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Is a Homemade Diet Right for Your Pet?

Updated: Aug 7

With news of recalls and information about commercial dog foods constantly shifting, more and more dog owners are opting to prepare their own dog food at home. Dogs love home-cooked food, but making homemade dog food is not the same as cooking a meal for yourself or your human family members. There are some important rules to follow in order to keep your dog healthy.

Should You Feed a Homemade Diet?

Homemade diets are growing in popularity in part because the ingredients can be controlled, so there is no fear of dog food recalls. In addition, many people are trying to eat healthier and they want the same for their dogs. Homemade diets are favored by some because they contain whole food ingredients that are generally considered healthier than processed dog food.

Home cooking dog food is not right for everyone. There are some factors to consider before you switch your dog to a homemade diet.

  • Be sure to find a dog food recipe that is complete and balanced. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to feed an incomplete or imbalanced diet to your dog.

  • It takes time to measure ingredients and prepare the food correctly. Be sure you have a schedule that allows enough time to properly make your dog's food on a regular basis.

  • Make sure you can afford the ingredients to make your own dog food. Homemade food is typically less expensive than commercially prepared fresh or raw dog food, but it usually costs a little more than kibble.

  • If you have a picky dog, you may need to source multiple recipes so you can change the diet periodically and keep your dog interested.

Proper Nutrition for Dogs

Like humans, dogs have nutritional needs that must be met in order for them to thrive. Dogs' nutritional needs differ from our own, so you can't exactly start sharing your own dinner with your dog. Feeding an incomplete or imbalanced diet can lead to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies in dogs.

Dogs need enough calories to meet their energy requirements. A dog's daily caloric need depends on the dog's life stage and activity level. Your veterinarian can help you determine how many calories your dog needs each day or you can schedule a consultation with us.

A homemade dog diet should contain an appropriate balance of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat. Vitamins and minerals must be added to the food to ensure it is complete and balanced.

The Building Blocks of a Balanced Diet

Understanding the basics of what makes a home cooked diet balanced for your dog will help when you discuss the options with an expert. Here are important ingredients for the canine diet.

Protein: According to the ACVN, dogs must have protein in their diets that contain 10 specific essential amino acids their bodies can’t produce. This is necessary for the creation of glucose, which transforms into energy. Sources of protein include chicken and turkey, after removing bones, fat, and skin; beef and lamb; pork in limited amounts; salmon and some other fish such as whitefish, herring, walleye, flounder, and Arctic char.

Fats and fatty acids: The most concentrated sources of fats in a dog’s diet come from animal fats and plant seed oils. A healthy diet supplies the fatty acids the dog’s body doesn’t manufacture. Fatty acids support the function and structure of cells, keep skin and coat healthy, and enhance the taste of the food. Sources of fatty acids include plant-based oils, including corn, soybean, canola, and flaxseed oil, as well as fish oil.

Carbohydrates: Dogs get some of their energy from carbohydrates, which include sugars, starches, and dietary fibers. Sources include rice, pasta, oatmeal, and quinoa.

Fiber: Dogs need fiber in their diet to keep their gastrointestinal (GI) system functioning and to help them from becoming overweight. Good sources of fiber for dogs include carrots, pumpkin, apples, dark leafy greens, brown rice, and flaxseed.

Vitamins: Vitamins are required for growth and maintenance. Vitamin deficiencies can cause a variety of health problems; however, they can also be dangerous in large quantities.

Vitamins dogs require include A (carrots, pumpkin), B vitamins (liver, green vegetables, whole grains), C (fruits and vegetables, organ meat), D (liver, fish, beef), E (leafy green vegetables, liver, bran, plant oils), K (fish, leafy green vegetables, fish), and choline (liver, fish, meats, egg yolks).

Minerals: There are 12 essential minerals for dogs:

  • Calcium (tofu, green beans, broccoli, and cauliflower) and phosphorus (meat, eggs) for strong bones and teeth.

  • Magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and cell signaling.

  • Sulfur (meat, fish, molasses) for healthy skin, coat, and nails.

  • Iron (red meats, poultry) for supporting red blood cells and the immune system.

  • Iodine (dairy, kelp, seafood) for a healthy thyroid.

  • Zinc (eggs, lamb, liver, brewer’s yeast) for the immune system, healthy skin, and coat.

  • Selenium (meat, vegetables, seafood, brown rice) to boost the immune system.

  • Copper (whole grains, seeds, and seafood) for healthy bone growth.

Water: We sometimes overlook this important ingredient of a healthy dog’s diet, but there really is no dog food that contains enough water for your dog. Keep clean, fresh water out always.

Making the Transition

If you’ve decided to transition your dog to a homemade diet, your first step should be to consult a veterinarian or an animal nutritionist. Those experts will consider your dog’s age, size, and health history and help you identify a high-quality recipe that is tailored to meet your dog’s specific nutritional needs.

  • When you buy ingredients for your dog’s homemade meals, you need to pay as much attention to the source, expiration dates, and labels as you do when you buy food for yourself.

  • Whenever you change your dog’s food, whether to a homemade diet or a new commercial food, a gradual switch is best to avoid upsetting your dog’s GI system. For at least five-to-seven days, gradually mix in more and more of the new food with the old food, as you allow your dog to adjust to the change.

  • Be sure to follow the recipe. Tufts Cummings Veterinary Medical Center Clinical Nutrition Service published a study to determine how well owners adhered to home cooked diet recipes a median of one year later. Only 13 percent were still feeding the original nutritionally balanced diet recipe.

  • Clear instructions about preparation and quantities are important. The way you cook the ingredients – for example, steam, roast, or boil — can impact the nutrition of the diet. Substituting or adding ingredients can also cause nutritional deficiencies. A study reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that a lack of clear instructions in many recipes forces pet owners to make assumptions that can result in food that is nutritionally inadequate and can even be harmful if fed to your dog on a long-term basis.

Follow-up. Once you’ve made the transition, pay attention to any digestive changes your dog may have. If his stool softens, he vomits, or has diarrhea, check in with the veterinarian or nutritionist. Whenever you change your dog’s diet, you also need to monitor his weight. It may take a while to determine the correct portions for his size, age, and energy level.

How to Prepare Homemade Food for Dogs

When preparing a diet at home for your dog, it is essential that you follow a recipe that is complete and balanced. Once you and your vet have chosen an appropriate recipe, it's time to get started.

  • Before you begin, it's best if you have ready a food scale, food processor, pots and pans, and containers or bags for portioning the food.

  • Purchase fresh, high-quality ingredients that are not canned, seasoned, or heavily processed.

  • Set yourself up in a clean area of the kitchen that is free of foods that may be harmful to your dog.

  • Measure out the ingredients. Use a food scale if possible for accuracy.

  • Cook ingredients as directed on the recipe

  • Mix food and supplements together well (ideally, use a food processor to blend ingredients).

  • Place food in containers and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

  • In general, refrigerated food will stay fresh for three to four days. Frozen dog food is best within about two months. Avoid feeding homemade dog food that has been in the freezer for more than six months.

Many owners choose to prepare food in bulk and refrigerate or freeze it in pre-portioned containers. This is a great idea to save time and money, but you might want to begin by making smaller quantities so you can see how your dog does on the diet.

If you are ready to get started cooking for your dog, the first step is to talk to your veterinarian to make sure your dog is a good candidate for a homemade diet. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) warns that your dog’s unique nutritional requirements will depend on the age, size, health, and breed. Also, there are dogs for whom a homemade diet may not be appropriate or might even be damaging. “We generally don’t recommend homemade diets for a dog less than one-year-old. If young dogs don’t receive the appropriate amount of calcium and phosphorus, significant bone abnormalities may result,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinarian. “Pregnant and lactating dogs also have unique dietary requirements that may not be addressed by a recipe found on the internet.”

There are several dietary options available on my website for healthy adult dogs, however if your dog has any medical conditions, is growing or is pregnant please reach out and schedule a consultation. I will work closely with your veterinarian to make sure your dog gets the best nutrition possible.


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