The Ultimate Guide to Homemade Dog Food (Plus 11 Easy & Healthy Recipes)
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Do you want to provide your four-legged best friend with the best food possible?
No matter how much money you spend on premium store-bought dog food, you simply do not know what additives or poor-quality meat and ingredients could be doing to your dog’s health.
Luckily there’s an easy fix for that.
Homemade dog food can give your dog an extra shiny coast, improve their metabolism, help them lose weight, make them resilient to diseases, give them an extra boost of energy, and most importantly a furiously wagging tail.
But that’s not all.
This comprehensive guide to making dog food at home is all you’ll need to provide your pup with optimum nutrition for life—and plenty of variety to keep them coming back for more!
Table of Contents
A History of What Dogs Eat
In the wild, before dogs discovered how much easier life was as man’s (or woman’s) best friend, dogs were hunters. They were carnivores with their primary target being small animals including mice, voles, rabbits, birds, insects, and lizards. They would eat every part of the animal, from the tails, internal organs, and bones.
They would also rummage around and eat vegetable matter. Whether this would be rotten fruit that had fallen from a tree or semi-digested contents of their prey’s stomach. They would scavenge, hunt, dig, and even eat leftovers from any animal that they found.
Eventually, after their partnership with humans, they started getting more ‘specialized’ food given to them. 2000 years ago, when dogs were working animals in the human pack rather than pets, was the first time we see written documentation of farm dogs.
A Roman philosopher and poet named Marcus Terentius Varro wrote a farming manual where passages suggested that dogs should be given bones from dead sheep and barley bread soaked in milk.
During the Middle Ages, the grey hounds living in the royal kennels ate better than most common people of the age. They received daily stews made from lungs, livers, and hearts of animals with vegetables and grains.
This echoes some of the homemade dog food recipes you will find later in this article. In the common folk homes, dogs would scrounge around and eat whatever they could find or what their owners could spare. This would range from cabbage, potatoes, bare bones, crusts, and scraps that fell to the ground.
The 18th and 19th century is when dogs truly took the position as man’s pet and/or fur baby. They were given mixtures of lard and grain or then given pieces of dead horses that died in the streets of cities.
Nowadays, many dogs are treated as another member of their human families.
The Ideal Canine Macronutrient Breakdown
Before transitioning your dog to a home-cooked meal diet, it is advisable to check with your veterinarian or canine dietician. Dogs require specific macronutrients for their optimum health.
It can also be recommended to supplement a multivitamin to boost key vitamins and minerals as it could be difficult to reach the recommended amounts through whole foods alone.
Protein (55% of daily intake)
Protein supplies energy for your pup and is made from amino acids which are commonly referred to as the building blocks of life. Proteins give the body structure and impact everything from your dog’s fur, bones, skin, nails, and muscles.
Fat comes in three different ways: saturated (butter, cheese, meat), polyunsaturated (fish oil, flaxseed oil), and monounsaturated (olive oil).
Fat gives your dog energy, as it has twice as many calories per gram as proteins or carbohydrates.
Healthy fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) fats are also a great source of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These protect vital internal organs, enhance absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, regulate body temperature, and keep the nervous system healthy.
To ensure your pup has healthy fats in their diet, they should be having some low mercury fish and fish oils, or plant-based oils such as coconut or olive.
Carbohydrates (15% of daily intake)
This macronutrient group is made from sugars, starches and indigestible fibre. Dogs can synthesize glucose from their protein and fat. It is a non-essential nutrient, as they can survive by purely eating meat.
However, healthy carbohydrates often come with extra vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which allow your dog to feel their best. Dogs can get carbs into their diet through appropriate vegetables, fruits, legumes, and gluten-free grains.
Additional Nutrition Factors
Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary in small amounts to promote healthy metabolic function. They are either soluble in fat (A, D, E and K) which are stored in fatty tissues, or soluble in water (B and C) and do not stay stored in the body.
Dogs need to gain these vital vitamins from their diet as they help regulate phosphorus levels, boost the immune system, maintain nervous system function, allowing blood clotting, and more.
The best way to ensure all necessary vitamins are in a dog’s diet is to provide a varied diet of organ, muscle meats, and dog-friendly vegetables.
Minerals are inorganic compounds which the body cannot synthesise and therefore need to come from the dogs diet. These include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, copper, iron, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iodine.
Each of these minerals allow the body to function properly and support a healthy body and immune system. Some carry oxygen through the body, others help in healing wounds, regulating fluid balance, or building bones.
Organ meats provide copper and iron, shellfish are high in zinc, and meat has large amounts of phosphorus, while calcium can be found in vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.
Healthy Dog Food Ingredients
Commonly, beef heart and liver are two favorites for homemade dog food makers to use.
Most dark meats are filled with protein, have very little fat, and therefore can provide excellent nutrition for your dog. They also tend to be quite cheap, and easily accessible at butchers.
Chicken Meats and Eggs
Rather than opting for chicken byproducts in mass-produced puppy chow, you can opt to feed your dog high-quality chicken pieces.
Try and avoid chicken mince as it is very high in fat and can come from battery hens which suffer from vitamin D deficiencies from not getting enough sunlight. They also have a large amount of antibiotics pumped into them to survive the close confinement and high amounts of disease.
Organic chicken would be something your dog could potentially catch for himself in the wild, so most definitely include those in the meal. Grab yourself a whole chicken if you can stomach it, or opt for thighs, breasts, or necks.
Turkey has a great combination of dar, and white meat which are both high in protein and low in fat. It is a good source of iron, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus along with having high amounts of vitamin B6 and niacin.
Typically, turkey productions are much smaller than chicken farms, therefore the associated disease, antibiotics and lack of sunlight is lessened.
Beef and beef by-products are commonly used in pet food. Byproducts typically include offal, bone, feet and horns. This is combined with gelatine, milled cereal, and non-sealable parts from the abattoir.
Hardly any fresh beef goes into pet food. Beef raised in traditional manners typically has a high fat content (14%+) along with traces of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and antibiotics.
Organic free-range beef, on the other hand, has a lower fat content with the corresponding higher price.
Fish is a great source of protein as it is low in fat, and high in vitamins and minerals when first caught. If you have access to freshly caught fish, this could be one of the best sources of protein for your pet.
However, after several days and transport, fish loses much of its benefit. Make sure to avoid fish heavy in mercury, which tends to be all large, predatory fish such as salmon and Tuna.
Tripe is the name of the stomach lining of cattle and sheep and is a highly nutritious meat source. It only has 2% fat and contains many probiotic micro-organisms.
Green tripe (which is unwashed and unbleached, therefore considered unfit for human consumption) typically is quite affordable, however, only sold frozen.
The meat sourced from deer, just like most game, is tough, low in fat and extremely high in protein.
It’s a great choice especially if your puppy has any potential food allergies. It can be found at some butchers and many pet meat suppliers.
Rabbit is potentially the most suitable source of meat for dogs, as they would most certainly spend many hours attempting to chase bunnies to get a meal.
Rabbits tend to be high in protein, low in fat, and have a wide range of minerals.
If you live in Australia, kangaroo is a fantastic source of protein for your dog. It is considered superior to all farmed meats, as it is organic and free-range. It only has 3% fat, while packed with high amounts of protein and vitamins and minerals.
Kangaroos are also not commercially farmed and therefore are considered truly free-range with many macro and micronutrients in their meat.
Vegetables are great additions to your dog’s home-cooked meal as they provide additional boosts of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and calcium.
It is important that you familiarise yourself with foods that can be toxic to your dog, and make sure to avoid feeding it to them.
Avocadoes (the pit is the particularly dangerous part)
Processed human foods
Bacon and fatty meats
Is Store Bought Dog Food Unhealthy?
Unfortunately, many dog food brands use the cheapest meat and offcuts available on the market. This means meat that has diseases or has little nutritional value typically ends up in pet food. 46% of dogs now die of cancers and 40% of dogs are obese which, just like with humans, is a result of their diet.
For example, lower quality foods will incorporate poor quality sources of protein such as chicken byproduct, or chicken meal, rather than the actual meat. There are many additives and cheap fillers which have the goal of maximizing profit, rather than providing the ultimate nutrition for your dog.
These fillers can include corn or wheat gluten which can both be irritants in your dog’s digestive system. Gluten, in general, can be inflammatory and cause a cacophony of problems from indigestion, or more serious inflammations in joints.
The quality of dog food brands vary greatly; therefore, you are encouraged to do thorough research before opting for a store-bought food brand. The scary thing is, there have been many recalls for dog food products after they were found to have contamination or high levels of toxicity.
Consult with your vet, but be ready to do extensive research to ensure you’re choosing the highest quality available. The other downside of those potentially healthier options is they come along with a hefty price tag.
What Happens If Your Dog Does Not Get the Right Nutrition?
Just like with human nutrition, your dog requires specific nutrients to keep their metabolism healthy.
If they do not receive the right balance of proteins, minerals, and fats, they can experience serious health problems including anemia, loss of teeth, broken bones, or even cancerous growths.
The impact can be less severe with low-quality food causing them to have dry, itchy skin, allergic reactions to soy, corn, or wheat gluten, or lethargy. That is why when you make your own dog food, you need to be mindful of all the nutrition needs of your canine friend.
Is Homemade Food Better for Dogs?
The main benefit of homemade dog food, apart from the cost, is knowing exactly what your dog is consuming.
You can opt to purchase high-quality ingredients to give your dog the best nutrition possible. So why not give making dog food at home a try?
Many owners have reported seeing drastic improvements in their dog’s coat and overall health. With others claiming that transitioning to a homemade dog food diet has helped their pups recover from cancers or other serious illnesses.
Raw Dog Food
You may have also heard of the newest craze in dog food. Raw food.
To mimic a dog’s natural diet from the pre-domestication and pre-commercial dog food products, many people have begun opting to feed their dog a raw diet.
The raw diet is also aptly known as BARF (bones and raw food) and it combines raw meat, primarily meaty bones such as chicken necks or beef bones with a smaller percentage of fruit, vegetables, eggs, yogurt, and organ meat. There are however many benefits and downsides of feeding them to your dog.
This diet eliminates many food sensitivities and allergies to gluten, along with improving dental health and their natural prey drive. There are companies who make raw dog foods such as the Purina Pro and Royal Canin which you can purchase in store.
One of the downsides of raw dog food is that it puts your dog at an elevated risk for food borne illness. It is also more expensive, can get quite messy and multivitamin supplementation is recommended.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy go-to recipe for your pup, then choose this healthier alternative to canned dog food. It is high in iron and packed with protein and vitamins. Perfect for those trying their hand at making dog food for the first time.
An easy and quick stew to make in a slow cooker or in a pot. If your pup has been sick, or is a finicky eater, then they will surely love this simple dog recipe. All you need is some vegetables, ground turkey, and brown rice to compile this great meal!
If your pup ever has an upset stomach, then this bland combination of chicken and rice will provide welcome relief. It is a grain free, vitamin-packed recipe featuring a whole array of colors paired with ground poached chicken.
Is your pup a wolf at heart? While some people aren’t sure about the pathogens in raw meat, others claim that it is the diet best suited for our canine friends. This recipe uses fibrous pumpkin for vitamins, raw bones, or a suggestion of crushing up eggshells to give your pup that extra calcium boost. They provide a recipe to cater for a small 8kg dog for 3-4 days.
Looking for a quick and easy way to create your dog’s food in a dish? Then look no further than this homemade dog food in the instant pot. For this recipe, you will need to soak rice for a couple of hours before continuing with the remainder of the cooking. Then you will simply add the meat into your instant pot and let cook until done prior to adding all your veggies and sealing the pot.
Chicken and broth rice stew... I can almost smell the risotto style rice cooking. It sounds good enough to eat as a human! Well, if you want to be licking your lips while cooking your dog’s dinner, then opt for this super quick and easy instant pot recipe. You can also check out the blue buffalo dog food or blue buffalo wilderness brand for more great chicken recipes that your pup might love.
Do you just want to chuck something in a crockpot and not worry about it? Have a delicious, healthy, and nutritious meal ready for your pup in a couple of hours? Because this protein-packed homemade dog food crock pot recipe is the one for you.
If your pup needs a little bit of dietary management or suffers from a food allergy, this recipe could be the ideal solution. It is created especially for dogs with protein allergies and features high protein, low fat, with plenty of vitamins and minerals for a shiny coat.
Want to give your dog some delicious vegan and gluten-free treats? Have them get their snack while staying healthy and not ruining their appetite for dinner?
Then choose these simply three-ingredient treats which take 30 minutes to make!
Is Homemade Dog Food Cheaper?
Let’s break it down, a 15 lb sack of high-end dry dog food retails around $40, while a 150g of high-end wet dog food comes out to around $2 each. For a medium-sized dog, combining two cans of wet food with two cups of dry food every day amounts to around $5 a day.
If we consider the cost of the ingredients for homemade dog food, you would be looking at around $40 per month for ALL the ingredients. This amounts to roughly $1.30 per day (for a medium-sized dog).
The cost will vary depending on your choice of ingredients and age and size of your dog.
Remember, you can always use whatever dog-friendly vegetables you can find in the bulk vegetable bins discounted at markets or stores.
How to Save Extra Money
To really drive down the cost of your dog’s food, your best bet is to buy in bulk. Why not head over to your local butcher and see what kind of deal you can strike with him for weekly or monthly purchases?
You can also team up with your fellow dog owning friends to get better bulk deals and make sure no food goes to waste.
Here are some tips for storing your homemade dog food:
Ideally, you can use Tupperware or reusable freezer bags to freeze the food for up to a month. (You will find you are mostly limited by freezer space, rather than the amount of time the food can be kept frozen).
If you are keeping the food in your fridge, do not store it for more than 5-6 days before serving it to your dog.
To defrost your dog’s meal, simply take out the container or bag the night before, and leave it high up on a counter, or pop it in the fridge. Make sure your dog cannot reach it overnight! I know my dog once managed to eat the dog food - along with part of the plastic bag it was frozen in...
If you are in a hurry, simply defrost your dog’s meal in the microwave or in a pot on the stove. Make sure the food is not too hot to burn your dogs’ mouth, but warm enough that the smells are activated. You will have your puppy wagging their tail dangerously fast once they get a whiff of their deluxe breakfast.
To save money, improve your dog’s health, and give your best friend that extra bit of love, making them homemade food is a win-win situation. Preparing homemade dog food is really an easy way to take great care of your four-legged friend.
Simply organize to buy in bulk from your local producers, set aside a Sunday afternoon to cook up a feast, and freeze as much food as your freezer allows for a nutritious (and surely delicious) meal for your dog.
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