Homemade Dog Food: Real Food for Pets

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Homemade dog food- a real food diet for pets
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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:

  1. Eating the exact same thing every day probably wasn’t healthy for pets.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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
  • Eggs

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
  • Avocado
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Caffeine
  • Milk
  • 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

A natural diet for dogs

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Consider adding a probiotic… this greatly helped her digestion
  3. Our dog didn’t need as much raw food as she did dried dog food… probably because it was more nutrient dense
  4. I also made homemade dog treats occasionally to add variety to her diet
  5. 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!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


137 responses to “Homemade Dog Food: Real Food for Pets”

  1. Bella Avatar

    I also cook for my dogs, in fact, they eat a lot of healthy meals my family eats (including plain oatmeal in the morning). Great article! With love and pawsitivity.

  2. Angel Avatar

    I was wondering if u had any good info on real food for cat’s?..I’m pretty new to this but my cat’s love the cat treats so yay. ^_^

  3. Kimmy Avatar

    Question: many people use bone broth. I make my own and use onions. Isn’t this harmful to dogs?

  4. Claire Avatar

    Thanks for this! Do you know of any xylitol-, aspartame-, and sugar-free gum or mints? Xylitol is so highly toxic to dogs in such small quantities that I’m not comfortable even having it in the house (accidents happen). However, I’ve been truly shocked at how difficult it is to find a healthy (or even just healthy-ish) alternative. Xylitol has truly taken over these products. Apparently Erythritol is even better for your oral health, but I can’t find anything with that either. Even gums that advertise being made with stevia have xylitol thrown in there too (e.g., SteviaDent). Can anyone help? Please?

  5. Coral Avatar

    You should avoid giving your furry friend to raw bones that can cause choking and serious damage to the dog’s mouth, throat, or even intestines else they can be given boiled with some plain salt soft meat without any further stuffing. They will adopt the eating habit if you maintain it from the beginning.

  6. Suzana Avatar

    The dogs evolved just like humans.We no longer eat raw meat. We added lots to our diets. I don’t find the pebble size dry dog food appropriate as dog food,so I would feed my dog homemade food. Also when dogs eat raw meat ,they have a potential harmful to humans bacteria in their saliva, could be deadly to humans. Both humans and dogs eat, but get your exercise too,that’s all. People who watch their diet so closely can end up having cancer and other issues. Many thing are hereditary. Live! Eat! Love!

  7. Aric Avatar

    I have been making my dogs food for years. Roasted chicken, carrots, peas, green beans, apples and some turmeric, honey, cinnamon. They absolutely love it ?. My beloved blue heeler lived to 14 yrs. And presently my shepherd is 11 y/o and still pretty spry running and playing with our 3 y/o terrier.
    I hope more people will make their dogs home made food. You always know what’s in it and it’s fresh.

  8. Vanessa Avatar

    First off, I love your site especially the homemade toothpaste article!
    This is a question really, I’ve been making my own dog food for a couple of years now and I’ve been using Azestfor as my supplement for my dogs. It’s a powder that you mix right into the food. Have you heard of it or do you use any supplements in your dog food? I’d be really curious to know your thoughts on vitamins for dogs.

  9. zuleita Avatar

    I have a fox hound weighs 90 pounds and a hot dog I feed them zignature and give treAts I would like to make food and maybe my little dog eat better thanks for your time have a good day

  10. Gretchen Avatar

    We use a crock pot dog food recipe. Our dog had chronic UTI’s for 8yrs and we think it was caused by the kibble. We’ll see what happens on the homemade food. Just personal preference – raw meat grosses me out and I couldn’t offer that. I’m too germ-phobic for that.

  11. Paul Avatar

    So sorry to hear about your dog. I’m not really familiar with this site or you, but I am a dog lover, I love my two pitties more then anything, you popped up on my Google feed, as I’ve been searching recipes lately to make home made food.

    It sounds like you really loved your pup and did every thing you could for her. Im sure she had a wonderful life and was grateful for every day she got to spend with you and your family.

    Thanks for still posting your article, and dog speed to daisy rest in peace sweet girl. Love and thanks from Loki and Odin too. Today is Odin’s 4th birthday and we are hiking later followed by some hike made dog food.

  12. Diego Avatar

    Greetings from Colombia South America. Just wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of Daisy.

  13. Shoshana Avatar

    Thank you for this article. I make homemade dog biscuits. Ourr dog has a sensitive stomach, so I plan to make her food, but she doesn’t seem to like raw meat. Rice helps keep her poop solid.
    So sorry about your loss.

  14. Tiana Avatar

    I’m sorry about your lost. Dogs are like family and is SO hard when we have to say good bye forever.
    Thank you for taking your time to sharing those tips.

  15. Howard Scott Avatar
    Howard Scott

    Hello Katie,

    Thanks for your insightful writing on homemade dog food.

    I have a Labrador (1.5 years old).

    Usually I buy processed food for my dog (as I am doing a 9-5 job right now)

    But on the weekend I make food for my dog. I usually love to make food from beef.

    Also, I’ve subscribed to BarkBox.

    My dog seems to enjoy their monthly treat.

    Thanks 🙂

  16. Ellen Reynolds Avatar
    Ellen Reynolds

    A few points to consider:
    1. Dogs and wolves in the wild, that eat raw diets, don’t live very long – average 5 years.
    2. Your sources for various quotes are from journals and non-peer-reviewed publications. Can you find any original research for your comments?
    3. Dogs do in fact choke on and have intestinal blockages from raw bones. Ask your vet; they see them. The AKC recommends against giving them, and cites “raw bones are fine” as being a myth.

    Thank you.

  17. Lorraine Avatar

    I am so sorry about your dog.
    But I am going to try this on our 3 dogs.
    Thank you
    I do feel worried about the raw meat, tho

  18. Regina Avatar

    When you switched to a raw food diet did you incorporate the raw food slowly and if you did, did you mix the raw food with the commercial food or did you feed these separately? Did your dog have any digestive issues especially in the beginning? If so, how long did it take for your dog’s system to become used to the raw diet? I tried the raw diet about ten years ago. My dogs enjoyed eating the food and bones but one developed pancreatitis and the other dog had chronic diarrhea and the raw diet didn’t help. He needed rice with every meal. I fed them cooked chicken, rice and vegetables mixed with their commercial dry dog food and they were healthy. My current dogs enjoy The Honest Kitchen dehydrated dog food, Pro Plan and cooked chicken, potatoes (white or sweet potato), broccoli and oil. They are very healthy, with clean teeth, beautiful coats and strong muscles and joints.

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