Updated: Mar 31
Home-cooking for your pets can bring amazing benefits for the whole family, and it can be much easier than you might think.
Why would anyone want to home-cook for their pets? After all, there are plenty of commercial foods around which claim to offer cats and dogs high-quality nutrition and make feeding as easy as scooping biscuits from a bag. Home-cooking, on the other hand, sounds complicated, messy, time-consuming and difficult to get right. So why am I, as a pet owner, veterinarian, and founder of 2 highly successful commercial pet food companies, suggesting that home-cooking is the future of pet food?
Well, the answer is that after spending 15 years in the pet food industry creating and running Vet’s Kitchen and tails.com, I know exactly what goes into commercial pet foods and I’ve come to believe that we can do better than feeding our best friends mass-produced, highly processed foods. That’s not to say that commercial foods are always bad – many millions of pets around the world live happy and healthy lives on an unchanging diet of processed dry biscuits or tinned food. But despite that, I think that pet owners of the future will look back at this time with a sense of disbelief that we used to feed our supposedly loved family members diets made in industrial factories largely from waste products.
A new perspective
If I sound like a poacher turned game keeper then I guess I’ll accept the charge - I have spent years trying to persuade people to feed commercial foods to their pets and now I’m arguing against this approach. However, it’s those years of formulating and selling pet foods that have opened my eyes to the realities involved in the mass-production of these ultra-processed foods and the need for change. And although my focus has been on commercial pet foods for much of my career, I’ve also long been interested in the possibilities of home-cooking, writing my first book (Canine Cuisine) on the subject back in 2005.
The future of pet food?
So, what is so good about home-cooking and why do I think it’s the future of pet food? For me, it’s two things – ingredients and love. The first is pretty straight-forward – by home-cooking you know exactly what is going into your pet’s food bowl and you can ensure that all the ingredients are fresh, nutritious and healthy. Love is a slightly more unusual term to associate with pet food, but I think it’s at the heart of the home-feeding movement. Scooping dry food from a bag to a bowl is easy and quick but brings nothing to your relationship with your pet. Spending a little more time hand-making and serving a meal specially tailored to your dog or cat’s individual needs and tastes is a very different experience – it’s an expression of your love for your pet, and a way of repaying your faithful friend for all the unconditional love they give to you.
But what about the hassle, the time, the smell I hear you say? Well, while it’s true that home-cooking is more time-consuming than feeding a processed food, it can be made surprisingly quick and easy. And just as most of us would recognise that time spent cooking for the family is worthwhile when compared to living on a diet of easy but unhealthy ready meals, the same is definitely true for our pets. And even if you only cook once a week for your cat or dog, that’s one less portion of processed food, and one more bonding experience for you to share.
The final hurdle that puts many pet owners off from the idea of home-cooking is the issue of nutritional balance. By making feeding exactly the same food day in day out the accepted norm, the commercial pet food industry has created the concept of ‘nutritionally complete food’ and made pet owners feel that this is the only way to safely feed their pets. Take a minute though to think about the way we feed ourselves – who out there eats exactly the same food for breakfast, lunch and dinner 365 days a year? Not many, I’d guess, and yet most of us seem to manage to feed ourselves a diet that provides all the nutrition we need to stay healthy despite eating different meals every single day. And the same can be true for our pets.
Home-cooking offers the opportunity to create a ‘nutritionally complete diet’ made up from an almost endless variety of recipes that provide all the nutrients a pet needs over time. One home-cooked meal may not contain absolutely everything a cat or dog needs, but provided it’s not feed exclusively every day, that doesn’t matter. Variety is the spice of life, and nowhere is that truer than when it comes to food.
Feeding a varied home-prepared diet doesn’t have to mean that nutritional balance is left to sort itself out over time, however. While this approach can work perfectly well, one of the things that really excites me about home-cooking is the potential to use nutritional science to create nutritionally specific diets for individual pets. This has particular potential for those animals suffering from chronic health problems such as dermatitis, obesity, liver disease or arthritis for example. Imagine a world where your pet could be fed a varied diet of delicious home-prepared meals that are specifically tailored to provide exactly the nutrients he or she needs over time to support their individual needs. No more ‘one size fits all’ complete food – the future is much more exciting for our pets.