I remember the first time I heard of someone feeding their pets “people food” as a health boost. A friend of mine would give his dogs a leg of whatever animal happened to be on the human menu that day, “to help shine their coats and clean their teeth,” he said.
I was about 16- or 17-years-old at the time. And even with my limited understanding of nutrition at that young age, the concept of feeding dogs animal meat made complete sense to me. It’s what they’d be eating out in the wild, so why not “throw them a bone” once in a while?
In my house growing up, though, everything for our pets came out of a store-bought bag or can labeled “dog food” or “cat food.” As I understood it, feeding them human food only encouraged begging at the table, and that human food was no good for animals.
To a point, yes, that’s true (like chocolate being toxic for dogs). But they’re mammals, right? There can’t be THAT much of a nutritional divide…
That truth is starting to poke its head through the black canvas of habit of buying pre-made foods out of convenience for our furry friends. For most of us, our four-legged babies are our children, our brothers and sisters – they become part of the family. So why is all this “eating healthy” and burgeoning nutritional renaissance for us humans not being immediately linked to what we feed our pets?
When I first brought home my three little kittens over three years ago, I was determined to do right by them and feed them foods that were natural to their growing bodies. But due to bout of bad intestinal distress that affected all three of them within a few weeks of me having them, I brought them to the vet. My treating veterinarian looked at me cross-eyed when I said I made their food myself – and scared me off of it for some time, as he indicated that could have been the root cause of their problem.
But would you believe that vets have absolutely no education in nutrition for animals? That tidbit of information has frustrated me about doctors – whether for humans or pets.
What I’ve decided was the actual root cause of my kittens problems was the over chemically perfumed litter I was buying. Being babies, the kittens just couldn’t handle the chemicals that got all over their paws, which they then licked for grooming. The vet never even asked about that possibility.
So recently I have begun to come around to the idea again of making the commitment to making REAL food for my three furry children.
It became insanely obvious last week when as soon as I cracked open a can of salmon for a recipe I was making, one of my cats yelped like I had stepped on her tail…and all three began weaving around my legs like crazed, starved carnivores. I couldn’t get away with not giving them a sample. Of late, I have also had to battle one of my cats every morning, who can’t stay away from my fruit, soy milk and Greek yogurt smoothies.
Oh boy. I think it’s time to change their menu.
It’s funny how we’ve gotten into the mindset that packaged food is the only “healthy” option we have, when store-bought dog and cat food is actually a relatively new concept. It’s only been available in mass production since right after WW II. So what did we feed our four-legged family members before then? You guessed it: Whatever we happened to be eating that night, too.
My mother has recently gotten on the homemade pet-food wagon to help alleviate some of our little ones’ health issues, which so far seems to be making a difference. Animals brought up on homemade food have fewer instances of cancer, and other unpleasant health problems that can steal our pets away from us prematurely. It’s a commitment: I think my parents spend at least one whole day a week cooking and prepping food for the five dogs they have. But the dogs love it.
Of course, why wouldn’t they? It tastes better. It’s REAL food.
And then there’s learning a whole new set of nutrient measurements. It’s confusing enough being a human nutrition student, trying to navigate what foods/vitamins/minerals are good in what amounts for people. Making foods for our pets means we have to learn a whole new nutritional palette. Research is vital. But there are some great resources out there, from books to websites and blogs by people who have been making homemade foods for their pets for a long time. Some of them are even vets.
What better way can there be to show our furry companions we love how much we care, then to give them the foods their bodies need to stay healthy?