Features July 2002 Issue

Commercail Dog Food or Homemade?

The risks and benefits of commercial and home-prepared diets.

Everyone who cares about their dogs wants to feed them “good food.” By and large, our readers – and a growing number of non-subscribing dog owners – want to take that one step further. They have learned that improving a dog’s diet can result in improved health. So they want to feed their dogs the very best diet that money can buy.

So far, so good. We love people who love their dogs and want to take care of them in the best way they can.

Unfortunately, for some strange reason, when it comes to a discussion of the relative merits of top-quality store-bought food versus top-quality homemade diets, otherwise rational people have been known to lose their cool.

At conferences, rooms full of concerned dog owners and dedicated canine nutrition experts have exploded into shouted arguments while debating minute aspects of the topic. At dog parks, casual conversations have ended in pointed recriminations, and dogs get whisked into cars, fast.

It’s obvious to us that good-quality commercial and home-prepared diets offer certain advantages and disadvantages to dogs and their guardians. And before you decide “what’s best” for your dog, we suggest that you familiarize yourself with all of the arguments, pro and con, complete with rebuttals.

How commercial foods replaced homemade
The commercial pet food industry began manufacturing dog food to meet a nationally accepted standard of nutritional requirements only in 1953. The industry itself is only about 100 years old; before that, all pets were fed home-prepared diets, and with enough success, apparently, that the species is still hanging out with us today.

The fact that the industry has enjoyed such fantastic success is due to many factors. Many of us are too busy to shop and cook for ourselves, much less our dogs. Many people believe the slogans and promises printed in industry publications and on the food labels themselves; many have simply never questioned the fact that the food-making companies profits depend on convincing them that the commercial products are “best for dogs.”

Another critical contributor to the success of the pet food industry has been its sustained and successful efforts to intertwine and ingratiate itself with the veterinary profession. Veterinarians tend to tell people to use commercial food, but then, they have been strongly indoctrinated to truly believe that this is the only wise choice a dog owner can make; they learned it in vet school! But it’s no secret that the dog food companies sponsor veterinary nutrition textbooks, provide grant money for university research, and give vet students free dog food throughout school.

So, what with one thing and another, commercial food has come to represent the norm – what most people feed their dogs. This has been true long enough that a predictable backlash has begun to build momentum. Today, homemade diets are gaining in popularity, as evidenced by an ever-increasing number of books, lectures, and Web sites on the subject, and people who make their dogs’ food.

Keep this history in mind as we explore the benefits and drawbacks of feeding dogs commercial and homemade diets.

Click here to view "Commercial diets: advantages."
Click here to view "Commercial diets: drawbacks."
Click here to view "Home-prepared diets: advantages."
Click here to view "Home-prepared diets: drawbacks."

So, would it be better to stay with kibble, the quick, convenient option preferred by the majority, or to venture onto the lesser-trod path of home-prepared food?

As always, it depends on the dog and his guardian. There is no single type of food or type of preparation that will produce unblemished health in all dogs, just as there is no diet that suits all humans. The “best” food for a dog depends on its age, sex, breed, genetic inheritance, state of health, level of activity, geographic location, reproductive status, etc.

Individual human factors must also be taken into account, since the selection, storage, and administration of dogs’ diets depends on us. As evidenced by the wide variety of adult human shapes and health conditions, people have varying levels of ability to wisely plan, shop, prepare, and safely store their own diets. Not everyone has what it takes to “pull off” a good diet for themselves; not every well-meaning dog owner has what it takes to successfully formulate a home-prepared diet for their dogs, either.

We actually are firmly convinced that a proper home-prepared diet, carefully tailored to its individual recipients and guided by an informed, open-minded veterinarian is, truly, “best for dogs.”

However, we are averse to blanket prescriptions for all dogs and directives for all people. Some dogs are probably better off with a commercial diet. If a person doesn’t have the time, resources, and interest in preparing a “complete and balanced” homemade diet for their dogs, or if a dog doesn’t seem to thrive on the homemade diet his owner has provided for him, he undoubtedly has better prospects on a top-quality commercial food. Or even a well-considered mixture of the two.

In order to make intelligent decisions, a person has to be informed about all the advantages and disadvantages of each of her options, and then weigh her own individual circumstances against the general conditions. We hope that the abridged depictions of the pros and cons of the two types of feeding dogs will help inform your own dog feeding deliberations – and even offer rebuttals to anyone who criticizes your decision.


Also With This Article
Click here to view "What Percentage of Owners Buy Dog Food?"

-by Nancy Kerns

Nancy Kerns is Editor of WDJ.

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