What could be healthier than a home-cooked meal for your pup, right? Well-intentioned humans are increasingly whipping meals up in the kitchen for their dogs. And while we commend the effort, organic chicken breast with kale and quinoa isn't necessarily as good for them as it is for you. That's because canines have unique nutritional needs: They require specific amounts of essential nutrients, protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals, says says Richard Hill, associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. And those essential nutrients need to be portioned properly, so their diet is complete and balanced. Here are some common blunders we've come across when it comes to home-cooked dog food:
The recipe isn't nutritionally balanced
Not only do dogs have unique nutrient requirements, but the nutrients need to be in certain ratios. So in addition to getting the right mix of protein, carbs and fats, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be one-to-one, for example. And for all those vegans out there, you may want to consider feeding your dog real meat, says Greg Aldrich, the pet food program coordinator at Kansas State University. Pups need it in their diet to provide essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals—otherwise you'll have to use supplements. (Eating the real deal is preferable.)
The ingredients lack essential nutrients
This is probably the number one place where humans go wrong in the kitchen: they leave out important nourishing elements of a dog's diet—like the aforementioned calcium and phosphorus, which you can add by tossing in ground-up bones, bone meal or ground eggshells, or through commercial supplements. Fiber is another one that often gets forgotten: If you simply include protein, fat and veggies, your dog will be able to digest everything but won't be able to eliminate it and will get sick, Aldrich explains.
The protein isn't meaty enough
We may prefer the leanest cut of meat, but dogs need their meat to have between 15 to 20% fat content. If you're incorporating oils with a high fat content, you'll want to take that into consideration too (again, it's a balancing act!) Using organ meats like liver, heart, gizzard, spleen and kidney, along with other human-grade cuts such as the thigh, is beneficial because they're high in nutrients such as Vitamin B, folic acid, phosphorus, copper, iron, magnesium and iodine. You can splurge for organic if you want, though it hasn’t been shown to have a long term effect, Aldrich says.
Unsafe ingredients are incorporated
You may be aware that dogs can’t eat chocolate and raisins. But did you also know that they shouldn't eat onions (they contain an ingredient called thiosulphate which is toxic to dogs) and almonds (they can block their esophagus if not chewed completely)? Before you start cooking, speak to your vet about which ingredients shouldn’t go into the food, and check out our handy guide to what to avoid.
The food isn't cooked properly
Raw food for dogs may still be trendy, but it's safer for everyone involved for the meal to be cooked. Risks of a raw diet include illness from bacteria, nutritional imbalance, and the potential to choke from bone fragments. “If they get sick, you can get sick, and raw takes additional sanitation for you,” Aldrich says. As with human food, you also don't want to overcook anything so you don't sap the nutrients!