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A Beginner's Guide to Home Cooking for Dogs

Cooking for Dogs

With the increasing number of pet food recalls, many dog lovers are switching from store-bought food to home-cooked meals for their canines. If you’re new to this, it might seem overwhelming. You know what to cook for yourself and your family but might be unsure about what to cook for your dog. 

As dog owners, we are often advised not to share our meals with our dogs. So what do we cook for our them? Many human ingredients are actually fine. The difference is that food we prepare for ourselves often contains elements that aren’t friendly to our dogs, or are too rich or fatty for their systems. Using healthy ingredients to prepare food meant for their systems is just fine. 

Let’s Talk Proteins

You might assume that cooking for your dog means primarily protein. Dogs are like us, though, in that they need a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates and veggies. A balance between these elements is essential, but it can vary between dogs. 

A good recommendation is 40% protein, 50% vegetables and 10% starch. Some dogs cannot handle high amounts of protein, though, so it is important to visit your vet to determine the best ratio to suit their dietary needs.

What are the Options?

Variety is key! Cooking at home for your dog offers what commercially bought food cannot, and that is an assortment of flavors and textures. More importantly, it offers a variety of vitamins and nutrients that you might not get in a bag of dog food. You can mix and match ingredients, offering a host of flavors for your canine while meeting his nutritional needs. Not to mention he’ll be one happy dog! 

You don’t have to prepare all of your dog’s food. You can also provide a mixture of healthy commercial dog food with add-ins of your own healthy ingredients. Here are some of the ingredients to use and what to stay away: 

Protein

Beef, Turkey, Chicken, Lamb, Pork, Shrimp (fully cooked with shell removed), Tuna, Eggs (in moderation)
Avoid cuts of meat that are too fatty or rich, or covered in garlic or seasonings. Remove excess fat and skin, and watch for poultry bones which can splinter. Use meats like ham in moderation which are usually high in sodium and fat.

Vegetables

Carrots, Green beans, Spinach, Peas Celery, Cucumbers, Pumpkin, Sweet Potato, Corn

Carbohydrates

Rice, Potatoes, Pasta, Oatmeal, Quinoa (Within limits since these have limited nutritional value.)

Other Foods

Coconut, coconut milk and coconut oil. Honey. Fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, apples, pineapple, and melon. Peanuts and peanut butter are okay in moderation. Avoid salted peanuts. Unsalted, unbuttered, air-popped popcorn is okay in moderation. Watch for unpopped kernels.

Ingredients to Avoid

Alcohol, Almonds, Avocados, Chocolate, Coffee, Cinnamon, Garlic, Grapes, Onions, Macadamia nuts, Raisins, Raw yeast dough, Xylitol and artificial sweeteners, and Mushrooms are some of the ingredients to avoid.

Calcium

Don’t forget the calcium! Ingredients such as cottage cheese or plain yogurt are great paired with fruits which offer vitamins and antioxidants. You can offer this as a treat throughout the day or you can include it in their meal. Watch for signs such as vomiting or diarrhea as some pups are lactose intolerant. Avoid or use caution with amounts for higher-fat options like ice cream and cheese. 

Dog Food Add-Ins

If you prefer to feed your dog a mixture of kibble with add-ins, some good options would be:

  • a whole egg (you can give it raw or you can cook it)

  • a can of cooked salmon

  • mixed vegetables raw or steamed

  • a small portion of cottage cheese or yogurt

  • leafy greens such as kale or spinach (helps to digest the kibble)

Making the Switch

A good thing to remember is that most dogs cannot switch overnight from store-bought dog food to home cooked food. It’s best to transition slowly over a period of 6 days to a week. 

  • Day 1 – Mix 20% of the new food with 80% of the old.

  • Day 2 – Mix 40% of the new food with 60% of the old.

  • Day 3 – Mix 50% of the new food with 50% of the old

  • Day 4 – Mix 60% of the new food with 40% of the old.

  • Day 5 – Mix 80% of the new food with 20% of the old.

  • Day 6 – Feed 100% of the new food.

Keep an eye out for any health concerns such as diarrhea, vomiting or lack of eating. If you see digestive issues, either back off the transition, see if you can identify what food your dog has an issue with, or contact your veterinarian. 

One Size Fits All?

A Chihuahua and a Great Dane certainly do not eat the same amount. Volume and calories still matter when it comes to home-cooked dog food so it’s important to know what you’re feeding. The best way to start is to look up recipes online that already have ingredient information until you feel more comfortable about portions. It’s a good practice to show your veterinarian the recipes you’ve prepared (or plan to prepare) to be sure they meet your pup’s needs. Also ask your veterinarian to recommend a multivitamin supplement and a mineral supplement to make sure your dog is getting the appropriate amt of calcium, phosphorus, etc. 

Also, weigh your pup regularly to be sure they maintain a healthy weight. This can be done at home or at the vet’s office. If you’re unsure of what a healthy weight range would be for your dog, check with your veterinarian. And preparing tasty dog food at home is also a healthy way to help your dog shed extra pounds. We don’t recommend obsessing over calories--just learning the basics and ensuring that your pup’s health stays on track. 

We also don’t recommend a home-cooked diet for dogs under a year of age because if not given the correct amounts of calcium and phosphorus, a young dog could develop significant bone abnormalities. 

Allergy Alternatives

Switching to home-cooked can take time a little time to find the right balance but it isn’t overly complicated. But, many dogs have individual food preferences, as well as food allergies. At first, you will need to monitor whether your pup is allergic to certain ingredients. 

At Union Lake Veterinary Hospital, we encourage and support a healthy diet for your pets. If you have nutrition or diet questions on what is best for them, give us a call or set up an appointment any time!