Another great article by Jenny Jones.
Homemade dog foods are becoming more popular with dog owners. Often people feel that their dog will be getting a healthier diet and they like having more control over what they are feeding their dog. It can have its advantages but, if not done correctly, it can actually be harmful to your dog.
Homemade dog foods, if done correctly, can take more effort but be worth it for your dog
Getting the Right Balance is Absolutely Crucial
While, if managed appropriately, homemade dog food can work well for many dogs, too many people start feeding this way without getting appropriate advice. Dogs need a very specific balance of nutrients to ensure that they get everything they need to stay happy and healthy and without the proper knowledge, it can be all to easy for a dog to start to suffer nutrient deficiencies which can lead to long term medical conditions and a loss of body condition.
Seek Advice From a Suitable Qualified Nutritionist or Resource
To make sure that you get the right balance for your dog it is so important that you get advice from a suitably qualified expert. There are too many websites and individuals out there ready to offer advice on what to feed your dog that are lacking suitable experience and these can be confusing, misleading and damaging.
To ensure that you are feeding your dog an appropriately balanced diet we would always recommend seeking the advice of a fully qualified and certified pet nutritionist. Your Vet may be able to provide you with details of one they work with, or you could also refer to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition to find someone near you.
Consider the Lifestage of Your Dog
It is extremely important that you also consider the life stage of your dog and you should seek advice in terms of when changes may be required.
Puppies require a diet that will support their active growth. It is not just about feeding them more while they are growing. They need an appropriate balance of calories, proteins, fats, calcium, and other nutrients to ensure that they do not become ill, underdeveloped or receive too much of anything. A large breed puppy will require to be fed on a puppy specific diet than a smaller dog will as they take longer to fully mature and they are at particular risk if they receive too much calcium in their diet too.
Senior dogs can sometimes require changes to their diet too. They may require fewer calories if they are beginning to put on weight if they are more sedentary. Some elderly dogs can actually start to lose weight as their metabolism changes. Again, this is why it is important to consult with a certified nutritionist to ensure your dog will be getting the nutrient levels and ingredients that could benefit them the most.
Puppies need different nutrient levels to adult dogs while they are growing and it is important that any homemade dog food takes account of this
Consider Any Medical Requirements
Sometimes a medical condition can mean that a dog benefits from a more specific diet. Of course, there are lots of prescription diets on the market and sometimes a change to another generally commercially available diet can be enough to support the dog’s condition.
Sometimes, if the requirements to support the condition are complex, the prescription diet is expensive, or the ingredients just don’t work for your dog then a very tailored home cooked diet can be an option.
If this is to support a specific condition it is really important that this is introduced in conjunction with your vet and a qualified nutritionists advice, to make sure that you are not going to be risking aggravating the condition.
Some conditions that often result in a recommendation to change their diet include allergies or intolerances, chronic pancreatitis, kidney disease, heart disease or bladder stones.
Is Raw Or Cooked Better?
Home cooked diets are usually fresh but the meat they use can be either raw or cooked.
Raw food diets are becoming increasingly popular in the dog world. Their supporters believe that it is feeding as nature intended and that your dog is getting as much of the benefits from the meat as possible. It is an extremely fast-growing sector of the pet food market.
The critics of this type of feeding argue that there is a greater risk of the dog developing an illness because of the risk of potentially harmful bacteria that would be killed during the cooking process. This risk can also spread to the owners if their dog licks them. They also cite the fact that there have been no wide scale independent studies done to measure the benefits of raw feeding, whereas many commercial dog foods go through rigorous testing.
Whether you choose to feed raw or cooked is a personal choice. There are raw foods available that have been pre-prepared to be nutritionally balanced (although you should research the reputation of the company). You should still take advice from a qualified nutritionist when making up your own diet though to make sure you are getting the right balance and quantities when preparing your own raw diet.
If you are giving bones as part of a home cooked diet, it is extremely important that your dog is supervised and that you feed these raw. Cooked bones can easily splinter and cause internal damage. Even raw bones do carry a risk of causing a blockage too, so care must be taken.
If you live in a household where someone (dog, person or another pet) has a condition affecting their immune system then a raw diet should be avoided for your dog to minimize the risk.
Raw feeding is a rapidly growing area in the dog food world but it is important that you do your research and weight up the pros and cons
Should a Home Cooked Diet be Free of Grains?
Grains have become a dirty word in some parts of the dog food community and grain free diets have become the new big thing. Like any other ingredient, there can be some dogs that do not tolerate particular types of grains well, but this can be said of certain meat types or vegetables too.
Providing you pick a quality grain that is appropriate to feed to dogs and it is part of a balanced diet there are no problems with adding grains to a home cooked diet and they can, in fact, reduce the overall cost of the diet too.
If you are using grains as part of the diet for a carbohydrate source, these should not be given raw. They need to be cooked for ease of digestibility.
Grains have developed an unfair reputation in the dog food world in recent years. Providing they agree with your dog and they have been cooked, they can be beneficial as part of a balanced diet
Calcium is Crucial
You do need to add a balance of vitamins and minerals to a home cooked diet. Again a certified nutritionist can advise you on the correct amount and variety. Calcium is one of the key important additions. Some people believe that adding some yogurt to their dog’s diet will be enough. Your dog needs a high proportion of calcium and just adding a blob of yogurt is not sufficient.
It is important to ensure they are receiving the right amount and this is generally done by giving it in the form of a supplement. For those raw feeders that regularly give their dogs raw meaty bones, then they will also be getting a better amount of calcium in their diet too.
Calcium is important in your dog’s diet. If your dog has raw meaty bones regularly this can provide much of the calcium that they need
What About Supplements?
It is not just calcium that your dog needs though. There are a number of other vitamins and minerals that should be added to your dog’s diet so that they get the right balance of nutrients. While they may get some of these through the ingredients you feed, generally, an overall supplement is required to help keep them healthy.
It is not enough to just go and get a standard over the counter multivitamin and mineral. They need one that is tailored to supplement a home cooked diet.
There are a number of companies that specialize in these types of supplements and BalanceIT have a very good reputation. Their website is also a fantastic resource in terms of what foods are suitable and helping to get a good balance for your dog.
Don’t Forget About Oils
Again a nutritionist will be able to keep you right with the details, but the amount of fat that your dog gets in their diet is also important for helping to keep them happy and healthy. Fish Oils are often added as they provide additional healthy fats and they also have other beneficial nutritional value too.
Some people think that adding coconut oil will be sufficient. It is a very on-trend oil at the moment. While it can be a beneficial oil (if care is taken not to give too much as this can cause a stomach upset), it is something that is better used alongside other oils in moderation rather than instead of as it does not have the qualities that fish oils do and it is mostly a form of saturated fat.
Zesty Paws produce a well regarded Salmon Oil supplement, for example. It is sustainable sourced and produced in an FDA approved facility..
Useful for controlling allergies or intolerances
It can be helpful to use a homemade dog food if your dog has an intolerance or allergy as you can control exactly what your dog is being fed. You know the exact ingredients and can tailor it based on what will work for your dog. Sometimes an elimination diet may still be required to establish exactly what works for your dog but, once this is established, home cooking can help to ensure your dog does not have a flare up.
See our article on allergies and how to manage them for more general guidance.
It is easier to control the freshness of the ingredients
By feeding a homemade dog food, you are able to have more control over the freshness of what you are giving your dog. There have been a number of recent scares within the dog food industry that have resulted in recalls for certain brands. With freshly prepared ingredients you can minimize any risk.
It is easier to ensure that the ingredients are ethical
If you are passionate about living an ethical lifestyle, it can be hard to follow this through when looking at your dog’s diet. By preparing a homemade dog food you have more control over the ingredients that you are using. It means you can purchase meat that you know is organic, or meets certain welfare standards.
It also means that you can pick things that are sourced sustainably, use environmentally friendly packaging or are grown without the use of pesticides, for example.
See our article on being an ethical dog owner for more general dog product tips.
What Are Some of the Potential Disadvantages of Homemade Dog Foods
Without Expert Advice, the Diet May Not Be Appropriately Balanced
We know we have covered this already but it cannot be overstated. The KEY thing when feeding a home cooked diet is that you must ensure that your dog is getting the appropriate balance of nutrients. This is where so many people go wrong. As mentioned before, make sure that you consult with a board certified pet nutritionist or, at the very least, consult an expert website or book that have been produced by one. While there is a cost associated with a consultation, it will be so worth it for your dog’s health and well being in the long run and of course, it could also save you some potential large vet bills, should your dog become ill because of a deficiency in their diet.
It is Not Generally As Convenient as a Prepared Diet
Preparing a homemade dog food requires a lot more thought and advanced preparation than purchasing a commercially available dog food. You need to plan out the ingredients carefully, the preparation of the meals take a lot longer and you usually have to cook up in batches in advance and then freeze them. You will even need to consider whether you have a suitable freezer!
It can be more difficult if you are holidaying with your dog or if they are staying with family or using a boarding service as you need to be sure they have the facility to store any food you may provide them with pre-made.
For many people though, they believe that given they have this extra hassle when cooking for themselves every day, why wouldn’t they do it for their dog if they believe that it is beneficial.
Dry or tinned dog food is much more convenient and easy to use than a home cooked diet
It Can Be More Expensive Than a Prepared Diet
Unless your dog is on one of the most expensive of the commercially prepared diets or a specialist prescription diet, then homemade dog foods do tend to be more expensive. As long as you are aware of this and budget for it upfront, then this is about personal choice. Some people do not think about it at first and it is only once they start to look at it cumulatively over time that they realize it is having an impact on their bank balance.