My vet says "that's not balanced!"
What do scientific studies say about the importance of "balance"?
TLDR: A controlled study showed dogs on “unbalanced” homemade diets do not have signs of deficiency. If you vary their diet and switch between a variety of whole foods, your dog will thrive.
Whenever we go to a new vet and share that the pups are on a homemade diet I get a lecture on the importance of balance in their food. Once I mention that I follow AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines they are less condescending, but are still disappointed that I’m not feeding them the standard lifetime of processed food.
To me this is strange. No doctor recommends cereal every day and no human I know balances every meal. Many people are actually deficient in some nutrient, but we eat without consideration for balance. Why are dog diets seemingly so complex? Dry kibble wasn’t introduced until the 1950’s and dogs have been our companions for over 10,000 years. How did they survive before?
The reality is that it’s all made up. The entire scientific process is based on guesses that scientists run experiments to test. Even human diet recommendations are always changing because one of the guesses (called hypotheses in science) turns out to be wrong. Remember when salt was “bad” for you? and fat? And eggs? Eggs have too much cholesterol, right? Well, in recent years the science has almost completely reversed. For most people, cholesterol in food has minimal impact on blood cholesterol.
What do studies say about homemade dog diets? According to a study done by Waltham (owned by Mars, a global leader in kibble no less) dogs fed unbalanced home diets DID NOT show any signs of deficiency. The researchers even went out of their way to avoid influencing the participants with nutritional knowledge.
In reality, balance only matters if they are eating the exact same foods every day.
We balance our daily food recipes to meet AAFCO standards because it makes it simpler for you. This way you know your dog is getting all their nutrients AND you can respond “AAFCO” when your vet lectures you. I am pretty relaxed about it, and not every one of the pups’ meals has to be “balanced”. In reality, balance only matters if they are eating the exact same foods every day. For example, if you ate french fries for every meal , you would soon suffer a Vitamin C deficiency as well as other issues. Whereas, if you eat a variety of whole foods throughout the week—an orange here, some noodles there, a steak for dinner—you’re probably doing great. :)
If you’re on the fence about feeding dogs home made food, keep this study in mind and trust your gut.