Pet nutrition: what are the risks of a homemade cat food diet?

An image of a cat near a food bowl to illustrate the concept of homemade cat food
© iStock/Lightspruch

Researchers at the University of California, Davis have assessed the risks of a homemade cat food diet, and whether this type of diet can provide the correct pet nutrition.

The study found that homemade cat food is unlikely to provide all of the essential nutrients that a cat needs. Some recipes may also include potentially toxic ingredients for cats.

The shortfalls of homemade cat food

Of the recipes studied, only five of them from veterinarian authors, were able to meet all but one of the essential nutrients for cats. Whether or not the recipes studied would be harmful to cats varies based on the following factors:

  • The feeding instructions;
  • The length of time the cat has been on the diet;
  • The health of the cat; and
  • The degree of the recipe’s nutritional deficiency.

The lead author Jennifer Larsen, a veterinary nutritionist with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said: “Only 94 recipes provided enough information for computer nutritional analysis and of those none of them provided all the essential nutrients to meet the National Research Council’s recommended allowances for adult cats.”

Ingredients that are toxic to cats

Larsen argues that there has been a big surge in cat owners switching to homemade food for their pet nutrition following the finding of toxic substances in commercial pet food imported from China over a decade ago. There is also the element of cat owners wanting more contol over their pet’s diet. Some cat owners believe their cats should have a vegetarian diet, or a sustainable or organic ingredient-based diet.

However, caution is required if choosing homemade recipes. Seven percent of the recipes recommended ingredients that are potentially toxic to cats, including:

  • Garlic or garlic powder;
  • Onions; and
  • Leeks.

Researchers also found recipes that called for raw animal products without mentioning potential risks of bacterial contamination. Some recipes that included bones did not mention the importance of grinding the bones before feeding them to the cat to prevent gastrointestinal tears.

Advice for choosing pet nutrition options

Larsen added: “Homemade diets are not necessarily better. If you are going to use one, you have to make sure you do it safely and they should be balanced and appropriate for your individual cat.”

Larsen stated that cat owners should not be afraid of commercial diets and recommends that pet owners who would like a homemade diet for their cat should consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, specialising in formulating homemade diets for pets.

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