More and more pet lovers are turning to homemade dog food rather than continuing to feed commercial kibble mixes. Find out what it takes to prepare nutritious home cooked meals for your own canine companion.
Why Look for Dog Food Alternatives?
A lot of information came out of the investigation connected to the 2007 dog food recall, and most of it wasn't good. In addition to identifying the contaminated food sources responsible for the illness, and in some cases death, of a number of dogs, other manufacturing practices came to light.
We learned that although all commercially sold dog foods must meet a set of government standards before they can be labeled "100% nutritionally complete", it doesn't guarantee that the food sources used are digestible enough for your dog to render "complete" nutrition from the mix. We also learned that some of the inexpensive chemical preservatives used in these foods may cause cancer and certainly hold no nutritional value for our pets.
Finally, we learned that the term "fresh" holds minimal value when foods are manufactured and left to sit in warehouses for months before they ever hit store shelves.
Raw vs. Cooked
Many dog owners might agree that homemade dog foods should be safer to feed than many commercial mixes containing chemical preservatives and other questionably healthy ingredients. However, they do seem to differ in opinions about the best feeding programs.
Some owners are strong advocates of the BARF diet, a feeding program that serves dog bones and raw foods. These owners believe that feeding foods in their raw, natural state most closely mirrors the way nature designed dogs to eat in the wild.
On the other side of the coin, some owners are leery of feeding raw meat because of the health hazard it potentially presents. It's true that raw meats can harbor dangerous bacteria called salmonella, but this can be eliminated by cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, you could argue that dogs that eat raw meat in the wild are regularly exposed to a number of bacteria, and they do survive. This may be evidence that the flora in a dog's digestive track is designed to deal with salmonella far more efficiently than the human digestive tract.
Bones, particularly chicken bones, are another point of contention. It's true that bones can present a potential hazard, whether it is from choking or intestinal blocks/punctures. However, raw chicken bones retain some flexibility and are easier for dogs to chew and digest.
It's the cooked bones that become brittle and pose the greatest risk for intestinal punctures. In the end, feeding bones in any form is a decision that rests solely with every owner, and bones need not be the only source of calcium and other minerals in homemade dog food.
Fruits and Vegetables
Although of considerably less concern than serving raw meat, fruits and vegetables also pose a small threat of bacterial contamination. This can easily be dealt with by washing the produce before chopping and adding it to your recipe.
The most important thing to consider when making homemade meals for your pet is that they provide rounded nutrition. Without a decent balance of protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, your dog could suffer from malnutrition, regardless of how much food he eats.
The following list offers some food choices to cover your dog's basic nutritional needs:
- Protein: Fresh chicken, beef, turkey, lamb or cooked salmon
- Fiber, vitamins and minerals: Carrots, green beans, spinach
- Essential fatty acids: Leafy greens, cooked salmon, flax seeds
- Calcium: Cottage cheese, plain yogurt
- Carbohydrates: Brown rice, barley
- Vitamins and antioxidants: Apples (without the seeds), blueberries
Pick one item from each group to include at every meal. You'll also want to rotate your choices so your dog doesn't become bored eating the same food.
Foods to Avoid
Certain common foods should never be fed to your dog because they can cause reactions ranging from mild discomfort to cardiac arrest.
Foods you shouldn't feed include:
- Raw garlic
- Macadamia nuts
- Apple seeds
- Wild mushrooms
- Raw, green potatoes
- Added salt
Cooking for your dog is as easy as preparing a meal for your family. However, you might like to try this terrific homemade dog food recipe for "Little Man's Loaf" from our own "Two Minute Dog Advice" columnist Wendy Nan Rees. It's so good you might want to pull up a bowl next to your dog!
Changing to a Homemade Diet
So, does making your pet a homemade dinner sound appealing to you? Then the first thing you'll want to do is consult with your vet to make sure your dog is currently in good health. If your vet gives your dog the thumb's up, then you can begin to cook for your pet in small amounts, gradually weaning him off commercial kibble. Keep an eye on him for any major signs that the new food is not agreeing with him, and call your vet right away if you think your dog needs attention.