Feeding Pets in Uganda
By Dr. Linda Nelson
Promoting health and wellness in dogs and cats is a common goal for veterinarians and pet owners alike. In recent years, a number of highly publicized pet food recalls, as well as a growing awareness of the role of diet in health and disease for people, have changed the way some owners approach feeding their pets. Many owners, and some veterinarians, now advocate feeding dogs and cats home-prepared foods (raw, cooked, or both.) In addition, in Uganda it can be expensive or frustrating to find the commercial pet food brands available overseas. It is important for pet owners to understand the relative risks and benefits of home-prepared diets versus commercial foods so that they can choose what to feed given the needs of their pets and their specific household situation.
Advantages of Commercial Dog Foods
The major advantage of feeding commercial pet foods is convenience. If you buy mainstream, well-known brands of pet food at a supermarket in Kampala, you can rest assured that they are formulated with the correct amounts of nutrients. These foods are also generally very safe, as manufacturers must adhere to fairly stringent rules about ingredients, processing and packaging. Besides the convenience of a well-formulated, safe diet, the prepackaged foods are easy and quick to feed. Many busy families don’t have time or reliable household staff to boil rice, slice vegetables, measure vitamins and so on.
Advantages of Home-Prepared Foods
For some pet owners, offering a home-prepared diet is in response to concerns about the production of commercial foods; for others, feeding a home-prepared diet reinforces the human-animal bond; and for still others, a home-prepared diet is recommended to help manage a medical condition. One significant advantage of home-prepared foods over commercial foods is their palatability, especially for finicky eaters. Fresh meat, whether fed raw or cooked, is palatable to most dogs and cats. It is sometimes more digestible and higher in fat than dry kibbles. The result is an animal that often readily eats its food, has lower stool volume, and shiny coat.
Home-prepared diets sometimes offer a way to manage a specific medical condition by strict control of ingredients. In Uganda, where many dogs suffer from generalized allergies, changing to a hypoallergenic diet often improves the overall health and skin condition dramatically. Hypoallergenic diets are formulated to avoid common allergy-causing substances and to use certain ingredients that benefit the skin and immune response. Commercial hypoallergenic diets are not yet available in Uganda, so preparing your own at home can be helpful to an itchy pet.
Disadvantages of Home-Prepared Foods
The major disadvantage of home-prepared diets (cooked or raw) is that they may not meet a pet’s nutritional requirements for long term health. Published reviews of the nutritional adequacy of home-prepared diet recipes have found that fewer than half of the recipes used by pet owners provided a complete and balanced source of nutrients. A few consistent deficiencies were found across all recipes, regardless of ingredients used. Home-prepared pet diets often lacked a sufficient source of essential macrominerals (e.g. calcium,) lacked trace minerals (e.g. selenium,) lacked essential omega-6 fatty acids, and provided inadequate levels of vitamins. While the perceived benefits of home-prepared diets may be reinforced daily to the owner, nutrient deficiencies in adult animals are insidious and can lead to long-term complications, which can vary from poor skin and coat health to chronic diarrhea, weak bones, anemia and altered drug metabolism.
Raw meat diets are particularly risky as any raw meat can be a potential source of exposure to parasites and bacteria, including E. coli, Toxoplasma, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Cryptosporidum. Otherwise healthy adult animals fed raw meat diets can also serve as sources of contamination for people and any other animals in the household. Raw and cooked bones specifically carry risks of gastrointestinal obstruction/performation and may be an inadequate source of essential minerals due to the poor digestibility of larger bones within the canine and feline digestive tract.
No one diet fits all when it comes to feeding dogs and cats; what and how to feed vary with life stage, as well as with individual energy and nutrient requirements. The feeding of a balanced home-prepared diet allows for specific ingredient selection, control of key nutrients within the diet, and a more tailored approach to the dietary and medical needs of a veterinary patient. However, what seems like an optimal diet from an owner’s perspective may not be beneficial to the pet. The best advice is to feed the most convenient and economical food for your particular pet that maintains a high standard of health, and to consult your veterinarian before embarking on a home-formulated diet, especially for pets with chronic health problems such as diabetes or kidney failure.
For more information, please contact:
Dr Linda Nelson
Mobile: +256 784 718988