How do we show our family we love them? Often times, it’s with a home-cooked meal. As any dog lover will tell you, our pets are our family. So it’s no surprise that pet owners may be curious about how they can show their pets love through homemade dog food. Unfortunately, our pets have very different nutritional needs from us humans, so it’s not as simple as throwing out your commercial pet food and replacing it with steak and veggies. (Although we’re sure your dog would scarf that down in a second!) Before you dive into homemade dog food, here’s what you need to know.
Why Some Pet Owners Choose Homemade Dog Food
Beyond wanting to shower your dog with love, many pet owners start researching homemade dog food because they believe it would be healthier for their dogs than commercial pet food. The reality is that diet is not a negligible factor when it comes to your pet’s wellbeing. “Many health conditions can be affected by diet, including diabetes, food allergies, obesity, kidney disease, and arthritis,” says Joseph Turk, DVM, a small animal veterinarian based in Clearwater, Florida. The AKC also mentions poor skin and coat condition, pancreatitis, and reduced immunity as conditions that can be impacted by diet. If you’re making your pet’s food from scratch, you get to be in charge of the quality of ingredients you’re feeding your pet, and, theoretically, can ensure they’re having a wholesome meal.
However, “it is very difficult [to] formulate a completely balanced diet without professional help,” Turk says. It’s also significantly more expensive and time-consuming, he adds.
To be clear, we’re talking here about replacing commercial pet food meals with a human-grade alternative. Human-food treats — food that comes as an addition to your pet’s regular meals — are generally fine because you’re not relying on them for your pet’s overall nutrition. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that the food isn’t toxic to dogs before feeding it to them, but beyond that, occasional human-food treats are likely just fine. (For inspiration, check out our collection of tasty recipes for your dog.)
Make Sure Homecooked Dog Food Meets Your Pet’s Nutritional Needs
The truth is, it’s not easy, and it’s best for pet owners to work with professionals. “It’s almost impossible without consulting a veterinary nutrition expert,” Turk admits. Keep in mind: The vast majority of veterinarians don’t make homemade food for their pets. Turk shared an internal survey of 2300 veterinarians who were asked if they fed their pets homemade food. Only seven of them did — that’s 0.003 percent. “As vets, we care about our pets deeply and we are very in-tune with their healthcare and nutritional needs. And we, as a profession, overwhelmingly choose commercially prepared diets.”
If you’re still compelled to start cooking for your dog, your best bet is to consult with a professional who’s certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. Many veterinarians admit that their own pet nutrition knowledge is lacking, so turning to a professional with a focus on dog nutrition will help you get better answers. Work with them in conjunction with your veterinarian. Veterinary nutritionists can help you determine what kind of food is best for your pet and their needs. Unsurprisingly, individual pets have different requirements. While your pet’s breed doesn’t seem to affect nutritional intake, their overall health and activity level does, according to Turk — including how much food you’ll need to feed them on a daily basis.
If you’re hoping your homecooked diet will mean you can cut back on your pet’s vet-prescribed vitamins, unfortunately, that’s not the case. No matter how plentiful your pet’s whole-food diet is, you’ll likely need to add supplements to their diet. “There just isn’t enough calcium and potassium, for example, in the muscle meats, grains, and vegetables that we typically eat to keep a dog healthy in the long term,” Turk says. And please keep in mind that many human vitamins aren’t a good substitute for ones formulated for dogs. They have the potential to make your pet sick.
Is Homemade Pet Food Healthy? What Other Concerns Are There?
Beyond the difficulty of precisely calculating your pet’s nutritional needs, there are other challenges to homemade dog food. For example, even though your pet may have eaten garbage and been totally fine, you’ll need to be aware of cross-contamination in the kitchen. E. Coli and salmonella make pets sick too, even though they seem to have stomachs of steel. “Dogs are susceptible to foodborne bacterial illnesses, just like humans,” Turk confirms. The last thing you want is for your homemade dog food to make your pet ill.
You’ll also need to be familiar with human foods that are toxic for dogs. “Everything on the planet is toxic in the right (or wrong, I guess) amount. Eating too much liver, for example, can cause Vitamin A toxicity,” Turk says. But there are certain human foods that tend to mean trouble for dogs. Chives, garlic, Macadamia nuts, grapes, and raisins are some that he listed in particular. The AKC lists wild cherries, almonds, apricots, balsam pear and Japanese plum as dangerous, with a long list of other ingredients that have different reactions depending on the dog. (Have a question about if your dog can have a certain food? Check out our Can My Dog Eat? series and our searchable database of foods dogs can and can’t eat.)
Homemade dog food, much like human food, will have an expiration date, as well. How long it will be safe to eat will depend on the ingredients. A good rule of thumb can be to use the same expiration considerations that you would for a human. Does that mean you have to cook a fresh meal every day for your pet? Not necessarily. “It may be prudent to cook larger batches, freeze it, and then thaw out smaller amounts as needed,” Turk suggests.
So you want to DIY your dog’s food
After working with a veterinary nutrition counselor, you may decide to pursue homemade food, stick with commercial, or some blend of the two. That might mean choosing to replace or supplement one of your dog’s meals with homemade ingredients. For example, making an Instant Pot dog food a few nights a week, or any other number of homemade dog food recipes to supplement their commercial dog food diet.
Just be sure you’re doing it with the help of a professional so that you can continue to be sure your pet has all the nutrients they need. But you can always make a DIY treat instead from our large selection of dog treat recipes, and we’re sure they’ll love you just as much.