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9 May 2023


How to Make Homemade Dog Food: Risks & Considerations

Are you considering making homemade dog food? We explain the benefits and risks of cooking for your dog, and help you avoid common DIY dog food mistakes.

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To ensure your prized pup is receiving wholesome nutrients that come from recognizable ingredients, rather than the unpronounceable preservatives and additives found in many off-the-shelf dog foods, you may consider preparing dog food at home. Doing so is a good idea, because bag-to-bowl dog foods can include filler ingredients, such as corn, wheat, and soy, which add calories but little nutritional value.

Although these brand-name morsels might make your pup beg for more, they aren’t necessarily the most nutritious. Gary Weitzman, DVM, President of the San Diego Humane Society and author of the book The Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness, poses this analogy: “I like hotdogs, but I’m not going to live my whole life eating them.” Before you embark on a do-it-yourself (DIY) dog food cooking journey, you must understand the benefits and risks of making your own dog food.

Homemade Dog Food Benefits

Home cooking is comfort food in more ways than one, because making your own dog food can provide you with the confidence and peace-of-mind that you can’t attain from purchasing food off the shelf. Here are the top benefits of homemade dog food:

No Need to Worry About Pet Food Recalls 

Well- and lesser-known brand dog foods can be recalled for many reasons. Common recall causes include package mislabeling, insufficient or excessive vitamins and minerals, unsafe shipping or handling, and quality control issues, such as mold or bacterial contamination, some of which may cause foodborne illness.

Control Over Ingredients

Every dog is unique, and their food should be too. Unfortunately, commercial dog food diets cannot be customized. You can enhance this straight-from-the-shelf food by adding toppings to boost the flavor, caloric content, and nutritional value, however, you cannot remove an ingredient your pet is unable to tolerate, or substitute one food for another. With commercial dog foods, you must select an entirely different recipe or formula if your pooch needs one that better suits their needs.

Control Over Preparation and Storage

Quality control is literally in your hands when you cook your own dog food. From ingredient sourcing to cooking in your own kitchen, you can control all food-safety aspects and ensure that every ingredient your dog eats is washed, cooked and stored correctly.

Cook in Batches and Freeze 

Commercial dog food diets are touted for their convenience, but with meal prepping, homemade dog foods are equally easy to assemble and preserve. When you cook a large batch, you can freeze the food in meal-size portions, which helps ensure you have as much food as your pet needs. Simply thaw and serve!

Homemade Dog Food Risks

Although homemade food seems to be the right choice for pup health, some risks are associated with DIY dog food. Consider these drawbacks to cooking your dog’s food at home:

Nutrient imbalance and deficiency

In a University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine study (UC Davis), 200 popular homemade dog food recipes were reviewed for completeness and nutrient balance. UC Davis researchers found that most of the recipes, including some veterinarian-designed formulas, lacked essential nutrients, which could lead to serious future health issues. 

In Weitzman’s book, which we discussed earlier in this article, some of the most common DIY dog food recipe miscalculations include inappropriate calcium levels and insufficient taurine, an amino acid often found in organ meats. Persistent taurine deficiency can lead to a dog experiencing serious cardiac problems, including an enlarged heart.

To provide a nutritionally balanced homemade food for your dog, ask your veterinarian to recommend an appropriate and nutritious recipe. In addition, confirm that a board-certified veterinary nutritionist has approved the recipe. 

Harmful ingredients

Another common DIY dog food problem is inadvertently adding toxic ingredients to your pup’s plate. Never include granulated, powdered, or whole-food garlic, onions, macadamia nuts, avocados, grapes, or raisins to your dog’s food. 

When is a Home Cooked Meal Right For Your Pup?

Short-term home cooking for pets can be beneficial, although long-term nutritional risks may outweigh the benefits.

Consider making your dog’s food in these situations:

Your Pup is Sick 

If your dog is sick, especially with gastrointestinal (GI) issues, providing them with a home-cooked bland diet for a few days may be part of your veterinarian’s recommended treatment plan. Skinless boiled chicken, lean ground beef, or plain scrambled eggs with rice can enhance your pet’s appetite and soothe their upset stomach. Ask your veterinarian which ingredients are suitable for your dog’s condition, and expect to see an improvement in a few days. Check in with your veterinarian before returning your pup to their normal diet.

What’s the Best Food for Your Dog’s Digestive Health? 

Your Pup is Recovering from Surgery or Their Appetite Has Decreased 

High-quality nutrition is key to your pet’s illness or surgical recovery, but under these circumstances, dogs often struggle to maintain their interest in food. Home cooking aromas and flavors can awaken your pup’s palate and enhance their appetite. Ask your veterinarian if healthy enticements, such as bone broth with chicken and carrots, roasted sweet potatoes, or grilled fish, are appropriate options for your convalescing canine.

Your Pup’s Food is Unavailable 

If you don’t have your pup’s normal fresh or raw food diet on hand because of a delayed or damaged shipment or travel, or you’ve simply run out, home-cooked meals can fill the gap and your pup’s stomach. To prevent GI upset, use your dog’s current food as an ingredient guide, such as including chicken, rice, spinach, and blueberries if these are in their regular commercial food. While you may not get the same precise vitamin and mineral balance, the homemade food will be less likely to upset your dog’s stomach or compromise their nutritional needs.

Common DIY Dog Food Cooking Mistakes

Cooking your dog’s food is more than simply combining healthy ingredients. Dogs have unique species-specific nutritional needs, which are extremely different from those of humans. According to Richard Hill, DVM, Associate Professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, these needs include specific amounts of essential nutrients, proteins, essential fats, vitamins, and minerals—an impressive and difficult feat to achieve in a home kitchen.

Consider some common miscalculations veterinary nutritionists advise you to avoid when preparing DIY dog food:

Nutritionally Imbalanced Recipes

Not only do dogs require specific nutrients, but the substances must be included in specific ratios. For example, in addition to creating the right mix of protein, carbs and fats, you must ensure the recipe’s calcium-phosphorus ratio is one-to-one. Vegans will be disappointed to learn that Greg Aldrich, PhD, Pet Food Program Coordinator at Kansas State University, Manhattan, recommends feeding your dog real meat, because they need animal-based protein to ensure they receive essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Whenever possible, your dog’s essential nutrients should come from whole-food sources, not supplements, to ensure maximum bioavailability. 

Ingredients Lack Essential Nutrients

DIY dog food preppers most commonly leave out critical nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus. However, you can add these essentials by incorporating finely ground bone, bone meal, ground eggshells, or commercial supplements into your dog’s food. Fiber is also frequently overlooked, which according to Aldrich, is a serious problem. If you only feed your dog protein, fat, and vegetables, they will be able to digest everything, but will be unable to eliminate it, which will cause your pooch to become ill, he explains.

Protein is Too Fatty

For health reasons, humans prefer the leanest meat cuts, but dogs need their meat to have between a 15% and 20% fat content. If you’re using high-fat oils in your dog’s DIY food recipe, you’ll need to factor that into the total fat content to prevent your pooch from experiencing unintended weight gain. Using organ meats, such as liver, heart, gizzard, spleen, and kidney in small quantities, along with human-grade muscle meat such as thigh meat, is beneficial because they are high in nutrients such as vitamin B, folic acid, phosphorus, copper, iron, magnesium and iodine. Feel free to splurge to provide your dog with organic meat cuts if you wish. However, according to Aldrich, these pricey foods have not been shown to have a long-term positive effect.

Best Protein Options For Your Dog

Recipe Includes Unsafe Ingredients 

You are likely aware that chocolate is unsafe for dogs, but did you know that raisins, grapes, and onions are also toxic? Onions contain thiosulfate, a compound that causes irreversible red blood cell damage, while raisins and grapes can cause a dog to experience unexplained kidney failure. In addition, avoid feeding your dog nuts, as they’re extremely high in fat and can pose a choking hazard. Macadamia nuts are actually toxic to dogs. To avoid a potentially tragic mistake, ask your veterinarian to review your DIY dog food recipe. You can also check out our handy guide on the foods you should avoid feeding your dog.

Homemade Dog Food is Undercooked or Raw

Raw food for dogs may be trendy, but cooked meals are safer. Raw diet hazards include bacterial illnesses, nutritional imbalance, and choking or intestinal blockages caused by ingested bone fragments. In addition, feeding your dog a raw diet puts your health at risk. “If they get sick, you can get sick,” Aldrich cautions, adding, “Raw [feeding requires] additional sanitation [measures].” 

15 Easy Homemade Dog Treat Recipes

What Are the Best Ingredients to Include in Home-Cooked Dog Food?

Selecting, sourcing, and combining your dog’s food ingredients is a big responsibility, So, how can you determine the ingredients you should include? Consider these critical components to include in your dog’s homemade food:

  • Meat — The most bioavailable form of protein for dogs is that which comes from animals. Your pup’s body uses protein for critical amino acids (i.e., the building blocks of life), physical development, and body maintenance and repair. Ideal proteins include fresh chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb. To provide your dog with key vitamins and minerals, add small quantities of  organ meats (e.g., kidney, liver, heart) to your DIY food.
  • Fiber — Fiber aids digestion by regulating intestinal motility, supporting gut bacteria, and increasing fecal mass. Select soluble (i.e., dissolving) fiber sources, such as fruits, veggies, rice, or oats, and insoluble fiber (i.e., indigestible) from grains.
  • Healthy fats — Fat provides concentrated energy and flavor, and helps your pup feel satisfied after a meal. Healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, improve heart, skin, and coat health. Nutritious sources include animal fat, flaxseed, and fish, coconut, and sunflower oils.
  • Carbohydrates — Carbs get a bad rap, but they’re valuable nutrient and energy sources for dogs. In your homemade dog food, be sure to include a balance of simple and complex carbs such as sweet potatoes, white or brown rice, pasta, or barley.

Benefits of Freshly Cooked Dog Food

In addition to being pleasing to the eye and helping you feel better about your pup’s diet, fresh whole foods provide them with visible life-enhancing results. Unlike highly processed foods that lose their nutrients under high heat, fresh lightly cooked ingredients, such as those included in every Ollie recipe, deliver maximum nutrition in every bite. When these foods are optimally balanced, the health benefits become apparent:

  • Fewer health risks — Fresh ingredients are packed with antioxidants, protein, and vital nutrients to fortify your pet’s immune system and fuel their body’s everyday functions.
  • Healthy weight — Fresh foods help pets feel full without consuming empty calories, while carefully selected ingredients promote healthy fat burn.
  • Improved longevity — Fresh foods don’t contain harmful preservatives, dyes, and artificial ingredients that can contribute to chronic health conditions and cancers.
  • Better sleep and brain function — Fresh foods promote restful sleep and increase learning and cognitive ability, helping your pup be a good boy or girl!

To ensure our foods meet your pup’s every need, Ollie works with veterinary nutritionists to develop well-rounded recipes, containing all the essential vitamins and nutrients for a complete and balanced diet. Plus, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that you are feeding your dog fresh, wholesome human-grade ingredients.

Find Out Which Recipe Plan is Right for Your Dog’s Needs

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The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.

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