Cautions About Home-Cooked Diets

by Charlotte Higgins, CVT

Despite the availability of many complete and balanced commercial diets prepared by companies with proven reputations, some people choose to cook for their pets. While these pet owners may have the best intentions, problems can occur when essential nutrients are not included in the home-cooked food.  Few understand the tremendous commitment involved in such a diet, and how difficult it is to provide the appropriate proportion and quality of protein, including specific amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

Pet owners should be strongly discourage from feeding a home-cooked diet to puppies and kittens, as many recipes available have not been adequately tested to ensure the nutrients needed for growth are present. Avoid raw-food diets. If a someone still wants to feed a home-cooked diet to an adult pet, he or she should be directed to a reliable resource. and are two websites developed by board-certified veterinary nutritionists. The recipes found on these sites must be strictly adhered to when preparing, because eliminating or substituting ingredients could severely unbalance the diet.

Pet owners want to feed their pets appropriately.  Your veterinarian can help by assessing a pet’s nutritional needs, then educating owners on sound nutritional practices that can enhance a pet’s qualify of life for years to come.

What “complete and balanced” means

When a commercial pet food is labeled “complete and balanced,” it means the diet contains all the essential nutrients at levels that meet a pet’s requirements. A claim of “complete and balanced” must gain the approval of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Companies may use this claim on their labels if it can be substantiated in one of two ways.

The first option requires the pet food to undergo a series of stringent AAFCO-approved feeding trials. The second method requires the food be formulated to meet the minimum and maximum concentrations of nutrients established by the AAFCO’s Nutrient Profiles for Dog and Cat Foods. For more on this, visit

Charlotte Higgins, CVT, is a nurse practitioner in nutrition at the MJ Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She’s also a member of the organizing committee of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians, which was recently recognized as a veterinary technician specialty.