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Homemade Dog Food

Thinking of making your four-legged friend’s meals from scratch? Here’s everything you need to know. 

Just as health-savvy humans are increasingly swapping processed food for so-called ‘clean eating’, a growing number of dog owners are ditching commercial pet foods in favour of a home-cooked diet.

Reasons for choosing homemade instead of shop-bought meals for Fido include health benefits, especially for animals with dietary intolerances or allergies; ethical concerns, such as ensuring ingredients come from local, organic or humane sources; cost factors; and simple convenience.

Leonie Blackwell’s four-year-old Pekingese cross Maltese, Ralphie, has enjoyed homemade meals since the day he came to live with her. “As a naturopath, health is important to me. I wanted to avoid artificial chemicals and preservatives in his diet as much as I could,” says Leonie, who is from Drouin in Victoria.

 “Ralphie has never been sick. I believe that cooking with love feeds the soul, and Ralphie feels the love and reflects this back to everyone he meets.”

Need to know 
Whether or not a homemade diet is better than commercial food for your dog depends on two things: the chef and the ingredients. Done right, home-cooked meals are free of preservatives, artificial colours and artificial flavours, can be frozen and thawed when needed, and are great for fussy dogs and those that turn their noses up at commercial food.

But, according to Dr Anne Fawcett, a Sydney-based companion animal veterinarian and pet blogger, most dog owners just don’t have the time to properly prepare a balanced and complete homemade diet every week for their pooch.

“Simply feeding [your dog] table scraps does not constitute a homemade diet. If it is made without paying attention to specific [breed] requirements it can be harmful,” she says.

Striking the right nutrient balance is particularly tricky. “Get it wrong – too high in protein, carbs or fats, or not enough essential vitamins and minerals – and [health] problems can result,” she warns.

“There is a common misconception that a good home-prepared diet is a meat base with supplements added, but this can actually be harmful,” she adds.

Raw food diets are often touted as the best option for dogs, but Dr Fawcett warns these can have serious drawbacks. “Raw food can be much more variable in quality, consistency and contamination than commercial food. I see a lot of gastrointestinal disease (vomiting and diarrhoea) in dogs fed a raw diet,” she says. 

“Because there is a higher risk of contracting parasites and other pathogens from raw foods, we don’t recommend [feeding raw foods] to animals in households where anyone is immunosuppressed – for example very young children or older people, people having chemotherapy, or transplant patients”

Dog’s dinner 
Different dogs have different nutritional requirements at different life stages, and canines with medical conditions should be evaluated regularly to make sure they’re getting adequate nutrition.

Sydney’s Jen McDermott switched to a home-cooked diet for her five-year-old pug, Frank, a year ago because he was struggling with stomach upsets, allergies and skin problems.

 “After consultation with my vet, I experimented with a few different homemade recipes and immediately saw a big difference. He still needs occasional treatment for his issues, but the frequency has dramatically reduced since I started feeding him home-cooked meals only,” she says.

An added bonus, Jen says, is the extra cost of making Frank’s meals from scratch is offset by the significant reduction in vet bills.

A good doggy diet should include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. It’s not just about including these elements, however, but including them in appropriate amounts and ratios.

“It isn’t simply a matter of more is better – even vitamins can cause toxicity at high levels. For example, animals fed a diet high in liver can develop vitamin A toxicity,” says Dr Fawcett.

Leonie Blackwell’s pooch, Ralphie, enjoys a varied diet that includes organic chicken, kangaroo, beef, lamb, eggs, cheese, carrots, beans, peas, corn, spinach, potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.

Signs that an animal is not getting all the nutrients it needs include weight loss, poor coat condition and gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting and diarrhoea, which can cause additional loss of nutrients.

In young animals, poor, stunted or abnormal growth is a sign of nutrient deficiency. Dental disease is an often-overlooked nutritional problem that can cause pain and discomfort in affected animals.

So there’s plenty to think about before deciding to become Rover’s personal chef, but if you do decide to go down that road, the first thing you should do is talk to your dog’s vet.