Homemade dog food must be better, surely? As humans, we know that eating a home cooked meal is better than eating fast food, but is it really the same for pets? You’ve probably tried feeding your pooch a range of different meals, from the best dry dog food or the best wet dog food, and even some of the best raw dog food that is pre-packaged.
But perhaps you’re wondering whether there is much difference in preparing your dog’s meals from scratch at home? Whether that be due to your dog needing a very specific diet, or you find they’re just quite fussy eaters, there can be a range of reasons and benefits for making your pup’s meals at home.
There’s so much advice out there when it comes to dog food, but only you can know what’s best for your dog, and this of course comes with a lot of trial and error, especially if you’re new dog parents. It’s okay to try different foods to find out what they like and what they don’t, and the same goes for your homemade dog food too.
One of the main benefits of preparing your dog’s meals yourself is that you know exactly what is going into it. Pre-made dog food is great, it’s an easy and convenient way to ensure your pup is getting all the nutrients they need, but you might not have found a brand you really like. Perhaps there’s too much salt in one, and not enough protein in another. When it comes to ingredients, homemade dog food allows you to have complete control over every tiny detail.
If you’d like to prepare your dog’s meals from scratch, then you’ll have to consider the extra time this will take, as it means another member of the household to cook for. It can also be a little bit more expensive to make homemade dog food, especially if you want it to be completely raw and organic too, so it’s worth shopping around to see what you can get for your budget.
While it wasn’t uncommon in the past for owners to simply feed their dogs the same food they ate, things are a little different today, and it really depends on your diet, as a dog probably wouldn’t enjoy or get what they need from a vegan diet, for example.
At PetsRadar, we’ve really done our research on homemade dog food so you don’t have to! We will talk you through the best way to prep your pooch’s meals from scratch and what you’ll need to consider when doing so. This guide should help you decide homemade dog food is right for you.
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The case for homemade dog food
1. Taking control of your dog’s diet
Many dog owners are wary of the ingredients in commercial dog foods. Some foods have been recalled over safety concerns, while others are vague about the exact contents of their products, and a growing number of owners are turning away from store-bought food. Most pre-made foods are perfectly safe and healthy, but if you’re concerned, then making your own dog food at home can give you peace of mind; you’ll have complete control over each ingredient and will know exactly what your dog is eating. By preparing food from scratch, you’ll be able to assess the quality of everything that goes into the bowl and avoid any additives. If you need more information, try reading Dog food ingredients explained – a vet’s guide to what's really in your dog’s dinner.
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2. Feeding fussy eaters
Whether it’s down to the taste or the texture, some dogs just aren’t keen on commercial dog food. Trying to find something they’ll eat can be frustrating, and looking at multiple barely touched sacks of food can make you feel like you’re throwing time and money away. By offering small pieces of dog-safe foods you already have in the kitchen – foods like banana, carrot, cooked rice and plain cooked chicken – you can work out what your dog is happy to eat and plan meals around their preferences. Read our guide to what human foods can dogs eat for more info on what dog's can safely enjoy.
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3. Avoiding allegens
If your dog has an allergy, an intolerance, or a sensitive stomach, it can be difficult to find dog food that agrees with them. Even if the allergen isn’t on the list of ingredients, it may have been present in the factory where the food was produced or packaged. For dogs with severe allergies, this can be too much of a risk. Preparing your dog’s meals at home can make it easier to avoid the ingredients that cause a reaction, and feed them meals you’re confident won’t make them sick. Discuss alternative ingredients with your vet to check that they’re safe and to make sure you’re still providing all the necessary nutrients in the right quantities.
4. Adapting to changing needs
Dogs today live much longer lives than their ancestors, which presents feeding challenges that dog owners of the past rarely had to deal with. As a dog ages, or if new health issues develop, its dietary requirements are likely to change. To meet these new needs, an owner may have to look for a completely different commercial food to feed their pet. For some health conditions, there simply might not be a suitable food available in stores. An established homemade meal plan can often be tweaked slightly, using advice from a vet to accommodate the changing nutritional needs without completely altering the feeding routine the dog is used to. Certain ingredients can be swapped for alternatives, quantities can be altered, and food can be chopped into smaller pieces.
5. Satisfaction and bond-building
In addition to the potential dietary benefits of making your own dog food at home, there’s the simple joy of watching your beloved pet enjoy something you’ve created for them. Much like sharing a home-cooked meal with family or friends, there’s pride and satisfaction to be found in cooking for your dog. If you have children, getting them involved can be a great way for them to bond with their pet, learn about nutrition, and pick up some skills in the kitchen.
The case against homemade dog food
1. Finding the right balance
Commercial dog foods are designed to give dogs a complete and balanced meal with an appropriate ratio of the different nutrients needed for canine health. There are about 40 nutrients essential for the smooth running of a dog’s body, and an imbalance can cause serious health problems. While recipes for homemade dog food might contain ingredients that are all perfectly safe for your dog, that’s no guarantee that it will give them the right amount of nutrients – many pet recipe writers lack any training in animal nutrition. Without following a plan created or approved by a vet or veterinary nutritionist, it’s easy to accidentally cause a deficiency or excess of certain nutrients, both of which can lead to malnutrition.
Malnutrition can affect a puppy’s development and lead to ill-health in dogs of all ages. You’ll probably need to add supplements to your dog’s meals, as they simply can’t stomach the amount of fruit and vegetables they’d need to consume to get all the vitamins and minerals they require. This should ideally be done on a nutritionist’s recommendation, but if a consultation isn’t possible or affordable for you then try BalanceIT – once you’ve selected the ingredients you want to use, the website will create a recipe and tell you the type and quantity of supplement to add.
2. Sifting through recipes
Just because a recipe is available online or in a book, this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good one to follow. Anyone can set up a blog and post a fun recipe with some enticing photos. Most people are careful to only include dog-safe foods, but it’s always worth checking each item on the list of ingredients to make sure it’s definitely okay to feed to your pet. Recipes can also be vague, leaving room for dangerous mistakes – for example, suggesting you use leftover cooked chicken without explaining that it’s only safe if the chicken is plain and unseasoned.
3. Finding the time
There’s no denying that buying pre-made dog food is convenient. Preparing dinner is as simple as opening a packet or a can and pouring it into the bowl. Making homemade dog food is a real commitment; as well as requiring much more time and effort on your part, the fresh meals won’t keep nearly as long as dry food or sealed wet food. Remember that if you want your dog to eat a fully homemade diet, you’ll need to set time aside every day or two to prepare their food – you won’t be able to fill a cupboard with a month’s supply like you can with commercial dog food.
4. Sticking to the plan
A feeding plan or recipe created or approved by a vet will keep a dog happy and healthy, but as mentioned in the previous point, it’s a serious commitment. Feeding should be consistent, with ingredients weighed and measured carefully and food prepared exactly as set out in the recipe.
Homemade dog food sometimes ends up costing a lot more than commercial food and almost always takes a great deal more effort, and over time owners may begin to alter the recipe or try and cut corners – known as ‘diet drift’. Leaving out supplements or swapping ingredients without checking that the nutritional value is the same will upset the careful balance of the meal plan.
The effects may not be apparent immediately, but in the long term, diet drift can be dangerous for a dog’s health.
5. Portion control
Packets of commercial dog food come either already portioned or with instructions for working out how much your dog should be fed in a day.
If you’re using up ingredients you have at home or following recipes for homemade dog food, it can be much harder to figure out a healthy portion size. Owners starting out on a homemade diet often inadvertently underfeed or overfeed their pet before they find the right ingredient quantities and meal portions for optimal nutrition and health.
Working with a vet or nutritionist on an initial meal plan will help you avoid this – once you get the hang of calculating nutritional information it will become easier to introduce healthy new meals to your dog’s diet.
Weighing it all up
If you’re willing to put in the time, money and commitment, and have weighed up the pros and cons, a homemade dog food diet can be great for your pet. It doesn’t need to be a scary or stressful change – just remember to consult with a vet before making any diet alterations to make sure that your dog is getting everything they need from their food. If you don't want to go the whole way with homemade food your could start smaller and make your own homemade dog treats.
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Victoria is a writer, author and communicator with a background in science and has recently completed an MSc in Science Communication. She also has a degree in Evolutionary Biology and has written for magazines including World of Animals, How It Works and Science+Nature. She grew up with rabbits and a spaniel, and has had her horse, Bernie, for 11 years.