dog homemade diet

Risks and Benefits of Homemade Dog Food

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Some people like to start their young dogs on a homemade meat and veggie diet. To find out if that’s right for your family and pup, let’s look at the risks and benefits of homemade dog food.

Typically, a dog owner will keep feeding a homemade ration for the dog’s entire life. The belief is that a cooked or raw diet is a healthy alternative to commercially formulated dog foods. There is nothing wrong with this, provided the dog owner selects the right foods and carefully prepares them. There are inherent risks in preparing and feeding dogs a homemade diet, especially when raw meats are involved. If you decide to feed your dog a homemade diet, then you need to know the following.

Risks and Benefits of Homemade Dog Food

Raw Meats

When handling raw meats you are contaminating your hands, utensils and work area with E. coli, salmonella, staph, listeria, and a bunch of other potentially dangerous organisms. If strict sanitary precautions aren’t observed, then you, your family, and pets are at risk of becoming very sick. Raw poultry, in particular, should never be used in homemade dog foods.

While it is true that some dogs are somewhat resistant to salmonella, this genetic protection has been diluted out of our modern purebreds and hybrids. It’s just not smart to overload a pup’s underdeveloped gut and immune system with this or any other invasive bacteria. In fact, it’s a bad idea to do this to any dog, regardless of age. It’s also important to know these infectious bacteria will be shed in the dog’s feces, so family members—especially young children—are at risk of infection from direct or indirect fecal contact.

Correct Ingredient Balancing

Opponents of feeding homemade dog food often point out that it just isn’t possible to correctly formulate and include mixtures of human foods into homemade dog foods. At least not in a stable, consistent, and balanced diet. It’s true that the health of a puppy or adult dog can be endangered by a poorly made, nutritionally limited diet.

Such diets can result in rickets, organ failure, parasites, immune deficiencies, stunted development, obesity, cancers, other chronic health issues, and even premature death.

That said, if you still want to feed a homemade ration to your dog, then the best approach is to use a recipe formulated by a veterinarian or a canine nutritionist.  It’s recommended that you consult with an expert who has been certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN).  There are also some very good books available on this subject here.

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Food For Thought

1.   For puppies, all meats and vegetables should be cut into puppy-sized bites of about ¼-½ inch (depending on the size of the puppy’s mouth and teeth).

2.   There’s no “ideal” ratio of meats to vegetables in homemade diets, but ½ to ¾ meat mixed with ½ to ¼ veggies is a generally accepted mix.

3.   Lean raw red meats (beef, venison, lamb, goat) are an excellent protein and mineral source. Avoid excessive trim fat and heavily marbled meats. Do not feed raw pork or poultry—ever. If you are worried about bacteria or worms, then go with a cooked meat diet instead of raw. Cook the meats by boiling, roasting or pressure cooking until the internal temperature reaches 160° F.

4.   Raw leafy and low-starch veggies such as finely chopped lettuce, kale, carrot tops, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, and asparagus are all very healthy for pups and adult dogs. These foods provide essential fiber, carbs, protein,vitamins, amino acids, and minerals for health and growth. Hard, raw vegetables like carrots should be finely chopped or shredded for pups and coarsely chopped for adult dogs to prevent choking.

5.   Combine low-starch vegetables with a small amount of starchy ones such as sweet peas so the diet contains some complex carbs. Acorn squash, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes are also a good source of complex carbs and other nutrients. However—and this is very important—these particular veggies must be cooked before feeding to dogs. Why? Because these vegetables can cause severe digestive distress if fed raw.  Also, seeds from squash or pumpkin should be discarded because they can be poisonous to some dogs.

6.   Many fruits are good for dogs. In fact, many dogs like the sweet variety that fruits bring to the food bowl. Fruits offer readily absorbable vitamins and minerals so don’t be afraid to add some to your homemade dog food recipe.  But, fruit seeds and peels should not be fed to your dog as many of them can be toxic. So, if you’re feeding raw apples, then peel them, remove the seeds then cut the apple into small bite-sized bits.

7.   Lastly, variety may be the spice of life for people but it’s not so much for dogs. Don’t feed a mish-mash diet of different foods from day to day.  Doing so will throw your dog’s digestive system into a tailspin which can stunt development or even kill. Get a nutritionally sound recipe from your vet or a certified dog nutritionist and stick with it.

Never Feed These Foods to Your Dog

Never feed grapes, raisins, chocolate, sugary treats, or alcoholic drinks to your dog. Most dogs won’t eat oranges but if yours does be sure he or she only gets the pulpy fruit. The peel and seeds of oranges are poisonous to dogs. Always remove the seeds from fresh pumpkin and squash as well and cook it before feeding.

This is not an exhaustive list and if you ever are in any doubt you should check out the ASPCA’s guide to People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets.

Rules of Thumb

In conclusion, feeding a well-balanced, consistent, and properly prepared dog food is okay for those who want to do it. However, it’s important to be aware of the risks and benefits of homemade dog food before you start down this route. We hope this post has introduced you to some of the pros and cons, so you can make an informed decision.

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