Making homemade dog food can be time-consuming, but it’s a great way to give them a variety of fresh foods and it can be especially helpful if your pet suffers from any gastrointestinal conditions or allergies. Feeding homemade meals may take a little bit of research and work to find exactly what to include.
Your dog has vastly different nutritional needs than you do, so it’s worthwhile to research nutrition guidelines for dogs before embarking on creating homemade food. Just following guidelines for healthy eating for humans won’t cut it. Generally, you will want to make sure your recipe includes at least 30-40% protein, as well as fats, fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins, and minerals.
It’s a good idea to check in with your vet and make sure that the food you plan to prepare has the right balance of nutrients, especially if you plan to feed homemade food for the long term. Nutritional requirements for your dog may vary due to breed, size, activity level, health, or other factors. When deciding what to cook for your dog, here are some ingredients you’ll want to include, and a few things to leave out.
A wide variety of proteins can be incorporated into your dog’s meals, including organ meats like liver and heart which are extremely nutrient dense. Processed proteins aren’t healthy, and neither is trimmed fat from your plate that has no protein left attached to it.
- Chicken – white and dark
- Turkey – white and dark
- Fish – fresh or canned with bones, like sardines
- Beef – chunks or ground
- Lamb – chunks or ground
- Pork – chunks or ground
- Eggs – shells ground for added calcium
Use in moderation
- Dairy – try cottage cheese, kefir, and yogurt for added calcium, but dairy can sometimes cause stomach upset
- Organ meats – excellent source of vitamins and minerals, but too many may be too rich
- Sausage – may have added spices which could cause digestive upset
- Lunch meat or hot dogs – fillers and added sodium is not healthy
- Other processed or canned meats – sodium content is too high
- Fat trimmed from human meals – though not necessarily dangerous in small amounts, adds calories without the benefit of needed proteins
While dogs don’t need a lot of complex carbs in their diet, carbs do provide calories along with other nutrients. Grains add fiber that can be beneficial in weight reduction and gut health. There is some debate about the benefits of including fruits and vegetables in your dog’s meal, but they offer an excellent source of antioxidants, fiber, and phytonutrients.
- Beans – offer protein and fiber, especially black beans, chickpeas, and lentils
- Whole grains – add fiber, try barley, brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa
- Sweet potatoes – high in vitamins B6 and C
- Carrots – high in beta-carotene, which produces vitamin A
- Green beans – low in calories, high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals
- Green peas – protein-rich and high in fiber
Use in moderation
- White rice – offers less nutritional value than whole grain options, but especially gentle on sensitive stomachs
- Pasta – also easy to digest but with less nutritional value
- Uncooked dry beans – difficult to digest and some contain toxins when not cooked
- Canned beans – sodium content is high
- Tomatoes – green parts of plants contain toxin solanine, ripe fruit might be safe, but better to avoid
- Spinach – safe in small quantities, but rich in oxalic acid which can block calcium absorption
- Onion – contains thiosulphate which can damage a dog’s red blood cells
The American Kennel Club offers a great resource for more fruits and vegetables that are safe and not safe for your dog.
Many homemade dog foods have vital deficiencies in some vitamins and minerals, and supplying those missing nutrients is important. It’s a good idea to consult with your vet if you plan to feed homemade food long term to make certain that your dog is getting all the necessary nutrition. Simply adding a multivitamin may not provide the right balance. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition has a nutritional guide that lists some of the recommended daily requirements for vitamins and minerals dogs, and also provides information on how to arrange a nutrition consultation with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
For further reading on canine nutrition and things to consider when preparing homemade food, the Whole Dog Journal has an excellent article on Cooking for Dogs, and you can find some tail-wagging recipe ideas on our blog, as well as at The Dog Bakery and at Canine Journal. “Bone” appétit!