Homemade Cat Food Can Be Dangerous for Your Pet

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A new study finds that most recipes for homemade cat food lack essential nutrients and even contain potentially toxic ingredients.

There is real allure in the idea of making food at home for one's cat – for a lot of people, it just feels right. In comparison to homemade food that is made with fresh and simple components, commercial food may seem expensive and filled with mystery ingredients. Or even worse, tainted with toxins. Just like for humans, it would seem that opting for homemade over canned foods would offer the best quality and the least waste.

Alas, a new study finds that it is not so straightforward.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, examined the nutritional adequacy of 114 recipes from online sources and books, written by both veterinarians and non-veterinarians.

They found that most lacked in providing all of a cat's essential nutrients; and some recipes even contained ingredients potentially toxic to cats.

Furthermore, 40 percent of the recipes did not include feeding instructions and the rest of them were short on details or were simply unclear, reports the University.

"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," said lead author Jennifer Larsen, a veterinary nutritionist with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Recipes written by actual veterinarians had fewer deficiencies in essential nutrients than those written by writers just playing veterinarians online. Out of the 114, only five recipes – all written by veterinarians – met all but one of the essential nutrients.

"Most recipes were lacking concentrations of three or more nutrients, with some lacking adequate amounts of up to 19 essential nutrients," notes the University. In addition, "many recipes had severe deficiencies, providing less than 50 percent of the recommend allowances of several essential nutrients including choline, iron, zinc, thiamin, vitamin E and manganese."

Even worse, seven percent of the recipes inexplicably included ingredients that are potentially toxic for cats – including garlic, garlic powder, onions, and leeks. While those may be superfoods for humans, for cats, not so much.

Some recipes included raw animal products without instructions for how to avoid bacterial contamination, other recipes included bones without mentioning that if not properly ground, they could lead to gastrointestinal tears.

Putting our trust in commercial cat food may seem daunting, and having control over the ingredients may feel intuitively correct. But Larsen says that cat owners should be cautious about homemade recipes.

"Homemade diets are not necessarily better," said Larsen. "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."

Thankfully, there's an excellent workaround for those of us who want to go the wholesome, low-waste, custom route: A consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to formulate a homemade diet. This way you can ensure that kitty is getting what kitty needs, without the risks that may come with less informed instruction.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.