Feeding your dog a meal that looks similar to what you have for dinner might be an appealing alternative to offering commercial dog foods. However, it’s vital to your dog’s health to remember that the nutritional needs of a canine are different than your own. That means you can’t just cook your dog something that’s considered healthy for humans to eat.
The decision to cook homemade dog food is one that should be made with careful consideration and after discussing your dog’s current health and long-term wellness goals with your veterinarian.
You should also consult a veterinary nutritionist to provide you with one or more balanced homemade dog food recipes. Cooking for your dog can be a great bonding experience, and when done correctly, provides a healthy homemade diet that they will love.
Here’s what you need to know about homemade dog food and what you need to consider before switching your dog from commercial dog foods.
Is Homemade Dog Food Healthy?
While there is no hard scientific evidence to support the statement that a homemade diet is healthier for your dog than commercial dog foods, there are appreciable benefits that make the option of home cooking appealing.
Here are a few of the benefits of homemade food:
With homemade dog food, you can select whole-food ingredients that you would eat yourself. You also have control over where those ingredients are sourced, so you don’t have to worry as much about food recalls and how foods are prepared.
Minimally Processed Food
Ingredients can be offered any number of ways—raw, steamed, baked, broiled, and so on, to suit your cooking preferences or your dog’s individual palate.
The cooking methods you use in your kitchen will be far less invasive compared to those necessary to transform ingredients into dry kibble or canned dog food.
Variety of Fresh Ingredients
Rather than offering the same highly processed food day-in and day-out, you can incorporate a variety of ingredients into your dog’s daily diet, making mealtime more interesting and inviting.
Individually Tailored Recipes
A major benefit of cooking homemade dog food over feeding a commercial diet is that the diet can be individualized to provide the appropriate calories and nutrients for your dog’s age, body weight, and health issues.
You can select a combination of fresh food ingredients to meet the specific needs of your canine companion, like weight management, dietary allergies, or discerning palates.
However, while it may seem easy to create a homemade diet for your pup, cooking homemade dog food is a bit more complicated than providing protein and vegetables.
What You Need to Know Before You Switch to Homemade Dog Food
Carefully consider the following points to make sure this choice is right for you and your pet:
You Must Provide a Nutritionally Balanced Diet
Dogs’ nutritional needs are different from our own, so it’s important to provide a diet that is balanced with the appropriate nutrients needed to optimize your dog’s health.
These nutrients include calories to maintain weight or encourage weight gain or loss; protein; fat; vitamins; and minerals. Not enough or too many of any given nutrient can lead to diseases, malnutrition, obesity, and even death.
You Need to Find a Verified and Reliable Recipe Source
Again, it is important for your dog’s health to provide nutrients in the correct amounts to avoid excess or deficiency. So, while you can find recipes for generic homemade dog food online, in books, or in magazines, not all recipes have been checked to make sure they are nutritionally balanced.
Consult with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to make sure that the recipe or recipes you use are balanced to meet your dog’s nutritional needs.
An alternative option is to use the online consulting service called BalanceIT, a site operated by a veterinary nutritionist, to formulate a basic, nutritionally balanced recipe.
You Have to Follow the Recipes Exactly
Once you have a nutritionally balanced recipe for your dog, you need to follow it precisely—from the ingredient types to measuring the ingredients to the cooking methods used.
Cooking methods matter because steaming versus roasting versus boiling can change the nutrient composition of a food, which contributes to a balanced diet.
Adding or substituting ingredients, like adding chicken on top, or substituting chicken for beef in a given recipe, unbalances the diet and poses a risk for providing too much or not enough of one or multiple nutrients.
Generating several balanced recipes, using a reliable professional source, will allow you to offer a wider variety of ingredients while still making sure that you meet your dog’s specific nutritional needs.
You Should Use Safe, High-Quality Ingredients
Many foods, like chocolate, grapes, raisins, and macadamia nuts, just to name a few, are unsafe or toxic for your dog. When preparing meals, you should be aware of and avoid these ingredients.
Additionally, you should buy the same quality ingredients that you would buy for yourself. You should also be aware of the source. For example, ingredients purchased online may come from different manufacturers or locations, which may vary the quality of the product. Be consistent with where you get the ingredients for your dog’s food as much as possible.
Making Homemade Dog Food Is a Big Time Commitment
Finding the time to prepare a healthy meal for yourself and your family is often difficult, let alone preparing your dog’s meals from scratch.
Prepping meals in advance for the week can help—for example, preparing one large batch on a Sunday and dividing it into meal portions for each day would minimize the daily time commitment.
Also, recipes can be made to be freezer-friendly, so large batches can be prepared in advance and stored for future use.
You Will Need to Use Dog Supplements to Balance Meals
Homemade dog food supplements are often needed to ensure that the meals are balanced, particularly when it comes to vitamins and minerals.
Follow all veterinary advice to be sure that you’re providing the appropriate amounts of nutrients and that the diet is balanced considering any underlying health issues. Your veterinarian can also give guidance on the types of dog supplements you will need and recommended brands.
You Have to Switch Your Dog Gradually to a Homemade Diet
Switching from a commercial diet to a homemade diet, or even varying the ingredients in a homemade diet, can cause some dogs gastrointestinal upset.
Make changes to your dog’s diet slowly, over at least a couple of days, to allow your dog’s stomach time to adjust to the new food.
If you see any signs of decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, or a change in stools, talk with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Featured Image: iStock.com/glenkar