If you’re considering the idea of making your own dog food at home, you’re not alone! An increasing number of pet owners are moving away from traditional kibble diets and taking the time to home cook their pet’s food. But before you make the switch, it is important to understand the basics of canine nutrition and the importance of following a properly formulated, balanced recipe.
Unlike humans, dogs usually don’t get as much variety in their diet, even if pet parents are regularly home cooking or preparing raw meals for their furry friends. If a dog's food is formulated incorrectly, nutritional deficiencies can accumulate over time and cause health issues in the long term.
So whether a dog is eating a diet of kibble, raw, or fresh cooked dog food, it is crucial that the food meets their complete nutritional needs. This is easier to ensure if you are using pre-formulated and commercial pet food diets. Unfortunately, when you home cook pet food, there is a lot of room for error.
Why it's important to start with a proper recipe
Cooking for your furry friend isn’t as straightforward as making meals for your human family. Commercial foods for pets have to meet certain amounts of nutrients to be marketed as “complete and balanced” while the vast majority of recipes that pet parents find online or elsewhere are missing one or more essential nutrients. A big problem is that these inadequate levels of nutrients may not be evident for weeks or even years in adult animals, until the pet has a serious health problem that may not be easily reversed.
A study done by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California paints a very alarming picture of the homemade raw dog food and cooked dog food recipes that are commonly found online, in pet care books, and other similar sources. The study reviewed 200 recipes from 34 different resources, and here are some of the main findings:
- Only 9 out of the 200 recipes (5%) provided all essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards established for adult dogs by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
- Only 5 out of the 200 recipes (2.5%) provided all essential nutrients in concentrations that met the National Research Council’s minimum requirements for adult dogs (all 5 of these were written by veterinarians)
- 190 of the 200 recipes (95%) examined were lacking in the necessary levels of at least one essential nutrient
- 166 of the 200 recipes (83%) of the recipes had multiple nutrient deficiencies
So how do pet owners make sure their homemade meals for fido contains all the essential nutrients dogs require?
Healthy homemade dog food recipes that are vet approved
The number one priority when starting to cook your own dog food is ensuring that the recipes you are using are nutritionally balanced to meet AAFCO standards. The best way to make sure the meals you’re cooking do meet nutritional needs is to go to a veterinarian with board certification in veterinary nutrition or PhD in animal nutrition. Think of this as a registered dietician -- except for your pet! These experts have the experience and access to programs that will help provide a diet (ingredients and supplements) to fully meet your pet’s nutritional needs.
Looking for Vet Approved Fresh Dog Food? Kafka's Organic has got your back! Browse our recipes below.
Another important note about making your own dog food is not to make substitutions without consultation. Swapping out a certain meat or vegetable can completely change the amount of nutrients or calories in the recipe you’re using. Ultimately, this could make a great, balanced diet into one that is actually unhelpful to your pet. In a survey more than 80% of pet owners responded saying they made changes to pet recipes without proper consultation.
How to make Homemade Dog Food
When you’re shopping for pet food ingredients for your dog's diet, always select clean, fresh produce that is locally sourced whenever possible. Check your local grocers $1 bin to see if there are any veggies or items close to expiry or bulk discounts.
Proteins to consider: Beef (muscle meat), ground turkey, chicken, lamb, pork, shrimp (fully cooked with shell removed), tuna, and eggs (in moderation)
When preparing proteins, it is a good idea to feed some variety in both the type of meat and part of the animal. Including bone (in cooked food this is often bone powder) and organ meats, such as heart or liver, is a good idea. Avoid exotic proteins when possible, as these should be reserved for a situation concerning food allergies.
Vegetables to consider: Carrots, green beans, spinach, peas, celery, cucumbers, pumpkin, sweet potato, and corn
Carbohydrates & Grains in Dog Food
You can include some complex carbohydrates when making fresh homemade food for your dog, but try and limit these to less than 30% of the diet. Some healthy sources of carbohydrate to consider include brown rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and quinoa.
Ingredients to avoid: including almonds, avocados, chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, garlic, grapes, onions, macadamia nuts, raisins, raw yeast dough, artificial sweeteners, and mushrooms.
Supplements to Balance Your Dog's Diet
Once you have discussed your recipes and food ingredients with your vet, they will also talk to you about supplements. The best homemade dog food recipes have a good balance of calories and macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs), but they may not always provide enough vitamins or minerals. This is why a mix of good supplements are a crucial part of both raw food diets and fresh pet food.
Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acid, broth from meaty bones, coconut oil, egg shell powder
Check out our Comprehensive Guide to Supplements for Dogs.
Remember that it is just as important to talk to your vet about supplements as it is to speak about your dog’s overall diet. Too much of a certain supplement can definitely be harmful, so err on the side of caution and always consult a vet or certified animal nutritionist.
Time saving tricks when cooking your pet food
Once you start cooking your own pet food, you’ll start to pick up little tricks that will help make the process easier or faster. You can definitely use some of the fancy cooking devices you use to make your own food to also prepare your dog’s food. For instance, homemade dog food with a crockpot or instant pot makes cook time faster. Instant pot beef bone broth is the best! And if you have access to a crockpot, consider using it to slow cook the meat or baking beef bones.
Take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Homemade Dog Food!
How much homemade pet food should you feed?
This is one of the most common questions asked by new pet owners or those who are thinking about making a dietary switch. We can definitely give you some advice, but every recipe and homemade dog food plan is different, so it is impossible to give an accurate estimate for every situation.
It sounds like we’re beating this point into the ground here -- but check with your vet or certified dog nutritionist.
You cannot just watch a dog’s weight and estimate based on whether they’re too skinny or overweight. If you feed your dog too much, he will probably become overweight but he may also be at risk for vitamin toxicity, diabetes, and heart and respiratory issues. However, if you feed your dog too little then he could experience nutrient deficiencies and become malnourished.
When trying to figure out how much to feed your dog, consider factors such as age, breed, environment, activity level, medical history, and current health condition. Generally, dogs who are younger or pregnant need a larger portion of food. At the same time, older dogs may need less food but more supplements to help ward off possible old-age health issues.
An easier way to feed healthy: Fresh pet food
Looking for an alternative to home cooking your pet food? At Kafka’s, we make healthy fresh dog food from locally sourced, clean ingredients, so you can get all the benefits of home cooking without the hassle. We save you time by sourcing great ingredients and then preparing all of our pet food meals in our human-grade kitchen. You don’t need to do any guesswork or consult pet nutritionists because we’ve done it for you and ensured all of our meals meet AAFCO guidelines and are checked by a board-certified vet nutritionist.
A quick checklist of just a few of the benefits of fresh food for you and your pup:
- Saves time
- Formulated by vet nutritionists to be balanced & complete
- Gently cooked at low temperature
- Delivered to your home
Not only is our fresh dog food made in Canada (Vancouver to be exact!), but we also source all our proteins and most of our veggies from local suppliers.
To make it super easy for pet parents to feed healthy local food, we also offer fresh dog food delivery in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Port Moody, Coquitlam, and surrounding areas).
To get started, calculate your pet’s unique meal plan using our online feeding calculator.