When looking at the ingredients in commercial dog food, you're certain to have some questions, including: “Why all of the added colors? Is 21 percent crude protein enough for my dog? What exactly are these things I can not pronounce?”
It's enough to create some pet parents wonder if they ought to prepare their very own canine cuisine. Fortunately, making your personal dog food is one thing you can do, but there's much more into it than simply making another dinner plate for the dog each evening.
“It has to be done the right way,” said Dr. Richard Goldstein, chief medical officer at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. “Our nutritional requirements will vary than dogs', particularly when you are looking at minerals and vitamins. We evolved eating completely different things.”
While our ancestors were feasting on fruits, berries and perhaps the sporadic small game, dogs' predecessors were devouring whole animals, skin, bones, organs and all, which means that making an extra plate of chicken and rice for the pup won't cut it, said Dr. Judy Morgan, veterinarian and author of countless books, including What’s For Dinner Dexter? Cooking For the Dog Using Traditional chinese medicine Theory.
Before you venture down the DIY dog food path, you need to check with the vet (bonus points if they focuses on nutrition) to ensure your recipes have the required vitamins, minerals and nutrients your dog needs to maintain her health.
Don't give your dog enough calcium, for instance, and her body will start pulling it from her bones, said Morgan. “The body will do everything it can to help keep itself inside a steady state,” she added.
The Importance of “Complete and Balanced”
Dog food must be complete and balanced to provide your dog the necessary ingredients she must maintain proper health.
To make that hypothetical chicken and rice dinner suitable for your dog, you might want to add a component like bone meal to enhance the dish's calcium content, along with other what to ensure the dog gets enough vitamins and minerals, Goldstein said. Pet parents can also add supplementary items individually or purchase a pre-made vitamin and mineral mix to stir in to the food.
Another key to a successful homemade dog diet is consistency. If you are changing the meals each day, it will be harder to guarantee the your meals are balanced, said Goldstein.
Morgan, takes a different approach, preferring to rotate things to ensure that if there is an imbalance, it can be made up for somewhere else. Talk to your veterinarian about which choice is best for your dog's diet as well as your budget.
What Ingredients are essential for any Balanced Meal?
Commercial dog food typically includes a mix of protein, carbohydrates and high-fiber fruits and vegetables, as well as those critical minerals and vitamins.
Morgan, who cooks for her dogs, says she uses proteins like organ meat as well as sardines and eggs. “Eggs are the number one protein for digestibility and completeness,” she said. Cook all proteins fully before providing them with food to your dog.
Carbohydrates inside your dog's diet may come from ingredients for example potatoes, pasta and rice.
“Brown rice is preferable to white rice from the Chinese medicine perspective,” Morgan said. “White rice will make inflammatory diseases worse.”
Barley is another carb option that's great for diabetics, she said. Quinoa can also be good; though some dogs might find it difficult to digest.
The ratio of meat to carbs will be different in line with the recommendations of the veterinarian, who'll take into account factors such as your pup's weight, level of activity and age (a dog who needs have to lose weight may need less carbs than the usual skinny pup).
For vegetables, Morgan uses pumpkin, squash and other high-fiber produce, in addition to pears, apples and blueberries. Like humans, dogs with bladder issues can usually benefit from cranberries, she said. Just avoid onions, garlic, grapes and raisins, which can be toxic for your dog. Fruits and vegetables should be cooked for your dog to get all their nutritional benefits.
Morgan also likes to add ground eggshells to ensure there is enough calcium and trace minerals her dog's food. She also adds whole eggs for any vitamin D boost.
She says it takes approximately three hours every month to organize enough food for her nine dogs. On cooking day, she'll have multiple crockpots going and many pans warming in the oven. Again, it is important to ensure the food is tailored to your dog's health and nutritional needs.
“Be cautious about recipes you find online,” Goldstein said. “What's good for one dog isn't great for the rest.”
Feeding and Storing Homemade Dog Food
Most dogs like to be fed twice a day, Goldstein said, and keeping your homemade meals balanced by ensuring there's enough fat, protein and carbs may prevent them from going hungry among meals.
Just be cautious with grazers. While many commercial dog foods have preservatives to help keep the food fresh-tasting, that fresh salmon you simply served Fido won't retain in her dish for long.
“If you wouldn't eat it after being away from fridge for four to six hours, I wouldn't feed it for your dog either,” Goldstein said.
Morgan keeps her homemade food in the fridge for three to four days before moving it to the freezer, but serves the ultimate product at 70 degrees.
Morgan said she's seen dogs on death's door experience remarkable recoveries because of a properly-tailored diet.
“It really makes a difference when you're using whole-foods versus processed chemicals,” she said. “It's a totally different outcome.”
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and also the Globe and Mail.