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Do you cook for your dog? Many dog parents want to give their dogs more healthy and natural home cooked dog food but don't know where to start or what to include in the diet.
Feeding our dogs home prepared food (whether raw or cooked) has many advantages, but we need to be very careful with the balance of nutrients. Otherwise, our dogs may not get all the vitamins and minerals needed for growth and optimal health.
The article looks at the following topics:
Like anything else in life, there are pros and cons for home cooking for your dog. Let's take a look:
It is also easier to adjust the diet as needed based on your dog's weight, lifestyle, activity level, health conditions, and other needs.
It is important to remember that while fresh, home cooked dog food is better than processed foods, a good commercial diet is better than a poorly designed homemade diet.
When cooking for your dog, bear in mind these three basic rules:
Home prepared dog food should include a variety of ingredients, not just one meat and grains.
It is best to feed many different types of meat (e.g. beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey, fish, etc.), as well as other foods such as organ meat (heart, liver, etc.), eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt.
(Of course if your dog has food allergies, you can only feed those food items that your dog is not allergic to.)
By feeding your dog a wide variety of ingredients, your dog can, over time, get a more balanced diet with nutrients coming from different sources.
In addition, if you keep feeding your dog only one type of meat for a long time, your dog may start to develop allergy to that meat. Therefore, feeding your dog different types of meat and other ingredients can help prevent your dog from developing allergy to a certain of food.
When you feed a wide variety of different foods, there is no need to make each meal "complete and balanced". You just have to make sure that your dog gets everything he needs over a week or two, not at every meal.
When making your own dog food, you MUST add calcium if the dog diet does not include bones.
Adult dogs need about 800 to 1000 mg of calcium per pound of food fed. Calcium must be supplied in a proper proportion to phosphorus. The ideal calcium:phosphorus ratio is between 1:1 and 2:1.
Meat contains a lot of phosphorus, so if your home cooked dog diet includes a lot of meat, you need to include more calcium to reach the correct calcium:phosphorus ratio.
Sources of calcium include ground eggshells and calcium supplements, such as calcium carbonate or calcium citrate.
Some people add raw bones to a home cooked dog diet to supply the calcium needed for the dog. If you include raw bones in your dog diet, then you do not have to add calcium to the diet.
NOTE: DO NOT feed cooked whole bones to dogs as they are brittle and prone to splintering, which can cause tooth fractures, intestinal obstruction and intestinal perforations.
Protein sources (e.g. meat, eggs, dairy products) should make up at least half of the diet, and preferably more.
Meat should include both muscle meat (such as lamb, beef, chicken, turkey, pork) as well as organ meats (e.g. kidney, liver, heart). Because organ meats are nutrient-dense, it is best to feed small amounts daily or every other day, rather than large amounts at one time.
You can also include canned fish, such as pink salmon, sardines, jack mackerel, once or twice a week.
Dairy products such as yogurt and cottage cheese offer good nutritional value. These should be added after the food is cooked.
Eggs can be soft-boiled, hard-boiled, gently scrambled, etc.
Since dogs are not biologically designed to eat and digest carbohydrate sources (such as grains), they should preferably not be included in the diet.
If you opt to include grains, they should not be over 25% of the diet.
Choose whole grains such as oatmeal, white rice, brown rice, barley, bulgur, millet, etc. Just as with other foods, feeding a variety of different grains and carbs is better than always feeding the same kind.
Veggies are optional but small amounts are actually beneficial to our dogs.
Leafy greens are the healthiest veggies for dogs. Other good veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, and more. Steaming and blending is the best way to prepare vegetables for dogs.
Fruits can be added to the dog diet in small amounts. Good fruits to feed include apples, bananas, papayas, berries, and melon. DO NOT feed grapes or raisins for they are toxic to dogs.
The amount of food needed by each dog is of course different, depending on various factors such as the dog's age, lifestyle, activity level, and metabolism, etc.
As a general rule, dogs will eat around 2-3% of their body weight in fresh food every day (use cooked weights for foods that are cooked).
Large dogs tend to eat a lower percentage while small dogs a higher percentage of their body weights. Toy breeds may need more - as much as 4-5% of their body weight daily. On the other hand, giant breeds might eat as little as 1.5%, or even less.
It is healthier for dogs to be lean, so if your dog is mostly sedentary, or tends to gain weight easily, you can feed leaner meats and low-fat dairy products.
Also, grains and starchy carbs can affect weight. Reducing the amount of grains can greatly help dogs who need to lose weight.
Home cooked dog food is more likely to need supplementation, since cooking destroys or reduces some nutrients. As mentioned above, if you do not add raw bones to the home cooked food, you need to supplement your dog with calcium.
In addition, you should strongly consider the following supplements:
The most important supplement is fish body oil, such as salmon oil. (Do NOT give liver oil since liver oil contribute too much vitamin D.)
Fish body oil supplies Omega-3 fatty acids which provide a lot of benefits to dogs and are hard to find in any diet, whether homemade or commercial.
The recommended dosage for healthy dogs is around 1,000 mg of fish oil per 20-30 pounds of body weight.
Whenever supplementing oils of any kind, you need to supplement with vitamin E, or the dog's body will become depleted of this vitamin over time.
Digestive enzymes are especially helpful for dogs with gastrointestinal problems. Heat destroys digestive enzymes, so home cooked dog food is best supplemented with enzymes to help the dog digest and absorb the food.
Probiotics is beneficial especially if your dog is stressed or ill, has been treated with antibiotics, or has had diarrhea.
Minerals are most safely supplemented in whole food form. Green blends, such as Spark for Pets, that contain green foods like spirulina, chlorella, bladderwrack, etc. which are excellent sources of trace minerals.
Other trace mineral sources include organic apple cider vinegar, nutritional or brewer's yeast, and dark molasses.
Most dogs have little problems switching over to a diet of home cooked dog food. If your dog is prone to digestive problems, you may want to make the switch gradually.
Add just one new ingredient at a time and wait a few days to see how your dog does before adding something else new, gradually decreasing the amount of old food and increasing the amount of new food.
If your dog vomits or has diarrhea, return to his prior diet and make the change more carefully once his digestive system is back to normal.
That may include feeding the new food separately from the old (at least a few hours in between meals), and feeding only one new food at a time, to see if your dog reacts to any of the new ingredients. Supplementing the diet with probiotics and digestive enzymes in this case may help significantly.
As mentioned above, home cooked dog food is healthy for your dog IF it is balanced and includes the numerous supplements beneficial to the dog.
It is not easy to figure out by ourselves whether a home cooked dog diet is balanced or not - that's where a good recipe book comes in.
Here are a couple of books recommended by the Whole Dog Journal (January and March 2011 editions) and are available at Amazon.com: