Dog food recalls have been making headlines recently, leading pet parents to worry about pets’ safety. What’s really in dog food? Animal byproducts and others made from wheat, corn and soy make up the bulk of cheap dog food’s ingredients. Although a dog food may say claim to taste like chicken or beef, make sure meat is the primary ingredient. Added sugars are another issue, harmful to teeth and diabetic pets. The only way to be 100 percent certain of what is in your pet’s food is to make it yourself, but the process is not as simple as Pinterest may make it seem.
Homemade Dog Food vs Store-bought
The majority of pet parents go DIY to be sure of their dog food’s ingredients. Byproducts and fillers are often added and have no nutritional value. For dogs with food allergies or intolerances, a homemade diet may be necessary to ensure no contaminating allergens. Some pet parents claim homemade dog food is cheaper, a claim that depends on the availability and cost of fresh ingredients in your area along with your pet’s size and age.
There are many types of store-bought dog food that fully meet pets’ nutritional needs and have been proven safe for consumption. Reviews.com did an exhaustive comparison of over 2,000 dog food brands, with just 27 making the cut for “best dog food.” One advantage of buying dog food is there’s no work involved – just scoop the listed serving for your pet’s size. Homemade dog food requires pet parents to consider nutritional proportions and balance nutrients.
Beginning a Homemade Dog Food Diet
Always consult a veterinarian before making any drastic changes to your pet’s lifestyle. Human and canine nutritional needs are not the same, and dogs have different dietary requirements at each stage of life. Senior dogs require more protein but less calories to balance a less active lifestyle, while adults’ needs vary greatly depending on their activity level and breed. If your pet has a chronic issue like diabetes, or is of a breed prone to developing certain conditions, further dietary customization may be required. Adding or subtracting ingredients from your dog’s diet can lead to gastrointestinal upset or even malnutrition over time.
Follow your vet’s instructions for introducing homemade meals, which are very flavorful compared to dry dog food. Greedy pets can eat too fast, which can have dangerous consequences for large dog breeds, and lead to diarrhea in dogs. You may have to start the diet gradually, mixing homemade dog food into the old dry or wet brand over several weeks.
Homemade Dog Food Nutrition
The trickiest and most important part of making dog food is balancing your dog’s nutritional requirements. Start by learning about canine nutrition, rather than having a professional do everything for you. This way you know each ingredient’s purpose and can make modifications yourself down the road, if necessary. There are several online tools and apps you can use to begin creating your dog’s diet, like Balance It and Pet Diets, both operated by certified veterinary nutritionists.
High energy breeds – like racing dogs or working dogs – who are very active need more protein and fat than, say, a sedentary family dog. The following are the building blocks for every healthy homemade dog food recipe:
- High-quality protein source, typically a lean meat like chicken, fish, turkey, liver or top and round beef cuts. Alternative proteins for the meat intolerant include beans, soy, tofu, eggs and yogurt.
- Healthy fats are also essential, which is most popularly included as fish oil.
- Carbohydrates provide energy and fiber. The best sources are whole grains like rice, oats and barley along with sweet potatoes.
- Fruits and vegetables help fulfill vitamin and mineral requirements. Most are dog-friendly, with the exception of grapes, onions, avocados, cherries, mushrooms, uncooked potatoes, and rhubarb. Always remove the seeds, leaves and stems from all produce.
Preparing and Cooking Homemade Dog Food
After you’ve created your dog’s nutritionally balanced new diet, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Be sure to properly cook all meat and fish to safe minimum internal temperatures, using a food thermometer – pets are especially vulnerable to food borne parasites. Remove all bones, which are a choking hazard and can cause bowel obstructions in dogs. Lay off the seasoning when preparing homemade dog food; pepper is irritating at best to pets, while salt is dehydrating and unflavorful to pets. Garlic, onions, nuts and mushrooms are all toxic to pets. Spicy seasonings and peppers cause diarrhea in dogs, who like their food relatively bland.
To make your homemade dog food more appealing to picky eaters, try mixing things up a little with different recipes. A variety of meats, grains and vegetable blends ensures your dog has a balanced diet and is also entertained. Senior pets’ senses may dull and loss of appetite is also common; heating food up encourages tempting smells, or try using particularly pungent ingredients like beef or pumpkin.