Raw, Homemade or Commercial Diets: What to Consider When Choosing a Diet for your Pup

Contributed to GoFetch by: Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, PhD, RD Senior Nutritionist, Petcurean

As a dog owner, you probably know there is a lot of choice when it comes to pet food. Whether it’s a raw, homemade or commercial diets, we all want to provide our pets with healthy and flavorful food that helps them thrive.

But with so many options, it can be hard to choose which type of nutritious diet is best for your dog. Here’s a snapshot of some common food choices and what to consider when selecting a diet for your pup.

Commercial Kibble and Wet Foods – Transparency in Ingredient Sourcing is Key

When selecting commercially-made kibble or wet food (e.g. canned), reading the label is paramount. This helps you to determine what is in the food and its nutritional content.

While labels are important, they don’t contain everything you need to know to make the healthiest choice for your pet. When purchasing food, it’s important to look for companies that are proactive about disclosing the source of ingredients in their foods. They should also tell you where and how that food was manufactured. Choose a company that employs a qualified nutritionist who formulates each recipe.

Commercial foods offer many benefits. The wide range of diets available allow you to select a food that works best for your dog. Foods that have been formulated by a qualified nutritionist provide reassurance that the food contains all of the nutrients that your dog requires. The cooking process used to make kibble and canned foods can improve digestibility of many nutrients and safeguards against the presence of pathogenic bacteria to make sure the food is safe for both your pet and your family. Commercial kibble and canned foods are also convenient and economical.

Homemade – Particularly Helpful for Pups with Food Sensitivities

Some pet parents opt to make their pet’s food from scratch. The biggest benefit is that you will know all of the ingredients in the food. This can be particularly beneficial for pets with food sensitivities. Also, a homemade elimination diet can be helpful in determining which ingredients may be causing a negative reaction.

For pets that are not feeling well, a homemade diet can also be beneficial to help increase palatability. Additionally, homemade diets may be suitable for certain health conditions that require controlled nutrient levels.

However, going the homemade route requires education. Many homemade diets are not properly balanced to contain the correct amount of essential nutrients. You will need to learn which nutrients your dog needs for a balanced diet, and the appropriate portion for their body weight and age. You will also need to learn about supplements as you may need to use them to ensure your pup is getting exactly what he or she needs. Homemade pet food recipes should be developed by a qualified nutritionist.

Raw food – Requires Input from Nutritionist to Ensure Nutritional Adequacy

A raw diet typically includes meat with or without the bones, organ meats, raw eggs and sometimes fruits (i.e. apples) and vegetables (i.e. spinach, celery). Raw diets have become increasingly popular with advocates claiming benefits such as improved longevity to superior oral or general health and even disease resolution (especially gastrointestinal and immune-mediated disease).

One of the concerns with raw meat is that it hasn’t been subjected to a heat treatment to kill pathogenic bacteria, and could present a food safety risk to both pets and humans. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and the Public Health Agency of Canada have published statements advising against the use of raw food diets for pets. They state that the potential health risks outweigh any perceived benefits of feeding a raw diet.

If you do choose to feed a raw diet, make sure to follow strict food safety procedures, including keeping the meat frozen or refrigerated at all times, preventing cross-contamination, and thoroughly washing your hands, dishes and preparation areas with hot soapy water after contact. It is also essential that raw diets are formulated by a qualified nutritionist to guarantee nutritional adequacy.

The Bottom Line: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

There’s no single answer that works for every dog. And what works for your friend’s dog may not work for yours. When determining if a diet is working for your pet, look for adequate energy levels, bright eyes, healthy skin and coat, and an ideal body weight. Itchy skin, paw licking, vomiting and diarrhea are potential signs of food sensitivities. If your pet is exhibiting these symptoms, you may need to consider making a dietary switch.

Your vet is a great resource to help you determine what works and doesn’t work for your pup. By working with your vet along with doing some of your own research and closely monitoring your pet, you can make informed choices about which diet to choose, whether it’s a commercial brand, or something you prepare yourself.

When it comes to diet, dogs are like humans – one size doesn’t fit all. It may be a process to find the right fit, but the result will be worth it with a thriving, happy pup.

About the Author: 
Dr. Jennifer Adolphe graduated with her PhD in companion animal nutrition from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She has a Master of Science degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian. She is currently the Senior Nutritionist at Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a Canadian, family-owned company committed to offering superior quality pet foods.

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