Why do we recommend home-cooking your pet's food?
We recommend home-cooking for your pet for the same reason healthy food is recommended for people. Fresh, real food from reputable sources is the best way to give our pets the nutrients their bodies need. Freshly cooked diets avoid the artificial flavors, colors, additives, fillers, preservatives, and nutrient loss (due to heavy processing) found in commercially available diets.
Additionally, we recommend feeding home-cooked food based on the principles of food energetics found in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. The more highly processed food is, the “warmer” it becomes energetically. Pets that would benefit from a cooling diet, simply cannot get the energetic benefits from the ingredients choices (cooling proteins and vegetables) due the the extensive level of processing (very warming). See below for more information about TCVM feeding energetics.
What is TCVM Food Therapy?
Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine uses food as medicine. Through thousands of years Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have seen the benefits of certain foods and herbs in balancing the body and preventing or treating certain conditions. Many are familiar with ginger being a potent anti-nausea herb or the idea that berries are full of heart-protecting anti-oxidants. Chinese Medicine utilizes these properties of foods in various ways to optimize health. In the West we are accustomed to seeing traditional food labels, which describe the level of calories, fat, protein, etc. in a food item. In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine they describe the energetic action that foods have on the body once consumed (i.e. cooling, warming, salty, or sweet) and use these actions to help balance the body. 80% of food therapy in TCVM is simply choosing the correct diet energetically for your pet!
The Cooking Pot Model
In TCVM the Stomach is considered the “cooking pot” of the body. If the digestive fire underneath the pot is weak, it will result in watery and undercooked food (Dampness). If the digestive fire is excessive the water will be boiled away and lead to burnt and dry food (Excess Heat and/or Yin Deficiency). The perfect combination of ingredients/food, water, and fire to perfect cook food for optimal digestion. Because optimal digestion occurs just above body temperature, most pets should be eating slightly warming diets. Lack of activity in our pets can cause the fire to rise upwards and be less available at the cooking pot where needed.
Feeding Based on Constitution (5 Element Theory)
Another component of food therapy in TCVM is feeding based on a pet’s constitution and/or condition. If a pet is known to be a Fire dog, for example, he would likely benefit from a slightly cooling diet over his lifetime to balance his Fire and prevent Excess Heat conditions. On the other hand, an obvious Earth dog would likely benefit from a warming diet to help tonify the Spleen and prevent gastro-intestinal disorders.
How do I know my pet’s constitution?
Fire: Fire pets are outgoing, expressive, and often excitable. They are strong and fast. They tend to be the life of the party.. Common disorders include anxieties and cardiovascular disease. Vislas and German Shorthaired Pointers are good breed examples of Fire dogs. Fire pets generally do well with a cooling diet.
Earth: Earth pets are good natured and eager to please their families. They tend to be slow and steady, but are usually highly food motivated. They can be submissive, easily worried, and/or prone to obesity. Common disorders include gastrointestinal issues. Golden Retrievers are very commonly Earth dogs. Earth pets generally do well with a warming (and drying) diet.
Metal: Metal pets are very smart, confident, and structured. They like to obey and follow the rules, but can be aloof. Common disorders include respiratory and dry skin diseases. Border collies are a good breed example of Metal dogs. Metal pets generally do well with a cooling (and draining) diet.
Water: Water pets are very watchful and introverted. Most are timid all the time, but some can be extremely fearful. Water pets usually dislike the cold and tend to be heat-seekers. Common disorders include arthritis and fear biting. Shih-tzus and Dachshunds are generally good examples of Water dogs. Water dogs generally do well with a cooling (and draining) diet that includes food than specifically warm the Kidney.
Wood: Wood pets are confident and assertive, but can anger easily and have a short fuse. They are often lean and athletic. Common disorders include liver diseases, eye and ear issues, allergies, and possibly ligament issues. Jack Russell Terriers and Doberman pinschers are good breed examples of Wood dogs. Wood pets generally do well with a cooling (and moistening) diet.
Feeding Based on Yin/Yang
The Yin and Yang symbol is one of the most well known images of Traditional Chinese Medicine and represents the balance of Qi (energy) in the body. The two components of Qi are Yin (coolness) and Yang (warmness). One of the first questions we ask in trying to determine the best diet for a pet is “Doe the pet tend to be a heat seeker or a cool seeker?” Some pets live to lay in direct sun or near a fire, while others prefer to sleep on the hard, cool tile floor instead of the cozy bed you provide them. If a pet is seeking heat, then they may be deficient in their Yang energy and benefit from warming foods that tonify that Yang energy. The same is true for cool seekers- they may be deficient in their Yin energy and benefit from cooling foods.
How do I know what to cook for my pet?
There are several books and online sources to find information about home-cooking for pets. We recommend doing your research to ensure these recommendations will work well with you pet and encourage you to speak with your veterinarian about any diet selected. It is very important to ensure that a pet’s diet is nutritionally balanced and includes the correct levels of calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Scheduling a food therapy consultation with Dr. Carmack will allow a customized diet plan to be created with specific instructions for crock-pot home-cooking. If home cooking is not an option, a consultation will allow you to asses nutritional labels and help to choose the best commercially available diet for your pet.
How do I know if my home cooked meals are nutritionally balanced?
We recommend supplementing all home-cooked diets with 1,000mg calcium citrate or calcium carbonate per pound of food as well as the appropriate amount of Iviblend Nutritional Supplement. Consultation with a veterinarian is recommended for all pets, especially growing puppies and kittens, to ensure you are achieving a balanced diet. Micronutrients are very important to our pets’ diets and nutritional deficiencies can cause serious diseases.
Why don't you recommend raw food?
We might recommend a raw diet if we feel it is most appropriate for your pet. Raw diets can be very beneficial for certain pets requiring a very cold diet, energetically speaking. However, if a pet would benefit from a warming diet- this cannot be achieved by offering only raw (energetically very cold) food no matter which warming protein sources, vegetables, and grains are chosen.
Cooking pet food, rather than serving it raw, allows most pets to digest it more easily from a TCVM viewpoint. Many of our older pets can benefit from having the same raw diet cooked in a crock pot, as they don’t have as much extra energy to spend “cooking” the food in their stomachs. Chinese people have long preferred to eat cooked foods and drink warm tea and water for the same reason. There are some vitamin and mineral losses from the food through cooking, but the increased digestibility can balance these minor losses.
For example: If a raw carrot contains 4mg of Vitamin C and the body absorbs 70% of that nutrient from the raw carrot, the body is supplied with 2.8mg Vitamin C. However, if we cook that carrot and it loses 10% of its nutrients (now down to 3.6mg Vitamin C), but the body now absorb 85% of the nutrients, the body is supplied with 3.1mg Vitamin C. Cooking also decreases the bacterial content of food, which can be beneficial to many pets’ digestion and also increases the safety for handling food in your own kitchen.
Can I purchase home-cooked food for my pet?
Many people do not feel comfortable home-cooking their pets’ food for a variety of reasons- including time restraints, uncertainty in food choices, and concern for balancing diets. We want to make delivering the best possible nutrition for your pet as easy as possible! Dr. Carmack is excited to be working with Chef Greg Wilson to design a new service to do just that. Dr. Carmack will formulate the home-cooked diets and help you choose the best one for your pet, then Chef Greg will prepare the diet and deliver it fresh to your door every 2 weeks. We hope this new service will debut in the fall in Hampton Roads, but you can join the waitlist now to make sure you receive our exciting new announcements!