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, and
the “vast majority” of owners still feed their dogs commercial pet foods,
Abood 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 made pet food. “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
So you’re tempted to try home cooking for Bruiser or Muffy. What should you
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
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 can
be 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.