According to various sources, 80-90% of all dogs in the United States are fed commercial dry dog food. Many dog owners buy dry dog food for good reasons, including cost and convenience.
More importantly, veterinarians agree that alternatives to commercial dog food can lead to nutritional deficiencies because it may lack essential vitamins and minerals. A 2013 study by the American Veterinary Association found that over 90% of homemade dog food recipes found online could be bad for dogs.
Nevertheless, there are some advantages to ditching commercial dog food. For example, in a 2007 incident, 180 pet food companies recalled their products. They were reportedly responsible for causing kidney failure and death in thousands of dogs and cats in the United States and Canada.
More and more dog owners watch their dogs suffer from various health issues, including allergies, and wonder if switching to a healthier, home-cooked diet could benefit them.
We will cover the pros and cons of each diet but remember that this article is not medical advice, and you should consult a veterinary nutritionist when making changes to your dog's diet.
Is homemade dog food healthy? It can be.
Homemade dog food is a vast concept that may include healthy recipes and nutritional-deficient recipes. The homemade dog food diet may be attractive to dog owners whose dog suffers from a health condition or allergies as they can add beneficial ingredients and remove potential allergens.
Let's go over the benefits of homemade dog food.
The 2007 pet food recall
Homemade dog food can be a healthy alternative to commercial dog foods. Yes, there are risks to feeding a home-cooked diet, but other diets also have chances. For example, in 2007, the FDA found contaminants in vegetable proteins imported into the United States from China and used as ingredients in pet food.
These contaminants were responsible for thousands of deaths among dogs and cats, but this event also showed a dark facet of the dog food industry: some ingredients are sourced from China.
For that reason, homemade dog food can be a healthier alternative as you control the source and quality of the ingredients.
Individually tailored recipes
The main benefit of homemade dog food is that you can tailor the recipe to your dog's specific needs for calories and nutrients. So whether your dog is younger, older, overweight, or has any particular health issue, home-cooking can be the best way to tailor his food to his needs.
Often, people will add fresh ingredients on top of their dog's kibble, and while this can be great, it can also lead to overfeeding and dog obesity. The homemade diet is a great way to feed just enough while giving everything your dog needs.
Minimally processed foods
Maybe it's just me, but I'm always skeptical when I see the raw ingredients picture on a kibble website, and then I see the actual kibble. So how was such a beautiful fish or chicken breast turned into... this small dry ball?
When you make homemade meals, you don't need to transform or process the ingredients like in commercial diets. Instead, you can give the elements to your dog raw, steamed, baked, broiled, etc.
Cooking for your dog can be fun as you see him eating a fresh carrot or fresh meat, and let's be honest: it looks better than kibble.
Whether you prefer wild salmon over farmed, brown rice over white, sweet potatoes, or white potatoes... you can choose when you cook homemade dog food. You can also select organic ingredients from a particular source you prefer.
Commercial food is often obscure about where they source some ingredients, and as you saw above with the 2007 food recall, sometimes ingredients are sourced from abroad like China. However, the pet food industry has made significant improvements since 2007, and there are some great high-quality kibbles out there.
Variety of fresh ingredients
Who wants to eat the same food every day? I know I don't. Your dog may have got used to it, but I bet he would love to see a bit of variety. You can change the protein or vegetable source every other day, making it more exciting and inviting for your dog. Picky eaters are known to like variety!
Homemade dog food: common mistakes to avoid
Making homemade dog food is more complicated than it seems. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as looking up a recipe and starting to make it. Dogs need specific nutrients and often very different ingredients from what you are used to eating.
Nobody is watching
Say what you will about food recalls and store-bought food. However, the pet food industry is under scrutiny and has to go through frequent quality checks. Not only that, but the AAFCO is also monitoring all dog foods in the US to make sure they comply with the nutritional requirements and label the food correctly.
Online "dog food experts" may lack the formal education to give proper advice, and the recipes you find may not be balanced. Homemade diets will require you to complete the appropriate quality check, which can be easier with the help of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.
If you have never made substitutions when cooking, you are an even better planner than I am. I tend to stress when I'm missing a specific ingredient in a recipe, so I may go to three different stores to ensure I have everything I need.
Unfortunately, sometimes we can't find something, and we substitute. For example, when a recipe calls for chicken, and you use beef instead, you may change the fat content of the whole meal. For example, 100g of chicken breast contains 165 calories and 3.6g of fat, as opposed to 215 calories (+30%) and 15g of fat (4x more!) in 100g of 85% lean ground beef.
Potentially harmful ingredients
The list of ingredients that dogs can't eat is sometimes very surprising. For this reason, some recipes online call for ingredients dogs shouldn't eat or only tiny amounts.
It can be confusing as dog owners to know what their dogs can eat or not and constantly google ingredients.
Home cooking is sometimes subject to change over time, and it is very little you can do about it. For example, you may one day forget an ingredient and keep making the recipe nonetheless or alter the recipe in other ways. Fast forward a few weeks, and if you recheck the original recipe, you will notice you changed a few things without realizing it.
Homemade dog food varies over time. The alternative is to be highly cautious, and measure everything, forever!
Lack of storage
Lack of storage is a simple yet real issue when preparing your dog's meals. Depending on how many dogs you have, how big they are, and how often you want to cook (I would think: not every day!), you will need plenty of containers and room in your fridge and freezer.
The work involved with cooking such large quantities and storing everything makes preparing meals a daunting mission for most dog owners.
Addressing common myths and misconceptions
I found some common myths and misconceptions about homemade recipes, meal portions, essential nutrients, and high-quality ingredients vs. low-quality ingredients when scouring the Internet.
Giving my dog a multivitamin will cover any gaps in his nutrition
While I agree that multivitamin products can benefit dogs on a kibble diet, it's not the case with homemade foods. Multivitamins bring vitamins to your dogs, but do they also include the necessary minerals? In the right amount?
All multivitamin products on the market are different. Also, your dog's needs will change over time depending on his age, breed, and sex.
It may still be a good idea to support your dog's body and create a healthy meal, but it may not be enough.
I should use a lot of vegetables in my homemade dog food, so my dog gets the nutrients he needs
Vegetables may contribute to a balanced diet, but dogs should not be the majority of their diet when it comes to dogs. Instead, animal-based proteins should make up the majority of the diet. Some sources are healthier than others, and some may even interfere with your dog's absorption of nutrients in carbohydrates and vegetables.
Grains are (necessarily) bad for dogs.
Grain-free diets have become famous for dogs, but it doesn't mean that your dog should not have grains. Easily digestible whole grains can contribute to a healthy and well-balanced homemade diet.
When it comes to allergies, however, some grains could trigger them: corn, wheat, and rice. If you suspect your dog's allergies stem from grains, there are alternatives like quinoa.
Adding yogurt to my dog's homemade food will cover his calcium needs.
The most often forgotten nutrient in homemade dog food is calcium. Calcium is essential that you check the calcium even if you don't check anything else. Dairy like yogurts cannot bring the calcium levels that dogs need, and far from it, you will therefore need to supplement it some other way.
A raw diet is better than homecooked.
The raw diet is sometimes called "the healthiest" diet of all because it preserves the natural nutrient content of the ingredients. While that may be true, it also carries more risks for your dogs because of food-borne illness.
On the other hand, a home-cooked meal will have a longer shelf-life and could be safer.
Please find below some answers to a couple of common questions pet owners ask about homemade dog food.
Is homemade dog food healthier than store-bought?
It can be true in some instances and false in others. For example, if the homemade dog food is prepared according to the recommendation of a veterinary nutritionist, it could be far healthier than some low-quality kibbles.
On the other hand, dry dog food is prepared according to AAFCO regulations, and it ensures that it provides all the nutrients your dog needs.
Some dog owners claim that their dog's health conditions improved significantly by switching from dry dog food to home-cooked or raw. However, there is no hard scientific evidence that changing your dog's diet could lead to that result, and you should seek veterinary advice first.
Is it cheaper to make your own dog food?
The answer to that question is: no. It's generally slightly more expensive to make your dog food. However, it is possible that making your dog food will provide higher quality ingredients than what is in commercial dog food.