What You Should Know Before You Cook for Your Dog

Before pet owners place their dog on a home-prepared diet, there several points they need to be aware of.

Cooking for your dog can be easy. Photo by R-M Arca.

Cooking for your dog can be easy. Photo by R-M Arca.

With the dog food recalls in recent years and the development of dog allergies and sensitivities, an increasing number of pet owners are considering the home-prepared or "homemade" diet for their dog. However, pet owners should obtain a good understanding of what is involved with making food for their dog before they begin.

What is a Home-Prepared Diet?

Home-prepared or "homemade" pet diets are not to be confused with "table scraps". The latter is a mix of leftovers from a human's meal. A home-prepared diet for a dog is based specifically on meeting a dog's nutritional needs.

In "Pet Nutrition: Guidelines for feeding your pets", Dr. Ihor Basko, DVM, recommends "you cook and feed your pet based upon: breed and body type, personality, age, sex, current problems, inherent genetic weaknesses, climate of the season, and the level of exercise and activity and stress."

There are four things dog owners should know before making food for their dog:

Determine Your Dog's Nutritional Requirements

Although dogs are omnivores, like humans, their nutritional requirements are different. It is important to consult your veterinarian to help determine your dog's nutritional needs.

Dr. Basko recommends that a dog's diet should consist of:

  1. 20 - 30% grains (Examples include brown and white rice, oats, millet, quinoa and barley)
  2. 10 - 30% protein (Examples include meat, fish, eggs, soy products, kelp, spirulina, blue-green algae and dairy products)
  3. 20 - 40% vegetables (Examples include carrots, turnips, garlic, sweet potatoes, spinach, celery, lettuce, parsley, azuki beans, lima beans, soybeans, string beans, sweet peas, white beans, basil, seaweed, rosemary, dill, pepper, tarragon)

Dog owners should know what foods are harmful to dogs. Some dogs are lactose intolerant, so lactose-reduced dairy products is a viable option. Finally, a dog's nutritional requirements change as they age.

How to Make Dog Food: Research Dog Food Recipes to Start

Numerous resources are available to help dog owners get started on the homemade diet for dogs. This is just a sampling:

  1. Dr. Good Pet: Contains a detailed list of ingredients to use and a basic recipe that can be varied
  2. I Love Dogs: A large online cookbook of dog food recipes submitted by dog owners
  3. Better Food for Dogs: A Complete Cookbook and Nutrition Guide by David Bastin, Jennifer Ashton and Dr. Grant Nixon, DVM (Toronto: Robert Rose Inc., 2002)

Once dog owners have a better sense of their dog's preferences, they can start modifying an existing dog food recipe by substituting ingredients or creating their own. When making dog food from scratch, dog owners can use this online calculator to determine serving portions. The online calculator has recommended adjustments for weight loss diets as well as those for weight gain.

Use Digestive Enzymesand Supplements to Avoid Holes in Your Dog's Diet

Cooked or processed foods have been depleted of the digestive enzymes dogs require. Therefore, owners should incorporate canine digestive enzymes into a dog's diet when feeding homemade dog food.

Brewer's yeast tablets and seaweed contain vitamins and nutrients to promote healthy skin and coat in dogs. Brewer's yeast is also a deterrent against fleas. Many holistic pet food stores carry freeze-dried veggies/vitamin mix that can be added to a homemade meal.

How to Succeed in Making Food For Your Dog

There are five things to remember when making dog food: gradual changes are optimal, know thy dog, variety, balance over time and calcium:

  1. Gradual Changes: Drastic diet changes cause indigestion, stomach upset and diarrhea in dogs. Owners can feed their dog a canine digestive enzyme to make the diet transition smoother or make subtle changes to their dog's diet.
  2. Know Thy Dog: Is he just picking at his food? Or is she inhaling it? Does the dog suddenly gain a swollen lip or itch after eating? Owners should observe their dog carefully for an allergic reaction, indigestion, gas or diarrhea and make adjustments.
  3. Variety: In "Introduction to Homemade Diets for Dogs", Mary Straus states there is a lack of reliable data on canine nutritional requirements. For this reason, she cautions pet owners against relying solely on recipes. Owners should vary the type of meat (and the cut), grains and vegetables to ensure that their dog's nutritional needs are met.
  4. Balance Over Time: As no one homemade dog food recipe contains all the nutrients a dog requires, Straus says that owners should strive for giving their dog a balanced diet over a period of one to three weeks as opposed to trying to make each meal complete and balanced.
  5. Calcium: Dogs need to have enough calcium in their diet. Raw bones give dogs the calcium they need. Dogs can also get calcium by eating cottage cheese, yogurt and lactose-reduced dairy products. Some dogs may require calcium supplements to reach the necessary amount.

Health Benefits to Home-Prepared Dog Food

Straus recounts several cases where dogs experienced improved health after switching to a homemade diet. People whose dogs were plagued by seizures, digestive disorders, allergies, ear infections or arthritis showed a significant improvement to their health after switching to the homemade diet.

Homemade dog food isn't for all dogs and their owners. Pet owners should have a good understanding of the their dog's nutritional needs, research feeding guidelines and recipes and the keys to success with the home-prepared diet before they begin. With patience, keen observation skills and some imagination, dogs owners can discover how enjoyable and rewarding cooking for their dog can be.

Related Reading:

Homemade Hamburger Recipe for Dogs

Grain Free Hamburger Recipe for Dogs

Fresh Dog Food as a Convenient Alternative to Homemade Dog Food

Originally published on Suite101.com on June 3, 2010. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.