Between processed foods, large pet food recalls, and concerns about dog food fillers, some owners opt to make homemade meals for their four-legged friends. Is it safe? Yes, but only if you are taking the careful and patient steps to make sure your dog’s food is nutritionally balanced and safe to eat.
In the past few years, there have been several major pet food recalls involving unsafe levels of aflatoxin that led to the deaths of more than 100 dogs. Hundreds more got sick.
Aflatoxin: Toxin produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus. It can grow on corn and other dog food ingredients. High levels cause severe illness or fatalities.
You can always check the FDA website for pet food recalls, as you aren’t going to be able to tell by looking at the food if it is toxic or not.
Recalls like this get pet owners searching for better, safer ways to feed their pets. One option is homemade food where you control all the ingredients. Before you put Fido’s meals on your grocery shopping list, there are some things you need to know.
Jennifer A. Larsen, DVM, MS, Ph.D., a board-certified veterinary nutritionist told the American Kennel Club ( AKC),
“Cooking for your pet is a process that’s demanding of your time, labor, space, and finances.”
Is the Meal Nutritionally Balanced?
A dog’s meal is much more than mixing some meat and veggies in a bowl. There’s a specific hierarchy of nutrients a dog needs through different phases of life to keep healthy. Too much or too little of something can lead to illness or injury.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a volunteer non-profit organization that regulates the selling and distributing of dog food (among other animals).
For example, here’s what an average adult dog needs:
- Protein 18%
- Further broken down into specific amino acid requirements
- Fat 5.5%
- Includes calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium
- Includes vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline
Those guidelines are then reviewed by pet food makers before the FDA has the final say on if the ingredients are safe and the claims made by the manufacturer are legitimate.
That’s just how a package of dog food gets to your favorite store.
How Can I Start Learning About Nutrition for My Dog?
There’s just too much wrong information in a basic internet search. Some sites claim to have great dog food recipes that are not vetted by any agency. Others claim it’s downright dangerous to make food at home.
As with most discussions about your pet’s health and well-being, it starts with your veterinarian.
Questions to ask:
- What nutritional elements does my dog need?
- What homemade foods provide that?
- Do you have a list of veterinarian-approved meals to make at home?
- Which foods should I avoid using in homemade meals?
- Are there other alternatives between a store brand of food and making meals at home? (Hint: there are!)
Dr. Larson warns “Each of the 40 essential nutrients required by dogs has a specific role in the body. When they are provided in inadequate concentrations, the function is not optimal and suffering may result. Similarly, nutrient excesses can also cause illness. While the impact of an unbalanced diet may be mild and not even noticed or attributed to the diet by the owner, these problems can also be very severe, and pets do not always survive.”
|Avocado||Yes||Pit, skin & leaves cause vomiting/diarrhea|
|Cherries||Yes||Can cause cyanide poisoning|
|Grapes/Raisins||Yes||Extremely toxic. Can lead to sudden kidney failure.|
|Tomatoes||In large amounts||Green parts of tomatoes contain solanine. Not overtly toxic, but best to avoid it altogether.|
|Asparagus||No||Loses nutrients during cooking, so doesn’t benefit dogs, and raw asparagus is hard to chew.|
|Mushrooms||Yes||Wild mushrooms can be toxic, and it’s hard to know which of the 50,000 varieties will affect your dog.|
|Onions||Yes||Allium plants can be poisonous to dogs and cats, especially impacting Japanese breeds like Akitas.|
|Watermelon||No||The fruit itself is fine, but don’t feed dogs rinds or seeds as they can cause intestinal blockage.|
|Xylitol||Yes||Any sugar-free type of food can contain this dangerous sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Read the ingredients carefully. Raspberries have low amounts of xylitol, so feed sparingly.|
*Not a complete list, but these are the biggest concerns. The AKC has a more detailed list of food “Do’s and Dont’s”.
Other Factors To Consider For Homemade Meals For Dogs
You need to consider your dog’s current health status, weight, previous food choices, joint issues, and food sensitivities before planning a meal at home.
Stick to the exact recipes of veterinary-approved meals. Don’t go rogue and add in a little more pumpkin or a few extra slices of meat. Stick to the exact recipe to keep consistency in the dog’s diet.
“Most general recipes provide vague instructions for ingredients or preparation. This leaves the owner to interpret what type of meat to use, or which supplement product to buy,” Dr. Lawson cautions.
You can’t decide one day you are going to cook meals at home and the next day you’re too busy and go back to store brand. This can upset the dog’s digestive system and leave you with some unwelcome messes when you get home. Stick to the meal plan and make sure you are in it for the long run.
What’s The Middle Ground of Healthy Eating vs. Home Cooking?
There has been an explosion of whole food meals onto the pet food market as health-conscious consumers demand the same for their dogs.
Look for brands that are labeled “Whole Foods for Dogs.” Tylee makes several varieties, along with Vital Fresh Cuts, and more options you’ll find at the pet store, grocery store, or your veterinarian’s office.
Do Dogs Get Bored Eating the Same Food All The Time?
Dogs like routines. Their schedules are set by the owner and that generally includes 2-3 mealtimes per day. A happy, healthy dog will let you know if you’re running behind on its food schedule.
If a dog is eating a healthy diet, they aren’t going to be picky about the variety in their food. Changing foods can upset their bellies. They aren’t like humans, when eating the same salad every day gets boring.
Should your dog lose interest in food, it’s time to see the veterinarian.
Any food changes you are thinking of making should be run by a veterinary nutritional expert. Dogs can hide pain and illness easily, a throwback to their ancestors knowing that any weakness makes them prey for attackers.
You can take the proactive steps to feed a healthy, wholemeal to your dog without having to make a meal from scratch every day for them. If you choose to do so, be prepared for the time, money, and patience it will take to get it done right consistently.
Feeding frequency: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feeding-times-and-frequency-for-your-dog
AAFCO Guidelines: https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/What-Is-AAFCO-and-What-Does-It-Do
FDA Alert: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-alert-certain-lots-sportmix-pet-food-recalled-potentially-fatal-levels-aflatoxin
AKC Home Cooking Help: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/cooking-for-your-dog-dos-and-donts/