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Cooking For Pets: Good Idea?

As the pet food recall grows, so does the number of people cooking for their dogs and cats.

But is that wise?

The Early Show's resident veterinarian, Dr. Debbye Turner, suggested Tuesday that it might not be.

"I cannot recommend that you cook for your pet," she told co-anchor Hannah Storm. "They have very specific nutritional needs. If you're going to cook for your pet, you need to formulate a diet that has all the right nutrients, plus supplements, and all in the right proportions."

Turner says people "absolutely shouldn't" stop feeding Fido or Fluffy commercial pet food: There are still plenty of commercial pet foods on the shelves that are believed to be safe. Of course, check the recall list on the Menu Foods Web site to make sure you're not feeding one of the affected brands.

Since it's believed wheat gluten is somehow involved, you can help assure the food you're feeding is safe by looking at the ingredients listed on the package or can and making sure wheat gluten isn't one of them.

Also, cautioned Turner, cats and dogs have different nutritional requirements. Dogs need 38 nutrients daily. Cat need 40. Dogs are omnivores, like people. So they need protein, carbohydrates, fats and fiber, plus vitamins and minerals. Cats are obligate carnivores. They need a high protein diet that contains animal fat and taurine.

What's more, pets can't eat everything people can. Most spices are upsetting to pets' systems and will cause gastric irritation and diarrhea. So, you definitely shouldn't season food for pets the way we season it for ourselves. Plus, there are some foods that we know are toxic to cats and dogs. They include onions, garlic, raisins, grapes, chocolate and macadamia nuts.

Also, Turner was wary of Internet info. "You do not want to trust Internet recipes," she said. Anyone can come up with a recipe and post it on the Web. And while these recipes may be tasty to your pet and OK to give them as a treat, many just aren't nutritionally complete and shouldn't be used for long-term feeding. You will simply do more harm than good to your pet. If you still feel you have to cook for your pet, it's best to take the recipe to your veterinarian and let her review it and make adjustments, just to be safe.

That said, Turner did offer an example of a recipe for dogs, from a Web site run by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist who formulates custom-made recipes for pet owners. They're designed to be nutritionally balanced specifically for your pets.

There are hundreds of recipes, but the one shown by Turner includes white rice, vegetable oil and chicken. Seems pretty simple, right? Well, in order for it to be nutritionally balanced, you must add supplements to the dish: a multivitamin, calcium, choline, salt and zinc. That's the advantage of commercial diets: all the work has been done for you. The vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids are already there. If you cook for your pet, YOU have to add them. It's a lot of work!

The recipe for dogs that Turner showed:

Rice (white, long-grain, regular, cooked) 3-7/8cup
Oil (vegetable, corn) 4-1/4 tsp
Chicken (breast, cooked) 5-1/8 oz

PLUS: must add these human supplements:
1-1/8 tablets of One a Day Maximum Multivitamin/mineral supplement
3-7/8 of Posture caplet (600 mg elemental calcium)
1-3/8 tablets of generic choline tablet (600 mg tablet w/250 mg choline)
1 tsp of Morton Lite Salt Mixture
1/8 tsp of Morton Salt Substitute
3/4 tablet of generic zinc gluconate tablet (250 mg tablet w/30 mg elemental zinc)

Bake the chicken in the oven and cook the white rice without adding salt. Cut the chicken into small pieces. Place the white rice in a bowl and add the oil and the supplements. Mix well. Place cut chicken on the rice and serve.

Why is it, Turner was asked, that cats are far more affected in this recall than dogs?

It's important to point out that we still don't know exactly what has caused illness and death in pets, Turner responded, but we know that far more cats have gotten sick and died than dogs. It could be because they are smaller and can't tolerate the "load" of the toxin in the food. Or their metabolism is faster than dogs, so it could be that hastens the affect of the poison. We're just not sure yet.

Turner also demonstrated the preparation of a recipe for cats, which she said is a good example of what a cat would eat. It's from the same Web site as the one for dogs, and includes sweet potato, salmon, and vegetable oil. But again, the food alone doesn't contain all the necessary nutrition for the cat. So you would need to add these supplements to make it nutritionally complete: a multivitamin, calcium, taurine, choline, salt, zinc, and caltrate.

The cat recipe:

Sweet potato (cooked, baked in skin, without salt) 5/8 cup
Fish, salmon (Atlantic, wild, cooked) 2.9 ounces
Oil (vegetable or corn) 3/4 tsp

PLUS: must add these human supplements:
1/4 tablet of One A Day Maximum Multivitamin/multimineral Supplement per day
3/8 caplet of Posture caplet (600 mg elemental calcium) per day
1/4 tablet of Generic taurine tablet (1 gram tablet with 500 mg taurine) per day
3/8 tablet of Generic choline tablet (600 mg tablet with 250 mg choline) per day
1/8 tsp of Morton Lite Salt Mixture per day
1/8 tablet of Generic zinc gluconate tablet (250 mg tablet with 30 mg elemental zinc) per day
1/4 capsule of Caltrate 600 per day

Bake the salmon and sweet potato in the oven without any added salt. Once cooked, measure out the salmon and sweet potato in the amounts above and cut into small pieces. Place the sweet potato in a serving bowl and add the oil and the necessary supplement. Mix well. Place the cut salmon onto the sweet potato and serve.

For more on pets and nutrition, Turner recommends these sites:
PetDiets.com and the site of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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