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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Why Your Homemade Dog Food is Not Good Enough

September 06, 2013 / (12) comments

Do you cook for your dog? If so, how confident are you that the recipe(s) you use provide complete and balanced nutrition? The results of a study evaluating two hundred recipes obtained from 34 sources (veterinary textbooks, pet care books for owners, and websites) were published in the June 1, 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA).


The results were disturbing:

Most (184 [92%]) recipes contained vague or incomplete instructions that necessitated 1 or more assumptions for the ingredients, method of preparation, or supplement-type products.


Only 3 recipes provided all essential nutrients in concentrations meeting or exceeding the NRC [National Research Council] RA [recommended allowances], and another 2 recipes provided all essential nutrients in concentrations meeting or exceeding the NRC MR [minimum requirements]… Nine recipes provided all essential nutrients in concentrations exceeding the AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] nutrient profile minimums for adult dogs; 4 of these also met or exceeded the NRC RA or NRC MR… Overall, most (190/200 [95%]) recipes resulted in at least 1 essential nutrient at concentrations that did not meet NRC or AAFCO guidelines, and many (167 [83.5%]) recipes had multiple deficiencies.


Some deficiencies were so severe that nutrient concentrations did not reach 50% of the NRC RA; these included diets deficient in vitamin D (97/102 [95.1%]), zinc (76/138 [55.1%]), choline (56/129 [43.4%]), and vitamin E (31/79 [39.2%]). Nine recipes surpassed the safe upper limit for vitamin D, and 6 surpassed the safe upper limit for the combination of EPA plus DHA [types of omega 3 fatty acids].

You’ll hear many people who recommend home-prepared foods for dogs say that “slight” nutritional deficiencies in any one diet can be compensated for by rotating between several diets. On the surface, this claim makes sense, but the researchers took a closer look at this claim. They evaluated three recipe groups, each consisting of seven separate recipes, and found that nutritional problems would arise even if a dog ate all seven of the diets within the group.

[M]any 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.

Recipes that were written by veterinarians had a lower number of deficiencies in comparison to those written by non-veterinarians. However, most of the recipes written by veterinarians were still deficient in at least one nutrient. The researchers only looked at four recipes written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists, but all four of these “were within the AAFCO-recommended ranges for an adult canine maintenance diet.” Therefore, owners who want to ensure that their dog’s home-prepared food is nutritionally complete and balanced should seek out the services of one of these specialists.


Your local veterinary college, Petdiets.com, and BalanceIt.com all provide access to board-certified veterinary nutritionists.



Dr. Jennifer Coates




Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs. Stockman J, Fascetti AJ, Kass PH, Larsen JA. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013 Jun 1;242(11):1500-5.



Image: Thinkstock

Comments  12

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  • 09/06/2013 04:39pm

    I read where adding a small amount of distilled vinegar to your dogs water would repel ticks and fleas. Is there any truth to that? Is there any downside to that? Thanks.

  • 09/06/2013 08:28pm

    No truth to it, but probably no downside as long as reasonable amounts are added.

  • Statistics
    09/06/2013 11:47pm

    I'd be curious to know if any of the critters being fed the home-cooked diets had any health problems due to deficiencies.

  • 12/27/2014 12:47pm

    I can tell you I have been cooking for my two dogs for over two years. Last visit to the vet (2 weeks ago) with complete blood work, showed they are extremely healthy with no deficiencies! My vet was amazed as one of my girls is a senior and still acts like a puppy!
    You could NEVER convince me that store-bought kibble, which is made from the garbage leftover from human food production, is better than the food I make for them!! And their checkups prove it!

  • 09/07/2013 07:17am

    First, it is APPLE cider vinegar you would want to use, the good stuff with the "floaties" in it. Nasty tasting if you take direct. This is actually a No... But kind of yes answer. No, giving it orally will not repel fleas, but using it as a rinse after shampooing CAN do so. You can also mix with water and put in a spray bottle to do the same or "retouch". Do a search online for best way to do this. Otherwise, just adding a tablespoon a day for dogs, teaspoon for cats, is said (just like in people) to provide a variety of health benefits. Again, you can do some quick searches and find some good info. Oh, do not give to an animal with yeast allergies or sensitivity... Or it would stand to reason, already has a yeast problem.

  • 09/07/2013 04:37pm

    Firstly, I want to say that I do give my dogs kibble and canned dog food, however I find it interesting that all other mammals, including humans, can eat fresh food from natural sources, yet we are continually pushed to give dogs and cats pelleted and canned foods only. This is the biggest push yet to guilt people into not giving their pets home-prepared fresh foods.

    A previous article stated that it has been discovered that dogs can tolerate much higher levels of carbohydrates than previously thought, and they don't necessarily need meat-based diets at all, as they have much different needs than say, wolves. Great news for the pet food industry indeed, as is this study.

    Has there been any officially sanctioned studies of the various other ingredients in manufactured dog foods, such as meat digest, powdered cellulose, "egg product", glyceryl monostearate, grain fermentation solubles, unknown source animal digest, corn and wheat gluten meal, various food colorings, etc, or is that sort of thing left to consumer advocates.

  • 09/08/2013 05:09pm

    I wanted to add that the other prong of the attack against home prepared fresh foods is the notion that dogs can be allergic to various meats. No mention of the 20 other highly processed ingredients in kibble. No mention that your dog may not do well eating brewer's rice which is a waste product of alcohol manufacturing. The major dog food manufacturers always have their eyes open to the left-overs, the waste products from various food processing sources, just as they do with cattle feed. Extract protein for pet food from chicken beaks and feet? Sure! Another cheap source of protein.

    Stop allowing vets to make you think your dog is allergic to real meat. Stop allowing them to distract you from the many other factory processed ingredients in packaged dog food when you're trying to track down a food allergy. Stop letting them make you believe that you don't dare give your dog a home-cooked meal. Just stop. It's dog food industry-driven.

  • Feeding Senior Dogs
    09/25/2013 03:34pm

    I have a 14 year old Pomeranian, that has multiple grain allergies. He is not the smallest of the Pom's, and he weighs 10 lbs. I know senior dogs have different nutritional needs. I've gotten conflicting amounts of how much I should feed him a day from the vet and the pet food labels. I don't want to overfeed him, as at one point he was overweight, but I don't want to under feed him either. Can you help me?

  • 09/26/2013 07:06pm

    I'm afraid I can't tell you exactly how much to feed without more information. Your best option is to take your veterinarian's advice, and then keep a very close eye on your dog's weight. Weigh him every couple of weeks and fine tune the amount you are offering based on what the scale says.

  • 02/23/2014 07:18pm

    At Christmas I had to put down my 13 yr old shepherd mix which I raised from 4 weeks of age. Valentine's day I received a bundle of joy, a 7 week old labradoodle-mix. Yesterday our Vet started a 7 day course of ABX to treat a UTI which could possibly be the reason she is having polydipsia and polyuria, before jumping to a conclusion of DM (Unfortunately, I jumped) She also has round worms (1st treatment 2/22/14) She isn't eating any of her kibble dry or moistened with water. I did scramble an egg and she ate that immediately. She weighed almost 10 pounds at yesterday's appointment. I don't want her to waste away. Should I continue with making eggs and maybe ground beef and rice her follow up appt on Sat? Thank you.

  • 02/24/2014 06:49pm

    The short term feeding of a homemade diet containing a protein and carbohydrate source (e.g., white meat chicken and rice) is fine, particularly when a dog is recovering from an illness. But, you'll want to switch back to a nutritionally complete diet (perhaps a canned puppy food?) as soon as possible.

  • Synthetics required?
    05/07/2014 04:01am

    It seems dogs are unable to thrive on our food supply. In order to meet any of the published standards, one MUST add synthetic nutrients to a dog's diet. I have been feeding my dogs a homemade diet for years. They get meat, veggies, fruits & carbs. Bones & shells are ground with the meat. People feeding the raw diet are also fed up with the “food” produced by the national companies.

    To compare the ingredients in a homemade diet to those found in commercial dog food is ludicrous. I think we all know that ALL of the nutritional values in commercial foods are provided by a laboratory, and the location of those labs is not disclosed to the pet owner. The ingredients that most of us recognize as “food” are discarded by the processing of human food, possess no nutritional value and are nothing more than fillers.

    People need to do their homework if they want to provide a homemade diet, but it’s not rocket science. Common sense, at some point, has to kick in. Did anyone experience this much regulation when raising their children? Imagine if we no longer had access to labs and synthetic nutrients. Would dogs no longer thrive? Would they die off from nutritional deficiencies. Eventually become extinct? Some could hunt for their food, but let’s face it, most would wait for dinner leftovers. And they’d be fine.

    People are figuring out that they don't need One-A-Day or Centrum if they eat a relatively balanced diet and they are using the same rationale for their dogs. Synthetics, especially from origins unknown, are a tricky proposition these days.