First, of course, there's the usual guild reason to make simple feeding complicated. Only guild members' expensive advice can keep pets healthy and heal sick ones. Guild secrets keep professionals (and alchemists, who promised to turn lead into gold) in business. The more mysterious and hidden the information, the more they can charge to provide that information. Guild secrets have been jealously guarded since the Middle Ages.
Veterinary nutritionists are today's alchemists, turning pet diets into personal gold. For them pet nutrition is an exceedingly complex balancing act, with hundreds of nutrients to be juggled in each formulation, which they say must be concocted specifically for individual pets.
Here is how Dr. Korinn Saker, DVM and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, puts it:
"Owners who want to prepare their own pet food cannot just provide pets with people food. It is very difficult to ensure the pet's diet is nutritionally balanced if the receipe has not been appropriately evaluated. The Internet, articles, or self-help books cannot be relied upon for this information, because your individual pet has specific requirements for protein, carblydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins. The wrong combination of human foodstuffs fed to your pet can create nutritional deficiencies or excesses that result in disease. If the animal is young and growing, the wrong diet can negatively influence musculoskeletal development."
Dr. Saker's first lesson is don't try to feed your pet yourself, because you'll get it wrong and do harm . Second lesson is don't trust what you read anywhere about pet diets, because no sources of information can be trusted. Further, pets are individuals with specific dietary requirements that owners cannot assess.
If inflicting that amount of self-doubt on pet owners is not sufficient to drive them to a dietary alchemist, requirements for preparation and storage of homemade diets will.
"Another issue is food preparation and storage. Ingredients should be thoroughly cooked to keep bacterias from forming and creating concerns such as Salmonella or E.Coli. Unless food is prepared fresh for each meal, appropriate freezing followed by proper thawing, heating, and then serving at room temperature are other steps that must be followed."
Remember, this advice is given for healthy pets. With the time-consuming consultation and exacting preparation of pet diets they say is required, it's a wonder any dogs or cats survived evolution. For many thousands of years, wolf/dogs ate whole prey and scavenged off rotting carcases -- not cooked, not balanced by a nutritionist, and not frozen or thawed properly to retard bacteria formation. In more recent centuries, dogs ate human leftovers, caught and ate small game, and scavenged in human garbage. How can so robust a species be so vulnerable to dietary imbalances and bacteria?
Dr. Saker is not alone in warning pet owners not to tinker with pets' diets without expert advice. Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, DACVN is a maven of dietary experts. For a hefty fee, her consulting business at petdiets.com offers tailored cooked meat. starch, veggie recipes with corn oil and vitamin/mineral supplements. Supplements are to be purchased from the granddaddy of veterinary nutrition consulting groups, DVM Consulting, out of the University of California -- Davis.
Dr. Remillard's home-cooked diet instructions for healthy pets run to three pages of gram-measured components, excruciating storage, heating, and monitoring requirements. In fact, ingredients in these professionally formulated diets are few and simple, but measuring and combining them precisely, as prescribed, would be nerve-wracking and time-consuming.
So, here's the second, and more important, reason veterinary nutrition "experts" make pet diets appear to be so complex and burdensome to pet owners: They are all paid consultants to commercial pet food companies. The first recommendation of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and its members is to feed pets "100% complete and balanced" commercial pet foods.
In the midst of the enormous 2007 contaminated pet food recall, in which thousands of pets died from renal failure, Dr. Remillard publically warned pet owners not to switch from kibble to homemade diets. On behalf of the ACVN, she raised spectres of dietary imbalances that were hard to accept, given the enormous harm commercial pet foods did to North American pets that year. And the 2007 pet food recall for melamine contamination was just one in a long and frequent series of pet food contaminations and deficiencies that have killed and sickened tens of thousands of dogs and cats in this decade. Nonetheless, the ACVN and it members swear by "100% complete and balanced" kibbles and canned mush.
Opening a bag or can and pouring junk into a pet's bowl is easy, time-saving, and requires no thought. By making it appear that only an alchemist can formulate a healthy substitute for kibble and mush, pet owners are deterred from feeding a better diet. As I have said many times, feeding raw-meaty-bones is quite simple and fast. All you have to do is hand your pet an appropriately sized hunk of meaty bone. Varying meaty bones from day to day gives pets all the varied nutrients they need, and keeps their teeth clean -- a claim the dietary alchemists cannot make.
The diet experts' message is: Let pet food companies do the thinking and formulating; they have hundreds of veterinary nutrition experts (like us) on their payrolls. Ignorant pet owners cannot compete with the nutrition expertise of pet food companies, nor can they find reliable information in books, articles, or on the Internet, a message I find most offensive. If owners dare try to choose foods themselves, we warn you of the harm you may do and, as a last resort, charge you a lot of money to concoct a cooked mush diet for your carnivorous pet.
As a University of Pennsylvania veterinary nutritionist said in the Pet Food Institute webinar, she questions clients who want to feed "unconventional" diets, discovers what motivates their preferences, and guides them back to commercial pet foods. Failing that, she gives them a homemade diet recipe that takes a great deal of time to prepare and store. No doubt, her clients soon return to kibble and cans.
There must be pet owners with sufficient self-doubt to engage the services of these contemporary alchemists. Let's remember, however, they are not turning boneless, skinless chicken breasts into solid gold nutrition for pets, who need raw-meaty-bones. They are turning cooked chicken & rice recipes into gold for themselves and for giant pet food companies.