Raw meat is a menu mainstay for Tina Beck's show-quality Australian shepherds.
Mike Motschenbacher's 14 Alaskan huskies savor a side dish of hamburger during the dog-sledding season.
Choosing more than commercially prepared kibble for an animal's nourishment isn't just the prerogative of elite breeders. More and more pet owners are feeding home-prepared diets in the wake of last year's recall of melamine-laced pet foods, local veterinarians say.
"They were really nervous," says Motschenbacher, a Rogue River veterinarian. "Some of 'em felt really guilty, even now when the scare's over."
Although just a small percentage of his clients made the switch to home-prepared pet food, many continued the commitment after the vast majority of commercial pet food brands were deemed safe, Motschenbacher says. For those who want ideas to get them started, Motschenbacher provides recipes from a book of pet diets. Home-cooked diets have long been prescribed for animals with serious health conditions.
"It takes a little bit of work on the owner's part," Motschenbacher says.
While commercial pet food is formulated to provide the right balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that animals need to thrive, a home-cooked diet of foods appropriate for people may need additions of bone meal or amino acids, Motschenbacher says.
"Some clients, they'll just feed meat," he says, adding that meat alone isn't balanced enough, particularly for dogs.
"Cats really need a high protein content, but dogs are a little more omnivorous."
Beck feeds her shepherds raw meat and bones, a variety of fresh, raw vegetables, eggs and organ meats, in addition to bagged dog food. The approach, she says, is a return to the days when dogs ate table scraps left over from their owners' wholesome meals.
"Imagine ourselves eating from a bag of cereal every single meal," the Gold Hill resident says. "No fresh foods, no variety."
Variety, says holistic veterinarian Ann Swartz, is the key to home-prepared pet diets.
"As long as it's good for people, it's going to be good for dogs and cats," Swartz says. "Try a little bit of everything and vary it."
Swartz encourages clients interested in cooking for their pets to start with little bites of their own dinner, provided it's nutritious.
"Home-prepared doesn't mean potato chips and pork fat," she says.
Swartz says about a quarter of her clients feed their pets home-cooked food. The veterinarian, herself, once did the same but, short on time, reduced the home-cooked components to about half of her dogs' and cats' diets. Exclusive feeding of a good-quality dry food, Swartz says, can be perfectly healthy.
"When you look at the levels (of ingredients) you want to see a solid meat or fish at the beginning ... nothing that says 'meal,' " she says.
Home-cooked or not, any changes to a pet's diet should be discussed with a veterinarian, Swartz says. Changing an animal's food too abruptly can induce diarrhea, gas or vomiting, she says.
Introduce a new pet food over a period of four days, Motschenbacher says. Combine quantities for a mixture that is 25-percent new food and 75-percent familiar food. Adjust the food ratio to half-and-half on the second day, followed on the third day by three-quarters new food and one-quarter of the old. By the fourth day, a pet should be able to eat solely the new food without any digestive disturbances, Motschenbacher says.