Most holistic veterinarians are convinced that the single most important thing you can do for your pet’s health is to give him a more natural diet. Some national pet supply stores–and all stores specializing in holistic pet health–carry a wide range of natural foods. These foods typically contain high-quality ingredients and don’t use chemical additives or preservatives.
According to Amy D. Shojai in New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats (Rodale Press, 1999), even though commercial natural foods are preferable to their mainstream counterparts, many holistic veterinarians recommend bypassing commercial foods altogether and making all of your pet’s food at home using only the freshest, most wholesome natural ingredients. A natural diet should duplicate as closely as possible what pets used to eat in the wild. What this means is trying to duplicate the balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and other nutrients that dogs and cats were designed to eat.
Every pet is different of course. Dogs and cats need different amounts of protein. Puppies and kittens need more calories than adults. Pets with health conditions can’t always eat the same food as other pets. So before starting your pet on a homemade diet, it is essential to work closely with your veterinarian to plan the proper approach.
Shojai states that the most important step in planning a natural diet is to provide the right mix of nutrients. For dogs, this usually means one-third protein, one-third vegetables, and one-third grains. Cats have a higher requirement for meat protein, so they need roughly one-half meat, one-quarter vegetables, and one-quarter carbohydrates. According to Shojai, here is what holistic veterinarians advise:
Pick the Right Protein
Almost any kind of meat will provide plenty of protein as well as the necessary fat. Holistic veterinarians often recommend beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, pork, or venison. Seafood, eggs, and tofu are also good on occasion. Avoid using too much tuna, however, because many cats will become addicted to it and won’t want anything else. Mercury is a problem with tuna as well. For older pets or those with dental problems, you may want to cut the meat before putting it in the bowl. You can use ground or diced meat to help your pet adjust, but it is more natural for dogs and cats to at larger chunks so that they have to chew or tear the meat. Chewing larger pieces of meat will help keep their teeth clean.
Add Some Carbohydrates
Your pet’s brain and muscles are fueled by sugars and starches, which they get from carbohydrates. Whole grains like brown rice and barley are excellent sources of carbohydrates. So are sweet corn, potatoes, and whole-grain breads. Dogs and cats don’t digest grains as readily as they do meats, so it is important to cook grains in order to unlock the nutrients inside. Simmer rice or other grains until they are soft. To add a little extra flavor, cook them in chicken or beef broth, which most pets find appealing.
Add Some Vegetables
We don’t usually think of vegetables when planning our pets’ diets, but vegetables are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Some of the best vegetables for pets include carrots, zucchini, broccoli, celery, parsley, cucumber, alfalfa or bean sprouts, and beets, along with leafy greens like spinach and chard. Giving your pet several vegetables with each meal will provide the widest range of nutrients. You don’t need to cook or peel the vegetables. In fact, you don’t want to because most of the nutrients are found in the skins. The vegetables should be pureed, blended, or juiced to pulverize them the way they would be found in the wild diet. You can add some extra flavor to the mix by adding a little bit of broth or garlic before blending. Don’t use onions, however, which can be dangerous for cats.
Add Some Innards
Organ tissue like liver, kidney, heart, spleen, and brain are a normal part of a carnivore’s diet, but it is nearly impossible to find all of them in the grocery store. You can supplement a homemade, natural diet with a multiple glandular supplement for pets, such as Pet G.O., available by mail order. Multiple-glandular supplements for humans can also be used. Give one-quarter of the human dose to cats and dogs under 15 pounds, one-half of the dose to those 15 to 30 pounds, and the full dose to dogs over 30 pounds.
Give a Digestive Aid
Since dogs and cats traditionally got their vegetables secondhand by eating their prey, the vegetables were easy to digest. When they are eating raw vegetables, however, they may need some extra help. Supplementing their diet with digestive enzymes helps the process along, you can use enzymes made specifically for pets, such as Vet-Zime, Prozyme, or FloraZyme, following the directions on the label.
The one drawback to homemade natural diets is that they don’t have a long shelf-life, so you will have to prepare them fairly often. You can store homemade, natural meals for about three days in the refrigerator. Or you can freeze meal-size servings, which will last indefinitely.