Many pet lovers choose homemade dog foods rather than store bought kibble. Others ask, why bother with homemade dog food when it comes so conveniently packaged and ready to serve? For some, it’s a medical necessity. For others, their budget paved the way to home cooked meals. And some folks just don’t trust pet food manufacturers or their regulators after recalls and pet deaths.
There are a dozen reasons for wanting to get off the kibble train, but once you’ve hopped off, in which direction should you walk? As with most dog food discussions, opinions vary widely.
Common Ingredients in Homemade Dog Foods
A good place to begin is to determine which ingredients are safe and healthful for dogs, and which are better left to humans. Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, says, “A dog's diet should include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just because something is good and healthful for us, doesn't mean it will necessarily be the same for your dog. Some human foods may be toxic to dogs, so caution is advised.”
Common Proteins in Homemade Dog Foods
- Just about any whole boneless meat: chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, pork, or duck will do, as will fowl or other poultry.
- Poultry organ meat, like chicken giblets and chicken livers
- Chicken skin and soft cartilage
- Deboned fish, especially salmon
- Eggs, including shell. Dr. Erica Mollica, DVM, of Carroll Gardens Veterinary Group in Brooklyn, NY says, “Typically, shells are added in order to promote calcium in the diet. Raw eggs do have a high risk of Salmonella infection which can cause a very bad diarrhea and stomach problems, so cooked is better.”
For the most part, bones should not be included in your homemade dog food. Unless you’ve read up on the BARF philosophy, and are prepared to get your dog super-fresh bone-in meat, bones are not generally safe to feed to dogs.
Common Fats in Homemade Dog Foods
- Ground flax seeds or flax oil: a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, great for skin and coat
- Salmon: also a protein source, salmon is rich in Omega-3s
- Chicken or other poultry skin
- Safflower oil
- Peanut butter: mostly for flavor
Common Carbohydrates in Homemade Dog Foods
- Potatoes, both sweet and regular
- Brown rice
- Wheat germ
- Oatmeal: a good soluble fiber, in moderation
Other Common Ingredients in Homemade Dog Foods
- Yogurt or other probiotics
- Supplements: some may wish to add drops, powders, or pellets to their dog’s homemade food, either to help with current ailments or to add amino acids and other nutrients
- Parsley: for fresh breath
- Garlic: Some believe garlic should never be in dog food, others laud it for its anti-pest powers and other health benefits.
Each pet owner will have to experiment to find out what will work best for their dog. Dr. Crosby says, “Some dogs might need slightly higher ratios of fiber if stool is loose, or slightly more protein if pooch is ill. Nutritionally balanced supplements are a good consideration, as they’ll help to make sure homemade meals are balanced and complete. Supplements are a good idea especially if homemade meals will be served on a long term basis.” It’s always best to work closely with your veterinarian when making major changes to your dog’s diet.
Sample Homemade Dog Food Recipe: Brooklyn Mix for Dog with Diarrhea
A young couple in Brooklyn, NY found their rat terrier mix was plagued with constant stomach problems, including persistent diarrhea. Their veterinarian suggested home cooked meals until they could pinpoint the problem. Their doctor created basic recipe guidelines, which they followed. The homemade food worked so well, they never went back to kibble or alternatives. We asked them for their recipe:
“We don't follow an exact recipe, but we stick to these guidelines: 60% protein, usually chicken thighs and/or breasts with the skin, and sometimes chicken liver or something else on sale; 20% vegetables, usually sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, or potatoes; 20% oatmeal or rice; and we add a doggy nutritional supplement whose base is seaweed.”
They add all the ingredients to a pot with a bit of water, and heat till everything is cooked through and soft. They prepare up to one month’s worth of dog food at a time, and freeze pre-portioned amounts.
Sample Homemade Dog Food Recipe: Boston Mix for Dog with Chronic Licking and Hair Loss
A family of four in Boston, MA had an aged golden retreiver who began licking her paws till her bed was soaked from saliva. They thought it an odd quirk till she started licking her body raw. She began losing fur in patches. The family, already fearful of commercial pet food after a recent recall scare, tossed their budget kibble, and began cooking their own food.
They combine about 75% chopped poultry, with its skin, and cubes of beef in a pot with about 25% chopped carrots, yogurt, blueberries for antioxidants, and a starchy vegetable. They also add glucosamine supplements to ease their aging dog’s hip pain. When it’s cooked through, they roughly puree everything and freeze several week’s worth shaped in muffin tins. Sometimes they use fish instead of poultry (tinned tuna works, they report) or whole eggs, including the shells.
“Our vet explained that dogs don’t need to eat the same protein every single day. There’s no reason not to shake it up,” they said. Their retriever's raw spots healed, the fur grew back, and in the end, they saved money on dog food overall.
Some Human Foods That Are Dangerous to Dogs
- Raisins and grapes
- Artificial sweeteners
- And some would say garlic, though it’s often included in foods, treats, and supplements
Criticism of Homemade Dog Food
The troubles with homemade dog foods are twofold. The most common pitfall is that pet owners don’t consult closely enough with their veterinarians during the transition process, and end up creating deficiencies or overdoses in their dog’s diet. The other may be the time you spend to make the food, which most practitioners try to limit by cooking plenty at once, and freezing portion amounts.
Diets for Dogs: Here’s What You Need to Know
Raw Food Dog Diet
Grain Free Dog Food: Cut Down on Carbs
Natural Dog Food: Holistic and Organic Dog Food Diets
What is in My Dog Food?
Supplementing Your Dog's Diet with Fish Oil
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.