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By Jennifer Coates, DVM
Homemade dog food is an increasingly popular option for dedicated pet parents. However, you need to supply many different nutrients in just the right amounts if your dog’s homemade food is to meet all of his dietary needs. Read on to learn the benefits of making your pup’s meals as well as how to make your own dog food safely and properly.
The Benefits of Homemade Dog Food
It seems like every day brings a new dog food recall, so it’s understandable to want to do everything possible to ensure that your dog’s diet is as safe and nutritious as possible.
Whether your dog has specific dietary restrictions or you are worried about poor-quality ingredients or possible contaminants, having greater control over which ingredients are included in your dog’s diet can bring peace of mind.
It seems to make sense that a homemade dog food prepared with fresh, high-quality ingredients would be superior to any dog food that is commercially available, but is that really the case?
The Risks of Homemade Dog Food
Unfortunately, research has shown that many homemade dog food recipes are anything but nutritionally complete and balanced. For example, a study of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs published in 2013 reveals that out of 200 dog food recipes that were pulled from websites, pet care books, and veterinary textbooks, only 5 percent contained adequate levels of all essential nutrients. Some of the recipes also produced foods with dangerously high levels of certain nutrients.
Some fans of homemade dog food will argue that “slight” nutritional errors are not that important as long as you regularly rotate through several different recipes. After all, every meal we eat doesn’t provide for all of our nutritional needs (donuts for breakfast, anyone?). Their reasoning is that the important thing is that over time, we do get everything we need.
The same reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to homemade dog food, however. Researchers evaluated several groups of homemade dog food recipes and found that “many recipes had similar deﬁciencies, with 14 nutrients provided at inadequate concentrations in at least 50 recipes. Thus, even the use of a strategy for rotation among several recipes from multiple sources would be unlikely to provide a balanced diet.”
Finding the Right Homemade Dog Food Recipe
None of this is meant to scare you away from making your own dog food. It is just very important to realize that if you don’t do it well, you could end up doing your dog more harm than good.
The best sources for nutritionally complete and balanced recipes for homemade dog food are board-certified veterinary nutritionists. They can take into account your dog’s age, weight and any health problems that they may have, and design recipes suited to their specific needs.
Your primary care veterinarian can refer you to a veterinary nutritionist, or you can find one on your own through your local veterinary school or the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). Another option is to go through one of the online services, Petdiets.com or BalanceIt.com, that are run by veterinary nutritionists.
How to Make Your Own Dog Food
Finding appropriate recipes is only the first step to making a nutritionally complete and balanced homemade dog food. You must also follow the recipes exactly, which is not as straightforward as it might sound.
In a study evaluating owner perception of homemade dog diets published in 2014, veterinary nutritionists gave 46 dog owners homemade dog food recipes and emphasized “the importance of following the recipe, the reasons for not changing the type or amount of each ingredient, the nutritional importance of each ingredient used, and details on how to prepare and feed the diet.”
Still, 30 percent of pet parents changed the recipe, 40 percent didn’t control the amount of the ingredients they included, 74 percent didn’t use the recommended amounts of oil and salt, and 35 percent didn’t correctly add necessary vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplements.
Therefore, even though these homemade dog food recipes looked good on paper, the food that the pet owners produced didn’t meet the dogs’ needs.
Consider Premixes for Making Your Own Dog Food
If this all sounds overwhelming, it may be worth considering other alternatives. Many of the best dog foods are made with only the highest-quality ingredients and undergo rigorous quality control to ensure that they are contaminant-free.
On the other hand, if you are primarily concerned that your dog might be missing out on particular nutrients, ask your veterinarian whether adding a nutritional supplement like VetriSCIENCE Vetri Mega Probiotic or Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet to their diet is a good idea.
Another good option is to mix homemade food into a nutritionally complete, commercially prepared base mix. Premixes make it extremely easy to make your own dog food. The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Fruit & Veggie Base Mix and The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Veggie, Nut & Seed Base Mix are very popular dehydrated base mixes.
Dr. Harvey’s also produces several premixes for dogs, including Dr. Harvey's Canine Health, Dr. Harvey's Grain-Free Veg-To-Bowl and Dr. Harvey's Fine Ground Grain-Free Veg-To-Bowl, as well as a Dr. Harvey's Veg-To-Bowl Grain-Free premix for cats.
Keep in mind that premixes themselves do not provide complete nutrition, and even if you add a protein source as the label suggests, it is difficult to know whether or not the resulting diet would be balanced. However, substituting this type of homemade dog food for 10-15 percent of your dog’s regular diet is a great way to ensure that he benefits from complete and balanced nutrition while getting that “little something extra” that home cooking can provide.