Homemade Dog Food: Cost, Recipe Advice, Nutrition, and Storage

WebMD provides information on homemade dog food nutritional needs and supplementation, storage, recipe tips, and cost.

By Katherine Kam
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Katherine Snyder, DVM

Forget the restaurant doggy bag. These days, more dogs are dining on their own patios, gulping down homemade dog food. “We have seen a steady increase in the number of people who are asking for help with making a homemade diet,” says Sarah Abood, DVM, PhD, an assistant professor of small animal clinical sciences at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The trend toward homemade dog food began about 10 years ago, Abood says. Today, the “vast majority” of owners still feed their dogs commercial pet foods, she says. But she noticed stronger interest in homemade meals after the spring 2007 recall of melamine-tainted pet food.

Aside from product contamination scares, some pet owners believe that homemade meals are a fresher alternative to commercially manufactured pet food, she says. “There are other pet owners who have a lot of time and have a very strong bond with their animal and feel that if they're going to eat healthy, they want their animal to eat healthy, too.”

Owners may also cook for their pets as an “expression of affection” says Claudia Kirk, DVM, PhD, DACVN, DACVIM, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. “Pets are like their children.”

Homemade Dog Food: Balanced Nutrition

So you're tempted to try home cooking for Bruiser or Muffy. What should you consider?

Whether owners are getting recipes from a book, the Internet, or through a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist, one concern tops the list. “We want to make sure the recipe is going to provide something that is complete and balanced for the animal,” Abood says. “From a nutritional standpoint, that is the biggest challenge that someone has when trying to feed homemade.”

There are no magic foods or ingredients, Abood says. Rather, “dogs and cats, like people, have requirements for nutrients, not ingredients. You can step away from the whole idea that ‘my animal has to have blueberries' or ‘my cat needs to have fish.'”

Commercial pet foods are formulated to provide adequate nutrients, she says. But dog owners who make homemade dog food must make sure that the diet contains a protein source, a carbohydrate source, sufficient vitamins and minerals, and some fat. “Animals do have a requirement for a small amount of fat,” Abood says.

Home cooks can combine protein and carbohydrates in various combinations, including lamb and rice, beef and potatoes, or chicken and pasta. “Carbohydrates are an inexpensive source of energy and provide some essential amino acids and fatty acids,” Abood says.

In addition, “a variety of vegetables would be perfectly appropriate,” she says, although veterinarians caution against onions and garlic, which are toxic to dogs.

Other foods to avoid: raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and raw meat, which exposes dogs to risks, such as salmonella and E. coli. All meat should be cooked, say Kirk and Abood.

Although owners can find abundant recipes for homemade dog food on the Internet and in books, “I would really encourage pet owners to take those recipes to their veterinarian and ask if the veterinarian could help them figure out if it's balanced,” Abood says. “Furthermore, owners doing homemade diets should have their pet and the diet evaluated at least two times a year.”Owners should also remember that dogs in different life stages or with medical disorders may have very different dietary needs than a normal, healthy adult dog.

Owners can also seek out a reputable veterinary nutritionist to help them create a balanced diet, Kirk says. Often, these experts can be found through a nearby veterinary school, or may be available to consult with your regular veterinarian via telephone or the Internet.

For pet owners who want to find dog food recipes online, Kirk and Abood suggest web sites that are operated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists. But owners will have to purchase the recipes or supplements required to balance the diets. Kirk recommends a web site called Balanceit.com. “It's a little bit foolproof,” says Kirk, who says that she has no financial stake in the company. Abood also recommends petdiets.com, another site where owners can purchase diets for healthy dogs or those with medical conditions.