older pet is getting ample and appropriate exercise Older animals may have health issues, which can be affected by diet.
If so, be sure to work with your veterinarian to design a diet that addresses these issues in a safe way It is never too late to transition an older pet to a natural, homemade diet.
Work gradually, just as you would with a younger cat or dog. You can make a big difference in your older animal’s vitality and liveliness with new foods.
Just adding whole, fresh foods to the regular kibble can add a lot of nutrients and variety, and will be interesting and fun for your older pet.
There are some things to consider when switching an older pet from a commercial, kibble-based diet to a new, fresh foods diet.
An older cat or dog may take longer to adjust, may be more finicky, and will most likely need more time and patience on your part.
If you want to feed whole bones, check the teeth of your elderly animal; you may have to grind the bones, depending on how healthy your pet’s teeth are.
Consider the addition of probiotics and extra digestive enzymes to aid in the transition. I also feed my older dogs more vitamin C and give a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement with their meals.
Although it may seem a bit stressful to change an older animal over to a new diet, it is worth it. I have seen so many older cats and dogs get a second wind once they have changed to a homemade, natural diet.
All or Nothing?
Combining Homemade and Commercial Foods Don’t assume that feeding your pet a homemade diet has to be an all-or-nothing routine.
You can make a huge difference in your pet’s health by supplementing a good commercial diet with whole-food side dishes.
Buy the best-quality ingredients you can afford and focus on nutrient-rich foods. An egg, a scoop of canned fish, a steamed carrot, a dollop of yogurt, or some fresh chicken liver are perfect additions to a meal of commercial food.
With very little work and expense, you can really elevate the nutritional level of each meal.
Even small additions to your pet’s diet can have big effects health wise; if your pet has the building blocks of a variety of healthy nutrients in her system, then she will be able to compensate for any unhealthy ingredients or foods.
For instance, if your cat has always had a healthy diet and a friend comes over and gives her a commercial cat treat full of horrible preservatives, sugar, and artificial flavors, you don’t need to worry.
You can feel confident that your cat has the nutritional building blocks in her system to handle the onslaught of the bad food.
Also, by adding fresh ingredients to your pet’s commercial food, you won’t unbalance anything, despite the claims of the commercial brands’ advertising and marketing.
But because commercial diets are in general designed to provide a full balance of nutrients in one serving, I would suggest that to be safe, don’t add more than 25 percent extra ingredients on a regular basis.
For example, if the maker of your commercial food recommends that you feed your golden retriever 2 cups of canned food (400 g) per day, then when you want to add some canned salmon, feed 1⁄2 cup (113 g) of canned salmon and about 11⁄3 cups (287 g) of the commercial food. If you increase it to 50 percent fresh food one or two days per week, that’s okay.
Your pet’s nutrient balance won’t be thrown off by one or two meals. You always have to keep the big picture in mind—what your meals look like for the week and for the entire month.
Also, keep in mind that the more variety you have in your additions, the less you have to worry about percentages.
If you’re adding some canned salmon, some tahini, a spoonful of honey, and an egg, the balance starts working itself out perfectly.
Another way to integrate the two diets is to feed a commercial diet four days a week and mix your own homemade meals three days a week.
One piece of advice: I would avoid adding too many carbohydrates as supplements to a commercial diet, because most commercial diets are already too high in carbs.
But if you’re using a high-protein/high-meat commercial diet, then adding ingredients such as carrots, barley, steamed broccoli, beet juice, oatmeal, etc., would be ideal.
There are a lot of great new commercial diets out there, and many are specifically designed to allow you to add extras.
Integrating Homemade Meals
When deciding to make homemade pet meals, be sure you take into account the time you have, your space, and the needs of other members of your household.
Here’s a list of homemade recipes that can be prepped beforehand and be stored for up to a month and still maintain freshness.
These things will play a role in determining the kind of food you make and what ingredients you use.
For example, grinding chicken necks in a meat grinder makes a mess, requires that the grinder be cleaned, and demands that you schedule time to defrost the necks.
You can approach this issue by planning ahead or doing big batches at one time, or maybe you will have to decide against making recipes that include ground raw chicken necks.
There are plenty of great meals to choose from, so don’t feel that you have to use a specific recipe in order to give your pet optimum nutrition.
Observing Your Pet’s Reaction
Consciously observing your pet and actively comparing different responses to various foods is probably the most important aspect of individualizing your homemade diet.
The first six months to a year of a homemade diet is a particularly important time to be observant. But this awareness of your pet’s well-being really is something that is lifelong. Most pets transition very easily to a homemade diet.
But depending on your pet’s eating background and age, he may need time to get accustomed to the new diet and get his health up to where it naturally should be.
I recommend that you start gradually, by adding one new ingredient to whatever your pet’s regular meal has been, and do this for a couple of days.
Note any reactions (good or bad) to the new addition. If you see negative reactions such as diarrhea, stop and go back to the old way of feeding for a few more days.
Then try a different new food or a little less of the new food.
Make note of anxiety and energy levels, too. If you see allergic reactions or dramatically negative reactions, stop adding new foods and go back to the original way of feeding until everything gets back to normal.
This process may take a while, but it will be worth it! Trust me