Proper Nutrition Makes For A Healthier Pet

by Shawn Messonnier, DVM


With all that pet owners and doctors can do to prevent and treat illness in dogs and cats, we often overlook the importance of nutrition. Yet we feed our pets at least once, if not more often, each day. Have you ever thought about what is contained in the food you put in your pet's bowl each day? Is it possible that your pet's diet might be doing more harm than good? Do you really know what your pet ate for dinner last night?

A homemade diet provides your pet with the freshest ingredients in their most tasty form.

When it comes to feeding pets, dog and cat owners have two choices: prepare a fresh diet at home, or feed a processed food. When you can, feeding a homemade diet allows your pet to eat the freshest ingredients in their most tasty form. Most owners don't have the time or patience to prepare fresh foods for their pets so processed foods have become quite popular. Still, most holistic veterinarians feel that a fresh homemade diet is less likely to cause illness since there are no processed ingredients or by-products in the diet. Stories abound about how many of the ingredients in pet foods are not fit for human consumption but are processed into pet food rather than being thrown away. I have heard many stories from clients who have told me that their pets improved (better coat, decreased itching, etc.) when they started cooking food for their pets rather than relying on store bought foods.

However, not everyone has the time to make fresh foods. More companies are starting to formulate natural diets consisting of better quality ingredients (warning: you still must learn to read the label since anyone can advertise a "natural" food that still may not be wholesome!) If you choose to feed a processed diet, know that not all processed foods are equal. Some diets are quite good, while others are downright terrible. How do you know what to feed?

Price can certainly be a guide, as the least expensive generic diets are also the least healthy (and probably harmful as well). While higher priced premium diets are usually adequate for many pets, the only thing premium about some diets is the cost! I encourage owners to learn to read the labels in order to choose the best diets. Here are two labels excerpted from my books, Healthy Diet, Healthy Dog and Healthy Diet, Healthy Cat (to be published in the coming year). Notice that the better food contains natural preservatives such as "tocopherols" (vitamin E, which serves as an antioxidant to prevent the food from becoming rancid) and vitamin C. Generic diets often contain chemicals such as BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin that might be harmful. Also notice that the premium diet contains nothing artificial. You also won't find animal by-products as a protein source. Animal by-products can include any animal parts such as liver, kidneys, lungs, hooves, hair, skin, mammary glands, connective tissue, or intestinal tract. These "foodstuffs" don't sound too appealing, and their nutritional value is questionable and possibly harmful. By learning to read the labels, you can choose which processed foods might be most healthy for your pet.

Premium Food Label

Ingredients: chicken, brewer's rice, ground wheat, ground yellow corn, animal fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols, a source of vitamin E), corn gluten meal, egg, whey, vitamins A, D-3, E, B-12, niacin.

Generic Food Label

Ingredients: ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, poultry by-product meal, animal fat (preserved with BHA), fish meal, meat and bone meal, ground wheat, animal digest, salt, ethylenediamine dihydriodide, artificial coloring, artificial flavors.

And why not feed generic foods? Simply because they can cause diseases due to improper nutrition. For example, many generic dog foods contain inadequate amounts of zinc. Diets low in zinc can lead to a dermatitis that causes crusting around the mouth. Fortunately, it is easily treated with zinc supplementation and switching to a healthier diet. Cats require dietary taurine in order to prevent heart disease and retinal damage. All foods should contain adequate taurine and the correct form of vitamin A. Generic diets are more likely to need additional supplementation (after the processing) to provide ingredients that might not be found in cheaper foodstuffs used in preparing the diet. And also keep in mind that cats and dogs have different nutritional requirements. It is not wise to feed dogs cat food or vice versa, as nutritional deficiencies or excesses will occur that can be quite serious and even fatal!

Sample diets

Generic diets often contain chemicals such as BHT, BHA and ethoxyquin that might be harmful.

It's really not hard to find a good diet for your pet. Whether you choose to prepare a diet at home or feed a premium food, simply understanding the nutritional needs of your pet will help prevent disease. By learning to read the label, you can choose a good diet for your pet if you decide to buy a processed food. When needed, additional supplementation with antioxidants, plant enzymes, or fatty acids can help make a good diet even better and do wonders for preventing and treating health problems in dogs and cats (we'll cover this in a future article!)


Adult Dog Natural Homemade Diets:

Diet 11

1/4 pound of meat (ground turkey, beef, or chicken; liver can be substituted no more than once weekly)

4-6 slices of whole grain natural bread (broken into small pieces) or pasta

1 cup of whole milk

2 large eggs (can add finely ground shells)

1/4 cup string beans or other vegetable

1-TBSP vitamin/mineral powder

200 IU vitamin E

Optional: Add a dash of iodized salt, one clove of crushed or minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon of ginger, licorice, or cumin.

Combine all ingredients, adding water if needed. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned (20-30 minutes) or serve raw. Keep enough food refrigerated for 2-3 days and freeze the rest.


Diet 21

1 cup raw rolled oats

3 eggs (shells crushed and baked at 350 degrees for 12 minutes)

1/2 cup of chopped raw meat (beef, turkey, or chicken)

1 tsp bone meal, calcium/magnesium powder, or egg shells

1/2 cup cottage cheese

1 cup of raw grated vegetables

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add the raw oats, cover and simmer 2 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Mix in some brewer's yeast, lecithin, and/or olive oil.

Adult Cat Natural Homemade Diets:


Diet 11

1 egg including shell (crushed)

4 cups of meat

1 cup of millet, wheat, oats, or quinoa

3 TBSP of powdered cat multivitamin/minerals

1-1.5 TBSP bone meal

15,000 IU vitamin A

400 IU vitamin E

600 mg taurine

Add 1tsp fresh vegetables to each meal (greens and/or yellow or orange vegetables).

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add the grain, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Stir in the egg and mix in the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate enough food for 2-3 days and freeze the rest.


Diet 21

1 cup of cornmeal or oatmeal

2 eggs

4 cups of ground meat

4 TBSP vitamin/mineral powder

2 TBSP bone meal

2 TBSP olive oil

15,000 IU vitamin A

200 IU vitamin E

600 mg taurine

Add 1 tsp fresh vegetables each feeding.

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the cornmeal or oatmeal, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir in the eggs and olive oil; mix in the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate enough food for 2-3 days and freeze the rest.


Reference: The Effects of A Natural vs. Commercial Pet Food Diet On The Wellness of Common Companion Animals - A Holistic Perspective, by Dr. William Pollack, as presented in the November 1996-January 1997 Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.


About the Author

Dr. Shawn Messonnier is a well-known veterinarian, author, and pet care advocate. To learn more about natural care for dogs and cats, visit