Making home cooked dog food is a healthy and economical way to feed your pet. Many dog owners have begun cooking for dogs as a way to avoid harmful additives. Other owners need to cook for their dogs because of a health-related issue. Whatever the reason, you can prepare your dog's food easily.
Dog Nutrition Requirements
When it comes to making home cooked meals for dogs, many people think their pets should eat only protein. This is incorrect. Dogs, like humans, require a variety of meat, starches and vegetables to meet their basic nutritional requirements. If dogs eat only protein, they will lack important vitamins, and this can lead to deficiencies and even thyroid problems. If they do not receive enough protein, they may suffer from poor immune function, muscle deterioration and blood disorders. So, a balanced diet is essential. Many vets recommend a ratio of 40 percent protein, 50 percent vegetables and 10 percent starch.
Ingredients to Use in Homemade Dog Food
Each of the food categories has a wide variety of ingredients from which to choose. The most important aspect is that the ingredients be fresh and contain no additives.
People normally think of dogs as eating beef, but there are many other possibilities to fulfill the protein requirements. Any good muscle or organ protein is good. Use liver moderately because the liver in an animal may retain impurities. You can use these protein sources based on cost and availability:
- Beef - Either ground or cut into small strips
- Turkey - Widely available, easily digested and economical
- Chicken - Like turkey, is affordable and easy to find
- Fish - Mackerel or herring, but no more than once or twice a week
- Beans - Lima beans or kidney beans, but should not replace the meat protein
- Eggs - In moderation
Dogs can eat a wide range of vegetables. However, some should be avoided. Safe vegetables include:
- Green beans
- Broccoli - Can cause gas
- Cauliflower - Can cause gas
Carbohydrates contain important vitamins for dogs. They also provide fiber for a healthy digestion. Good possibilities are:
- Rice - Especially brown rice
- Potatoes - Must be cooked
- Pasta - Without oil or salt
Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food
While many people think dogs can eat almost anything, certain foods are dangerous and even deadly to dogs. Do not include any of these items when cooking for your dog:
- Walnuts and Macadamia nuts
- Spices, such a cayenne, curry or paprika
- Raw yeast dough
It should be noted that you should never use any ingredients that are spoiled or contain mold. The rule of thumb is never feed your dog anything that would be dangerous for you to eat.
Garlic is a controversial ingredient. Raw garlic is especially discouraged. However, many home dog food chefs include a clove or two of cooked garlic as an ingredient. Check with your vet regarding including garlic in your pet's food.
Ingredients to Limit
Some ingredients, while not harmful to dogs, should only be used on a limited basis:
- Added salt, since many canned ingredients already contain salt
- Dairy foods, since some dogs have difficulty digesting
- Cooking oils, such as canola oil
- Corn, since many dogs have difficulty digesting
Making High Calorie Homemade Dog Food
There may be some situations where you need your food to have extra calories, such as underweight dog that needs to bulk up. Always discuss this with your veterinarian first, especially in the case of a severely underfed dog as feeding them too much too soon can cause other medical problems. One way to increase calories is by increasing the protein and carbohydrates in your mix, or adding in a cooked, chopped hard-boiled egg. You can also try feeding "satin balls" which is a high calorie recipe used by shelter workers, rescue volunteers, and breeders for decades to increase a dog's weight.
Satin Balls Recipe
There are many variations of the recipe online but basically it consists of:
- 1 pound of ground beef (the 80/20 or 85/15 version that is fatty, not lean)
- An egg (some people crush up the shell and include that as well)
- 1-½ cups of oatmeal
- 1-½ cups of cereal such as Total, Special K or Shredded Wheat (make sure there are no raisins and minimal sugar!)
- 1 pack of unflavored gelatin
- 6 tablespoons of wheat germ
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable, olive or coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons of molasses
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and then roll into meatballs. You can feed them raw right after you've made them, or wrap them and freeze them and thaw and feed as needed.
Vet-Approved Homemade Dog Food
While you may find recipes on the internet that are "vet approved," ultimately your own personal veterinarian is the best person to look at your dog food choices. Every dog is an individual and based on their age, breed, and medical history will have different nutritional requirements. Registered veterinary technician Nellie Hatton encourages pet owners to use two online resources for pet owners (and veterinarians!).
- "The Balance IT website offers the client a customizable option to create a diet." You can pick the proteins, carbs, fats, vegetables and fruits that you will be using and the site will give you a nutrient profile and a supplement mix you can buy.
- "JustFoodsForDogs has recipes that are very specific for creating a balanced diet." You can also have a custom diet prepared for you for $250.
- Says Hatton, "Both sites require purchasing a product that is used with your diet to ensure that the correct vitamins and minerals" are provided for your dog. This accurate mixture of supplements, "cannot just be achieved from just feeding whole foods easily."
- Hatton also recommends the American College of Veterinary Nutrition website which has a section on nutritional resources for veterinarians and pet owners. You can also find a board-certified veterinary nutritionist either near you or who works remotely to do a consult on your nutritional plan for your dog.
Is a Homemade Dog Diet the Right Choice for You?
Veterinary technician Hatton urges pet owners to use these resources and their veterinarian rather than creating a diet on their own as, "feeding homemade diets are not for everyone" and it's critical to get the correct balance of nutrients just right. Moreover, "You really need to be sure you are handing the food products correctly to make sure you and your dog is not going to get bacterial contamination." The Clinical Nutrition Service at Tufts University's Veterinary School agrees, stating that, "the best way to ensure that your pet's diet is meeting all of his nutritional needs is to obtain your recipe from the pet equivalent of a registered dietician - a veterinarian with board certification in veterinary nutrition (www.acvn.org) or with a PhD in animal nutrition and experience formulating pet diets."
MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center Veterinary Homemade Diet
The MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center provides recipes on their website that are designed by a certified veterinary nutritionist although they caution that it's designed for a healthy dog without medical problems. Their diet is helpfully written up for a 15, 30 and 60 pound dog with instructions on how to feed other size dogs. While this is a veterinary approved diet, it's strongly recommended that you review it with your veterinarian for your dog's specific needs.
Recipe to Make Home Cooked Dog Food
While wolves in the wild eat raw food, it is important to cook your dog's food for safety sake. Salmonella is in chicken and other poultry. It is only eliminated by cooking the meat until it reaches between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Follow the video tutorial or step-by-step instructions below for a simple but healthy dog food recipe, or check out other options such natural dog food, kibble, or meatloaf.
Remember the dog food ratio of 40 percent protein, 50 percent vegetables and 10 percent starch when deciding on the actual ingredients.
- Fill a large Dutch oven with water, and heat it to a slow boil.
- Wash and chop potatoes. Include the skins. Add to the boiling water, and cook for ten minutes.
- Add ground turkey, beef or boneless chicken to the pot. If you are looking to create a hypoallergenic recipe, use a protein such as duck, rabbit, venison, lamb, or salmon.
- Add fresh or frozen vegetables. Use a variety, such as carrots, peas and spinach.
- Stir in oatmeal or pasta and boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool.
- Spoon the food into freezer containers and freeze for future use. It's easiest to freeze portions separately so you can pull one out and thaw it as you need it.
How Much to Feed?
To figure out a daily portion, estimate about a half to 3/4 of a cup per 25 pounds of your dog's weight. For example, a 75 pound dog would eat 1-½ to 2-¼ cups a day so a portion would be half of that if you're feeding twice a day. However, this is a general rule so you want to observe your dog over the first few weeks that you start them on a homemade diet to see if they are losing or gaining weight and then adjust your portion to maintain a healthy weight. It's also best to work with your veterinarian when deciding on portions as they know your dog's full medical history.
Tools for Making Homemade Dog Food
In addition to cooking your dog's food in a dutch oven, you also have the option of making it in a crock pot or Instant pot. This makes cooking the food extra easy as you can put all the ingredients in and let your slow cooker device work its magic. Another option is baking a dog-friendly meatloaf in the oven in a pyrex dish or a disposable meatloaf pan. You can slice it up in single-meal portions and freeze.
Tips for Making Dog Food
- Dogs don't need the seasoning that humans do. Don't add salt, pepper or any other seasoning.
- Fresh vegetables are usually cheaper than canned or frozen, and they have more vitamins if they are picked at peak ripeness (from your garden or a farm stand).
- If you must use canned vegetables, check for the lowest salt content.
- Make the food in large enough batches that you only have to prepare the food once a week at most.
- Be mindful if using human leftovers. Do they have butter, seasonings or other ingredients that are not good for your dog? If so, don't use them.
- Always check with your vet when changing your dog's diet. Ask your vet if your dog should have any nutritional supplements.
Keeping the Cost of Making Dog Food Down
It's not cheap to make your dog's food, but there are some steps you can follow to keep it from breaking the bank.
- Look for meats and vegetables that are sold in bulk and on sale. If you have a large enough freezer, you can store them for use later when you're ready to cook.
- Find local butchers and ethnic groceries in your neighborhood. They may have cuts of meat available for cheaper prices than large chains. Likewise warehouse stores, which require an annual membership, may be worth the cost if they carry bulk meat and vegetables at lower prices.
- Try to substitute cuts of meat that are cheaper, or go with cuts that require a bit more work on your part. A package of bone-in chicken breasts or a whole chicken will be cheaper than a package of boneless breasts but they will require you to do remove the bones and skin.
Making Your Own Dog Food
While some people feed their dogs only home-cooked food, it doesn't have to be an all-or-none proposition. Unless your dog has to eat homemade food for a specific health reason, you can feed your pet a mixture of store-bought food and food that you prepare in your kitchen. Even if you don't cook for your dog full time, you can still cook on occasion to provide a healthy alternative to his regular diet. Just make sure you discuss your diet with your veterinarian and get accurate information on the correct amount of supplements to add to the diet for a truly balanced meal.