I’d like to feed my canine companion DIY dog food. How can I design a dog food diet that meets its needs?
The key to a healthy dog diet is variety. Any single recipe could cause problems if fed exclusively for long periods. Feeding a balanced diet daily isn’t necessary as long as the diet is balanced over time.
The best homemade dog food diets include red meat, poultry, fish, liver, eggs, dairy, vegetables, fruits, and sometimes grains and legumes. The simpler the diet, the more supplements your pup will need. All homemade diets require added calcium (unless the diet includes raw meaty bones that are fully consumed) and vitamin E. These guidelines are for adult dogs. See my resource page Homemade Diets for Dogs for more information, and peruse this list I put together on foods to avoid or restrict when making DIY dog food.
Raw Diets That Include Bones
Raw meaty bones (30 to 50 percent). Raw meaty bones can include chicken necks, backs, wings, and leg quarters; lamb breasts and necks; pork necks and riblets; beef necks (usually only consumed by large dogs); and turkey necks. You can also feed canned fish, such as jack mackerel, pink salmon, or sardines (preferably packed in water rather than oil). Don’t feed much tuna, as it doesn’t include bones and is higher in mercury. When feeding anything round and meaty, be careful that your dog doesn’t try to swallow it whole, which can lead to choking.
Most raw diets are high in fat. Unless your dog is extremely active or has difficulty keeping weight on, it’s best to stick to parts that aren’t overly fatty.
Liver (5 percent). Liver is nutritionally dense, providing nutrients that are hard to find in other foods. It should be a part of your dog’s diet, or you’ll need to provide suitable supplements. Other organs, such as kidneys, are also good but shouldn’t be substituted for liver on a regular basis. Too much organ meat at one time can lead to loose stools. Feed small amounts daily or every other day, rather than large amounts once or twice a week.
Heart (5 to 10 percent, optional). Heart is nutritionally more like a muscle meat. You can feed more as long as it doesn’t cause loose stools.
The rest of the diet (35 to 65 percent) can be a mixture of the following:
Muscle meat. Feed as much variety as possible, such as beef, lamb, pork, turkey, and chicken. Don’t feed most exotic proteins, such as venison, rabbit, and duck; reserve those in case you ever need to feed an elimination diet to identify food allergies. Use lean meats, preferably 10 percent fat or less. Make sure that no one food is more than 50 percent of the diet.
Eggs. Feed as many as you want. Eggs that are lightly cooked, such as soft-boiled, may be more digestible than raw, but either way is fine.
Dairy. Yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, etc.
Vegetables. Veggies must be either cooked or puréed in order to be digestible by dogs. Legumes and starchy veggies, such as sweet potatoes and winter squashes, must be cooked. Whole, raw veggies aren’t harmful — they just don’t provide much nutrition.
If you don’t feed veggies, add a green blend or a mixture of kelp and alfalfa. Note that too much iodine from kelp can suppress the thyroid, so don’t give more than the recommended amount. Kelp may also contain arsenic, so use a blend of several green foods.
Fruit. Apples, bananas, blueberries, papaya, and melon are good foods to add. Overripe fruits are easier to digest.
Grains and pasta. Grains may be related to a number of health problems in dogs, including allergies, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and seizures. If your dog has any of these problems, try omitting grains (and maybe starchy carbs) to see whether its health improves. If your dog is healthy, or is unhealthy but doesn’t improve when grains are removed from its diet, you can feed grains in moderate amounts. Grains should never make up more than half the diet — preferably no more than about 25 percent. Remember that dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, but carbs can be a source of less-expensive calories, if needed.
Cooked Diets, or Diets Sans Bones
If you choose to feed a cooked diet, or don’t give your dog raw meaty bones, you’ll need to make a few adjustments. Feed at least 50 percent (preferably more) animal protein products, such as lean muscle meat, heart, liver, kidney, eggs, dairy, and canned fish with bones, such as pink salmon, jack mackerel, and sardines. For these foods, light cooking is better than cooking for longer periods at higher heats. For the remaining foods, see my notes in the raw diet instructions above.
Add 800 to 1,000 milligrams of calcium per pound (cooked weight) of food fed. You can use any form of plain calcium, including ground eggshells (1⁄2 teaspoon eggshell per 1 pound food). If you use bone meal, add an amount that provides 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium (more is needed than when using plain calcium because of the amount of phosphorus in the bone meal). Don’t use calcium supplements that contain vitamin D, as the amount will be too high.