Making homecooked dog food is a healthy and economical way to feed your pet. Many dog owners elect to go this route as a way to avoid feeding their dogs potentially harmful additives or preservatives. Others decide to cook meals due to their dog's health issues. Whatever the reason, knowing how to cook for your dog at home is a great skill to have if you approach it in the right way.
Dog Nutrition Requirements
When considering homecooked meals for their pets, many people believe dogs should eat only protein. This is incorrect, as they are actually omnivores. Dogs, like humans, require a variety of meat, starches, and vegetables to meet their basic nutritional requirements. If dogs eat only protein, their diet will lack important vitamins and nutrients, which can lead to deficiencies or even thyroid problems.
Without adequate protein, they may suffer from poor immune function, muscle deterioration, or blood disorders. A balanced diet that includes variety is essential. Some veterinarians recommend a ratio of 40 percent protein, 50 percent vegetables, and 10 percent carbohydrates. Although, according to the National Research Council (NRC), carbohydrates are not a necessity for dogs in general.
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. Take time and choose your ingredients with care. Your dog will thank you in the long run, and will be healthier, too.
Although beef is a common meat source in dog food, there are many other possibilities to fulfill dietary protein requirements. Any high-quality muscle or organ protein is good. However, use liver moderately. Liver should never comprise more than 5 percent of your dog's daily bowl. And never give your dog cooked bones, as these can be harmful. You can choose any of these protein sources based on cost and availability:
- Beef - Either ground or lean meat cut into small strips
- Turkey - Widely available, easily digested, and economical
- Chicken - Like turkey, is affordable and easy to find
- Lamb - Contains slightly more fat than other meats
- Rabbit and venison - Good options for dogs with food allergies
- 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
- Brussels sprouts
- Green peas
Some dog lovers choose to feed carbs, but unless your dog is an athlete or expends significant amounts of energy daily, they are not completely necessary, aside from fiber. Fiber is necessary for a healthy digestive tract by helping to keep food moving throughout the body. If you do choose to feed carbs, feed them on a limited basis as they contain high amounts of sugar. Good possibilities include:
- Rice - Cooked white or brown rice
- Potatoes - Sweet or white, must be cooked
- Pasta - Without oil or salt
Fiber, such as psyllium husk, can be added to your dog's diet if they are lacking.
Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food
Especially when making dog food at home, it's important to note that certain foods are dangerous and even deadly to dogs. Do not use any of these ingredients when cooking for your dog:
- Macadamia nuts
- Spices or herbs
- Raw yeast dough
Never use any ingredients that are spoiled or contain mold. The rule of thumb is to never feed your dog anything that would be dangerous for you to eat.
Ingredients to Limit or Avoid
Some ingredients, while not harmful to dogs, should only be used on a limited basis or, if you have a dog that is sensitive to certain foods, not at all:
- Added salt - Many canned ingredients already contain salt
- Dairy foods - Some dogs have difficulty digesting these
- Cooking oils - Such as canola oil
- Corn - Many dogs have difficulty digesting it
Pros and Cons of Homemade Dog Food
When deciding whether you should try cooking your dog's food at home, it can help to weigh both the pros and cons.
- Cost-effective - Depending on the ingredients and volume you use, making your dog's food can save you quite a bit of money.
- More palatable - Many pet owners find that their historically picky eaters clean their plates after switching to home-cooked diets.
- Ability to provide variety - You can change up ingredients as you wish to provide your dog with more variety in their diet.
- Whole ingredients - You know exactly what is going into their food. By using fresh and high-quality ingredients, you know the food is free of additives and preservatives.
- Time-consuming - Rather than simply ripping the dog food bag open and scooping out their portion, you'll spend time preparing, cooking, and dividing meals. It's recommended you make meals one week ahead of time. Simply put, the meals in the refrigerator for the next day or two and place the remainder in the freezer.
- Nutritional concerns - If you do not feed variety, don't determine ahead of time what you're going to feed your dog for proper nutrition, and do not include a veterinarian-recommended supplement or vitamin blend in your recipe, your dog could be at risk for severe deficiencies.
- Caloric discrepancies - Each batch could also vary in caloric density if you're not meticulous about recording the nutritional information of each ingredient.
- Ingredient avoidance - You must be careful not to include ingredients that could be harmful to your pet.
Is a Homemade Dog Diet the Right Choice for You?
Pet owners must follow a recipe explicitly created for dogs rather than creating a diet on their own, as it's critical to provide them with the correct balance of nutrients. Cailin R. Heinz, board-certified veterinary nutritionist and chief academic officer of the Mark Morris Institute, 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 or with a Ph.D. in animal nutrition and experience formulating pet diets."
The Clinical Nutrition Service at Tufts University's Veterinary School has more information about nutritional balance and dietary preparation. There are several resources available to pet owners that make cooking for your dog easy, safe, and affordable.
While you may find recipes on the internet that state they are "vet-approved," they may not be ideal for your specific pet. Every dog is an individual and will have different nutritional requirements based on their age, breed, and medical history. Ultimately, your own, personal veterinarian is the best person to look to for dog food guidance. You can ask them directly about recipe recommendations or consult one of the following reliable resources, then get your vet's approval.
- JustFoodsForDogs provides recipes and nutrient blends that allow you to create a balanced diet at home. They also have a custom diet option for dogs with specific dietary needs. Their specialists will review your pet's medical records and formulate both a recipe and a custom nutrient blend. If you like the idea of a homecooked meal but don't want to make it yourself, JustFoodForDogs can send you fresh, cooked meals that you simply thaw and serve.
- Balance IT is an online resource that offers a customizable option to create a diet. You pick the proteins, carbs, fats, vegetables, and fruits that you wish to use, then the site will give you a nutrient profile and a supplement mix to accompany the recipe.
- The American College of Veterinary Nutrition 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 schedule a consult to create a customized nutritional plan for your dog.
- The MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center provides recipes designed by a certified veterinary nutritionist, although they caution these are designed for a healthy dog free from medical problems. Their diet is helpfully written up for a 15-, 30-, and 60-pound dog with instructions on how to feed dogs of different weights. 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 Dog Food at Home
While wolves in the wild eat raw food, some dog lovers prefer to cook their dog's food for safety reasons. Salmonella are harmful bacteria that can contaminate chicken and other poultry. It is only eliminated by cooking the meat until it reaches between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind, any temperature above that could result in heterocyclic amines, or cancer-causing compounds.
Follow the video tutorial for step-by-step instructions to make a simple, healthy dog food recipe, or check out other options.
For this recipe, the pet owner used the following ingredients:
- 1 small potato, chopped
- 13 ounces of ground chicken
- 1 pound bag of frozen carrots and peas
- ⅓ cup old-fashioned oats
- Customized nutrient/supplement blend
- 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 10 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 needed.
Making High-Calorie Homemade Dog Food
There may be some situations where you may want to cook for your dog in order to help them gain weight. Always discuss this with your veterinarian first, as feeding them very rich food can cause other medical problems. One way to add calories is by increasing the protein and carbohydrates in your mix or including a cooked, chopped hard-boiled egg. You can also try feeding "satin balls," which are made following a high-calorie recipe and are commonly used by shelter workers, rescue volunteers, and breeders to increase a dog's weight.
Satin Balls Recipe
There are many variations of the recipe online, but it essentially consists of:
- 1 pound of ground beef (with a protein-to-fat ratio of 80/20 or 85/15 that is fatty, not lean)
- An egg
- 1½ cups of oatmeal
- 1½ cups of cereal, such as Total, Special K, or Shredded Wheat (make sure there are no raisins and minimal sugar in the cereal)
- 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 right after you've made them, or wrap them, freeze them, then thaw and feed as needed.
How Much to Feed?
There's no exact feeding guide for homecooked diets, as the ideal portions depend on the caloric density of the diet and your dog's specific needs.
To calculate your dog's daily requirements, use a reliable calorie calculator. Be sure to record how many total calories you used in your recipe and divide it into appropriate portions. If you received your recipe from a brand such as JustFoodForDogs, they provide recommended feeding guidelines for your pet.
In general, the average 10-pound dog needs around 200 to 275 calories a day, whereas a 50-pound dog should have somewhere between 700 and 900 calories. It's always best to work with your veterinarian when calculating your pet's daily nutritional requirements 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 crockpot or Instant Pot. This makes cooking the food extra easy as you can put all the ingredients in and let your slow cooker 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 it.
Tips for Making Dog Food
- Dogs don't need the seasoning that humans do. Don't add salt, pepper, or any other herbs or spices.
- Fresh vegetables are usually cheaper than canned or frozen, and they have more vitamins if they are picked at peak ripeness.
- If you must use canned vegetables, check for those with the lowest salt content.
- Make the food in large batches so that you only have to prepare it once a week at most. Freeze and thaw for easy feeding.
- Be mindful when using human leftovers. They may have butter, seasonings, or other ingredients that are not good for your dog. If so, don't use them.
- Always check with your vet before changing your dog's diet. Transition them onto the new diet over 1 to 2 weeks to avoid stomach upset.
Cooking Dog Food on a Budget
It's not always 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 are 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 small groceries in your neighborhood. They may have cuts of meat available for lowers 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.
- Cut costs by going 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 remove the bones and skin.
"Bam!" Kick Your Dog's Food Up a Notch
While some people feed their dogs only home-cooked food, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing 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 their regular diet. Just be sure to discuss the diet with your veterinarian and get accurate information on appropriate supplements to add for a truly balanced meal.