You just got home from a long day at work and your dog is staring at you with expectant eyes. “It’s dinnertime, mom!” Suddenly, you remember: you were supposed to stop for dog food on your way home! Now you’re facing an empty bag of kibble and an increasingly hungry dog.
Sure, you could put your shoes back on and head to the supermarket. But chances are, you have all the ingredients for a tasty, homemade dog meal at home.
These last-minute doggy dinners will satisfy your dog’s hunger until you can make it to the store. We don’t recommend making a habit of thrown-together dog meals, as they may not have all the nutrients your dog needs. But in the event of a work night emergency, these dog food hacks will do the trick!
Homemade Dog Food Basics
Before you start raiding the fridge, you should know what components make for a nutritionally-sound dog meal.
3 Rules for What to Feed Your Dog When You’re out of Dog Food
- Avoid excess sodium and fat, which can cause excessive thirst and tummy trouble
- Aim for a balance of lean protein and complex carbohydrates
- Consider any allergies or special dietary needs your dog may have
One of the quickest, easiest dog meals you can prepare according to the rules is plain, cooked chicken with rice. In fact, vets often recommend chicken and rice meals for dogs with sensitive tummies. But that’s just a starting point! If you’re vegetarian like me, you may not have any chicken on hand; that doesn’t mean you can’t provide your pooch with a quality pantry meal.
From the Fridge
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Leftovers aren’t just for people. If you have any recently-cooked grains, plain meats, and and veggies in the fridge, it’s as easy as throwing a handful of each in your dog’s bowl.
If you don’t have any leftovers handy, here are a few fridge staples you can mix and match for your dog:
- Plain cooked chicken or lean beef, or rotisserie chicken with the skin and bones removed
- Low-sodium cold cuts (sliced turkey from the deli is okay; processed, preserved bologna is not)
- Mild cheese like Colby or cheddar
- Plain, low-fat yogurt
- Fresh spinach or carrots
- Steamed or boiled peas, broccoli, or corn
- Cooked potatoes or sweet potatoes
There’s one other fridge staple that makes a perfect emergency meal for your dog: eggs! Scramble two or three eggs in a small amount of olive oil and serve over plain, cooked grains with a side of vegetables. It’s a balanced homemade meal your dog will love.
If you’re a meat-eating home, then chances are you have some frozen protein on hand. Dogs don’t have particularly refined palates, so you can use the microwave to defrost and cook a quick dog meal in one go. Frozen beef or chicken stock is another nice addition!
Here are some other common frozen foods you can defrost and cook for your dog:
- Pre-cooked frozen rice
- Frozen whole grain bread (one or two slices only, please)
- Frozen vegetables like green beans, broccoli, peas, corn, and spinach
- Blueberries and strawberries (in warmer months, your dog may enjoy frozen fruit as a naturally sweet treat!)
In general, you should avoid feeding your dog processed, packaged frozen meals (i.e., no TV dinners).
Raid the Pantry
Canned and dry goods are the true sweet spot for homemade dog meals. In a pinch, you can just make your dog a plain bowl of oatmeal. But keeping in mind the ideal protein to carbohydrate mix, here’s a list of common pantry items you can mix and match for a dog meal:
- Canned vegetables like peas, carrots, and corn (rinsed to remove extra sodium)
- Canned chicken and fish packed in water (thoroughly rinsed and drained)
- Low-sodium beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
- Plain, cooked oatmeal
- Peanut butter (low sodium and no sugar added is best—also be sure to avoid xylitol-sweetened PB)
- Plain, cooked grains like brown rice, farina, or couscous
I’m not saying this is the best emergency dog meal, but I did once feed my dogs tuna fish sandwiches (no mayo, of course). If you’ve run out of dog food, it’s all about working with what you have.
Foods to Avoid
There are plenty of human foods dogs can eat, but it’s important to know which common people foods are bad for dogs. In general, avoid anything fatty, salty, spicy, or sugary. This means no sweetened cereals, no cured meats, no mayonnaise or butter, and no Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
You should also avoid these common people foods that are toxic to dogs:
- Raisins and grapes
- Macadamia nuts and salted, mixed nuts
- Processed, salty chips and pretzels
Now that you know what human foods you can feed your dog, you won’t panic if you find yourself out of kibble on a work night. You can compose a filling, healthful meal for your dog with ingredients in your freezer, fridge, or pantry. It works great in a pinch.
Commercial dog food is formulated for complete nutrition, with all the vitamins, minerals, and proteins your dog needs to thrive. It is possible to provide a nutritionally complete homemade diet, but it takes careful planning and time. For most dogs, kibble is where it’s at—but the occasional homemade meal is a nice treat.
Preview image via flickr/benny_lin