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.

Comments

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

  1. Crowtrix Avatar
    Crowtrix

    Hi
    I’ve seen research that supports dogs eating avocado, this information is not coming from some random article. The only danger that can come from an avocado is the pit. Below is a pet poison help site with information about dogs eating avocado.
    Under the description section, the first sentence states that avocado is not poisonous for dogs.

    https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/avocado/

  2. Chantal Avatar
    Chantal

    Hi Katie,
    Do you add fermented cod liver oil to your dog’s diet or is it unnecessary with the organ meats?

  3. Liana Avatar

    I’m curious what you think about domesticated dogs hunting their own food? It seems to me that if my dog is given a raw diet, which I definitely agree is healthier, wouldn’t he then have a stronger primal desire to hunt than a pet who is fed kibble? Say, rabbits, squirrels, deer, the neighbors chickens? I certainly don’t want him to develop “a taste for blood” as my husband would argue. Your thoughts?

    1. andreav Avatar

      My dogs have been on raw for about three years or maybe a bit more now….i have three large hunting breed dogs. They do not have any new “taste for blood” and are very happy pets. They wait anxiously for me to feed them their bowl of food that is now raw as they used to for their bowl of kibble….they still live in the home and happily lay on their beds and relax with us when we are sick or just want pets. it does not change their personalities from what i have seen 🙂 Hope that helps.

  4. Lynne Avatar

    We’ve raw fed our dogs for over 7 years, with no looking back to kibble. You’re definitely on the right track. But canines & felines should be fed just raw meat – no veggies, nuts, or anything else. Nothing cooked at all. The bones should not be bare, but have plenty of meat surrounding them. And not all bones can be fed – larger ungulates have teeth-breaking bones. Stick with chicken & pork bones. The proper ratio is 80% raw meat, 10% meaty bones, & 10% organ (with 5% of that being liver).

  5. Karen Avatar

    Dogs do not need starches/carbs/sugars. Its been proven that sugar causes skin disease, diabetes, obesity, allergies, chronic anal problems, hot spots, skin inflammation, chronic ear infections, yeast infections and cancer.

  6. Karen Avatar

    BONES Hints and tips:
    Bones need to match the size and breed. Those dinosaur bones, should be left to make bone broth, nothing else. They cause fractures and wear your dogs teeth down, also the marrow can cause severe pancreatitis. The first step in reducing the risk from bone injury, is to feed bone and meat together. Ideally as nature intended with the bone on the inside and the muscle on the outside.

    1. Don’t offer bones which have been cut, especially leg bones, they’re more likely to splinter.
    2. Match the bone size with the dogs head. No bone is too large, but definitely bones that are too small. If you have a gulper, this rule is very important.
    3. Don’t offer bones to dogs which have had restorative dental work. Aggressive chewers can fracture their teeth.
    4. Always supervise your dog when chewing on a bone. Be alert of possible choking.
    5. In multiple dog homes, dogs should be separated. Bones can bring out guarding instincts.
    6. Dogs with pancreatitis should not eat narrow bones. Scoop out marrow before serving.
    7. Raw bones can be quite messy, so offer bones outdoors. Or a place which can be easily cleaned. I’ve trained 8 dogs to eat off a towel.
    8. ONLY serve raw bones – Cooked, smoked, freeze dried, dehydrated and irradiated bones are a dangerous hazard.
    Thank your for a great post, you’ve covered the basics well.

  7. Karen Avatar

    No, cooked bones aren;t the only problem bone. I’ve been running a FB group for over 3 years and researching for 7 years. I can give your readers some hints and tips.
    If your dog has skin disease, diabetes, obesity, allergies, chronic anal problems, hot spots, skin inflammation, chronic ear infections, yeast infections, cancer, or any other condition, then you need to consider what protein and supplements you introduce.
    Chinese medical theory states that food is like a medicine.
    The old adage that “you are what you eat” applies here. Food is classified as having various properties such as cooling, warming, etc. Allergic dogs should eat cooling foods such as fish, duck and rabbit. The cooling foods help to bring down the inflammation throughout the body. Foods like venison and lamb are considered the warmest of proteins and, to an allergic dog, would greatly increase the heat in the body and the allergic reaction. Cooling foods include duck, fish, rabbit, whitefish, cod, string beans, celery, banana, apple, pear, barley, brown rice, broccoli, flax seed oil and raw goat milk kefir

    TIPS: The phosphorous and calcium need to be balanced, and the Omega 3 to 6 also need to be balanced.
    All dogs need to be supplemented Omega 3, Vit E, Vit C and probiotics.
    If you feed a natural diet, then changing to natural prevention and treating go hand in hand.

  8. Olivia Avatar

    I just wanted to say I was sorry about your pup, Daisy looked adorable. it can be a humbling experience for how fragile life is….. And the information in the article was very helpful so I appreciate it, and so will my dog.

  9. Carol Avatar

    Writing, like great art requires much more than knowledge and education. A great writer is born as opposed to “made” and you are a great writer. This is excellent content and interesting information. Thank you.

  10. Julianne Avatar

    We belong to a great co-op for raw feeding our dogs, where we can order bulk amounts of a variety of meats (chicken quarters, duck necks, duck carcasses, turkey hearts, liver, organ meats, ground salmon, etc.) We follow many of the same principles you list out above (with the exception of bone broth & vegetables… We are not against them, we just don’t offer these to our boys on a regular basis.) I will tell you that my boys come running whenever they see me start to peel carrots. 🙂

    We also add some Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother) to their water 1-2x per week (for probiotics). We sprinkle some alfalfa powder and some other greens on top of their chicken breasts 1-2x per week as well. We haven’t been able to get a hold of salmon lately – so we add a pump of salmon oil to their food every other day. With the purchasing power of the co-op, we find that we can feed our dogs a healthy, balanced, raw diet for less than the cost of the “good” kibble.

  11. Melody D. Avatar
    Melody D.

    Growing up we fed our dog a raw chicken hindquarter and a handful of dry food every day. We always got compliments from the vet on how healthy he was and how shiny his coat was, until they found out what we were feeding him. Then suddenly they were mad at us for “not giving our dog proper nutrition.” *Eye roll*

  12. catherine brittingham Avatar
    catherine brittingham

    Hello, So sorry about Daisy, can’t find the words to comfort you, only keepin on to continue informing all of us critter lovers giving them and us better lives, knowing we are doing the best we can for them. I hope you all will feel better soon! Thank You!

  13. Staci Avatar

    So sorry about your dog. I can only imagine the loss to your family.

    We have a new Bernese Mountain pup and I’ve been following AIP paleo for 3 years. I am very concerned about feeding him dog food and we purchased the ‘top of the line’ Orijen food for him. The only problem is, he prefers the crap the breeder gave him except when he’s been given bits of meat, eggs or salmon leftovers, then he goes on a hunger strike and barks at us when we sit down to eat. He REALLY gets excited whenever I’m cutting raw poultry. Now I know why! I didn’t want to get bogged down in cooking for him (I also have histamine issues and am already in the kitchen too often) but knowing raw is a good option gets me excited. I also felt that lots of veggies would be necessary and am surprised to find that’s not the case. The farmer we get our pastured products from at the farmers market offers ‘dog food’ which is ground chicken backs that are frozen – meat, skin and bones. From this article, that sounds perfect! My concern is the quantity he will require. He’s going to be a BIG dog. Can someone give me some sense of the amount they feed their dog? The article implies they eat less when it’s more nutrient dense. Our pup is already 16 lbs at 13 weeks old. I think I’m going to need to look into the holistic vet I saw online as I want someone who will support this change. Thanks for the great insight and info!

  14. Andreav Avatar
    Andreav

    The skin and seed of the avocado are where dogs get sick (and horses). My experience with dogs and cherries are that it can make their stool loose if in large quantities (as can most fruit). If making food (cooked or raw) you should include some organs such as liver and kidney. Not sure why you need carbs for your dog? We must keep in mind that dogs are not built to eat as a human does so our balanced diet does not make theirs balanced. We went to raw for all of our dogs a few years ago and we’ve never had su ire coats, better muscle definition, cleaner teeth or less flatulamce. Best thing we’ve done for then

  15. Jay Avatar

    We have also pet dogs in our home and we mostly give them homemade feed for their proper recovery.

  16. melissa Avatar

    Which dehydrator do you suggest ? for preparing raw dog food treats?

  17. Jackie Avatar

    Is there a real food, dry dog food that you would recommend if raw isn’t an option?

    1. O Avatar

      I work for a pet store that has several pet nutritionists. Canidae is a pretty good food, especially their pure sea/pure land line, but really the best kibble you can feed your dog is Orijen or Acana brand. They have fantastic ingredients; no grains or glutens, no potatoes or tapioca (these can make a dog’s blood sugar spike), and usually incorporate animal liver in their food to help palatability. If you’re feeding your dog home cooked meals you have to be VERY careful not to give them too much fat, which isn’t as big a danger with food that’s specially made for pets. Domesticated dogs aren’t evolved to process as much fat and can develop pancreatitis if they ingest too much. I feed my dog Primal freeze dried raw food and it works great, and I don’t worry about accidentally killing my dog because I fed him a blend of human food that’s not right for him.

  18. Carrie Avatar

    So you worry about parasites since your feeding raw food??? Thanks..

  19. Janet Sellers Avatar
    Janet Sellers

    Dog teeth remineralizing request: I make and use the tooth paste you have for restoring/remineralizing teeth for myself and add some shine essential oils by beyoungth.com with birch, etc that strenghen bones. I really look to help my dogs with that – they are toy poodles and although I feed a premium dog meat kibble/no grains/mainly meat and bone broth with the kibble, they have some teeth issues/calculus and tartar. I started giving them/massaging their gums/teeth daily with coconut oil and that deleted a lot of the gum redness, and firmed up their teeth and gums. I’d like to see what I could do further for improving and restoring.

    1. Janet Sellers Avatar
      Janet Sellers

      ps For dog dental remineralizing info, any info or further references greatly appreciated! The original post on the tooth paste you quoted a doctor of years ago with helping animals teeth…

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