The most significant pet food recall in the history of the North American pet food industry (e.g., melamine contamination, 2007) resulted in several changes that are still prominent more than a decade later. The first involves many (if not most) pet food manufacturers paying closer attention to ingredient sourcing, manufacturing procedures, quality control and the traceability of their finished products. The second change involves an increasing number of dog and cat owners across North America opting to feed ‘alternative’ diets (including homemade diets) rather than exclusively feeding commercial kibble or canned pet food. There are several reasons hypothesized or suspected for the increasing trend toward homemade or alternative diets, including pet owners who seek a greater sense of control in selecting ingredients, perhaps in part because they have lost trust in the safety of commercial pet foods.
A review of the 2018 FDA recall archives revealed 386 product recalls, market withdrawals or safety alerts for products ranging from pet food and treats to homeopathic medicines, nasal products, baby oral gels, tampons, shaving cream, sterile injectable drug products and vacutainer tubes.1 Last year, the human food products that were recalled ranged from sea salt caramels, cage free eggs, pumpkin seeds, raw coconut and organic almond butter to non-fat yogurt, cheese, cake mixes, white beans, curry powder, protein shakes, bread, pistachios, Asian fusion cookies, tortilla chips, loose leaf tea, crackers, frozen broccoli, farm-raised frozen tilapia, canned leaf spinach, and hot dog chili sauce.1
Of the 386 product recalls in a single year, just over 11% (43/386) were associated with 35 different brands of pet food. Approximately 65% (28/43) were associated with fresh or frozen raw products suspected to be contaminated with one or more of three organisms: Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria monocytogenes. While most of us could agree there should be better regulations for testing commercial pet foods in North America, there are at least some protocols and guidelines in place. The same statement cannot be said for ‘alternative’ or homemade diets.
A handful of studies—published between 2001 and 2014—have examined the nutritional adequacy and use of home-prepared diets for both healthy pets and those with diseases such as cancer or chronic kidney disease. Results of these reports suggest three major reasons why we should be concerned: Nutrient profiles of the vast majority of recipes are in excess or deficient in one or more nutrients; many pet owners do not follow recipe instructions; and/or many pet owners deviate over time from the original recipe.2-8
While there is no objective evidence in the scientific literature to support the idea that feeding homemade diets can produce significant health outcomes for dogs or cats, there have been several case reports demonstrating unbalanced or improperly fed homemade diets can directly lead to serious health conditions such as osteopenia, hypervitaminosis A, vitamin D deficiency, and nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism.9-14 The committed owner must understand the time involved as well as the financial investment for one or more balanced recipes, the daily purchase of ingredients and supplies (e.g., Gram scale), and an appropriate vitamin-mineral supplement. While there are many vitamin-mineral products available online and through pet stores or veterinary clinics, not all supplements are adequate to achieve a balanced formulation. Below is a list of vitamin-mineral supplements formulated or designed specifically by board certified veterinary nutritionists.
Vitamin-Mineral Supplements Formulated by Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionists
BalanceIt—Designed by Dr. Sean Delaney—has been available for over 10 years at www.balanceit.com. Costs of canine and feline products range between $60 and $70 per container. Depending on the pet’s size, one container can last from 3 to 6 weeks. Products are available for both dogs and cats, and products are available for healthy animals as well as those with certain medical conditions.
Chef Canine Complete—Designed by Dr. Rebecca Remillard for MyPetGrocer—can be purchased at: www.mypetgrocer.com. Canine adult product on the market for 6 years; puppy product introduced in late 2018. Products cost about $30 for 1-lb package, and one package can last from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on size of the dog.
Cuisine-a-Croc—Products designed by Dr. Geraldine Blanchard—canine and feline products are available in France at https://cuisine-a-crocs.com/en. Costs may be prohibitive to ship to North or South America.
Integrative Veterinary Innovations—Products designed by Dr. Justin Shmalberg and available online at www.ivinutrition.com. Company is less than 2 years old; canine and feline products (iviblend) are available to pet owners via their authorized veterinarian; specific pricing available by writing directly to the company.
Wagtritious—Designed by Dr. Edward Moser—canine products are available on line at www.wagtritious.com. Company is less than 2 years old. Specific pricing is available by writing to the company.
Resources for Balanced Recipes
www.acvn.org (American College of Veterinary Nutrition)
Monitoring Dogs and Cats on ‘Alternative’ Diets
Healthy dogs and cats fed alternative (homemade) diets should be evaluated every 6 months, while those with medical conditions should be assessed once every 3 or 4 months. Documentation should include your findings from a thorough physical examination, body weight check, body condition score, muscle condition and baseline bloodwork and urinalysis. A complete review of what is being fed each day, amounts and frequency of feedings will also be important. Clients should be asked to keep a 3- or 5-day food diary prior to each recheck appointment; someone from your health care team should carefully examine the food diary to identify ingredient substitutions and tally up calories fed and consumed each day. In addition to overall energy and appetite, the animal’s stool quality and skin and hair coat should be assessed. Trends in body weight, body condition and muscle condition should be noted and discussed with the owner. It is also recommended to perform an ophthalmic exam and blood work to monitor albumin level, red blood cell numbers, hemoglobin concentration, protein status and trace mineral status.15
An in-depth presentation of how to evaluate alternative diet requests was first outlined 5 years ago;16 these instructions and recommendations remain equally relevant at the present time with the ongoing popularity of feeding dogs and cats homemade diets. Veterinary health care teams can and should improve their nutrition counseling services offered by committing to regular and consistent communication and stronger support of pet owners who wish to feed an alternative diet.
1. 2018 FDA recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts. Accessed on March 14, 2019 www.fda.gov/safety/recalls/archiverecalls/2018/default.htm
2. Freeman LM, Michel KE. Evaluation of raw food diets for dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001;218:705–709.
3. Streiff EL, Zwischemberger B, Butterwick RF, Wagner E, Iben C, Bauer JE. A comparison of the nutritional adequacy of home-prepared and commercial diets for dogs. J Nutr. 2002;132:1698S–1700S.
4. Niza MM, Vilela CL, Ferreira LM. Feline pansteatitis revisited: hazards of unbalanced home-made diets. J Feline Med Surg. 2003;5:271–277.
5. Heinze CR, Gomez FC, Freeman LM, Assessment of commercial diets and recipes for home-prepared diets recommended for dogs with cancer. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012;241:1453–1460.
6. Larsen JA, Parks EM, Heinze CA, Fascetti AJ. Evaluation of recipes for home-prepared diets for dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012;240:532–538.
7. Stockman J, Fascetti AJ, Kass PH, Larsen JA, Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;242:1500–1505.
8. Oliveira MCC, Brunetto MA, da Silva FL, Jeremias JT, et. al. Evaluation of the owner’s perception in the use of homemade diets for the nutritional management of dogs. J Nutr Sci. 2014;3:1–5.
9. Polizpoulou ZS, Kazakos G, Patsikas MN, et al. Hypervitaminosis A in the cat: a case report and review of the literature. J Feline Med Surg. 2005;7:363–368.
10. McMillan CJ, Griffon DJ, Marks SL, et al. Dietary-related skeletal changes in a Shetland Sheepdog puppy. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2006;42:57–64.
11. De Fornel-Thibaud P, Blanchard G, Escoffier-Chateau L, et al. Unusual case of osteopenia associated with nutritional calcium and vitamin D deficiency in an adult dog. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2007;43:52–60.
12. Taylor MB, Geiger DA, Saker KE, et al. Diffuse osteopenia and myelopathy in a puppy fed a diet composed of an organic premix and raw ground beef. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2009;234:1041–1048.
13. Hutchinson D, Freeman L, McCarthy R, et al. Seizures and severe nutrient deficiencies in a puppy fed a homemade diet. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012;241:477–483.
14. Tal M, MacKenzi S, Parr J, et al. Dietary imbalances in a large breed puppy, leading to compression fractures, vitamin D deficiency, and suspected nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. Can Vet J. 2018;59:36–42.
15. Remillard RL. Homemade diets: Attributes, pitfalls, and a call for action. Top Companion Anim Med. 2008;23:137–142.
16. Parr JM, Remillard RL. Handling alternative diet requests from pet owners. Vet Clin Small Anim. 2014;44: 667–688.