The main reason comes from a rash of cases I have recently managed, of systemic diseases that are necessarily or ideally managed through the feeding of prescription therapeutic diets. Where I have usually departed from home prepared diets is in the case of disease specific nutrition. It is a very difficult balance to maintain the special nutritional needs of a patient living certain with chronic diseases, while maintaining a well-rounded nutrient break down appropriate for species and life stage. In the case of therapeutic diets, while they may be processed and most have preservatives, they are diets engineered to manage disease through nutrition, while meeting the nutrient demands to sustain life.
You may ask, why not have the best of both worlds: home cook for the pet all of its life, then feed the prescription disease specific therapeutic diet when/if the pet falls ill with a chronic disease primarily managed through nutrition? The reason is this is much easier said than done when you have a dog or cat that has been cooked for all of its life suddenly transition to a pet food at a time when their age, lack of familiarity with pet food, and occurrence of disease may be inhibiting their appetite.
Case in point, one of my inspirations for this article was a recent case I had of a West Highland White Terrier that presented vomiting, not eating, and suffered from abdominal pain. This dog had been treated and fed like a prince all of his life, pampered with love and fed a home cooked, organic diet all of his life (he is now 9 years of age). To his owners’ credit, they painstakingly fed a nutritionally well balanced diet of lean chicken, brown rice, and vegetables, served in the proper ratios to provide for minimum canine nutrient requirements.
I ultimately diagnosed the dog with pancreatitis, a serious inflammatory disease of the pancreas. I want to be very clear that the pancreatitis had nothing to do with being fed a home cooked diet. As a Westie, this was likely a genetic ticking time bomb that was not a question of IF it would occur, but WHEN.
That stated, regardless of how healthy, natural, and well balanced the dog’s diet may have been, it was no longer appropriate to optimally prevent or manage his disease. Once stabilized, to prevent recurrence, the dog would need to be fed a low residue, prescription diet, one that may have preservatives and is engineered and processed; but that is beyond the shadow of a doubt, extremely successful in the management of pancreatitis.
The owners were quite stressed about this for a couple of reasons. Feeding a processed pet food went against every fiber of their personal dietary ethics, and they had serious concerns that the dog would ever accept dog food after having been fed a home cooked diet all of his life.
To their point, the dog did not readily eat the diet at first, but since he was rather on the chubby side and he was on intravenous supportive care, we had the ability to bide some time as his numbers and clinical condition improved, and exercised “tough love” with the necessary diet (by tough love, I mean offer that diet and ONLY that diet…or nothing at all).
Luckily, by day two, the dog was feeling well enough, and/or his tummy was empty enough, for him to start eating the prescription diet. I was ready to do cartwheels, since other cases I had managed recently where disease specific nutrition was pivotal to the treatment, did not go as well. Tough love is not always medically feasible and in the case of cats, never advisable.
Thus, these lessons of real life in veterinary medicine at a time when more owners are increasingly opting to feed home prepare diets with real, whole foods for their pets; have led me to opine that the better course of action is to feed a high quality pet food. To fulfill a real food, organically minded pet owner’s dietary ethics, if one does their due diligence and research, there are preservative free pet foods made with fresh ingredients that may offer that middle ground compromise that such a person may seek for their pets. Anything put in kibble and/or canned form requires some processing to be sure, but feeding pet food may mean the difference between life and death for a patient whose life may one day depend on being fed a therapeutic, prescription pet food.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.