DIY dog food is all the rage. Will these recipes bowl over my little terrier?

“We trust people will leave the hospital with a baby and keep it alive,” Deborah Robertson, journalist and author of Dogs’ Dinners and Cooking for Cats, sighs on the phone. “We trust them to feed their children, but not their pets. Isn’t that crazy?”

Dog behaviorist Louise Glazbrook agrees: “The constant explanation that we can’t count on feeding a dog without a multinational bagging it and whipping it up at such an exorbitant price is that my blood really boils.”

Put it like that, it looks weird. However, like many pet owners who cook for other humans without a second thought, I’m oddly nervous to admit that I sometimes make food for my dog. Robertson remembers when she first wrote about it: “It felt like I came out of a very strange closet…but it was obviously a big closet, because a lot of people called to say they did too. It all went a little bit to be honest.”

And this was before our pets stayed home with us all day: The surge in Google searches for “homemade dog treats” in the past year suggests that when we’re not baking banana bread for ourselves, we’re cooking up a storm for our furry friends.

Alison Daniel, co-founder of My Pet Nutritionist.com, had to hire three new employees to keep up with demand. “The main thing is that people who are in the house are noticing that the health of their dogs is probably not very good – and also pets that can withstand the pressures of their owners. Pet behavior problems and anxiety are everywhere.”

Chef Asma Khan has admitted that she makes keema turkey and roast chicken for her kitten, while a friend of hers says on Instagram that she swore her dogs in the West Highlands would not eat anything but dog food – “but that has changed since the lockdown began”. Whether it’s for health or environmental reasons, or simply as a way to show love, increasing numbers of us are turning away from mass-produced pet foods.

It is recommended to seek veterinary advice before placing your dog on a vegetarian or vegan diet.

My vet confirms this, but is less enthusiastic about the trend, recalling several cases of malnutrition he saw before commercial diets became the norm – taurine deficiency in cats in particular. But Daniela dos Santos, vice president of the British Veterinary Association, says it’s great that more people are “taking an interest” in their pets’ diet – “as long as it’s done in a responsible and safe way”. She explained that members of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association must adhere to strict dietary guidelines set by the European pet food industry – whose website tells me that a dog needs “about 37 essential nutrients in its daily diet, and a cat is over 40”.

“Essentially, it’s much easier to get it wrong than to get it right,” dos Santos says. But dos Santos has concerns for those considering a vegetarian and vegan diet for their animals. Cats, as omnivores, derive all their food from meat and should not be deprived of it. While it is “theoretically possible” for dogs to get everything they need from a vegetarian or vegan diet, “you should speak to a specialist first,” whether that be your vet or a veterinary nutritionist.

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