Feeding a pet table scraps has long been discouraged, for fear of poor pet nutrition or gastronomical problems. However, a growing number of veterinarians and pet nutritionists are steering their patients away from processed pet foods toward a fresh diet, which includes human-grade meats and vegetables.
According to veterinary nutritionist Dr. Justin Shmalberg, the benefits of a fresh diet include increased energy, a stronger immune system, smaller stools and improved weight control. A fresh diet will also help protect pets from carcinogens and artificial ingredients that can be found in wet and dry processed pet foods.
With the introduction of genetically modified foods, the idea of what constitutes good pet nutrition has become more complicated, says holistic veterinarian Cynthia Maro.
“Truth in labeling in pet food is not the same as it is in human food,” she says. “It’s become more and more challenging to recommend processed foods and more of my clients are moving towards raw diets (for their pets).”
Good food for pets includes raw or steamed vegetables such as broccoli stems and unprocessed pumpkin filling, which are both rich source of fiber, says Maro. For her own dogs, she uses raw apple slices for treats, and raw animal bones instead of processed dog biscuits.
Schmalberg recommends a diet that consists of real, whole ingredients — meat, vegetables, healthy oils and vitamins and minerals. Other healthy options include carrots, kale, spinach, human-grade meat and fresh fish.
“The biggest misconception I see pet owners having about nutrition is that dogs are carnivores, when we know that nutritionally they are omnivores,” Shmalberg says. “Vegetables have a variety of interesting compounds that can affect health and the response to disease.”
Cats, unlike dogs, according to Shmalberg, are carnivores, and their diets require more protein and fats. Therefore, they should be fed moderate amounts of vegetables and starches and higher amounts of protein-rich foods.
While fresh food is ideal, there are a few things to consider when buying processed pet foods. Maro suggests that owers regularly review pet recall lists. She also warns against pet foods that include “meal” as a primary ingredient. Look for ingredient lists that include protein.
Maro and Schmalberg recommend that pet owners consult a pet nutritionist when establishing a homemade diet.