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Do you love a good home cooked meal? According to research, over 80% of Americans prepare their meals at home and 36% of Americans cook at home on a daily basis. Many of us make food for ourselves, but what about for our dogs? They're our family too. So should you make your own homemade dog food? Read on to find out the pros, cons and more.
There's no scientific evidence to support the notion that homemade food is healthier for your dog. The belief that it is likely stems from misconceptions about commercial dog food and the quality of their ingredients as well as fears of recalls. Commercially processed recipes are actually specially created to be nutritionally complete and balanced, better ensuring your dog receives enough nutrients. Cooking your dog's food, on the other hand, makes it difficult to guarantee they are in fact receiving the proper amount of nutrients. Homemade meals do allow you to make sure you feed your dog a whole ingredient-based diet, which tends to be better in the long term. That being said, many commercially produced dog foods now contain whole ingredients.
There are a handful of benefits to cooking homemade food for your dog. These include:
There are also several cons to cooking your dogs meals at home. These include:
If you're set on cooking your dog's food, there are ways to reduce the disadvantages of homemade diets:
Making homemade food for your dog is a complicated task that takes a lot of time and effort. Some people assume it's easy, which can lead to overlooking some important factors. Here are five common mistakes owners make when cooking for their dogs:
There are a lot of dog food recipes out there, but most are unbalanced and some can even be dangerous. To avoid using an inadequate recipe, look for recipes formulated or approved by canine nutritionists or veterinarians. You can also consult BalanceIT.com, which is a site run by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist that helps owners create a semi-individualized diet. It's a good idea to consult your vet or a veterinary nutritionist to make sure the recipes you're using will meet your dog's nutritional needs.
Pro Tip: Use a food scale to get an even more accurate measurement for meat and other ingredients.
On a related note, one of the most common mistakes when making homemade dog food is not providing balanced meals. Dogs require around 40 essential nutrients that play specific roles in their bodies. These include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and more. When these are not provided in the proper concentrations, it can cause a nutritional imbalances (deficiency or excess). That can lead to malnutrition, obesity, and other diseases that could eventually be fatal. Remember, commercial dog foods follow strict nutritional standards that meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requirements for balanced nutrition. It's hard to get homemade dog food to meet these high standards.
Often times, homemade meals need to be supplemented for your dog. But picking adequate ones can be a difficult task as there are so many and it all depends on your dog's size, age, sex, breed and more. Furthermore, nutrients in multivitamins are less valuable that those in fresh, whole foods. Many are created to supplement commercial dog food, so they won't have enough nutrients for homemade meals.
Pro Tip: After two or three weeks on homemade food, take your dog to the vet or weigh them at home to make sure they aren't losing or gaining too much weight. If there are weight changes, check again in a few weeks.
When you find an adequate and safe recipe, you'll need to follow the recipe exactly - from ingredients to measurements, cooking methods to cooking time. Otherwise, you may be leaving out important ingredients or steps that provide nutritional value. For example, using different cooking methods - such as steaming versus roasting - can change the nutrient composition of foods.
Pro Tip: If the recipe has vague instructions, talk to a vet or veterinary nutritionist rather than making your own interpretations.
There are a lot of foods and ingredients that dogs can't eat, and many more that they shouldn't eat. This is why it's extremely important to familiarize yourself with what dogs can ingest and ensure whatever you make, doesn't have anything unsafe or unhealthy. Furthermore, make sure to take into account your dog's health or health issues they may be prone to. For instance, certain breeds are prone to a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and should not be fed grain-free, legume-based, and high-fiber diets.
It's important to transition your dog when switching from commercial to homemade meals, just like when you switch between commercial dog foods. Some people don't realize this and make the change immediately. But this can cause gastrointestinal issues and upset, from nausea and vomiting to appetite and stool changes. Typically, it's recommended to switch food over the course of a week so your dog's stomach can adjust:
Pro Tip: Some dogs are sensitive to certain ingredients (usually specific proteins), so start with a simple ingredient list and monitor your dog for signs of irritation. These include itchy skin and ears, excessive scratching or licking of sensitive areas, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal upset. If these show up, it will be easier to determine the cause with a simple recipe.
If you're really set on ditching the commercial dog food but don't want to cook homemade meals, there are some options. One alternative is buying commercial dog food that guarantees the use of whole foods. Another alternative is going with a company that provides pre-cooked, ready-made meals using whole, human-grade ingredients.