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Is homemade food good for dogs?

Approx. 8 minutes read

In an ideal world, you’d set the table with an extra place (or places) and when the aromas from the kitchen indicate that dinner is ready, you’d dish up a plate of protein, starch and delicious veggies for each family member… including the furry one(s). If only it were that simple. There is currently an abundance of lay advice being circulated about homemade dog food, as though feeding your furry friend were as simple as downloading a dog food recipe from the internet and switching from kibble to gourmet dinners.

We’re here to tell you that homemade dog and cat food recipes are anything but simple and universally applicable. Are you able to determine your dog or cat’s nutrient, vitamin and mineral ratios to give them a balanced diet? Unless you’re a pet nutritionist or have the guidance of one, homemade is – ironically – not something you should normally try at home.

But, speaking of balance, we’ll give you the vet’s perspective, the pet’s perspective, and the pet owner’s perspective on whether homemade pet food is right for your pets.

Why pet owners are considering homemade pet food

Veterinarians are hearing more and more often of pet owners’ desire to feed their pets with homemade pet food. There are very valid reasons for this; among them:

Pet owners want more control over ingredients

Pet food recalls have really scared many pet owners – especially the 2007 controversy when food manufacturing plants in China added melamine to their raw materials to make it appear as though their protein content was higher than it actually was. Many, many pets got desperately ill and more than 3500 died.

Other recalls have occurred over unacceptably high levels of salmonella or mould spores, defective packaging or incorrect nutrient formulations. However, these manufacturing errors have led to more stringent controls before, during and after the pet food manufacturing process. Pet owners feel they can avoid these uncommon events by avoiding commercial pet food altogether.

Pet owners are eating whole foods and want their pets to do so too

With a wealth of nutrition information at their fingertips, people are taking control of their health through diet and being more conscious of what, when and how much they eat. Naturally, pet pawrents want to transfer these lifestyle changes and awareness of the role of healthy food over to their pets, without realising that human diets and pet diets are very different. Just look at the list of human foods that are toxic for dogs to see how detrimental a human diet can be on dogs’ health.

Some dogs can benefit from whole foods prepared fresh (more on this below), but they still require a nutritionally complete and balanced diet to meet their physiological needs.

Nutritional solutions for pet diseases

Chronic illnesses like diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, kidney and liver disease, heart disease and hypothyroidism (among others) have led pet owners and veterinarians to consider a feeding regimen that offers support to the dog’s health, rather than relying on medication alone. Homemade food may offer simpler ingredients without additives and preservatives, as well as being able to exclude harmful ingredients that don’t support the dog’s chronic condition.

Homemade pet food for sick dogs is not a one-size-fits-all solution. What a sick dog eats will form part of a carefully devised treatment plan for their specific condition, and their diet must be sensibly managed with the help of their vet and preferably a pet nutritionist.

Navigating pet allergies

Dog food allergies come with terrible symptoms, are complicated to diagnose and can be tricky to treat. For many allergic pets, there are targeted pet food solutions for allergies – from single-source and hydrolysed proteins, to grain-free and even anti-inflammatory recipes – but for some pets, they are triggered by most commercial pet foods. In extreme cases, the veterinarian may recommend homemade pet food and supplements as part of a food allergy treatment protocol, but this is individualised to the pet and their specific allergy. No two recipes for homemade food for pet allergies will be the same.

Meeting the needs of fussy eaters

It’s heartwarming to see your pets gobble up their lovingly prepared bowl of dog food. However, some pets are extremely fussy eaters and will turn their nose up at their kibble – even to their own detriment. The danger with this is that the fussy eater is not getting the vital nutrients they need for good health and can suffer from malnutrition, in which case it’s worth exploring homemade dog food for small dogs (since it’s the littlest ones who are usually the pickiest!).

Keep in mind, however, that the homemade food should only make up a small portion of the dog’s meal, as a stepping stone to encouraging the dog to eat their kibble. The dog’s vet should be the one to recommend a balanced feeding solution.

When it comes to dog nutrition, homemade food is well-intended, especially in light of dog pawrents wanting to share good food with their furry family. However, many pet owners’ good intentions are not backed by well-informed solutions and this can often lead to nutrient, vitamin and mineral deficiencies that cause major harm to pets.

Do vets recommend homemade pet food?

Now that there’s more awareness around pet owners cooking homemade meals for their pets, more and more vets are being confronted with questions about the appropriateness of homemade and raw pet food (for more on raw pet food, see the end of this article). What pet owners may hear from their vets is that when it comes to dog nutritional requirements, homemade food in general is likely to be grossly deficient in the right nutrients and minerals.

If we look at what dogs need to eat every day (and that they need pawfectly balanced ratios of macro- and micronutrients, vitamins and minerals) there are few pet owners who will be able to match those requirements for a healthy dog diet with homemade food. Commercial pet food is not only a convenient feeding solution for your dog, but each block of high-quality kibble contains the right balance of nutrient ratios, determined in a scientific laboratory setting with the aid of veterinarians, pet nutritionists and food manufacturing experts.

Most veterinarians will only turn to homemade pet food as a solution to a problem that cannot be solved with scientifically-formulated, high-quality kibble or canned food. Their position is backed by their commitment to offering medical advice based on the wellbeing of each pet they examine as well as more than a century of development in the science of pet food.

It’s not that vets don’t want to recommend homemade pet food for the average dog or cat, it’s that most of the peer-reviewed studies point to this being a misinformed idea…

Disadvantages of homemade pet food

Over the last decade (specifically in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019), various studies undertaken on the ability of homemade pet food to meet pets’ nutritional needs have found a few problems that occur consistently with homemade feeding, which include:

  • missing nutrients that are vital to pets’ health – most (like 95%-most) homemade diets in these studies were imbalanced and incomplete
  • no clear instructions to ensure consistency in homemade pet food preparation
  • even the vet-recommended homemade dog food recipes had nutrient deficiencies (though fewer deficiencies than those not compiled by veterinary professionals)
  • pet owners usually don’t follow the recipes – even homemade food recipes provided by certified veterinary nutritionists were not followed. In one study, most pet owners would make their own changes to the recipe – such as substituting oils (or leaving them out altogether) or proteins, and adding their own ingredients based on convenience or misinformation.

Other problems identified with even the best homemade dog food include:

  • no testing or quality control
  • the presence of bacteria and other pathogens – especially in raw diets
  • huge variation in nutrients – pets need consistency in their diets
  • improper measuring (i.e. by volume instead of by weight)

The dangers of a nutritionally unbalanced diet

Where vital nutrients are missing in homemade dog food, supplements may play a part in giving pets what they need nutritionally. But even so, how do pet owners know what to supplement and in the correct ratios? Deficiencies in one nutrient cannot simply be corrected with a pill or a powder – excessive consumption of certain vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and even proteins can be detrimental to pets.

It really does require a pet nutritionist or a veterinarian with a specialisation in nutrition to guide pet owners when providing a recommended homemade pet food. If there’s no expert involved, don’t do it to your pets.

When is homemade dog food good for pets?

If your dog has undergone surgery or is recovering from an illness, your vet may recommend a bland diet. This is essentially the chicken and rice, or even chicken and sweet potato solution that gives dogs some delicious proteins, fats and carbohydrates without inflaming their GI tract. This is a simple, temporary homemade food that has been used for decades to help recovering dogs.

Which is better: homemade dog food or kibble?

Over the years and especially with so much competition in the pet food industry, commercial pet foods – both kibble and canned foods – have risen in quality as manufacturers have created better ranges of bespoke pet foods. Manufacturers are also held to much stricter standards than in the past, which means that what you see is what you get in terms of pet foods.

The prevalence of owners seeking solutions for dog diseases like epilepsy or diabetes, cancer or kidney disease, has triggered pet food brands to create health-forward commercial and prescription diets. Diets targeted at pet wellness rather than just being simple feeding solutions have greatly improved the nutritional offerings for our beloved pets – meeting the needs of their medical conditions as well as offering them balanced and complete pet food. Commercial pet foods also cater to life stages, pet sizes, breed requirements and health profiles, with pet food that has been customised to meet the nutritional needs of these demographic groups. It would be extremely expensive and time-consuming to customise your pets’ meals based on 

If you want the best for your dog and they are not thriving on vet-recommended kibble, then it may be worthwhile to ask your vet about a homemade pet food solution with a specially-formulated recipe for their unique make-up. If your dog enjoys their delicious crunchy kibble (with a squirt of topping sauce or a yummy supplement gel), has strong lean muscle, a shiny coat and skin, and a healthy vitality, then why fix what ain’t broke?

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