“Should I feed my pet a commercial or homemade diet?” This is one of the most common questions I am asked by pet owners. The battle between commercial and homemade diets is a keenly contested one. The pet owner should have a sound understanding of the pros and cons of both diets before they subject one or the other to their pet. However, most owners will feed a combination of both to their dog or cat.
There is no one correct answer that will suit every owner or every pet. However, with a little bit of guidance, pet owners can determine the right solution for them.
Commercial Pet Foods
A dog or cat should always be fed a diet suitable for his or her life stage. High quality commercial diets are generally nutritionally complete and balanced, containing all necessary vitamins and minerals. They are formulated specifically for the life stage (puppy, adult, senior), size (toy and small breed, standard, or large and giant breed) and medical conditions of the dog or cat. All the hard work as been done for you by the pet food company.
Dry (kibble or biscuit) food is nutritionally similar to canned food, but is usually cheaper and encourages better dental development.
The quality of the food is important. There are significant differences between budget (supermarket) food and the premium range.
Dog food shouldn’t be used for cats and vice versa – they have different nutritional requirements.
A good diet should be complete and balanced. Look for an AAFCO (American Feed Control Officials) statement on the side of the packet. This confirms that the food has been tried and tested, and is proven to be healthy and balanced.
Homemade Pet Foods
Homemade diets can be an excellent choice for feeding your dog or cat, as long as the diet is made to a specific recipe and is nutritionally complete.
Homemade diets are often much more difficult to formulate and prepare, and are usually more expensive than a commercial diet. They are usually quite labour intensive.
It is very important to ensure that all necessary minerals and vitamins are present in the correct amounts and ratios when formulating a homemade diet. An unbalanced diet can have serious adverse effects on your pet’s health. This is especially important for cats.
It is most difficult to formulate a nutritionally complete and balanced diet with sufficient nutrient density in a small volume of food that is palatable for cats (we all know they are very fussy!)
For dogs and cats with food allergies or intolerances, homemade diets are advantageous where the protein sources can be selected for the pet’s needs. Common food allergens include beef, chicken, dairy, soy and wheat.
Note that plain meat or meat and rice (even with vitamin supplements) is not a complete or balanced diet.
If you choose to feed your pet only a homemade diet, it is very important that the diet is nutritionally complete with essential vitamins and minerals. Seeking the advice of a veterinary nutritionist is strongly advised. Additionally, there are a number of useful websites such as www.BalanceIT.com and www.petdiets.com that will formulate home made recipes based on your pet's age, breed, medical conditions and what carbohydrate and protein sources you have available.
Putting it all together… the pet owner should weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of both diets and make an informed decision for their pet. As always, your regular veterinarian is the most informed person to guide you on what is appropriate for your pet’s needs.
Dr James Crowley BVSc (Hons)
Small Animal Veterinarian at Allambie Vet on Sydney’s Northern Beaches
Channel 9 Today Show
Regular contributor to pet magazines such as PETS and Dogs Life magazines
I previously operated my own website with a colleague of mine called VETsharp - aiming to provide pet owners with relevant information and advice in the form of articles, photos and videos.
Strong social media presence. Instagram: @jimmycrowls. Snapchat: jimmy_crowls