We have a lot of choices when it comes to feeding our dogs, and those choices aren’t limited to what you can find online or in the dog food aisle. I’ve been a veterinarian for almost 20 years now, and it seems like interest in homemade dog diets is increasing.
I understand the appeal. For owners who have the time, inclination, and money to make their dog’s food, being able to handpick high-quality ingredients seems like a good way to minimize their dog’s exposure to contaminants and maximize the nutrition they receive. But unless you are extremely diligent about how you make your dog’s food, you can end up doing more harm than good.
Several studies (1,2,3) back this up. One (3) that I find particularly compelling was published in 2013. Scientists pulled 200 dog food recipes from 34 sources (including websites, pet care books, and veterinary textbooks) and evaluated their nutritional adequacy. The results were alarming. Ninety-five percent of the diets were deficient in at least one essential nutrient, and most (83.5%) had multiple deficiencies, some of which were severe. In addition, several recipes contained dangerously high levels of nutrients like vitamin D.
The recipes that fared best were designed by veterinary nutritionists. All four included in this study met AAFCO guidelines for adult maintenance. Please consult with a veterinary nutritionist if you chose to feed your dog a homemade diet.
However, having access to a suitable recipe doesn’t guarantee success. In a recent study (4), veterinary nutritionists prescribed 59 dogs nutritionally complete and balanced homemade diets made from readily available ingredients and supplements. According to the paper, “All owners received a written recipe that included the daily amounts of each one of the prescribed ingredients. The veterinary nutritionist carefully explained to owners the importance of following the recipe, the reasons for not changing the type or amount of each ingredient, the nutritional importance of each ingredient used, and details on how to prepare and feed the diet.”
Despite this, the owners did a bad job following the recipes that were provided. The authors report that around 30% of the owners admitted to changing the recipe, 40% failed to control the amount of the ingredients they used, over 70% didn’t use the recommended amount of oil and salt, and more than a quarter didn’t include necessary supplements at all! Therefore, the food that most of these dedicated owners made was not as nutritionally complete and balanced as the recipes suggested.
These studies show that homemade diets may not be a better choice than commercial foods made by trustworthy companies using quality ingredients. By doing your research and knowing your limitations, you can pick the best diet for your dog.
1. A comparison of the nutritional adequacy of home-prepared and commercial diets for dogs. Streiff EL, Zwischenberger B, Butterwick RF, Wagner E, Iben C, Bauer JE. J Nutr. 2002 Jun;132(6 Suppl 2):1698S-700S.
2. Evaluation of recipes for home-prepared diets for dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease. Larsen JA, Parks EM, Heinze CR, Fascetti AJ. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012 Mar 1;240(5):532-8.
3. Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs. Stockman J, Fascetti AJ, Kass PH, Larsen JA. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013 Jun 1;242(11):1500-5.
4. Evaluation of the owner's perception in the use of homemade diets for the nutritional management of dogs. Oliveira MC, Brunetto MA, da Silva FL, Jeremias JT, Tortola L, Gomes MO, Carciofi AC. J Nutr Sci. 2014 Sep 25;3:e23.