Dog nutrition can be tricky, especially when considering cooking for your pets. Which human foods are safe for dogs to eat? How can you ensure your homemade food will meet your dog’s dietary requirements? There can be a lot of questions to answer. Additionally, there aren’t many sources that offer safe, healthy information on how to prepare meals for your dog at home.
Jennifer A. Larsen, DVM, MS, Ph.D., and Joe Bartges, DVM, Ph.D., board-certified veterinary nutritionists and diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition touch on the pros and cons of cooking for your dog.
Should You Cook Your Dog’s Food?
Is cooking dog food at home really better for your pup? While there may be claims made to that effect, there’s no hard scientific evidence to support it.
“Owners are told by many sources that homemade food is superior to commercial products. However, there is no proof to support this claim,” says Dr. Larsen.
Larsen cautions dog owners to be aware of fearmongering within the pet food industry. This is often driven by myths about ingredient quality. While there are no scientifically-supported benefits to homemade diets, whole ingredient-based diets are better in the long term. Commercial foods are made to be complete and balanced, adds Dr. Bartges, albeit not the most exciting of meals.
“Think of it as eating the same highly processed food for every meal, day after day, for years, ” he affirms.
Put that way, feeding your dogs a variety of whole foods makes a lot of sense. In fact, there are a multitude of reasons why you might want to prepare homemade foods for your dog, according to Dr. Larsen and Dr. Bartges.
These include gaining control over your dog’s diet, appeasing picky eaters, combatting food intolerance issues, concern over food recalls, or simply for the bond-building joy of preparing a home-cooked meal for your dog.
Common Mistakes When Cooking For Your Dog
Not Using Trusted Sources
“There are many inadequate, and sometimes dangerous recipes, available to owners,” says Dr. Larsen. “There are now many studies demonstrating that most of these are not balanced.”
Some of these may cause deficiencies in your dog’s diet, while others may lead to an excess of certain nutrients. To avoid encountering unhealthy or dangerous options Dr. Larsen and Dr. Bartges recommend avoiding generic recipes from books or online sources. Some so-called “nutrition experts” are without proper training, and may do more harm than good.
Larsen and Bartges also suggest consulting BalanceIT.com, a site run by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, to help create a semi-individualized diet.
Not Preparing Balanced Meals
When you don’t prepare balanced meals that are individualized to your pet’s needs, it can come at a cost. Nutrition deficiency (or excess) can lead to diseases, such as malnutrition or obesity, and can ultimately be fatal.
“Each of the ~40 essential nutrients required by dogs has a specific role in the body. When they are provided in inadequate concentrations, the function is not optimal and suffering may result,” explains Dr. Larsen. “Similarly, nutrient excesses can also cause illness. While the impact of an unbalanced diet may be mild and not even noticed or attributed to the diet by the owner, these problems can also be very severe, and pets do not always survive.”
Relying On Multiple Diets To Create “Balance”
“Our study and my clinical experience has demonstrated that this approach is very unlikely to address problems since so many recipes share the same deficiencies,” cautions Dr. Larsen.
Using Unsafe/Unhealthy Ingredients
There is a wide variety of unhealthy and unsafe foods to avoid when preparing meals for your dog. Potentially toxic ingredients are of special concern, including chocolate, xylitol, avocado, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, and macadamia nuts.
The above list is not exhaustive and other potential issues can arise if you’re not careful about ingredients. So make sure to always be aware of which foods are safe for dogs.
Additionally, cites Dr. Bartes, a certain type of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy has recently been reported in dogs eating homemade diets that are grain-free, legume-based, and high-fiber.
Not Following Recipes
“Most general recipes provide vague instructions for ingredients or preparation. This leaves the owner to interpret what type of meat to use, or which supplement product to buy,” warns Dr. Larson, of the potential difficulty in following dog food recipes.
Rather than improvising, it’s important to run any questions by a veterinary nutritionist. That way, you’ll be able to understand the impact alternative ingredients might have on your dog.
Understating the Impact of Dietary Changes
Ideally, when you go about creating a custom recipe for your dog, it will be under the guidance of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Factors like your dog’s eating history, weight, and overall health should be considered. To make sure the food you’re introducing is having the desired impact, you’ll want to monitor your pet’s health for changes over time.
An Alternative To Home Cooking
“Cooking for your pet is a process that’s demanding on your time, labor, space, and finances,” says Dr. Larsen.
Home cooking is not for everyone, though, and it doesn’t have to be. Another option to provide your dog with whole ingredients is to get carefully prepared ready-made meals.
“There are commercial foods that can be purchased that contain whole ingredients that are pre-cooked. Which is very close to cooking,” notes Dr. Bartges.
So, while you might think that cooking for your dog is better for their health, it can be just as beneficial to purchase pre-prepared food that’s made with the same principles in mind. Whichever method you choose, just to make sure you are always catering to your dog’s individual health and nutrition needs.