With much of the world currently under stay-at-home orders amid social distancing concerns, stores are finding their stocks in scarce supply, which has made people get better at stretching resources at home. While much of the country is learning to eat out of their pantry more and use more canned goods and shelf stable ingredients, some are also discovering that this is a good time to avoid shopping for ready-made dog food and try their hand at making their own dog food at home.
Disclaimer: Always check with your vet or holistic pet care provider before making any changes to your dog's diet. In the same way you might do with your child’s diet, show your vet the recipe or ingredient list you intend to use and ask if they approve or have any suggestions. This could be as simple as an email or a telemedicine appointment.
If you're switching your dog from store-bought to homemade food, it's very important to make the change gradually. “Start by mixing in a few tablespoons of the homemade food with his kibble, then gradually increase the amount of homemade food and decrease the kibble over several days,” suggests Li-ran Bukovza of PuppyTip. This will help your dog's digestive system adjust and prevent them from getting sick.
If your dog has special dietary needs (like grain-free), talk to your vet about adjusting the recipe to their needs. Also talk to your vet about supplements. “Even with store-bought food, your dog may not be getting all of his nutritional needs met,” says Burkovza. Adding salmon oil or ground flaxseed, for example, may fill the gaps in your dog's diet.
Take your dog's age into consideration when feeding and cooking for them. “Puppies need more food than adult dogs, and senior dogs with decreased activity may need smaller servings,” says Bukovza. So, make sure you're feeding them the correct amount for their size and stage of development.
Monitor your dog's weight when feeding them homemade food. Even if your goal is to help them gain or lose weight, you don't want them to do it too quickly as this can be bad for their health. “Establish a healthy weight range with your vet and ask how much is safe for your dog to gain or lose within a certain amount of time,” says Bukovza.
People overthink ultra-complicated recipes and forget that a dog loves to eat, plain and simple, and there's no need for potentially dangerous condiments!
Don’t be afraid to play with textures. Crunchy, soft, mushy... Vary the textures of your recipes, and your dog will be less likely to get bored of the food.
24/7 expert advice for any concern — big or small
“When making a homemade dog recipe, try a resource like balanceIT.com, which allows people to enter the ingredients they want for their pet and it balances the recipe for them,” adds Dr. Katie Woodley of The Natural Pet Doctor.
“People should avoid onions, macadamia nuts, raisins, grapes, and chocolate when feeding human foods,” says Dr. Woodley. If they are going to feed garlic, they can safely feed 1 clove per 20 lbs per day, but not more than that. Check out the larger list of human foods to avoid when cooking for your dog.
Much like with our meal plans, a balanced diet is very important. A good ratio to follow is 40% meat, 50% veggies, and 10% starch," says Dr. Woodley. For meat, Dr. Woodley recommends mixing it up between beef, chicken, venison, fish, turkey, lamb, and eggs. In regards to veggies, Dr. Woodley suggests using a mix of spinach, pumpkin, carrots, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and other veggies. And for carbohydrates/starch, Dr. Woodley recommends organic brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and oatmeal.
Here's an easy crockpot recipe you can use to create delicious and nutritious home-cooked dog food for your pup. This recipe, via Bukovza, is perfectly balanced for healthy adult dogs, although you may want to add supplements depending on your dog's specific needs.
You can substitute the ground chicken for a different ground meat, such as hamburger or ground turkey. You can also change the vegetables, such as trading the squash for pumpkin. Of course, fresh is always better, but frozen or canned vegetables are OK as well.
If you use canned, choose the low sodium option. That said, just make sure that any substitutions are safe for dogs, and remember to keep the recipe nutritionally balanced.
3 pounds ground chicken (or other ground meat)
1 cup squash (frozen is fine)
1 can (15 oz) kidney beans
1 cup peas
1 cup green beans
1 cup chopped carrots
1 ½ cups rice (uncooked)
4 cups water
Combine all the ingredients in a crockpot. Cook on low for six hours or on high for four hours, stirring occasionally.
Another fun recipe for dogs (and that the writer of this story created for her own dogs) is a doggie spin on shepherd’s pie. Making a meatloaf with frozen veggies and topped with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes - be sure of course to leave out garlic and onions that they can’t eat (but beyond that, make a meatloaf as you’d make for your human family!) - they can eat mashed up sliced for dinner. The mashed potato “icing” also works as a great birthday cake!
One of my dogs’ favorite treats is a can of tuna or sardines (or salmon) mixed with a hard boiled egg. It's got lots of protein and takes no time at all (and very easy on the budget).
Remember, dog food does not need spice or seasoning, either. And, remember, dogs love dessert too - in fact there are some fun homemade ice cream recipes you can try here just in case everyone is still hungry. (They are!)