Q. I want to feed a homemade meal for my dog. What are the basics I need to follow?
JESSICA L DESROSIERS
A. Feeding your pet a homemade meal can be tricky, however there are several steps to take. The first is to begin by examining the ingredients of meals similar to the one you'd like to feed them. Many commercial raw and fresh food diets will feature complete ingredient lists to give you an idea of the portions and types of foods used. Looking up recipes that others have made can also help you find what ingredients are common.
Foods require a balanced level of nutrition that is made up of proteins (your meat source and "slow" energy), carbohydrates (short-term energy and needed for brain health), and fats (for stored energy as well as flavor). Carbohydrates can be in grain form which is most common in commercial diets, or in non-grain sources such as potatoes, peas or sweet potatoes (more common now in "natural" or "holistic" diets). Proteins can come from plant sources, but are most commonly found in animals, and fats can be from many things.
When starting a homemade diet, it is always a good idea to add in an extra vitamin supplement to fill in any gaps or holes in the diet while you find the right balance for your dog. Working with your local veterinarian is also good as they can monitor your dog's weight and overall health, and may also recommend bloodwork to check for any nutrient deficiencies.
While homemade diets are a nice alternative to commercial ones, they are not under the same standards as commercial diets. For a diet to be fed as a commercial product, it must have an AAFCO certification on it. This is usually listed as a statement on the packaging which mentions whom the food can be fed to (adults, seniors, all life stages, puppies, etc) and ensures that the food is nutritionally balanced. This means that your dog would be able to survive fully on eating only this food. While it may seem the food is balanced, it does not mean the food is healthier than others, and may still contain ingredients that dogs with sensitivities or allergies can have a reaction to.
DANA KOCH, VMD, MLAS
A. Homemade diets can be a great alternative for pets that have specific food allergies. A good place to start is speaking to your veterinarian about recommendations for proper nutrition. There is also a website called balanceit.com. This website allows you to design homemade food recipes specifically for your pet’s nutritional needs. You can select guidelines based on any condition your pet may have (eg. Renal disease, overweight, arthritis). There are also recommendations for certain supplements or vitamins that would possibly need to be added to your home cooking to ensure your pet does not have any nutritional imbalance. This site is supported by experienced board certified veterinary nutritionists.