Is it better to cook for your dogs?
I think it's safe to say that when a new year rolls in, one of the things that is at the forefront of everyone's mind is health. Since my dogs are always at the forefront of my mind as well, I started thinking about their nutrition, and if I could be doing better than kibble.
To be upfront, I don't know much about canine nutrition. I feed the dogs Orijen because I read that it's the best for them. But I see how my dogs look at me while I'm slicing and dicing in the kitchen. I know they love human food, and I would enjoy cooking for them. But, as I've found out, cooking for dogs isn't as easy as cooking for myself.
All commercial pet food has to be "complete and balanced." The AAFCO is a voluntary association of agencies that are supposed to enforce labeling requirements, nutrition info, etc to pet food labels. How they enforce this is unclear. But basically, if your kibble doesn't have the right nutritional composition for your pet, it can't be commercially produced.
Now the thing that probably scares most people is that where the nutrients come from doesn't really matter. The AAFCO site does break down that all the meat/poultry and their respective byproducts should come from slaughtered mammals. These should technically not be from diseased or disabled animals by USDA standards, but again it's kind of dicey how this would be determined. If there were SNAFUs, the AAFCO would have to convene with the FDA to use their regulatory power, and communicate on a course of action.
Either way, we don't have a clear idea of exactly what the major parts of the ingredients list really mean.
But going back to the "complete and balanced" part, the proportions of nutrients in pet food is curated to fulfill your pet's needs. I've found that it's extremely difficult to regulate this in your kitchen. A good homemade pet recipe would need to have very specific measurements for different types of protein and carbs, and an array of foods so that your pet would be getting all of their nutrients in a meal. The scary thing is, if you don't get this right nutrient imbalances can take a while to show up in adult dogs.
I know we all would feel hella guilty if we think we're doing the best for our dogs, and two years later, find out that our recipes actually were always lacking the right amount of zinc.
At the end of the day, I think it's specific to your lifestyle. If you are someone who is busy and don't have the time to make home cooked meals for your dogs, kibble is alright. Just make sure you do your research about ingredients, and speak to your vet to see if your pet needs any specific diets.
If your pet has special dietary needs or you do have the time and desire to make home cooked meals, I would recommend sticking to vet recommended recipes. You can learn more about pet nutrition and find resources here.
Personally, I will be sticking to kibble for the time being. But I may treats the dogs to some home cooking from time to time :)