Guide to Feeding Homemade Dog Food
Updated: Feb 1
Wouldn’t it be great if dogs and cats could eat homemade food like us? Many people think so, and there are many benefits to home cooking for your pets. This guide will help with your decision by discussing the pros and cons of home cooking as well as ingredients and supplements.
Keep in mind that this discussion always pertains to ingredients that you put together and cook in your home to create a complete and balanced diet (a diet that meets all nutrient requirements for the life stage of your dog), not premade, fresh, frozen options that can be delivered to your home or purchased in a store.
The Wonders of Home Cooking for Pets
There is something special about being able to prepare food for your family, including your pets, either from ingredients you purchased or grew. It’s a good idea too since many dogs, and some cats, find home-cooked food very palatable, oftentimes more so than commercially available diets.
There are also times when home cooking for your pet might be done more out of necessity than desire. When multiple health conditions are present at once, it may be difficult to find a commercially available diet that achieves the various nutritional goals to meet your pet’s particular needs. A Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist® can help design a homemade diet tailored to your pet’s health needs. Also, when our pets don’t feel well, their food can become less attractive and palatable to them, and the increased palatability of a homemade diet can help get them back on all four feet.
Homemade diets for pets tend to have very good digestibility since they are made with whole meats. In addition, they can contain fresh produce which provides beneficial phytonutrients and fibers. The high digestibility and phytonutrient-containing produce are beneficial for all dogs but can be especially helpful for those with digestive issues. Again, the diet can also be tailored to meet the particular needs of an individual pet, which helps to prevent or manage disease as well.
The Pitfalls of Home Cooking for Pets
While many dogs find dog food at home very palatable, cats are a different story. These pickier creatures can become accustomed to the texture, taste, and smell of the diet they are used to, and making a switch, especially when sick, to a homemade diet can be unsuccessful for a larger portion of cats than dogs. That said, there are some cats that will readily consume a homemade diet. For these guys, it can be just as beneficial as it is for dogs.
While homemade pet food can be tailored to meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, whether it is for healthy pets or those with medical conditions, the diet should be balanced by a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist®. This is not the time to get creative in your kitchen. Dogs and cats have specific nutrient requirements that need to be met in the diet to prevent signs of deficiency over time. With certain medical conditions, some nutrients must also be restricted, so following the formulated diet is crucial to ensure that it is both safe and effective. Many diets can be found online, but if they weren’t formulated by a professional, they almost always have nutritional deficiencies or do not meet the intended nutritional goals for the management of disease.
This brings us to the topic of diet drift. One issue with homemade diets, even properly formulated ones, is that the recipe tends to change over time. Owners tend to begin not to measure and weigh the ingredients or change them thinking the changes they have made are small. In fact, changes, especially those made to the protein and starchy components of the diet, can vastly alter the nutrient profile of the diet, either making it unbalanced or ineffective.
Other downfalls of home cooking for pets are cost, time, and storage. Home cooking, especially for large dogs or diets that are high in protein, can be very costly. The meat, carbohydrate, and vegetable portions of the diet are expensive, but so are the vitamins and minerals that will need to be added to ensure it is complete and balanced. In many cases, these homemade diets are just as or more expensive than commercially available prescription diets. In fact, a recent a comparison study of homemade dog food versus kibble and canned diet for both maintenance and therapeutic management of disease found that in all cases, kibble was most cost effective, followed by homemade, with canned food being most expensive. In addition, homemade meals take time to prepare and a lot of refrigerator and freezer space, both for raw materials in the meal and the finished prepared meals. Again, the larger the dog, the more of an issue this can become.
It may seem like the hurdles to creating a balanced homemade diet are too high, but if you still think this is the way to go for your pet, please consult a list of Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists® to help you formulate a complete and balanced homemade diet at www.ACVN.org and continue reading for more details.
Considerations for Home Cooking for Dogs
Commercially available diets for dogs have an AAFCO statement on the bag. This statement helps the customer determine which life stage a diet is appropriate for. It may say for instance, “This diet has been formulated to meet nutritional levels established by AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles for growth of large breed puppies.” Since homemade diets are not tested to ensure nutritional adequacy is met, they have to be formulated to ensure nutritional adequacy is met for the appropriate life stage. This becomes particularly important for puppies and even more so for large breed puppies that both have requirements above and beyond adult maintenance diets. In addition, large-breed puppy foods should have controlled calcium concentrations, a carefully established calcium to phosphorus ratio, and a controlled energy density to help prevent developmental orthopedic diseases.
Finding out the energy requirements for your pet can be done with calculations. The energy requirements and calculations are altered by age, breed, neuter status, and energy expenditure of the pet. While your vet can help you with this calculation, you can also use this calorie calculator offered by Pet Nutrition Alliance.
Mixing a Homemade Diet with a Commercially Available Diet
To help increase palatability of a commercial diet, some dog owners like to mix a homemade diet with a commercial diet. This is very reasonable as long as the homemade dog food recipe is complete and balanced. The easiest way to do this is to have a daily homemade diet created and then to mix it proportionally with a commercial diet. For instance, you could feed ¾ of your dog’s daily calories from a commercial diet and ¼ of your dog’s daily calories from a homemade diet. Keep in mind though, as you reduce the amount of the total homemade diet, the supplement must also be reduced proportionally. So, if your dog’s daily diet requires four Nourish chewable tablets, then in the case above, you would only give one Nourish chewable tablet per day.
Nourish chewable tablets for homemade diets can be purchased on this site.