More and more people are choosing to make homemade food for their dogs. For some, the change is about losing trust in pet food companies because of recalls. For others, it’s about digestive problems that just couldn’t be resolved any other way. Whatever your reasons, making homemade food for your dog is a great green way to go when it comes to dog food.
What’s Not Green About “Regular” Dog Food?
When you remove any element of pet care (or anything else, for that matter) from commercial production, you’re reducing your carbon footprint. Chances are your dog food is manufactured across the country, or even across the world. The emissions involved in transportation alone are worth conserving, and that’s not even considering the emissions involved in factory production. Meat and other ingredients must be raised and processed, and the packaging must be milled and printed.
What About Organic Brands?
Some of the environmental concerns with commercial dog food production can be resolved simply by buying 100% organic brands. Certified 100% organic foods will not contain herbicides, toxic persistent pesticides, and the foods will not have been treated with irradiation. Organic manufacturers are also required to adhere to a number of other environmental best practices, as well as cruelty-free animal care.
There are other reputable pet food companies, like Taste of the Wild, who are not exclusively organic, but who are on the greener side of commercial dog food. So, yes! Buy 100% certified organic products, or close to organic, whenever possible. Making your own is still going to be an even greener option.
Potential Pitfalls to Homemade Food for Dogs
Many pet owners have had great success cooking for their dogs at home. There’s ample opportunity for success, and there are also some pitfalls. The most common mistake even the most loving pet owners might make when switching from a commercial brand to a homemade diet is not consulting closely enough with their veterinarian.
“The trouble I see on regular basis,” says Dr. Erica Mollica, DVM, of Carroll Gardens Veterinary Group in Brooklyn, NY, “is that owners have good intentions in the beginning, and follow a recipe exactly. Then, over time, they might find a dog dislikes an ingredient, so they omit it. Or one of the ingredients might become costly, so they use less of it.” These changes can take what was once a balanced diet into something that unknowingly creates a deficiency. She adds, “Most homemade diets off the internet are unbalanced.”
Dr. Mollica says the most common imbalances she finds in her practice as a result of homemade diets include overdoses, as well as deficiencies, and mostly involve calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin B.
Your veterinarian should always be consulted when making a major dietary adjustment for your pet.
Sample Components of Homemade Food for Dogs
Most successful homemade dog foods will include:
- 60%-80% whole protein like deboned chicken or beef chunks, including the skin and fat. Salmon and other proteins may also work.
- 5% - 10% vegetables or fruit, like carrots or blueberries, chopped very small or pureed
- 10% - 20% fiber-rich carbohydrates like sweet potato, rice, or oatmeal
- A vitamin or other nutritional supplement
- Some add parsley for fresh breath, eggs for added protein with the shells for calcium, or probiotics
Basic Preparation Guidelines for Homemade Dog Food
The ingredients above can be combined in the portions recommended, added to a pot, and heated until everything is cooked through. You may wish to add some water for moisture. Some choose to puree everything in a blender, while others roughly chop all the ingredients until it’s a loose stew-like consistency.
Tips for Easy Preparation
- Buy organic meats in bulk to save money
- Buy boneless meat, but keep the skin
- Sometimes your butcher may save you trimmings for free. Can’t hurt to ask!
- Prepare up to a month at once and freeze portioned amounts in muffin tins, then pop them out and store them in baggies.
Basic Preparation Guidelines for Homemade Dog Treats
Treats can be even more fun to make at home than regular meals, as there’s more flexibility when the food items aren’t responsible for the bulk of your dog’s daily nutritional intake.
A simple meat jerky can be made by slicing raw chicken, beef, or another favorite protein into super-thin slices, on the grain. An eighth of an inch works. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Spray a pan lightly with nonstick spray, or line the pan with a Silpat. Then bake the meat slices for about two hours, or till they’re the desired consistency. Allow jerky to cool. Then slice with scissors into bite-sized portions. Store in an airtight container for a few weeks, or keep in the freezer for several months.
Be Sure You’re Doing it Right
Dr. Mollica advises that pet parents pay close attention to their dog’s energy and comfort levels, and especially changes to their stool. Other indications that a homemade diet isn’t doing the trick might include “...muscle loss or atrophy, neurologic symptoms, weakness, or inability to raise the head and neck.”
Dr. Mollica says protein is vital, “but not the be all end all. Carbs, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are all equally important.” Nutritionally balanced supplements are a good consideration, especially if homemade meals will be served on a permanent basis.
Homemade Dog Food for Your Pet
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 shells. 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 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 the stool is loose, or slightly more protein if the 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 retriever 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 weeks’ worth of 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 making the food, which most practitioners try to limit by cooking plenty at once, and freezing portion amount.
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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. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professionals with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.