After a decade of counting calories and starting (and stopping) fad diets for myself, I began to see the importance a healthy, balanced diet for not only myself, but my pets as well. With the growing number of dogs with food allergies and other health issues, some dog parents are exploring a home cooked diet for their dogs.
Although processed foods are convenient and provide a balanced diet at an affordable price, fresh foods are healthier for dogs and humans, making home cooking more appealing. “A well planned and prepared diet can prevent many common health problems,” says Judy Morgan, DVM.
Cooking for our dogs isn’t the same as cooking for ourselves, so it’s important to avoid the following mistakes:
As a raw feeder, I used every resource available to learn how to feed a balanced raw diet to our four dogs. My research included books, seminars, webinars and social media groups. I found social media to be helpful, because speaking with other dog owners can be less intimidating than speaking with a veterinarian.
Although gaining support and sharing stories in a social media group is important, remember that you’re more likely to be interacting with dog owners and not veterinarians. A person with a lot of experience feeding their dogs a home-cooked diet has zero experience feeding your dog a home-cooked diet, so you’ll need to speak with your veterinarian before starting your dog on any type of new diet, especially a home-cooked one.
Mistake #2: Using Untested Dog Food Recipes
Dr. Laurie Coger of Healthy Dog Workshop sees many well-meaning dog parents creating diets of only ground beef and rice or chicken and rice. My first foray into home cooking for our dogs included these two ingredients; I didn’t know at the time that this wasn’t sufficient for dogs.
You can find recipes for homemade dog food online, but not all are balanced and can be missing important nutrients like Omega-3, calcium and probiotics. There is a misconception that varying a dog’s meals (and the ingredients in those meals) will provide balance and proper nutrients over time, but this isn’t the case.
According to a study of 200 published recipes for dogs, only nine recipes met or exceeded the National Research Council’s (NRC) recommended allowances or minimum requirements for all essential daily nutrients for dogs.
This study shows the importance of working with your veterinarian when developing a homemade diet for your dog and taking recipes from qualified sources.
Mistake #3: Not Customizing Recipes for Your Dogs
Making dog food isn’t as simple as following a recipe, but it would be convenient if that were the case. As you’re going through cookbooks to find the right recipe for your dog, keep the following in mind:
- The age, breed and size of your dog
- If your dog has any allergies (one of my dogs has several protein allergies). If so, choose substitutes.
- Where you can affordably buy the ingredients listed in the recipes.
- Making sure you have the tools on hand (e.g. crockpot, mixing bowls and storage containers) to make the food.
- Making food in bulk can save money; do you have adequate storage space?
Take a moment to consider the dog that you are raising and the dog’s specific needs. For example, puppies require more nutrients; however, too many nutrients can have a negative effect on large breed dogs.
Mistake #4: Not Providing Necessary Vitamins and Minerals
The process of cooking dog food removes vital nutrients, which dog parents can add to create a balanced diet. However, it’s a misconception that a multivitamin will fill in the gaps to balance a home cooked diet. Remember, not every dog is the same and a multivitamin is unable to meet the needs of each dog.
When adding supplements to your dog’s diet, start small by only providing what your dog with what he or she needs immediately. Coger suggests vitamins and minerals (because many homemade diets don’t include raw bones), a probiotic and salmon oil for Omega-3 fatty acids.
A veterinarian experienced in dog nutrition will be able to help you determine if more supplements are necessary for your dog.
Mistake #5: Not Consulting with a Veterinarian
I’ve hinted at the importance of working with your veterinarian on your dog’s diet, but it’s important to mention again: work with your veterinarian on your dog’s diet. Although our veterinarian isn’t experienced in raw feeding, he is aware that our dogs are on a raw food diet and that knowledge helps him better care for our dogs and advise me on their health and nutrition.
A veterinarian experienced in dog nutrition will be a valuable resource for dog parents who want to make their own dog food. They can direct you to the vitamins, minerals and supplements that will best benefit your dog given his or her medical history. And your veterinarian will help you make necessary adjustment to your dog’s diet as he or she ages.
Homemade diets for dogs are growing in popularity as dog parents realize the importance of quality nutrition, but there are many ways we can go wrong and fail to meet the nutritional needs of our best friend. When planning a diet for your dog, do your research and consult with a veterinarian experienced in dog nutrition. Gather from the vast variety of resources available to you and build from what you’re learning to create a balanced, home cooked diet for your dog. Your best friend will thank you.
Kimberly Gauthier writes about raw feeding for Keep the Tail Wagging while raising four gorgeous dogs in the Pacific Northwest.