A balanced diet is very important for your dog’s health. Many dog owners are making the switch from commercially produced dog food to homemade dog food, due to its safety and nutritional value. Another factor which has influenced this change is the inflated price of some commercially produced dog foods. In addition to that, the pet food recalls which have recently made headlines have made dog owners wary of commercial brands.
Every dog needs proper nutrition and you'll have a better chance of providing your dog with good nutrition if you choose to make his food at home. Though you may find it cumbersome to prepare your dog’s food every single day, this doesn’t have to be the case—it is rather easy to prepare meals in sizeable portions and freeze them for a while.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about what you should feed your dog, the types of food to avoid, the ingredients to use in moderation, and useful tips for making homemade dog food. Keep in mind that every dog has his preference, and your dog is bound to like some recipes more than others as a result. Once you know what your dog likes, you’ll know exactly how to provide him with healthy and delicious food.
Why Homemade Dog Food?
A balanced diet is very important for your dog’s health. Although there are many commercially processed foods and snacks for dogs, most of them are not nutritious. This is due to the fact they are made with additives and fillers that have no nutritional value. In the worst case scenario, your dog could get sick from these foods, which is one of the reasons why many dog owners are turning to homemade dog food. You can improve your dog's nutrition through the use of simple ingredients and cooking techniques. Here are some of the reasons why you should consider making your dog’s food at home:
Reducing Your Dog’s Chances of Getting Allergies
Most commercially prepared dog foods have additives and chemicals in them which can trigger allergic reactions or cause your dog to develop food intolerances. In addition to that, some of these foods contain whole grains which are hard for dogs to digest. When you make your dog’s food, not only are you able to use nutritious and wholesome ingredients, but you can also reduce your dog's risk for developing allergies. Studies have shown that dogs with skin allergies and various health issues respond well to homemade dog food and experience an overall improvement in their health.
Improving Your Dog’s Health
Many dogs develop illnesses—such as a gluten intolerance, leaky gut, allergies, and irritable bowel syndrome—which can result in costly veterinary bills. These health issues have been directly linked to food intake. One of the things you will notice when you start feeding your dog healthy, balanced, homemade food is an improvement in his health. When your dog is on an all-natural diet, his skin will become silkier, his eyes will be brighter, and you may notice that he has a greater amount of energy than before.
Reducing the Chances of Your Dog Experiencing Bloating and Indigestion
The reality is that the majority of dogs normally experience some digestion problems—such as indigestion, bloating, and diarrhea—after consuming particular store bought foods. Expert veterinarians attribute this to the fillers added to commercial foods which absorb a lot of the water in your dog’s stomach, which can cause your dog’s health to deteriorate. You can reduce the chances of this happening by preparing your dog’s food yourself.
Comparison of Commercial vs. Homemade Dog Food
Choosing between commercially prepared and homemade dog food is but one of the challenging dilemmas dog owners face. Did you know that your dog’s nutrition determines every other aspect of his life? This is why you should be very careful when selecting food to give to your dog. Research shows that the nutrition puppies get can influence their growth, behavior, general well-being, and appearance. You have a big responsibility to provide good nutrition for your dog, which ultimately comes down to the decision between commercially or homemade dog food.
Commercial Dog Food
Commercial dog food refers to packaged food for dogs sold in supermarkets, at pet stores, and/or supplied by your veterinarian. This food is normally canned and therefore dry, semi-dry, or wet. For many years, dog owners have preferred commercial dog food due to the fact that it is convenient and quite affordable, as you only have to buy it and feed it to your dog without any added work or expenses. The sad reality is that some of these foods have long-term implications for your dog. This is not to say that all commercial dog foods are dangerous for dogs, though most of them actually are, as they are deficient in many important nutrients required by dogs, in addition to containing rubbish fillers which are dangerous to dogs. In addition, the cooking processes used to prepare these foods ruins the small amount of nutrients present in the food.
The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine requires that pet food be "pure and wholesome" and "safe to eat for animals," but pet food does not need approval from the FDA before being placed on the shelves for purchase. This gives commercial pet food companies huge leeway when it comes to what might be put into their pet food. You've probably heard of several major pet food brands having to recall dog food laced with melamine, an industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and kidney failure in animals.
By-products are commonly found in the list of ingredients on dog food bags which could mean anything from ground up, euthanized animals, blood, and chicken beaks and feet. Also, the ingredient list might say it contains vegetables but most use this term to describe fillers—such as corn or beet-pulp—that are not healthy for your dog.
The FDA allows certain additives and preservatives to be used in pet food that are considered unsafe for human consumption. These additives and preservatives may cause serious health problems for your dog, such as cancer, kidney failure, and/or liver failure.
If you choose to give your dog commercial food, you should be careful about the brand you pick because few have been found to be nutritious and many of them can harm your dog. Do your research and make sure the brand you choose doesn't contain ingredients that can harm your dog.
Homemade Dog Food
Preparing your dog's food at home gives you total control over his meals. Home cooked dog food doesn’t contain preservatives or additives as it is made from fresh, healthy ingredients. In addition, you will have peace of mind, knowing your dog’s food was prepared in a clean environment. Be prepared for the extra work it will take if you choose to give your dog homemade food, including time spent getting organized to come up with a feeding plan in order to prepare his daily meals. Another responsibility with homemade dog food is the fact that you are tasked with formulating meals that are not only nutritionally balanced but that will provide your dog with the calorie requirements he requires.
Boiled vegetables, boiled chicken or turkey, and cooked brown rice are some examples of the healthy ingredients you can use. The unused portion of these ingredients can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days before it goes bad. You can also freeze the meals in portions and keep them for months at a time.
Tips for Making Homemade Dog Food
Deciding to give your dog homemade food can be one of the best decisions you will ever make. Homemade dog food is healthy, economical, and can be easily made. All you need are some tips to guide you as to how to go about it.
Take Time to Prepare Your Dog Food
Find the time to make the food. Just as when cooking for your family, use good, safe, food handling practices, especially when using raw meats. Give yourself time to pack the cooked food in freezer bags, measured in portions appropriate for your dog.
Buy High Quality Ingredients in Bulk
Buying ingredients in bulk will lower the cost, saving you money. Choose good, high-quality meats and organic chicken whenever possible. You can prepare the homemade dog food in larger batches and freeze them in daily portion sizes.
Many dog owners who choose to make home cooked meals for their dogs also give them dietary supplements, taking the dog's size into consideration.
An important point to remember is portion control. Even though homemade dog food is wholesome and healthy, too much of it can cause weight gain, which can lead to health issues for your dog.
Although your dog’s health will improve when you serve him homemade meals, you should be patient because it will take him some time to adjust to his new meals. Changing your dog's food too fast can cause him to have diarrhea or an upset tummy. Switch his diet by mixing the new, homemade food with the old, commercial dog food at first, slowly weaning out the processed food.
It is advisable to consult your veterinarian before making the change to homemade meals so he can advise you as to how to go about it.
Making your own dog food can also save you money. Compared to the price of premium dog food (including commercial raw diets), homemade food can be a cost saver, especially when you consider that many of the ingredients are simple, staple items that you can purchase in bulk and store for future use. By using produce that is in season, you have the double advantage of having fresh ingredients at their nutritional peak available at the very lowest price.
Here’s a quick look at some of the best seasonal buys:
Fall: acorn squash, apples, butternut squash, figs, pears, pumpkin, sweet potatoes
Winter: radishes, rutabagas, turnips
Spring: apricots, carrots, mangos, spinach, strawberries, snow peas, sugar snap peas
Summer: blackberries, blueberries, green beans, peaches, plums, raspberries, watermelon, zucchini
However, along with the immediate savings of making your own foods, there are also hidden economic benefits. By ensuring that your dogs have proper nutrition, you are giving them the foundation for excellent lifetime health, meaning far fewer visits to the veterinarian’s office for expensive treatments and medications.
There is the notion that dogs only need protein, which is not true. Just like humans, dogs need basic nutrients—such as water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins—to survive. If you only feed your dog protein, he won't get the essential vitamins he needs, and your dog is bound to have deficiencies which can contribute to thyroid problems. On the other hand, the lack of protein opens him up to other health problems, such as muscle deterioration and blood disorders. This chapter explains the nutritional needs of dogs.
How Much Should Your Dog Eat?
If it were up to your dog, he would eat non-stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I'm sure most of you will agree that most dogs just love to eat and eat!
Overfeeding your dog can cause him to become overweight and suffer health issues associated with being overweight. For this reason, we need to use caution to avoid overfeeding our dogs. Normally, you can tell if your dog is eating enough if he keeps his figure and is energetic, rather than lethargic.
Feeding adult dogs twice daily, once in the morning, and again, in the evening, around dinnertime is recommended. Following a schedule such as this will help you to monitor your dog's daily intake as well as establish a routine. It will also help to keep him regular when doing his "daily business."
It is recommended that puppies have several, small meals a day until they are potty-trained. After that, it is recommended they be fed three to four times a day until they are nine-months-old, as their metabolic system is working overtime and they will need more calories as a result.
Make sure your dog has access to fresh water all day, every day.
How Much Should My Dog Eat?
How active your dog is as well as his age will determine how much he should eat daily. Here's a basic guideline to consider.
As with humans, obesity is an epidemic in the dog world. The reason? Most people feed their dogs too much food. Feeding guidelines on bags of commercial food are just that: guidelines. They’re written for unneutered adult dogs; spayed and neutered dogs have lower metabolic rates and need slightly less food. Also, many pet parents don’t measure their dog’s portions, instead filling the plate or (worse) "free feeding" with a bowl full of food that the dog is allowed to eat at will throughout the day.
Instead, it’s best to measure your dog’s food for twice-daily feedings. (Feed puppies three to four times per day.) The rule of thumb is that your dog should eat about 2.5 percent of his weight per day. You’ll adjust this up or down depending on your dog’s activity level and if you’re trying to maintain his weight, trim a little off, or put on some weight. For a 100-pound dog, that translates into about 2.5 pounds of food per day, or 1.25 pounds of food per meal.
Feeding Guidelines by Breed and Weight Breed/Average Weight Daily Serving:
Chihuahua/6 pounds .15 pound per day
Shetland Sheepdog/20 pounds .5 pound per day
Dachshund/20–25 pounds .5–.625 pound per day
Beagle/25 pounds .625 pound per day
Poodle/45–70 pounds 1.125–1.75 pounds per day
Bulldog/50 pounds 1.25 pounds per day
Golden Retriever/60–80 pounds 1.5–2 pounds per day
Labrador Retriever/75 pounds 1.875 pounds per day
German Shepherd/75–95 pounds 1.875–2.25 pounds per day
Greyhound/80 pounds 2 pounds per day
Rottweiler/90–110 pounds 2.25–2.75 pounds per day
Great Dane/120 pounds 3 pounds per day
This is, of course, a very broad guide, one that varies with the food you’re feeding, your dog’s activity level, your dog’s age, and any relevant medical conditions. (If your dog will be outdoors hiking around with you during cold weather, he’ll need more food. If your dog is pregnant, she’ll need more food.) This table gives you a general baseline to start from, though, and you can work from there, as you see if your dog is still hungry after the meal or if your dog is gaining/losing weight.
Dogs Weight - Food Amount Per Day
3 pounds - 1/3 cup to ½ cup
5 pounds - ½ cup to 2/3 cup
10 pounds - ¾ cup to 1 cup
20 pounds - 1 ¼ cups to 1 ¾ cups
40 pounds - 2 ¼ cups to 3 cups
80 pounds - 3 2/3 to 5 cups
The above chart is a basic guideline recommending how much your dog should eat in a 24-hour period. Most adult dogs eat twice a day, so you will need to divide the amount in half to make two meals.
Use a measuring cup to measure your dog's daily portions. If you are freezing homemade food, pre-measure everything to the proper meal size. This will also save you some time later.
What Is a Balanced Diet for Your Dog?
Your dog’s dietary needs change according to his stage of his life. The key to a healthy dog is a well-balanced diet. According to veterinarians, your dog's meal should consist of 10% starch, 40% protein, and 50% vegetables. The food you feed your dog must include:
carbohydrates for energy,
fats, including fatty acids, and
vitamins and minerals.
The key to homemade dog food is variety. Rotate the meats and make sure your dog is getting enough vegetables in his diet. Most dogs cannot tolerate a high fat diet, as it can lead to pancreatitis.
If you are concerned about meeting your dog's nutritional needs, talk to your veterinarian about a multivitamin.
In order to formulate the proper home cooked diet for your dog, observe what makes him feel more comfortable. Is he happy when he sees the meal? Does he happily gulp it down? Be sure to make food for your dog that is healthy and delicious.
A Dog’S Complete And Balanced Diet
If you look at most commercial dog foods, you’ll see the phrase "complete and balanced" splashed on the packaging somewhere. This means that the food has been formulated to include the key nutrients in your dog’s diet in balanced proportions: vitamins, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and water. A complete and balanced commercial dog food means that it is complete as it is, with no supplements required.
It’s important that dogs be fed a complete and balanced diet—but that doesn’t mean that each and every meal be completely balanced, as it is with commercial foods. Our own human diets balance out over time. Through the week, we all eat a wide variety of foods that give us nutrition in different forms. Together, they come together to provide a complete and balanced diet. We normally don’t eat one particular meal that answers all our nutritional needs. The same can be done with our dogs. Your dog’s diet can be diversified from meal to meal, balancing out over the breakfasts and dinners served throughout the week.
However, you will generally need to add a supplement to your dog’s diet—if not a general multivitamin, then at least a calcium supplement because dogs have a much higher need for calcium than humans. Unless you feed your dog raw bones or include nutritional-grade bone meal in their food, you’ll need to offer a calcium supplement. (It’s also very important to have the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. Talk with your veterinarian about a range for your dog; in general, the ideal range of calcium to phosphorus is about 1.5 to 1.)
Make your own eggshell calcium, which many pet parents prefer over bone meal because bones can store impurities (and because bone meal is often made from bones that have been used to make gelatin, so many nutrients are already missing from the bones). As with most things related to dog nutrition, the recommended amount of calcium varies, but expect to supplement with about one 600 mg calcium supplement per 10 to 15 pounds of adult dog. If you’re mixing homemade and commercial food, only add supplements for the portion of homemade diet, not the total.
Other Vitamins and Minerals
It’s no secret that manufacturers of commercial dog food usually add nutritional additives to their formulas, in part to replace nutrients that are lost during processing and production of the foods. The processing of dry commercial dog food often includes a high heat extrusion process that can destroy natural nutrients. The result is food that then must be refortified with supplemental additives to meet dogs’ nutritional requirements. Making your dog homemade dishes can be a healthy alternative to feeding commercial products because you’re offering meals that retain natural nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and fatty acids.
When considering what to cook for your dog, it is tempting to think in terms of human food consumption and human nutrition. "If it fulfills your nutritional needs, it must also fulfill your dog’s" is reasoning that, though understandable, is seriously flawed because the canine’s digestive system is not the same as that of a human. Many of the same nutritional building blocks are there, but they must be offered in different ratios and quantities.
The vitamin building blocks of your dog’s diet include:
Vitamin A: Found in liver and fish oil, vitamin A boosts the immune system and aids skin and ocular health.
Vitamin C: This also boosts the immune system and promotes healthy cells. Vitamin C is found in many vegetable oils.
Vitamin D: Liver is a great source of vitamin D, which strengthens bones and teeth.
Vitamin E: Found in vegetable oils, this vitamin boosts the immune system and encourages healthy cell production.
Minerals are also essential for a balanced diet and include:
Calcium: Calcium is essential for bones and teeth as well as for muscle function and blood clotting. It’s found in bone, blood, eggshells, and nutritional-grade bone meal.
Phosphorus: This mineral nurtures bones and teeth as well as healthy cells and muscles. As noted above, it’s important to have the correct calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. This mineral is found in meats as well as in dairy products and eggs.
Sodium: This nutrient promotes healthy muscles and helps maintain your dog’s fluid levels.
Essential fatty acids are also important in a complete diet:
Omega-6 is vital for coat care, giving your dog rich, lustrous fur. Sunflower or safflower oil added to your dog’s diet (about 1 teaspoon for a small dog or 1 tablespoon for a large dog) can keep your dog’s coat shiny.
Omega-3 fatty acids benefit your dog’s skin and can be found in flaxseed oil or fish oil (including sardines, one of our dogs’ favorites).
Treats For Your Dog: How Many Treats Should You Give?
Of course, giving extra treats between meals has the potential for busting your dog’s diet. Some willpower is in order, both for you and your dog! Treats should never make up more than 10 percent of your dog’s total diet.
Dog Training with Treats
Remember that you’ll need many training treats when initially training your dog, so the key is to make training treats very small (think pea-size) and then compensate by reducing your dog’s meal size.
Meat treats work best with many dogs, and often the stronger-scented treats like liver are most effective. Allowing refrigerated treats to warm to room temperature before you use them will bring out the scent to further entice your dog. You’ll also get the best results if the training treats are used exclusively for training.
Many trainers also use a dog’s regular meal as a training tool, meaning that you can give out far more "treats" as positive reinforcement training tools. A serving of chicken, which might have comprised your dog’s dinner, can be cut into small bits and used as training treats instead.
Bones: Yes or No?
Should you give your dog bones as a chew toy? That’s definitely a bone of contention in the dog world! First, the easy answer: you should never give your dog cooked bones. The cooking process dehydrates the bones, making them far more likely to splinter and break. Splintered bones can puncture an organ and lead to life-threatening complications.
Beyond that, though, things get a little stickier. Ask most raw-food diet advocates, and you’ll hear that raw bones—from large marrow bones to smaller chicken wings and thighs—play an important role in their dog’s diet. Digestible bones (comprising up to 10 percent of the diet) provide the necessary calcium your dog requires, and large marrow bones are a recreational favorite and are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
However, even raw bones present a danger. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says, "Bones or bone fragments in some raw diets can result in intestinal obstruction or perforation, gastroenteritis, and fractured teeth." We can testify to the fractured teeth: Our Irie, a devoted marrow bone chewer, had to have three teeth extracted due to fractured teeth.
The decision to feed bones, whether as part of a diet or as an occasional treat, is one that you will need to make after consulting with your veterinarian.
Your dog’s food should be derived from a variety of categories. However, these food categories are composed of many ingredients. Keep in mind that it is important is to prepare your dog’s food with fresh ingredients, free from additives.
When most people think of feeding their dogs protein, beef usually comes to mind. Although dogs do eat beef, there is a variety of protein sources you can give them. Muscles and organs are good sources of protein, however, you should take care to feed your dog liver in moderation, due to the fact that it may retain impurities. Following are sources of protein from which you can choose, depending on their cost and availability:
- turkey, which is easily available and equally easy for dogs to digest;
- ground beef or beef that has been cut into small strips;
- fish, although this shouldn’t exceed more than two servings a week—herring and mackerel are recommended;
- eggs should be given in moderation, too; and
- kidney beans or lima beans, although not as a substitute for meat protein.
There are a variety of vegetables you can feed your dog, including:
- broccoli, although in moderation because it may cause gas,
- green beans, and
- cauliflower, although this, too, may cause gas.
Your dog needs carbohydrates which contain fiber that can help maintain healthy digestion. Some carbohydrates you can feed your dog include:
- rice, particularly brown rice,
- cooked potatoes, and
- pasta without oil or salt.
Which fruits and veggies are good for your dog?
As with people, the brightly colored vegetables and fruits are some of the most nutritious. Some favorites to incorporate in our dogs’ meals include:
Green beans: A great source of vitamin A, green beans are also a wonderful way to help your hungry hound feel full without packing on the calories. If you don’t have fresh green beans, canned will work, but look for a low-sodium variety.
Pumpkin: Pumpkin is not just a fall favorite (when we buy it fresh, purée it, and freeze it for later use—it’ll keep for a few months); it can be a great choice for dogs year-round. Amazingly, pumpkin can be helpful for both constipation and diarrhea, and it’s also another excellent food for making your dog feel full. If you don’t have fresh pumpkin, you can purchase canned pumpkin purée (but not pumpkin pie filling, which contains sugar and spices).
Carrots: Carrots are a favorite snack for many dogs, enjoyed raw as an alternative to a rawhide chew. For your dog to get the nutrients in the carrot, though, you’ll need to steam, cook, or purée the carrot to unleash its powerhouse of vitamins, such as vitamin A and beta carotene.
Sweet potatoes: Like carrots, sweet potatoes make a great chew , but you can also purée them and add to any meal for a great source of vitamin E as well as vitamin B6, vitamin C, beta carotene, and more.
Blueberries: Rich in antioxidants, this superfood is a favorite with many dogs, ours included. You can include them in a meal, serve them separately as a little treat, and freeze them for some added crunch.
Eggs: Not only are eggs an economical source of protein for your dog, but they pack a real punch in terms of nutrients. You’ll find numerous recipes for egg dishes and treats. Some proponents of raw diets also favor feeding eggs raw. However, be aware of two potential issues: food poisoning from salmonella or E. coli, and the presence of avidin, a vitamin B inhibitor that’s found in uncooked egg whites. If you feed uncooked eggs regularly, just be sure to feed the entire egg, not just the egg white.
Peanut butter: Dogs love peanut butter, and it’s an excellent source of protein as well as healthy fats and vitamins. Look for natural peanut butter without added sugar (and organic, if possible).
Spinach: Our dogs enjoy salads, but spinach can be served in many ways that effectively deliver the iron that’s found in this leafy green.
Bananas: Bowsers and bananas go hand in hand (and add in a little peanut butter and you’ll be a gourmet in your dog’s eyes). That banana is also packed with nutritional goodies, including amino acids, electrolytes, minerals, vitamins B6 and C, potassium, fiber, and manganese.
Along with fresh versions of favorite fruits and vegetables, don’t discount frozen varieties either. Many frozen foods are picked at the height of freshness (unlike veggies in your market, which may have been picked before ripening so that they ripened in transit to the store). Frozen vegetables and fruits can be a great way to stock up, enjoy out-of-season produce, and save some preparation time in your cooking.
Ingredients You Should Avoid
There is the notion that dogs can eat anything, but this isn’t true. Some foods are dangerous to dogs and should be avoided. Avoid using any of these foods when preparing your dog food:
Avocados, which contain a substance causing dogs to have diarrhea, vomit, and suffer from heart congestion
Chocolate, which can wreak havoc on your dog's metabolic system, causing him to vomit and/or have diarrhea after ingesting even a small amount, while large amounts can lead to heart failure and possibly death
Coffee (and other caffeinated drinks), which has the same effect on your dog as does chocolate
Garlic, onions, leeks, and chives are toxic for dogs, and can cause anemia, making them very weak, quite possibly to the point of collapse (there is a lot of controversy surrounding garlic and whether or not it should be included as an ingredient in dog food, though raw garlic is clearly discouraged) - If you must, feed small amounts but only in moderation. Ask your vet for recommendations.
Grapes and raisins: Because they are condensed, raisins are more dangerous than grapes; avoid cereals and cookies with raisins - may cause severe liver and kidney damage
Macadamia nuts & Walnuts, which are poisonous for dogs (macadamia nuts, especially) and can affect the nervous system
Potato peels (green parts and eyes only; the rest of the skin is okay): Discard any green and sprouted portions of the potato. This includes all kinds of potatoes.
Yeast dough: Uncooked dough is very dangerous to your dog - can cause flatulence and discomfort, and too much gas can cause their stomachs to rupture
Xylitol: A sweetener used in some diet foods and sugar-free gums, it is highly toxic to dogs.
In addition to the aforementioned foods to be avoided, don’t use spoiled ingredients to make your dog food. One rule that can help to guide you with respect to what you should avoid feeding your dog is that anything considered dangerous for you to eat may also be dangerous for your dog.
A balanced nutrition help dogs live their best life, and figuring out that balance week in and week out can be daunting for some pet parents. After trying some of these recipes out on your dog, you may decide that you want to make your dog’s principal diet homemade. Your first step is to schedule a talk with your veterinarian. Discuss the switch and get your vet’s recommendations on foods and supplements for your dog’s size, age, activity level, and any health concerns.
Your dog’s life stage plays an important role in the formulation of a proper diet. Compared to adult dogs, puppies need a higher fat, protein, and calorie content in their food. Large and small dogs have varying needs as well; large breed pups need less calcium than their smaller cousins.
Ingredients to Use in Moderation
There are some ingredients that are not harmful to dogs but which should still be used in moderation:
- dairy foods, due to the fact that some dogs may find them hard to digest;
- cooking oils, such as canola oil;
- salt, which increases water retention and could lead to heart disease and heart failure; and
- corn, due to the fact that it is also hard for some dogs to digest.
All mammals have different metabolisms, responsible for breaking food down and turning it into energy. This is why certain foods are toxic for dogs but not for humans. It is important to let the whole family know what your dog can and cannot eat, which will prevent someone from sneaking him a treat that could cause serious health damage.
Above is only a sampling of foods that dogs cannot eat. If you are in doubt about a food item not on the list, be sure to check with your veterinarian before feeding it to your dog.
Everything In Moderation
- Too much protein can overwork your dog’s kidneys and liver as they work to remove the excess protein the body cannot absorb. (Too little protein can lead to growth problems for puppies.)
- Too much fat in your dog’s diet can lead to, you guessed it, excess poundage on your pup! Too little fat, though, results in a dull coat and flaky skin.
- Too many vitamins can stress your dog’s organs and even lead to bladder stones, while a lack of vitamins will make your tail-wagging chum tired and weak.
- Fiber also plays an important role in a balanced diet. Too much fiber leads to gas. Too little? Loose stools. Fiber is one component of your pet’s diet that’s easy to see (and suffer from) a lack of balance.
Although indulgent dog guardians may sometime fail to notice that their pooch is packing extra pounds, it’s easy to ask your veterinarian if your dog might be overweight. You can then monitor your dog’s weight with a periodic hands-on examination by feeling his ribs. If you are able to feel his ribs, he is usually not overweight. Your dog’s ribs should feel much like the back of your hand. Also, look at your dog from above and see if his waist is visible: It should show tapering from behind his rib cage toward his tail. From the side, you should also be able to discern an upward "tummy tuck" in his abdomen area.
Setting Up A Dog Feeding Schedule
Whether you are feeding a homemade or a commercial diet or a combination of the two, it is also important to establish a feeding schedule for your dog. Your objective is to make sure your dogs receive proper nutrition without becoming overweight. Just as with humans, dogs that are overweight become susceptible to various health issues, including extra stress on their joints, lethargy, liver disease, and diabetes.
Although an adult dog may be able to receive adequate nutrition from one large meal daily, breaking it up into two smaller meals served twice a day may reduce the chance of bloat, especially if your canine wolfs down his food. Plus, it gives you twice as many chances to bond with your dog via your homemade food! You can also use mealtime as a quick training exercise, asking your dog to sit and wait politely for your "okay" signal before diving in to enjoy the meal.
Shopping For Ingredients
Cooking your own dog treats and/or meals can be a money-saver—as long as you think ahead and shop with a plan. Here are some tips for buying ingredients inexpensively:
Look for "last chance" meats, fruits, and vegetables. Although they’re still safe to eat, these foods that are close to their expiration dates are often deeply discounted at grocery stores for a fast sale. In the case of fruits and vegetables, their ripe or slightly overripe state may make them less palatable to humans, but they’ll be more easily digested by your dog.
Check local farmers’ markets for bruised or slightly damaged fruits and vegetables. (Many markets welcome well-behaved dog shoppers as well!) Locally grown produce isn’t just an eco-friendly choice, but a great way to save money and get foods at the peak of freshness. Buying bruised produce can be a great way to save on dog meal ingredients; many farmers will even give them away, especially if you’re making another purchase.
Buy less desirable cuts of meat. Organ meats are inexpensive and make an important component of your dog’s diet. If you are feeding a homemade diet, up to 10 percent of your dog’s meal should include organ meats: liver, kidney, gizzards, and tripe. (Of that 10 percent, no more than half should be liver.) While these may not be at the top of the list for human shoppers, they’re very popular with dogs—and they’re an important nutritional source: Liver: Liver is a great source of vitamins A and B as well as iron. While it’s a wonderful food (and a real favorite with most dogs), limit liver to just 5 percent of your dog’s total diet so that your dog doesn’t get too much vitamin A.
Heart: Heart is actually considered a muscle meat, not an organ, so you can add more heart to your dog’s meal without worry—which is a great thing because it’s one of the most reasonably priced meats and one of the most nutritious. Beef heart contains thiamin, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, CoQ10, vitamin B, amino acids, and more.
Tripe: Cow stomach lining (although tripe can also refer to sheep, pig, goat, and deer stomachs) is sold in commercial grocery stores—but it has been washed and bleached and isn’t nutritional. (You’ll see that the tripe in the grocery store is sparkling white; it’s used to make menudo.) Green tripe, rich with nutrients from the cow’s diet, is made from the lining of the cow’s fourth stomach, the abomasum. Green tripe isn’t sold by butchers. Many pet parents feeding a raw diet will purchase frozen or dehydrated green tripe from commercial vendors.
Buying Meat In Bulk
If you decide to commit to a homemade diet—especially if you have large dogs—buying in bulk is a great way to save money. Meat is the ingredient that makes the most sense to buy in bulk—it can be expensive, and freezing it requires very little prep work. Regardless of whether you’re preparing a cooked or a raw diet for your dog, buying meat in bulk can simplify meal preparation and save money at the same time.
Consider these ideas:
Share a bulk purchase. Often, homemade feeders who live near each other band together to purchase a side of beef or other large cut as a group.
Ask other homemade feeders in your area to point you to good local meat sources: meat processing plants, wild game processors, and local butchers.
Visit ethnic markets, which can be an excellent source for many organ meats and less-common cuts that aren’t usually available at large grocery chains.
Equipment You Need
Although your home kitchen has everything you need to prepare your dog’s meals or treats, if you decide to get serious about a homemade diet, a few things can make the process much simpler:
Electric food grinder: A food grinder is a very handy way to prepare an appropriate mix of meat and vegetables. Grinding your own meat is much less expensive than buying ground meat, and you can cut away the fat to prepare a healthier meal. Although less expensive grinders are available for $30–130, only heavy-duty commercial grinders in the $300–400 range are capable of grinding bones. Even with the more expensive models, grinding bones may void the warranty, so check with the manufacturer before purchase. Without bone in the meal, you’ll need to supplement your dog’s food.
Food dehydrator: Buying dehydrated meats and vegetables is convenient, but it’s expensive! Make your own dehydrated jerky and chews on the cheap with a food dehydrator at a fraction of the cost. A food dehydrator is also excellent for drying vegetables and fruits during the peak season for use in later meals. Prices start at about $35 for basic dehydrators, although models with more controls can range from $200–300.
Food scale: To ensure that you are feeding your dog the proper amount of food every day, it’s important to measure his food, both in terms of cups and weight. A digital kitchen food scale ranges from $10–50.
Freezer: Small chest freezers that provide storage for bulk meals for your dog start at about $200, ranging up to $1,000 for top-of-the-line models.