I must admit, this post on homemade dog food was written and ready to post weeks ago… but the day before I was planning to publish it our family dog Daisy (pictured in this post) jumped our fence and was hit by a car and killed.
The kids (and I) have taken it pretty hard so I wasn’t ready to publish a post about pets when the loss of our dog was so fresh on my mind.
Since many people think of their dog as part of the family, they want to give their pets the best diet possible. For us this means homemade dog food. A real food diet for pets.
Please always make sure to check with a vet or specialist before making any changes for your pet. I am by no means an animal health expert, and I’m just sharing what worked best for our family.
Homemade Dog Food
Shortly after our transition to real food, I started researching real food diets for pets to figure out what the best options were for our dog and cats. A few things seemed obvious to me:
- Eating the exact same thing every day probably wasn’t healthy for pets.
- Processed grain-based dog and cat foods were obviously not the traditional diets for pets. (Guess what dogs eat in the wild? Hint: It isn’t soy or corn.)
- Our pets went crazy trying to get to certain foods we ate like coconut oil, raw meat, and others.
I researched, checked out several books on the topic, and talked to a vet friend to get an idea of what dogs truly needed. There is an increasing number of good store-bought and even mail-order dog and cat food options, but one idea made a lot of sense…
Most recommended something I had not even considered: homemade dog food.
Once I thought about it, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of this before. The healthiest foods for humans are almost always the ones we prepare fresh at home, so why would it be any different for our pets?
The only difference was that dogs and cats have obviously different nutritional needs, so a strictly human diet (even homemade) was not the best option either. Dogs need enough protein and more calcium than humans. I needed some more guidance about how to make homemade dog and cat food that fit all of their unique nutritional needs.
Dog Food in the Wild
Dogs in the wild don’t eat a cooked, uniform, packaged diet, so perhaps we should consider that dogs in our homes shouldn’t either. In the wild, dogs eat raw meat, bones, organs, and even foliage at times.
Think of it this way: dogs eating pre-made fortified foods enriched with vitamins every single day would be similar to humans subsisting on breakfast cereal. Sure, it may have enough added vitamins to keep you alive, but it would be boring and not optimal for health.
Dogs’ teeth and digestive systems are designed for eating raw meat, bones, and organs. For instance, according to this source,
Dogs and cats have the internal anatomy and physiology of a carnivore (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 260.). They have a highly elastic stomach designed to hold large quantities of meat, bone, organs, and hide. Their stomachs are simple, with an undeveloped caecum (Feldhamer, G.A. 1999. Mammology: Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. McGraw-Hill. pg 260.). They have a relatively short foregut and a short, smooth, unsacculated colon. This means food passes through quickly. Vegetable and plant matter, however, needs time to sit and ferment. This equates to longer, sacculated colons, larger and longer small intestines, and occasionally the presence of a caecum. Dogs have none of these, but have the shorter foregut and hindgut consistent with carnivorous animals. This explains why plant matter comes out the same way it came in; there was no time for it to be broken down and digested (among other things). People know this; this is why they tell you that vegetables and grains have to be preprocessed for your dog to get anything out of them. But even then, feeding vegetables and grains to a carnivorous animal is a questionable practice.
There are some great books and resources with recipes and instructions for healthy homemade dog foods, but the optimal diet that we settled on for our dog was:
- Raw meats (beef, bison, chicken, etc.)
- Raw bones (turkey necks, shoulder bones, etc.)
- Organ meats (heart, liver, kidney, tongue, etc.)
- Sardines (for extra calcium) – occasionally
- Occasional cooked vegetables like carrots, broccoli, spinach, etc. (this is somewhat controversial and some sources say that dogs should not consume vegetables).
- Occasional canned plain pumpkin (for digestion – some sources don’t recommend this either)
- Probiotics (to replenish the natural bacteria she would have gotten from other animals and the soil if eating a wild diet)
- Bone broth
The Transition to Raw Food for Dogs
A vet friend gave me an important piece of advice about switching to any new diet with a pet… start slowly and work up. We started by adding in small amounts of raw meat each day. We also started with only one new food at a time (similar to how we would introduce foods after an elimination diet in humans).
We gave her raw chicken for a week and once she did ok with that for a week, we added beef, then organs, etc.
Again- check with a vet or holistic pet health expert for specific advice and do your own research before changing your pet’s diet.
What About the Bacteria?
When we started this, I wanted to make sure that the bacteria in raw meat wouldn’t be problematic for our dog. I figured it wouldn’t since wild dogs routinely eat freshly killed small animals and even animal carcasses that are days old. In researching and asking a vet, I found that some dogs can have digestive symptoms when switching to a raw food diet, but this is because of the change in diet and not because of the bacteria specifically.
Dogs are surprisingly well-equipped to deal with bacteria. Their saliva has antibacterial properties; it contains lysozyme, an enzyme that lyses and destroys harmful bacteria. Their short digestive tract is designed to push through food and bacteria quickly without giving bacteria time to colonize. The extremely acidic environment in the gut is also a good bacteria colonization deterrent. (source)
Of course, I was still careful to handle meat safely when giving it to our dog. We only defrosted what was needed and didn’t give her more than she would eat at one time so that it wouldn’t go bad.
A healthy day for Daisy would include raw meat, organ meats and raw bones with other foods in smaller amounts and added probiotics, which seemed to help improve digestion and which might make the transition easier.
Is it Safe to Feed Dogs Bones?
This is another question I had since I’d often heard that it wasn’t safe for dogs to eat certain kinds of bones, especially chicken bones. Again, this doesn’t make sense because whenever Daisy caught a rabbit, she would eat the entire thing, including the bones, without a problem.
Turns out, only cooked bones pose a problem:
Not on raw ones. Cooked bones splinter, and they can get lodged in a dog’s throat. Raw bones are pliable, and the calcium content is absolutely integral to a dog’s health. Plus, chewing bones keeps the teeth clean. No more astronomical dental bills! (source)
Foods to Avoid for Dogs
Foods that are beneficial and healthy for humans are not necessarily healthy for dogs. In researching, I found many foods that should not be given to dogs. Here is a partial list:
- Onions and garlic
- Macadamia nuts
- Anything with xylitol
- Chocolate or caffeine
- Grapes and raisins
- Salt (dogs don’t need as much as we do)
- Anything with yeast
- Others, depending on the dog (check with your vet)
Dog Food Tips
Do some research and find a diet that you are comfortable feeding your dog. For us, this was a mostly raw diet. I found a few tips that helped save time and money feeding our pets this way:
- Make friends with local butchers and try to get inexpensive cuts of meat that aren’t often requested at a discount (turkey necks, organ meats, large knuckle bones, etc.
- Consider adding a probiotic… this greatly helped her digestion
- Our dog didn’t need as much raw food as she did dried dog food… probably because it was more nutrient dense
- I also made homemade dog treats occasionally to add variety to her diet
- To make things easier, I sometimes pre-mixed raw meats, organs, eggs and broth and froze in meal sized portions so that I could defrost as needed
Best Dog Food to Buy: Store-bought Options
While I haven’t made an exhaustive search on the subject, this pet food meal service is one of the only companies I could find that offers a clean dog food. I’ll definitely consider using this when we travel or during busy times when we need a convenient option.
I found the following books helpful for learning about and introducing a raw food diet:
I recently dug into the research on the best CBD treats for dogs too.
What do you feed your dog? Ever tried a raw food diet for your pet? Please share your own tips below!
- Book: Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet
- Book: Raw Dog Food
- Book: The Holistic Dog Book
Discussion (137 Comments)
I was reading through the foods pro and con. Funny how my dog loves ice cream (he gets a spoon when we have some), avocados (there used to be a food called Avoderm…not sure if it’s still on the market), milk (he loves my left over cereal) and toast (bread/yeast). He doesn’t get an awful lot of this stuff but some. On the good end, I feed him a premium dry dog food with: chicken broth (low sodium), some sort of meat, pumpkin (real not pie filling), a leftover starch (if available), and sometimes some veggies. I use Canidae dog food. After a few years I researched it more….supposedly very good although Vitamin K is still controversial. Thanks for the article. We all want to feed our dogs the best. BTW….my dog turned 14 this month!
I fed my dog raw grass-fed dog food which I purchased on line from Slankers Grass Fed Meats. Considering what most farmed animals are fed today (grains, corn, etc. ), the meat sold at the grocery store isn’t the same as a dog’s natural diet would be. Even though a raw pet food diet cost more than canned pet food or kibble, the money saved on vet bills offsets this.
I have been on 2 months of antibiotics. Metronidazole and clarithromycin due to raw fed diet patients I have treated. I wash my hands between patients, but dogs do catch us off guard sometimes and lick us in the face. They certainly do asymptomatically spread bacteria. I was diagnosed on endoscopy. I am autoimmune and am no longer allowed to work on patients that are fed raw.
So sorry to read about your dog. She was a beauty and obviously so well loved!
I also wanted to second the question about what you feed your cats. We also have a dog and two cats, and one of our cats has severe allergies, to the point that she lost the fur under and around her neck due to sores and excess grooming. After trying a natural limited ingredient diet with no success, she’s now on a prescription diet with duck or venison, and all kinds of gross ingredients! She’s also on Atopica, (an immune suppressant) and her second round of antibiotics (hopefully her last for a long time). And she’s only 10 months old! I’d love to transition her to a real food diet at some point, and I also really think she could use some probiotics. Do you know of a good, cat-friendly brand? Thank you!
Katie - Wellness Mama
The same probiotics are great for cats (just use half as much) but a post about what we feed our cats coming soon!
Thank you for sharing your story about Daisy and the sudden loss. It was very sad. Yet you then have the courage to go on and now publish your wonderful tips about home made dog food, which I will fwd to my dog owning friends.
1 . The best probiotic is fresh sheep poo. Let them enjoy it. I know it looks disgusting but they love it. Just avoid kisses after it.
2. The cheapest source of calcium is crushed egg shells mix in their food.
3. Nutritional yeast will repelled fleas.
4. We have 600 macadamias trees. They are snacking them every day and their coats are super shiny. Adding extra virgin olive oil would do the same trick.
5. My dogs would climb on the avocado tree to have a snack.
6. The cheapest and healthiest dog food: road kills!!! And it doesn’t has to be fresh either. Don’t be paranoid!
7. Older dogs with arthritis would benefit flax seed oil (or other omega 3 souce).
8. Dogs who had hard start as a puppys (spca, etc. – who were separated from their mum to early) usually developed allergies ( one of my dogs gets nasty dermatitis after eating raw beef flesh or bones).
I thought macadamias are highly poisonous for dogs. Our wee boy ate one as a 10kg puppy and was extremely sick requiring a vet visit.
They are indeed! I worked on a macadamia nut & coffee farm in Hawaii and the family farm dog got into the reject nuts while they were floating them (for quality control, you float the nuts and only the ones that sink have enough fat content). From what I was told, she had internal paralysis and it was very serious.
Apparently mac nuts are one of the most toxic foods for dogs, as few as 6 can make them sick.
LIS, My concerns:
Sheep poo – check out ‘scrapes’, a serious sheep illness, the forerunner, of mad cow disease (dogs are mammals, too, and may be suceptable to this)
‘Road kill’, or dead animals in the wild – check w/local vets to be sure there are no rabies outbreaks nearby. If a carcass has begun to decompose, other wild animals wouldn’t eat it either – there may be a reason!
Chicken, eggs, egg shells – All chicken in the US and their eggs are contaminated w/Salmonella. Their feed is contaminated w/it, and it has taken up a living in chicken’s ovaries now! Be ever so careful w/chicken, especially if you have small kids, wash the shells thoroughly w/LOTS of clean water.
Finally, many bags of dry dog and cat food are also contaminated w/various serious bacteria (salmonella, Shigella) which can make humans very sick. If you feed your animals this food, wash your hands well after feeding, store securely, and prevent children from having contact with it, if possible. (Another reason to try to make your own feed, if you can!)
Cheers !! 🙂
I really like the crushed egg shell idea. I try to buy farm fresh organic eggs from the farmers market. If u put them in a coffee grinder (I don’t drink coffee I’m a tea drinker) and ground them into a powder would that work? Thanks for the ideas.
That is amazing, I researched and the info says macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. I had a great lotion with mac oil and I was so afraid the dogs would lick it from my hands. How do they take in the mac nuts? I thought they have a hard shell… thanks
SO SORRY to hear about the loss of your dog. Such a pretty face. Good point about canned food being like eating fortified breakfast cereal every day. Seems like canned food would have only been available in the last few decades.
So sorry for the loss of your sweet doggy! Thanks for sharing the recipe even though your family is still grieving.
I’ve always wondered about this. We feed our dog raw chicken we can afford it. I am hoping to raise rabbits for this purpose.
That is sick
Sick? I want my dog to be healthy. That is sick? Dogs eat meat, so feeding them meat is sick? Or the fact that I’d rather raise rabbits in a good clean environment, instead of buying plastic wrapped meat from animals that have been caged in a dirty pen, that is sick? Take a walk down reality lane before making comments. God created herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. That’s life!
You’re right, Linda, it is life. So many people today are so very much removed from it. We try to be as self sustaining as possible and that is what you do. We raise animals for food, for ourselves and our pets, as needed.
Very wel said. We as a people have come to a super sensitive state.. We can learn so much from just watching our pets in the natural state. They thrive on raw meat,and vegetables. It myself could not raise another animal to be eaten by my dogs, but I agree with you, wrapped in skin not in plastic.
Good for you, Linda. It’s the circle of life, and those who grew up in a city are usually the ones who don’t understand that. Some find it hard to see that meat does come from animals, and not from the grocer’s freezer…. : )
I agree, it is sick!
I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. It’s very difficult to lose a pet too soon. Thank you for sharing how you kept her healthy. She was clearly very loved.
We feed our cat a species-specific diet, but haven’t transitioned our dog because it somehow seemed more complicated. You make it seem very easy & is definitely something we will look into.
I’m curious about the info regarding avocado toxicity in dogs. Growing up my family had an avocado tree. Our dog (German Shepherd mix) would jump to pick the fruit, bury it, then dig it up several days or so later & eat it. We never noticed any ill effects, but also never looked it up. We figured if she instinctually knew to pick & ripen them, they must be a good food source for her.
Avocados are one of the more controversial plant based food sources for dogs, along with garlic. According to the ASPCA website (and countless friends who have groves), avocados rarely cause any issues with dogs. At most, they may have slight digestive upset due to eating massive quantity. Of course, they should never consume the pit or the skin of pesticides were sprayed.
As for garlic – I feed my dogs (and millions of other dog owners do to!) garlic occasionally. It has the same benefits for dogs as it does for humans. The “toxcity” warning came about due to one study that was done where dogs were fed MASSIVE amounts of garlic (multiple bulbs a day) and after a few months developed Hemolytic Anemia due to the thiosulphate present in the garlic. It is believed that up to 1/2 clove per 10lbs of body weight consumed daily is perfectly fine. My Pitties are 50-60lbs and I give them each 1 clove (freshly minced) between every few days to once a week. I know you didn’t ask about garlic specifically, but it’s good to know! 🙂
I also heard from my dog trainer that he feeds his dogs garlic to prevent fleas. He’s been doing it for years without any problems and he swears by it
Wow! your comments about avocado and garlic left me impressed! My little baby loves avocados, she is always trying to steal them from me. But as I was told this is like poison for them I always kept it away from her. I guess I will give it a little bit, also for garlic, I had no idea I could actually give her garlic and use it for fleas! amazing! I love reading you all.
I’m trying to do home made food for my dog. I’ve been mixing her dry food with chicken breast and pork loin mostly, sometimes beef and sometimes eggs. Everything organic because if I don’t feed her organic her stomach gets upset. And also non fat meat cuts because fat makes her ill. I truly don’t want to give her raw, I’m scared it might cause her some issues, as she is very delicate from her stomach, so I’ve been cooking everything for her. I want to incorporate some carbs. I was amazed by reading people inputs on avocado. She really likes avocado but I always keep it away from her. Today I gave her a tiny bit of cherry, she was very insistent she wanted cherry, so I shared, not sure if was good or bad, if she gets sick, it was bad. But since I started giving her the chicken, pork, eggs and beef, I’ve seen her more beautiful, her poop is less and she tends to have less stomachaches.
There is so much I need to learn in how to feed her properly. I still need to educate myself more before jumping into the home made food but I truly like this idea. I’m very selective with my food and I want my dog to eat as good as I am. Is the right thing to do.
They really need to update the list of harmful foods and take garlic off of it.
We had an Australian Shepherd come into the vet I work at because he ate ONE homemade dog treat that had some garlic in it. He was hospitalized for four days (plus the owners spent a couple thousand dollars for treatments), and we weren’t sure he was going to make it!! He did recover, but only because of some great vets/vet techs and the grace of God!
Please do NOT feed your dogs garlic. The risk is too great!!!
I’ve actually considered this many times, but since I couldn’t much of a definitive answer about it, I tried the frozen raw food from the pet store. Neither my dogs or cats would touch it. Thank you for posting, and could you tell me what you did for your cats? Is it roughly the same thing, maybe with more fish? And what probiotics do you use for them?
Cats are tricky, they learn from a young age which foods are safe and which aren’t. This can be taught by their mothers or by their Humans. If a cat has only been on kibble they may balk at anything that is not the kibble. I have had the quickest succeed with weaning kittens to raw. Although my mouser cat took to raw immediately too. I had a kibble addict cat that I slowly transitioned to canned and then transitioned to raw, over the course of about 2 years. She did not see the raw as food, but seeing the other cats eating it eventually made her try it. You cannot force cats to switch by withholding food because of the risk of fatty liver disease.
Hth, I have been feeding raw for 7 years. And have transitioned over 8 cats and three dogs (not all are mine). I believe I extended my dogs’ life by at least 6 years and it has done wonders for the cats
If you are interested in feeding you cat a raw food diet, I highly recommend this website: https://feline-nutrition.org/nutrition/making-raw-cat-food-for-do-it-yourselfers
They also have a supplement recipe if you buy pre-ground raw cat food: https://feline-nutrition.org/nutrition/easy-raw-feeding-for-the-busy-person
I’ve been feeding my cat raw for about a year and a half and it was an easy transition because I had been feeding my cat grain free canned wet food since he was a kitten.
This is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you for sharing!
Cats have very specific dietary requirements and you can make your cats very ill if you don’t give them the nutrients they need.
The best resource for cats is ‘making cat food’ by lisa pierson – and yes that is a website. This is what I’ve been feeding my cats ( although I do NOT cook it lightly like she does).
They eat considerably less food, NEVER throw up anymore, and their shiny coats show off their healthy diet.