Frequently Asked Questions about Home-cooked Diets for Pets

Are home-cooked diets healthier for my pet than commercial diets?

High quality commercial pet diets have been tested over decades to provide adequate nutrition for both dogs and cats. With the exception of some pets with multiple or severe health concerns, there is a commercial diet that is appropriate for nearly every pet and nutritional deficiency diseases are rare in pets fed commercial diets. While home-cooked diets allow more control of ingredients and customization to the specific pet, most home-cooked diet recipes that are not formulated by a qualified veterinary nutritionist are vague and deficient in multiple essential nutrients, making them much less nutritious than commercial foods. Even when the diet recipe is nutritionally balanced, there is no evidence that the average animal receives better nutrition from a home-cooked diet than a commercial diet. For the vast majority of pet owners, commercial diets offer the best nutrition with the most convenience and affordability.

Is it cheaper to cook for my pet than to buy a high quality commercial pet food?

In most cases, it is significantly more expensive to prepare a nutritionally complete diet at home than to purchase a good quality commercial diet, especially for a large dog. Many high quality commercial diets for dogs can be purchased for $1.50 a pound or less, whereas there are few ingredients that can be purchased from a grocery store for less than this amount. The serving sizes of expensive ingredients (such as meat) are also usually much higher for a dog or cat than a person of similar body weight. Additionally, most owners do not factor in the costs of proper supplements for home-cooked diets, which can cost up to several dollars per day, depending on the size of the pet, on top of the costs of other ingredients. Because home-cooked diets are not tested for safety and nutritional adequacy like most commercial diets, even healthy pets eating home-cooked diets should have more frequent veterinary visits and laboratory tests (blood work, urine testing) than similar pets eating commercial diets, which also add to the expense.

Why can't I just use a recipe from the internet or a book?

Home-cooked diet recipes found on most websites and in books (even those written by veterinarians) are notorious vague, often out-of-date, and rarely provide all the essential nutrients that a pet requires. Particularly of concern are recipes that allow substitutions of ingredients (one cup of chicken or beef, or pork or fish plus one half cup of vegetables or fruits or grains for example) and recipes that do not contain specific supplement recommendations (feed one human multi-vitamin per day—Which brand? Adult or child product? Are they all identical?).

A good rule of thumb is that if two people using the same recipe would not make identical diets every time, then the recipe is not specific enough. On the very rare chance that a diet recipe is found that does contain all the essential nutrients in appropriate amounts, there is still the issue that the use of a generic recipe eliminates one of the potential advantages of home-cooking—the ability to provide a diet customized to a particular pet.

What can I expect from a nutrition appointment at Tufts?

During every appointment, whether in-person or by telephone, we will review your pet's medical and diet history, evaluate his or her current diet, discuss appropriate feeding strategies for your specific pet, answer your nutrition questions and provide written recommendations to you and your veterinarian for commercial diets, treats and supplements (if applicable) to meet your pet's nutritional needs. During in-person appointments, we will also perform an exam on your pet, paying particular attention to body condition and other factors related directly to nutrition.

To schedule an appointment or for pricing information, please contact Clinical Nutrition Service Liaison.

How can I purchase a home-cooked diet recipe from Tufts?

If your pet's medical conditions require a home-cooked diet or you prefer to feed one, we can formulate a custom home-cooked diet recipe for your pet. To purchase a recipe, you and your pet must have a phone or in-person appointment with the Clinical Nutrition Service or your veterinarian must submit a consult requesting a diet formulation.

The diet recipe(s) may take up to a week to finalize after the appointment or consultation and will be mailed, faxed or emailed to you (appointments) or your veterinarian (veterinary consults). As with all of our appointments and consultations, we will also provide comparable commercial diet recommendations if appropriate for your pet's health concerns as well as information on treats and/or supplements.

To schedule an appointment or for pricing information, please contact Clinical Nutrition Service Liaison.

What if I have more than one pet?

As you know, each one of your pets is unique. We also treat each pet as an individual and carefully review medical records and a diet history before making specific diet recommendations, whether for commercial or home-cooked recipes. For this reason, if you would like to have specific diet recommendations for each of your pets, there will be an additional fee for each pet to cover the time required to review these materials, discuss options, and follow up with you. Evaluating each pet is particularly important when one or more pets in the family has health concerns and the diets that they require may not be appropriate for other animals in the household.

Without reviewing additional pets' medical records, we can only advise you as to whether any commercial diets recommended for the pet that we discuss in the appointment are generally appropriate for healthy pets. Home-cooked diet recipes are more difficult to adjust to meet the needs of pets of different sizes and one of the main benefits of home-cooking is being able to customize the diet to the needs of the individual pet. Therefore, review of additional pets' information and adjustment of the diet recipe to meet each pet's needs is strongly recommended.

What can I expect if I purchase a home-cooked diet recipe from Tufts?

All of our home-cooked diet recipes are formulated for the individual pet, taking into account all medical concerns and the lifestyle of both you and your pet. Our diets generally consist of a carbohydrate source (a grain or starchy vegetable), a protein source (meat, dairy or egg protein), a source of essential fatty acids (vegetable oil and or fish oil), and specific vitamin and mineral supplement(s). We can also include a vegetable or two if you would like to feed them daily as part of the diet. We try to avoid complex diets with numerous ingredients to simplify preparation and reduce the risk of diet drift—where ingredients are left out or substituted for other ingredients because they are considered unnecessary, are expensive, or are out of season.

What if I want more than one home-cooked diet recipe for variety?

We are happy to formulate multiple complete and balanced recipes using different ingredients for variety if not contraindicated by your pet's medical condition. Each recipe will incur a formulation fee, to cover the time needed to formulate the recipe as well as any necessary follow-up.

Can I choose the supplements that I would like to use to balance the diet?

As supplements are largely unregulated, quality and nutrient content varies widely. We use only supplements that we are confident are produced under strict quality control guidelines and that contain nutrient profiles that are appropriate for our diet formulations. Most supplements designed for pets do not contain adequate amounts of nutrients to properly balance a home-cooked diet. One exception is the Balance IT Supplement, which was formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist specifically to be used for balancing home-cooked pet diets. Our diets are usually either formulated with a Balance IT supplement or using multiple specific human supplements, whichever is most appropriate for the individual diet formulation.

Can I substitute ingredients in my home-cooked diet recipe?

Each ingredient in our recipes is chosen for a specific purpose and has a unique nutrient profile. Swapping out one ingredient for another or even using a different brand of a product if a brand is specified may dramatically alter the nutritional profile of the diet, potentially leading to deficiencies, toxicities, or otherwise rendering the diet inappropriate for the specific pet. If you would like to provide variety to your pet, we recommend purchasing multiple recipes or using your pet's treat allowance to add variety. If a recipe ingredient becomes difficult to source or is discontinued or reformulated (especially in the case of a human supplement), please contact us for alternative options.

Where can I purchase the Balance IT Supplement?

You can purchase it online on the Balance IT website.

Where can I purchase human supplements?

Human supplements used in home-cooked diet recipes can be purchased from mass market, grocery, or drug stores or online at retailers such as GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe. If a specific brand is called for in the recipe, then that specific brand should be used. For supplements without a specific brand listed, you should find a reputable product (such as one that meets United States Pharmacoepia (USP) quality standards or other third party certification) that is easy for you to obtain.

Can I purchase a diet recipe that uses only natural supplements and whole foods to balance the diet?

Due to quality control concerns as well as nutritional variability in many whole food ingredients, we use concentrated vitamin and mineral supplements in all of our diets rather than attempt to meet all nutrient requirements using only whole foods. This approach makes our diets easier to prepare and ensures that your pet receives adequate amounts of all essential nutrients.

I’d like to make my own food for my pregnant/lactating dog or cat or a growing puppy or kitten. Can you formulate a healthy diet recipe for reproduction and growth? What is the best diet for a growing puppy or kitten?

Pregnancy, lactation, and growth are the most nutritionally demanding times in an animal’s life. Nutrient concentrations that may be adequate for adult animals at maintenance could cause serious harm to a pregnant or growing animal. In fact, most cases of severe health problems due to nutritionally inadequate diets are seen in growing puppies and kittens fed home-prepared diets. In addition to concerns over nutritional adequacy, logistically, properly balanced home-cooked diets tend to be difficult to feed due to constantly changing energy and nutrient requirements during both pregnancy and growth. Unlike with commercial diets, the amounts fed of home-cooked diets cannot be as easily adjusted without altering the nutrient profile due to the multiple ingredients and supplements required. Because of logistical concerns, the narrower margin of error and the potential risk of lifelong repercussions, we strongly discourage feeding home-prepared diets to dogs or cats for reproduction or growth. We formulate home-cooked diets for growth (< 12 months of age), pregnancy, and lactation only when strictly medically necessary. However, once your dog or cat is at least one year of age or has completed lactation, we are happy to formulate a nutritionally-balanced home-cooked diet.

We recommend feeding all pregnant and lactating animals commercial diets that have ideally passed AAFCO feeding trials for reproduction or all life stages, or that have been formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for growth or all life stages. Growing kittens should be fed a kitten diet or an all life stages formula until one year of age. Growing small and medium breed puppies should be fed a puppy or all life stages formula until one year of age. Large and giant breed puppies (adult size >50 lbs) should be fed a diet specifically designed for large breed puppies until 12-18 months of age. Throughout growth, it's important to keep your puppy or kitten lean to reduce risks for health problems and to optimize his or her lifespan. Be aware that spaying or neutering your pet reduces his or her calorie requirements so it's important to reduce calories at the time of surgery to reduce the risks for obesity. We are happy to help you select appropriate diets for your breeding animals or growing puppies and kittens.