Your dog is part of your family, and you may be willing to do most anything for them. That could include making their meals from scratch. If so, get out the apron -- but get ready to teach yourself a few new tricks. There are things you need to know to keep your pet healthy and strong.
Making dog food that meets Fido’s nutrition needs isn't as simple as you might think, says pet nutritionist Cailin Heinze, VMD. “It can be done, it just takes a lot of dedication, a lot of work, and for some pets and some ingredients, quite a bit of expense,” Heinze says.
1. Start With a Good Recipe
Many dog food recipes fall short in certain nutrients, especially iron, copper, calcium, and zinc. Even some recipes created by veterinarians don't measure up. The University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine tested 200 recipes, many written by vets. The researchers found most of the recipes were short on some essential nutrients.
The best way to make sure a recipe has what it takes is to choose one created by an expert with training in dog nutrition, says Jennifer Larsen, DVM, PhD. That might be a certified pet nutritionist or a PhD-trained animal nutritionist with experience making pet food. Your vet should be able to point you in the right direction.
Your pet needs protein (animal meat, seafood, dairy, or eggs), fat (from meat or oil) and carbohydrates (grains or vegetables). They also need calcium (from dairy or an ingredient such as egg shells), and essential fatty acids (from certain plant oils, egg yolks, oatmeal, and other foods).
And if that's not enough to consider, if your dog has a health problem, they may need a special diet. You may need a pet nutrition expert to create custom recipes.
2. Prepare the Recipe Right
Tempted to experiment in the kitchen? Save it for yourself. It’s best not to improvise when you cook for your pooch.
- Follow the recipe. Altering it can have unintended effects. For example, cooking chicken with or without skin and bone changes the recipe’s nutrient profile, Larsen says. You might also add or subtract calories without meaning to.
- Don’t swap ingredients. Some ingredients seem similar but don’t provide the same nutrition. For example, corn, canola, and walnut oil provide certain essential fatty acids that olive oil and coconut oil don’t. By making swaps, “you could very easily unbalance the diet,” Larsen says.
- Buy a food scale. They are much more accurate than measuring cups, especially for measuring meat.
Cook all animal products to kill bacteria that could make your pooch sick. Cook grains, beans, and starchy vegetables to make them easier to digest.
3. Add the Right Supplements
Even the best recipes often don’t provide enough of certain nutrients, such as calcium. Your pup needs supplements if you’re feeding them from scratch. Which ones depend on which nutrients are missing from their meals. A good recipe should include specific supplement instructions. If you're unsure, talk to a pet nutritionist.
4. Make Sure the Diet’s Working
After your dog’s been dining on your kitchen creations for 2 to 3 weeks, take them to the vet to make sure they are not gaining or losing too much weight. If their weight is changing, check it again in a couple of weeks.
Take your pooch for a checkup twice a year. The vet can look at their skin, coat, body condition, and “any type of problems that might be happening as the result of the diet,” Larsen says.