Growing Number of Pet Owners Turn to Home Cooking

PHOTO The dog named "Guido" is shown in this file photo.

While some dogs look forward to the sound of kibble clanging in their dish at dinnertime, Guido looks forward to the smell of pork cooked with summer squash and oatmeal.

The 9-year-old Italian greyhound is one of a growing number of dogs whose owners have turned away from the billion-dollar pet food industry over concerns about their dogs' health and the quality of commercial dog food.

"It started out that a lot of people thought I was nuts," Joe Lascola, Guido's owner, told ABCNews.com.

Lascola, of Huntington Beach, Calif., started homecooking for Guido in 2004, mixing his ingredients in with kibble in an effort to deal with the dog's severe medical problems. But after the 2007 pet food recall, Lascola went kibble-free and, with the help of an animal nutritionist, began cooking all of Guido's meals.

"I think the recalls really woke a lot of people up," he said. "When you're mass producing something, something is going to go wrong at some point."

Dr. Richard Pitcairn has researched animal nutrition for decades and his book "Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats" is considered by some to be a staple among home cookers.

Now retired from his veterinary practice and focusing on writing and speaking engagements, Pitcairn said he first became interested in the power of nutrition while in school after realizing that proper nutrition could have a positive effect on the immune system.

"To my surprise, it made a big difference," he said, "bigger than I expected."

Animals fed some kibbles long-term, he said, show signs of lessened energy and duller coats and are more susceptible to parasites and fleas.

"It's hard for the body to repair itself if the body doesn't have the nutrients it needs," Pitcairn said.

Only a small percentage of people prefer to cook for their dogs. Kurt Gallagher, director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Food Institute, said a survey done this spring of 800 pet owners -- conducted by a third-party polling institute -- showed that just 1 percent of owners cooked and prepared their pets' meals themselves.

Angele Thompson, who holds a Ph.D in animal nutrition, and works with the institute, noted that the life span of a domestic animal has increased even just in the 29 years she's been in the business, progress she attributed to advanced veterinary care and advances in commercial pet food.

"There may be a voiced interest in a homemade diet, but over time, that's very hard to sustain," she said.

Cost of Home Cooking vs. Commercial Pet Food Debatable

At a time when people are looking to save money wherever they can, home cooking is likely to be more expensive than some of the popular grocery store brands, Pitcairn said, simply because of how much food you get in one bag for such a low cost.

"It's going to cost more to make the food ... but on the other hand, you have to factor in what it's going to cost you in veterinary bills," Pitcain said.

Lascola, who had been feeding Guido a high-end premium kibble before making the switch, said cooking for his dog really hasn't cost him that much more.

He estimated he feeds Guido, a small-breed dog, for about $2 a day, spending about 3 1/2 hours to make enough meals at once for the coming month, which he then freezes.

Lascola, 45, said his foray in home cooking was borne out of a desire to find anything his buddy would eat that wouldn't cause continued digestive upset or worsen the seizures Guido has suffered for years.

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