healthy homemade dog food

How to Make Healthy Homemade Dog Food

Not all people food is bad for your pooch, but it's tough to provide all the nutrients canines need with a 100 percent home-cooked meal.

How to Make Healthy Homemade Dog Food

Is your four-legged friend's food really fit for a dog?

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—People are paying a lot more attention to the quality of their food, with millions dodging corporate food manufacturers and opting for local, organic food. That concern isn't limited to the dinner table, either. More and more dog owners are more closely focused on the ingredients they serve to man's best friend. Some of those ingredients are enough to send you sprinting out of the pet store with your tail between your legs. (If you had a tail.) Tainted pet-food scandals serve as reminders that nasty stuff can and does sometimes wind up in our beloved pet's food supply. But you might be shocked to find out what dog-food makers can legally include in your dog's dinner.

THE DETAILS: Pet food, even brands labeled "natural" or "organic," may contain 4D-grade meat. This type of meat could come from animals that were dying, disabled, or diseased before being slaughtered, or even decaying carcasses, "It's an animal-grade, rancid product," says naturopathic doctor Lisa Newman, ND, PhD, author of Three Simple Steps to Healthy Pets: The Holistic Animal Care LifeStyle. She notes that shoe leather, used restaurant cooking oils, animal hair and skin, and even euthanized cats and dogs are regularly used in the pet-food industry. This rather sickening fact, along with the melamine-tainted dog-food outbreak several years ago, has prompted some dog owners to invest in preparing healthy homemade dog food for their pups. However, that can be very dangerous if you don't do it right, warns veterinarian Kathryn E. Michel, DMV, MS, DACVN, associate professor of nutrition at Philadelphia School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "You may produce a good meal for yourself, but not a balanced meal for your pet," she explains. A healthy diet for you probably lacks proper nutrition for dogs, who need more protein, calcium, and certain amino acids to stay healthy. For instance, a small dog needs 800 milligrams of calcium a day, the same as a grown woman, and a big dog needs even more, explains Dr. Michel. [UPDATE: Since this story posted, Dr. Michel has expressed disagreement with the above contentions about the content of commercial pet food.]

Another pitfall? Nutritious, home-cooked meals for your dog can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with a large-breed dog.

WHAT IT MEANS: With the rise of doggy spas and canine-friendly mainstream hotels, it's clear the humanization of pets is a growing trend in this country. But Dr. Newman, who holds a doctorate degree in nutrition and developed the holistic pet-food and supplement line Admira, hopes people pamper their dogs in the food department, too. She believes the lack of quality ingredients in many brands is leading to a rise of health problems in dogs, including irritable bowel disease, allergies, arthritis, and certain cancers.

Here's how to work healthy homemade dog food onto your pooch's menu.

• Find a reputable recipe. The Internet is chock-full of recipes for healthy homemade dog food, but some of them can be quite dangerous, warns Dr. Michel. If your dog is in good health and you want to find a reputable recipe, she recommends visiting the Balance It pet lovers' site, where you can pick key ingredients, and they will provide you with a healthy food/supplement recipe for $20. The cost is lower the more recipes you buy. You can also find reputable healthy homemade dog recipes at If your pet has a medical issue, Dr. Michel recommends consulting with a credentialed veterinary nutritionist. One who is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition is a good choice. And it's always a good idea to run a new diet—store-bought or homemade—by your veterinarian first. Also, don't forget to talk to your vet about using supplements from vet-recommended companies. "You'll never be able to make a complete and balanced diet without adding supplements," Dr. Michel says.

Cat owners: It's important to note that you shouldn't try to make your own cat food at home because of the very unique dietary needs of felines. Dr. Michel says only vets with a strong background in nutrition should do this; even then, cats often turn up their noses at the food because they don't like the texture.

• Realize it's not all or nothing. If this sounds like a lot of work, Dr. Newman suggests this: 70 percent of your dog's food should be high-quality dry dog food (see how to find this below), and 30 percent homemade. To make the homemade portion, you can lightly cook ground turkey, beef, or chicken in a slow cooker. If you'd like to add vegetables, shred carrots and beets together, and steam lightly before tossing into the cooker. (Onions are toxic to dogs—never include them in any recipe for your dog.) For a 50-pound dog, you'd use a half cup of the meat mixture and about two tablespoons of the shredded vegetables per feeding. Some people also like to add a little water to the slow cooker and add whole grains like barley or couscous. To get a discount on meat, ask your local farmer or butcher if you can buy in bulk. Some will even store the meat for you until you need it. You can also talk to your vet about adding a high-quality garlic pearl supplement to your dog's food. Dr. Newman says this will provide some tick-repelling properties.

• Know when it's OK to share. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many pet owners are tempted to share the meal with their pets. However, if you only feed your pets commercial food, this isn't a good idea because the sudden change will likely bring on stomach upset and diarrhea. If you do feed your dog healthy homemade dog food sometimes, then it's OK. Dr. Newman suggests giving them a little cooked turkey with no skin and absolutely no bones. Beware of enhanced or brined turkeys that could contain excess salt and herbs. And no matter how good the drumstick looks, don't give it to your pooch (poultry bones tend to splinter, and the fragments could cause internal bleeding). Dogs can also eat a small sampling of sweet potatoes or green beans. "The idea is moderation," says Dr. Newman.

• When it comes to labels, play detective. Since it's tough to supply your dog with 100 percent homemade dog food, it's important to know how to read dog food labels to make sure you're getting the highest quality food possible. The problem is, labels won't tell you if the company uses 4D-grade meat. For starters, when you're trying to figure out the quality of a dog food, call the company and grill them. Dr. Michel suggests inquiring about how the company sources its ingredients, how it establishes vendors for the ingredients, how it tests for nutrition and safety and establishes shelf life, and what type of system it uses for reporting adverse effects. "It's a warning sign if they can't answer questions, or if they don't know anything about the product's manufacturing," she says.

Here are some other things to look for on the label:

•  Check the information panel of the label, found on the back or side of canned or bagged food. Look for the nutrition adequacy statement, and see what species and life stage the nutrition is balanced for. (You don't want puppy food for a senior dog.) The Association of Feed Control Officials develops nutrient profiles for dogs and cats for growth or maintenance, and the label will say if the food meets that profile. The company could also make the claim that they've done feeding trials, and although it's a minimum standard, it shows that the food can at least support that life stage of the dog or cat in reasonable health, Dr. Michel says.

•  Beware of meal-posing supplements. More and more, boutique-style dog treats look like balanced pet food these days. But if you look on the label, you'll see they are listed as supplemental foods, not complete meals.

•  Avoid certain ingredients. Dr. Newman suggests avoiding any dog food with soy products because it can lead to bloat, a potentially fatal affliction in dogs. As for any ingredient that’s listed as a by-product, "Forget it. It means it's a waste product that wasn't fit for humans," says Dr. Newman. "Make sure you have meat listed as the first ingredient, and clearly listed as lamb, chicken, or beef. If it says beef meal, it's even better." (It's dehydrated, so you'll get more protein bang for your buck.) "If it says beef by-product meal, though, run," she adds.

•  Avoid repeat ingredients. If you see a huge list of grains, especially ones listed in multiple ways (like barley, then barley flour, then barley bits, the company is likely using it as cheap filler. What you want to see is something like whole ground barley, or other whole grains.

Filed Under: PET CARE

Published on: November 23, 2009

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Food allergies

Your maltese has food allergies like my bichon. They are basically in the same family of poodles and bichons. I have Baxter our beautiful two year old male bichon is on a no grain diet, and I also make homemade on the side for all my companion friends. I don't buy the cheap commercial dog food they are unhealthy and not nutritional and dangerous. I did a lot of research and reading and educated myself about dog food dangers and what to feed them and what the ingredients mean. Read the labels and be very careful. There are many search engines to learn more about your pooch. Since I put all six of mine fur babies on a no grain diet and I make homemade (to supplement the carbs, veggies, and they need good fat). They don't itch and scratch and there coats are healthy and shiny and they have bright eyes and normal stools. It is time consuming and expensive, but guess what they are a big investement and I love dogs!!It depends on you and your companion. They don't have a voice and they rely on you to take care of them. Good luck!

homemade catfood

I disagree with the statement in the homemade dogfood article regarding cats. There are many very instructive websites that relate excellent healthy catfood recipies in particular, raw diets. Cats are carnivores designed to consume raw meats. It is also my opinion that there are few veterinarians with adequate training in animal nutrition. I have successfully fed my cats raw without incidence. It is a commitment in research and practice, but worth it.

Check your facts!

The mythology that euthanized pets are found in common dog food brands has no truth behind it. Your choice to print unsubstantiated lies really makes me wonder about the rest of the things you print. Your expert even had a problem with the statement, yet you failed to take it out.

Are you trying to supply the public with truth or create a scandal that gets you more readers?

What about kitties

What about food for kitties too?

dog food

Our maltese is allergic to wheat and corn products. What kind of food should we give him to keep him from scratching and biting himself?

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