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Making Food for Dogs

When I wrote about Dog Food, I acknowledged Homemade Meals, as an option, one I don’t pursue. I basically set the topic aside, and that was that. That’s not entirely true though. I’ve cooked for my dogs in the past, and I’m currently having to do so again, for one of my girls.

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Shredded Veggies and Quinoa

I felt it necessary to remove home cooked options from the larger Commercial Diet discussion, because in my opinion – which is all this ever is, it involves completely different concepts.

Thoughts on Nutrition. Kibble, Raw, or Canned, they all have one thing in common. They are 100% nutritionally complete. In order to be on the market as a ‘complete diet’ a food has to meet certain vitamin, mineral, protein, etc., standards. If they don’t meet these standards, they have to be labeled ‘for supplemental feeding’, which tends to freak out consumers. Most manufacturers want to avoid this label.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Every meal we feed our dogs is 100% nutritionally complete every time. Is everything you eat nutritionally complete? I know that’s not true for me. It depends on how you want to think about nutrition. Is nutrition a straight line? Providing the same level of nutrients day in and day out. Or is it more of a wavy line? Some days you get this, some days you get that, but overall it balances out.

Kibble or any commercial diet is that straight line. Homemade diets are curvy. Yes, there are vitamin packs you could buy to basically eliminate this difference. That would kind of defeat the purpose. With homemade diets and that squiggly line, we have the benefit of providing our pets nutrition from real sources, not from a synthetic powder made in China. By the way, almost all vitamin packs are made in China. A small percentage come from Europe.

There is some school of thought that we are actually doing our dogs a disservice by providing them this perfect nutrition on the daily. We are forcing their bodily systems to process too many vitamins and minerals without giving them the natural breaks they would get if they were eating a little of this one day and a little of that the next. The breaks that we get. The breaks they would get if they were the opportunistic scavengers they are supposed to be. Is that over working of the systems leading (or at least contributing to) an epidemic of kidney problems? Liver problems? Pancreatitis? Or any of the hundred other common ailments we find in our pet dogs?

The point here is one has to be cognizant and aware when feeding their dog a homemade diet, that they are bucking the system from a nutritional standpoint. Complete nutrition on a daily (or weekly or monthly) basis is your responsibility. Concerns about this can be augmented if you include some commercial food in their diet. Weekly or every few days. In my opinion (note the caveat) that should be sufficient.

What to feed. Nutritional diatribe aside, what are the nuts and bolts of a homemade diet? I am not going to provide a complete how-to. It’s not my expertise, and each individual needs to make their own calls. In broad brushstrokes though, first familiarize yourself with bad juju. Everyone pretty much knows about chocolate and grapes and raisins and onions. I’d also avoid excessive amounts of fatty meats or skin, cured meats, cooked bones, and too much salt. Obviously any thing your dog is allergic to in kibble format (chicken, grains, what have you) should be excluded from their home prepared meals as well. Beyond that though, the sky is the limit. Raw or cooked? Your call. Rice or Quinoa or sweet potatoes? You decide. What veggies do you have in your fridge tonight? I know people who prepare their dog’s meal right along side their own, with a few substitutions made.

In general, a home made diet should consist of 3 things: protein, carbs, fruits/veggies. With the fourth and fifth runner-ups being calcium and Essential Fatty Acids. On the protein front, I would never made their meal less that 50% meat (or eggs or a combination there of). Ideally, that meat source should be as close to the ‘whole animal’ as possible. Meaning it includes organ meat and connective tissue, and ground bone for that calcium. We aren’t talking boneless skinless chicken breast here. Divide up the other half between carbs and veggies. And always, always make sure your dog is getting some calcium from egg shells or bones (raw, not cooked).

What we do. The veggies and quinoa pictured above are being added to a purchased raw ground meat and bone product. The veggie mix is parsley, kale, fennel, carrots, burdock root, and a little leftover purple cabbage. We are moving one of our girls to this diet at the direction of our Holistic Vet (love them!). I expect we will be moving more of the pack to a similar formulation in the future. Currently we subscribe to a ‘never run out of dog food’ mentality. If the kibble is gone or the raw isn’t defrosted, I’ve been known to cook up eggs and oatmeal and veggies and yogurt. Viola! Dog Dinner! We also seek out those “scary”, ‘supplemental feeding-only’ nutritionally incomplete products. Because things don’t need to be be 100% all the time. ‘Perfect’ nutrition just shouldn’t exist in my opinion. We all need an imperfect meal now and again, dogs included. Sometimes it’s frozen sardine and cottage cheese (ewww!) or tripe and yams (even better!) or their weekly raw bones on Movie Night.

I have friends who make stew for their dogs with chicken carcasses, veggies and the whole she-bang. Others that add whole food ingredients to their dogs kibble. Whatever you do on the home cooking front, great! I think the important part here is to do something. Add whole foods. Vary their diets. Embrace nutrition as a journey, not something you get with each and every scoop.

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Comments

Dylan
Reply

Thanks for the information. I’ve enjoyed experimenting over the years with making up a batch of homemade food for my dog along with (or after) our dinner, and he seems to really enjoy it (which is a great compliment, he is remarkably picky about his food.) For us it’s about a once a week ritual and definitely falls under the supplemental category. This post has inspired me to try a few new things though, and reminded me of the importance of raw bones!

Jihan
Reply

I’ll be interested to hear more about why you are considering transitioning the rest of the pack to the homemade formulation!

dogsordollars
Reply

Stay tuned! :)

Naomi
Reply

Hi, I am a qualified veterinary nurse and pet nutritionist. What I have learned is that while commercial foods need to contain some ‘minimums’ in order to qualify for the “complete diet” label, often there are no maximum levels. So what could, for example, contain a perfect amount of protein for a healthy young adult dog, could contain way too much for an older dog with failing kidneys. The age specific products available do help with these issues, but you really need to discuss with a qualified pet nutritionist (vet or vet nurse) your pets exact requirement – just picking up a bag at the supermarket isn’t really enough.
I very much like your ‘balanced’ approach. The idea that you have to be balanced in the diet overall, but not exactly perfect every day, is great. You have obviously put in a lot of thought, the issues we see are when people don’t understand the situation. ‘Oversupplementing’ can be as bad as deficiencies – don’t forget that there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. We have seen growth abnormalities because people have insisted feeding extra calcium on top of a good quality diet, because calcium is ‘good’ ( yes it is, but too much is bad). The ‘raw meaty bones diet’ is very high in protein, and does not take into account the fact that in the wild, dogs would be eating the whole animal, including vegetable and cereal stomach contents ( sorry to be gross), not just the meaty bones!

I absolutely agree that natural and varied is best, but please do your homework. The suggestions of feeding a ‘commercial’ diet regularly ( but not all the time)to ensure you cover basic nutrition is a good one. Remember that scientists have put an enormous amount of knowledge into producing these foods, and they want your dog to live as long as possible (if only for the profit!), so there are many benefits. Please also remember when doing your research that anyone can write anything on the internet, so ask yourself what qualifications they have. And that doesn’t just mean that they have been around dogs for a long time (many people have and still have no idea).

Congratulations on a really thoughtful and balanced article. I will be following your articles with interest. Keep up the good work.

dogsordollars
Reply

Hi Naomi, Thanks for chiming in! And definitely for the point about calcium. While it is important to have calcium to balance out phosphorous levels in meat, too much can also be a risk, especially in those bigger breeds. And especially, especially in puppies of those bigger breeds. This is true for many nutrients. We don’t have top end values. This is my concern with raw food being subject to the same nutritional requirements as a kibble. Absorption rates of kibble are significantly lower. So the same amount of xyz between the two, isn’t necessarily the same amount the dog is actually getting. Thats a whole other topic entirely. ;)

Although, I will say that in my experience most vets know jack about nutrition other than what their Hills or Purina rep tells them. I can talk circles around my vet nutrition-wise, and I’m not claiming to be that good! I think that just as it takes more than just being around dogs for years, just because someone is a vet, does not necessarily mean they have all the answers on the food front. it is about a genuine interest in something beyond kibble.

My conventional vet would be appalled with what I feed my dogs. It’s best we don’t discuss it. ;)

Naomi
Reply

I think you’re right. A lot of vets know that the kibble is good, and just aren’t interested in learning about alternatives. And you obviously DO know a lot about nutrition, my point was just that a lot of people have the best intentions for their pets, but don’t understand about things like calcium / phosphorus ratios, which can result in serious problems. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The drawback with some vets is that they are scientifically trained, so they find it hard to accept things like homemade diets, that don’t have enormous studies behind them – by their very definition they can’t, because everyone is doing something slightly different at home.

I will definitely be following your posts. Like Dylan above, my dog is fussy, and I much prefer to give him variety rather than the same old kibble every day.
And conventional vets are always appalled at people with unconvential ideas ;0)

lee
Reply

I really enjoyed this post and the comments from Naomi.Thank you Naomi.
I have always fed my animals a varied diet, (no not chocolate and crisps) as I felt it would mimic what happens in the wild. Also the variety would insure that what was missing in one food would be supplied by another food.
The dog we had at home had atrial fibrillation It was a very malnurished and poorly pup when my parents got it which probably influenced the heart problem but dispite that she lived to the ripe old age of 19, which I always put down to a good diet. Basicaly what we ate with modification and tinned and kibble food as and when my parents could aford it.
Both my parents are still going strong at 82 so perhaps thats true for humans as well
Also our cat is now 18 and has the same variety in its diet.
Can’t say anything about my dog yet as she is only 6yrs old!

Naomi
Reply

Thanks Lee. Your parents are obviously doing something right – for themselves and their pets! The key is to research very carefully, stay as close to natural as possible, and remember moderation in all things- so mix it up! The other issue is that some of the cheaper commercial foods, especially supermarket brands, are very high in fat and salt (and hence yummy for your pet). So if you are feeding a commercial diet, even if only part time, do try to use the higher quality ones.
I’m looking forward to hearing updates from everyone as to how their dogs are getting on with their homemade diets, likes / dislikes etc :0)

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