Pros: Excellent information, well supported and detailed.
Cons: Very dry, scholarly style makes it a bit hard for the layman to read.
Have you ever wondered just what it is that goes into that kibble you're pouring into your dog's or cat's dish? or what makes up the pungent slurry you scoop out of a can for them? Perhaps you've read the label and seen such mystifying ingredients as "meat and bone meal" or "meat by-products." Maybe you've been taken aback by the prominent listings of wheat or soy flour. Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative demystifies those ingredients and offers an alternative.
Following a preface in which Dr. Strombeck explains the background and purpose of the book, the information is organized as follows. I have highlighted in bold-italics some of the key chapters:
Part One. Food Quality and Safety
2. Food Quality and Wholesomeness
3. Food Safety and Preparation
Part Two. Feeding Normal Dogs and Cats
4. Canine and Feline Energy Requirements
5. Feeding a Normal Dog or Cat
Part Three. Food Intolerance and Allergy
6. Adaptation to the Diet
7. Evaluation of Gastrointestinal Disease
8. Diet and Gastrointestinal Disease
9. Digestive Tract Environment: Protection of Its Integrity
10. Diet and Skin Disease
Part Four. Diet-Induced Disease
11. Feeding to Manage Obesity
12. Diet-Related Skeletal and Joint Diseases in Dogs
Part Five. Dietary Management of Disease
13. Diet and Chronic Renal Disease
14. Diet and Urinary Tract Stone Disease
15. Diet and Endocrine Disease
16. Diet and Heart Disease
17. Diet and Pancreatic Disease
18. Diet and Hepatic Disease
The author begins with several chapters on food quality and safety. He points out the lack of stringent standards imposed on pet food manufacturers, and goes into detail about how those manufacturers formulate their foods and what goes into them. At the same time, he details dogs' and cats' dietary needs in terms of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. I found this section very enlightening. By the time I got to part two, I was convinced that commercial pet food is far from the best option.
Part Two goes into the real meat of the issue. Chapter 4 contains various tables of calorie needs of dogs and cats under normal and special circumstances, as well as factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as digestibility. Then in chapter 5, a large variety of "diets" are given, each one specifically geared to the needs of, for example, Growing Dogs, Adult Dogs, Growing and Adult Cats. There are also a good variety of vegetarian recipes given for both dogs and cats - although, as the author explains, cats, being true carnivores, do require some amino acids in their diet which can only be obtained from animal sources. His vegetarian diets for cats include supplements which cover those needs.
Chapter 11 deals with feeding to manage obesity. As usual, the problem is detailed and solutions are given. Dr. Strombeck gives a rather complicated formula for calculating the amount of food to feed, which frankly I ignored. The most useful section of this chapter was another set of diets - Weight Reduction for Dogs and Weight Reduction for Cats. These may be useful for more than just weight reduction if, for example, your cat is a small one and has lower calorie requirements than the diets in chapter 5 provide.
Much of the remainder of the book - the sections dealing with specific disease - is very technical and the information is so specific that I didn't find it useful. Still, it provides a very good reference, especially since it gives even more (many more) specific diets that can be used for animals with a particular disease or a problem such as food allergy.
One of the chief things that struck me about this book was the large number of references. Dr. Strombeck lists credible sources for all his assertions, which is a great improvement over the vague, unreferenced opinions I've seen in other books. I felt that I could trust the information he provides.
Dr. Strombeck's credentials are also pretty impressive:
Donald R. Strombeck, DVM, PhD, is Professor Emeritus, University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, as well as an honorary member of the College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. He is widely published and has received numerous awards, including the Ralston Purina Award for research excellence in small animal diseases for his work in gastroenterology. Dr. Strombeck practiced small animal medicine for over 40 years.
In other words, he knows his stuff.
I also appreciated the detail given in this book. It may not be strictly necessary to know everything that is offered here, but I was glad the information was there so that when I wanted a little more depth on the subject, it was there.
Of course, there were some negatives about the book, too. The back cover says: "Written in clear, easy-to-understand language, this comprehensive reference...." Although "comprehensive reference" certainly applies, "clear and easy-to-understand" isn't always how I would describe this book. The author sometimes uses highly technical terminology without offering any simplified definition, especially medical terms. Do you know what "coprophagy" is? I certainly didn't, although I eventually worked it out by means of context. Be prepared with a good dictionary if you want to understand everything in this book!
Also, while there is a great variety of different diets to prepare, they are all given in one- or two-serving recipes. I wanted to make large batches and freeze them in amounts that would give a 2- or 3-day supply, which required some calculations and resulted in some awkward measurements. I also didn't find any detail on the best way to prepare the diets. The last one I put together ("Sardine and Rice Diet" - yum!), I found that seemingly the best way to do it is to just throw everything into the blender or food processor to make a thick slurry. I'd read elsewhere that if food is in chunks, cats have a tendency to pick around what they don't want and eat only the "good parts," resulting in, for example, a little pile of clean rice left on their plates. I figured that by just blending it all together, they'd be getting everything they need.
Some readers might take as a negative the fact that he promotes cooking all the meats because of potential health risks such as salmonella. While it's a good idea to cook egg white given to an animal, many now believe that raw meat is healthier for a true carnivore than cooked. The issue of raw vs. cooked isn't given much attention here, so you will have to go to other sources for more information on that.
While this book can't be described as perfect, it certainly was very satisfactory. This is the book that I would give my cats' vet for Christmas. Armed with the information and recipes given, with a bit of extra effort I can offer my cats a healthy variety of quality food. No more wondering and worrying about those mystery ingredients!