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Dos and Don'ts of Making Homemade Dog Food

Dog food pouring into bowl


Deciding what to feed your dog isn’t easy. Dog food options are endless, with pricey organic varieties claiming to be the most nutritious. Feeding your pooch can get expensive, and you have to deal with numerous pet food recalls. Considering these factors, you might decide making dog food at home makes sense.

Making homemade dog food is possible, but you have to pay close attention to the essential ingredients your dog needs. Only use recipes from reputable sources and check with your vet first to get their recommendations. Transition your dog slowly from their regular food to your homemade version and monitor them closely.

Making dog food at home might seem easier and a way to save money on pet costs, but it comes with many challenges. It also takes time and patience. If you’re set on becoming the next Bobby Flay of the dog world, do your research.

Things You Need to Know Before Making Your Dog's Food

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) features 37 nutritional guidelines for dogs that stipulate specific amounts and ratios. These different factors also vary based on life stages and other considerations. 

In other words, making dog food at home that is nutritionally balanced and complete is challenging. In addition to ensuring you’re choosing ingredients that meet your dog’s nutritional needs, you must also select safe ones. Not all foods suitable for humans are okay for pets to eat. 

It’s also vital to include the proper amount of vitamins and minerals. However, many people concentrate on protein, carbohydrates, and fats when making homemade dog food. Furthermore, certain ingredients in commercial dog food products might be necessary in trace amounts. However, using too much can become toxic for your pup.

So, where do you go from here? If you’re still committed to cooking dog food at home, where do you start?

What Ingredients Are in Homemade Dog Food?

What you put in your homemade dog food depends greatly on your dog. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) stresses that your dog’s nutritional requirements are unique. They depend mainly on your dog’s age, breed, size, and overall health. Making dog food at home isn’t a great option for some dogs. 

For example, puppies, senior dogs, pregnant pups, or those with specific health needs might need specially formulated food that you can’t create at home. If your dog doesn’t fall into any of these categories, homemade meals might be more of a possibility.

Overall, you’ll need to concentrate on several key ingredients. These essential ingredients for homemade dog food include protein, fats, carbohydrates, fatty acids, fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals.

Within each of these broad categories are more specific needs. The protein you choose needs to feature the 10 essential amino acids your dog can’t produce on their own. 12 minerals, including calcium, sulfur, magnesium, iron, iodine, selenium, copper, and zinc. And, key vitamins such as Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, and choline.

When deciding on the best ingredients for your dog’s food, check with a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist®. You can also use a tool like BalanceIT. It helps you select ingredients that deliver a balanced diet to your pup. You’ll also find tools on the site to help you build specific recipes for your dog.

Once you’ve developed a recipe for your dog, run it by your veterinary nutritionist for added peace of mind. You can also consult your vet since they know your dog’s unique health and nutritional needs and can offer helpful feedback.

How Do You Store Homemade Dog Food?

Most homemade dog food recipes are safe to store in the fridge for about three to five days. Wrap the food tightly or, even better, keep it in an air-tight container. 

When you feed your pup, ensure they eat all of their food. If they don’t, pick up what’s left immediately and store it. If you forget or leave it sitting out, toss it.

If you plan to make the food in bulk, you'll need to freeze the excess. Store the food in a freezer-safe container, label it with the date, and keep it in the freezer for up to 6 months. 

If you’re ever in doubt about the quality of the food or question the storage process, toss it. It’s better to be safe than sorry, to avoid feeding your pet potentially spoiled food.

Do Dogs Live Longer with Homemade Dog Food?

Many factors influence a dog’s lifespan, including the food they eat. You’ll likely find lots of research that points you in both directions. Some studies might suggest homemade dog food can lead to a longer life for your dog. 

However, many vets recommend against homemade diets because of several risks. These risks include potential bacterial contamination, lack of proper nutrients, and introducing potentially harmful ingredients to your pup. Your dog can live a long, healthy life on commercial food products. Likewise, if adequately prepared, your dog can live a full life eating homemade dog food. The most significant factor is finding a food that meets your dog’s unique health needs.

Dog looking at his bowl full of food

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Making Dog Food at Home

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University warns against several common homemade dog food mistakes.

  • Substituting ingredients without consulting with a veterinary nutritionist or vet. Good pet food recipes feature specific ratios and ingredients to ensure your dog gets precisely what they need. In some cases, the formula might even call for specific brands. However, many pet parents take it upon themselves to substitute another ingredient, which can ultimately throw off the nutritional balance of the recipe.
  • Using questionable pet food recipes. There are tons of dog food recipes floating around on the internet, many claiming to be written by vets. But these recipes can often be missing many essential ingredients. Only use recipes from a trusted source and consult a nutritionist to ensure they meet your dog’s specific needs.
  • Feeding your dog homemade food if they have special needs, such as health conditions, pregnancy, or are a puppy or senior dog.

Other common mistakes when making homemade dog food include using toxic ingredients and not cooking the food thoroughly.

What Ingredients Should Not Be in Dog Food?

Even when you shop for commercial dog food products, there are certain ingredients to avoid. Many artificial preservatives, fillers, and sweeteners are a no-go, like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. It’s also best to avoid excessive amounts of food dyes. 

Stick with healthy fats and meaty proteins, and avoid using foods poisonous to dogs, like garlic, onions, and more. Other foods to avoid are chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, and mushrooms.

Is Homemade Dog Food in Your Future?

Whether you choose to create homemade dog treats or food, it’s essential to start slow. Take time researching, consult the experts, and find the best recipes for your pup. Transition your dog to the new food slowly, and watch them closely to ensure everything goes well. 

Be honest and realistic with your choices. If you have a busy schedule and struggle to feed yourself a nutritious diet, making dog food at home might not be for you. You can find a lot of healthy options among commercial dog foods. So, your pup can get what they need in their food bowl, as long as you're diligent with your choices. 

Need more tips to up your pet-parenting game? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and check the rest of the Neater Pets blog for the latest insights into the world of your furry friends.


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