Home-prepared food

Preparing food at home is more expensive day-to-day than pre-prepared food, even if the quality is comparable. This is mainly due to the price of meat. It also takes more time to prepare on a daily basis, although it is possible to prepare and freeze portions in advance.

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Formulating the food

Duhayer - Royal Canin

In home preparation, five families of nutrients are essential:

- Protein, provided by fish or meat, with a high enough content of essential amino acids

- Essential fatty acids, provided by the appropriate oils

- Minerals and vitamins, provided in special veterinary formats

- Fibre (vegetables) is not critical, but it does ensure good digestive transit and adds volume to the ration

- Polysaccharide carbohydrate, primarily in the form of starch

Let’s now examine the principles behind the formulation of a home-prepared food, based on the nutritional requirements described above.

Calculating energy requirement

Duhayer - Royal Canin

The first step is establishing the animal’s energy requirement. This is calculated on the basis of its ideal weight, adjusted by coefficients of breed (Labradors require 20% less energy than other breeds of the same size, for example), activity, physiological condition (growth, reproduction, neutered) and any illness.

Calculating protein requirement

All protein the body takes in is used immediately and no protein reserves are built up, so the body needs to take in protein every day to meet its requirements and produce new protein, during growth, for example. If it does not take in sufficient protein the body will use its amino acids to produce the protein it needs to cover its most essential requirements.

Not all meat has the same protein or energy content. A distinction has to be made between lean meat (beef containing 5% fat, chicken, turkey and lean pork) and fatty meats (beef containing 15% fat, fatty pork, mutton).

Lean meats contain more protein, whereas fatty meats contain more energy for the same weight, so the choice of meat will depend on the goal. To preserve its nutritional qualities, it is important not to boil or overcook the meat.

The regular consumption of liver or kidney is dangerous, because these organs store vitamins A and D as well as some toxic metals, so eating these meats entails a significant risk of poisoning. A dog should not be fed liver more than once a month.

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Home-prepared rations for different-sized adult dogs in good health, each with 1000 kcal of metabolisable energy

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

The simplest method for working out the feeding amount is to select a ration type and start from there. Those in the table each contain 1000kcal ME. These are just a few examples, as recipes can be adjusted almost endlessly. It is simply a matter of applying a coefficient corresponding to the ratio of energy intake between the animal’s energy requirement and the energy concentration of the ration-type (Q = ER/1000) to determine the feeding amount for the dog in question, where Q is the coefficient, ER is the animal’s energy requirement and in this case the energy concentration of the ration is 1000kcal ME.

The difference due to the size of the dog is mainly based on protein intake, which increases with the size of the dog. This means that a small dog can be fed any of the rations, but medium-sized and large dogs should eat ones designed for them.

Example: Adult Poodle, entire, two years old, weighing 7kg, normal activity level

ER = 130 x 70.75 = 560 kcal ME

Q=ER/1000 i.e. 560/1000 = 0.56

This coefficient is applicable to each ingredient or for the daily ration

Example for small dog fed on meat ration

Meat: 200 x 0.56 = 110g

Oil: 24 x 0.56 = 12g (3 teaspoonfuls)

Vegetables: 350 x 0.56 = 200g

Rice: 360 x 0.56 = 200g cooked or 65g dry before cooking

Mineral and vitamin supplement: 12 x 0.56= 6g

Calculating essential fatty acid requirement

Vegetable oil – preferably rape oil – and fish oils – which are available in special veterinary formats – provide the essential fatty acids needed for optimal body function and the quality of the skin and coat. At least 5% of the energy requirement must be provided by oil. This ingredient determines the volume of the ration, because lipids are the most energy-rich family of nutrients (9 kcal/g versus 4 kcal/g for carbohydrate and protein).

The more fat in a ration, the smaller it will be, which makes it a good way of tailoring the volume of the serving to the dog’s appetite.

Calculating fibre requirement

Fibre is a carbohydrate resistant to the action of the dog’s digestive enzymes. While it is not essential, it does play a role in ensuring the good health of the digestive tract (transit, bacterial flora). It is generally recommended that it makes up at least 5% of energy intake. It is provided in cooked vegetables.

Calculating starch requirement

Starch is added to complement the energy provided by the meat, oil and vegetables. Rice and pasta are commonly used. It is important that the starch is properly cooked: rice and pasta should be sticky. Rice should not be rinsed after it is cooked, as the sticky substance is actually gelatinised starch, which dogs find very easy to digest. Potatoes can be used, although their starch is less digestible, so they need to be cooked and mashed.

© Diffomédia/Royal Canin

Supplementing minerals and vitamins

The recipe above is deficient in calcium. Meat does not provide any calcium, 99% of which is found in bone. The recipe does, however, have a high phosphorus content. With this in mind, two to three times more calcium than phosphorus needs to be added to the recipe to balance it. Other essential minerals and vitamins are generally included in specialised veterinary supplements. Human supplements are not suited to dogs and there is a risk of both deficiency and toxicity if they are used.

In the event of particular physiological demands (growth, gestation, lactation, intense activity, ageing) the nutritional requirements will be different to those in the maintenance stage. For example, protein content needs to be higher during growth and reproduction, whereas energy content needs to be lower for overweight puppies or giant-breed puppies in the growth phase.

The formulation of the food must be just as precise as with maintenance food. The quantity of the various ingredients has to be measured with great accuracy. This entails a lot of laborious calculations and requires a definitive list of the nutritional values of all raw ingredients..

Some owners prefer home-prepared food, which dogs can find very palatable. On the other hand, as mentioned above, ensuring it is nutritionally balanced is a very complicated process. Use of a complete pre-prepared food is therefore highly recommended during the critical growth phase.

Everyone is free to choose home-prepared food, but this decision must never put the dog’s health at risk. A veterinarian should check recipes for all home-prepared rations to ensure that they are properly balanced.

Learn more

My dog is ageing, he just turned 9 years old and has problems with osteoarthritis. How can I help him?

Joint degeneration (osteoarthritis) is common in dogs as they get older. It is a combination of an inflammatory process with chronic degeneration which produces changes in the joints and adjacent tissues. The consequence is a reduction in wellbeing of the dog. There are predisposing factors, such as breed (e.g. Retriever) and sex, also situations which lead to excess force (mechanical overload) on the joints such as excessive exercise or obesity. On the other hand, ageing leads to a natural loss of hydration and elasticity of joints. We can help our dog to age with the best quality of life. There are 4 important points to consider.

• Maintenance of body condition and optimum weight. This is one of the most important factors, as excess weight exerts a direct action upon damaged joints as pro-inflammatory components derive from fatty tissues. Ideal weight is unique and specific to each individual dog and the veterinarian can evaluate this. This means a change in the feeding habits of dog owners towards their pets.

• Dependent how advanced the condition, light or moderate exercise and physiotherapy are recommended.

• Use of nutritional supplements or food enriched with specific nutrients helps with joint remodelling and control of inflammation; specifically omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA and ETA), chondroprotectives (glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin and green-lipped mussel extract) and certain vitamins and minerals with antioxidant properties.

• Use of analgesics and/or anti-inflammatory medications during certain periods and under the control of a veterinarian.

Minguez

Roberto Elices Minguez
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Professor of Nutrition
Veterinary University of Madrid,
(Spain)

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