Homemade Diets for Dogs
Also see my series of articles on homemade diets for the Whole Dog Journal:
- Have Dinner In An introduction to home-prepared diets, including information about adding fresh foods to a commercial diet, and using dog food pre-mixes.
- A Raw Deal Home-prepared raw diets that include bones that are consumed.
- Now We're Cooking! Home-prepared cooked diets, and those that use raw meat but no bones.
- Reality Cooks Owners share their home-cooked diet recipes and strategies.
- Keeping It Raw Owners share their home-prepared raw diet recipes and strategies.
- A Homemade Diet Stew A medley of new products, updates, and answers to your FAQs.
These articles go into a lot of detail, and I would recommend reading through the appropriate ones before beginning to feed a homemade diet. The guidelines below provide a summary of the recommendations I give in my articles.
- Homemade Diet Book Reviews
- Homemade Diet Resources: Books, Web Sites and Email Groups
- Raw Dog Food Resources
- You Can Make It
- Cook's Corner Columns from Dog World
- Other Diet Articles
For those interested in switching their dogs to a better diet quickly and easily, you may want to start by feeding a dog food mix to which you add fresh foods.
If you want to consider feeding a homemade diet, I recommend reading at least one book on the subject (see my Homemade Diet Book Reviews). It is OK to feed an incomplete diet for a short while, maybe a few weeks for an adult dog (puppies are more susceptible to problems caused by incomplete diets), but it's important for you to learn during that time what it takes to feed a complete homemade diet if you want to continue to do so long-term.
Here are some sites that provide recipes to help you get started, but please do not feed single recipes long-term. The key to a healthy diet is variety. Any single recipe, even if provided by a veterinary nutritionist, is likely to cause problems if fed exclusively for long periods. Most of these diets are far higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein than I recommend, but they will be fine for short-term use, or you can reduce the amount of carbohydrates used in the recipes. Dogs do not require carbohydrates in their diet, and will benefit from more protein.
- Paleolithic Diet for Adult Dogs and Cats by Dr. Susan Wynn, veterinary nutritionist. This diet is high protein and low carb, and is complete and balanced for adult dogs. It is NOT complete and balanced for growth in puppies.
- Cooked Diet Dog Food Recipe from Monica Segal's blog. This recipe provides a week's worth of meals for a dog weighing about 60 pounds. Small dogs eat more for their weight, so you'd feed about half as much to a dog weighing 25 pounds, about one-quarter this amount to a dog weighing 10 pounds, and about 1.5 times as much to a dog weighing 100 pounds. The amount of bone meal used is for Monica's own supplement that provides 667 mg calcium per teaspoon; adjust the amount if the brand you're using has more or less calcium per teaspoon.
- Easy-to-Make Recipes for Pet Food from Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats (see Homemade Diet Resources). Also see Healthy Powder recipe.
- Raw/Whole/Wild/Regional/Seasonal Dog Food Recipe An excellent recipe that uses a wide variety of foods. Rather than mixing all the foods together, you could break it into parts and have several different recipes, such as Turkey with squash, Beef with carrots, etc, but be sure to add the bone meal to each recipe. Note that the Mini Meatballs and Ditiline recipe on this site is also good, but does not add calcium, so if you wanted to feed it as more than an occasional treat, you would need to add 800-1,000 mg calcium per pound of food.
- Balance IT -- Two types are now available. If you don't use one of their recipes, contact me to find out how much to add.
- Balance IT Canine (original version) is designed to balance out limited homemade diets that are high in carbs and low in protein. Choose a recipe that says "high protein," if available (even the "high protein" diets are high in carbs, but not as bad as the others).
- Balance IT Carnivore Blend is designed to be balanced with only meat and oil added (no carbohydrates).
- This company now offers "Original Blends," a mix of either oats or potatoes, plus powdered cellulose (insoluble fiber), and all the synthetic vitamins and minerals from their regular supplement. The ratio of meat to blend is acceptable for their lower-fat meats, but they use a very small amount of high-fat beef (it would be better to feed a larger amount of leaner beef).
- Petfinder Forum: See the second post for two recipes.
- Sample Diets for Dogs and Cats from API for Animals. I do NOT recommend using tofu, soybeans or lentils as a protein source! Dogs require animal protein; vegetable proteins are lacking in certain amino acids that will lead to serious health problems if fed exclusively long-term. These recipes add supplements to try to make up for that, but they are still not ideal protein sources for dogs.
- Raw/Whole/Wild/Regional/Seasonal Dog Food Recipe This recipe is better than most that I see, as it includes organ meats and bone meal. Can be fed raw or cooked. Designed to be added to a commercial diet, but could be used as a complete diet. My one caveat is that the amount of dried seaweed might provide excessive iodine, which can suppress thyroid function. I would reduce the amount in the recipe.
Be wary of other recipes you find on the web or even in books. Most of those I've seen are woefully inadequate. While they won't do any harm as an occasional meal, and you could even feed them for a few weeks to an adult dog, the nutritional deficiencies (and in some cases excesses) will eventually lead to health problems if fed long term. In particular, recipes that do not add calcium should not be used (just feeding dairy products is not enough). See my Book Reviews for more information.
30%-50% (1/3 to 1/2) of the diet should be raw meaty bones, such as chicken necks, backs, wings and leg quarters, lamb breast, lamb necks, pork necks, pork riblets, beef necks (usually only consumed by large dogs), turkey necks, etc. These can also include canned fish, such as jack mackerel, pink salmon, or sardines (preferably packed in water rather than oil) -- do not feed much tuna, as it does not include bones and is higher in mercury. Be careful when feeding anything round and meaty, that your dog does not try to swallow it whole, which can lead to choking. Parts to especially watch out for include turkey necks (large dogs), chicken necks (small dogs), and ox tails.
Most raw diets are high in fat. Unless your dog is extremely active and has difficulty keeping weight on, it's best to remove skin from poultry, cut off separable fat, and stick to parts that are not overly fatty.
5% liver. Liver is nutritionally dense, providing nutrients that are hard to find in other foods. It should be a part of every diet, or you will need to provide suitable supplements to make up for its lack. Other organs such as kidney are also good, but should not be substituted for liver on a regular basis. Too much organ meat at one time can lead to loose stools. It's better to feed small amounts daily or every other day, rather than large amounts once or twice a week. Note I have revised my recommendation for liver down from 10%, as I no longer think that much is needed.
5%-10% heart, which is nutritionally more like a muscle meat. It's OK to feed more as long as it doesn't cause loose stools.
The rest a mixture of the following:
Muscle meat: Feed as much variety as possible, such as beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken. Don't feed most exotic proteins (venison, rabbit, duck, etc.); reserve most of those in case you ever need to feed an elimination diet to address possible food allergies. Use lean meats, preferably 10% fat or less.
Eggs: Feed as many as you want. Eggs that are lightly cooked (e.g., soft boiled) may be more digestible than raw, but either way is fine.
Dairy: Yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, etc.
Healthy leftovers: The kind of food you would eat yourself, not the parts you would throw away.
If desired, you can also add the following:
Feed as much variety as possible, both in types of meat (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, fish, etc.) and in parts fed. Make sure that no one food, such as chicken, is more than 50% of the diet.
Vegetables: Note that some people choose not to feed veggies, either for their own convenience or because their dog won't eat them. Dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, so it's OK not to feed them, although I prefer to add them if possible, as they are a natural source of antioxidants, fiber and trace minerals. Veggies must be either cooked or pureed in order to be digestible by dogs. Legumes (beans) and starchy veggies, such as sweet potatoes and winter squashes, must be cooked. Whole, raw veggies are not harmful, they just don't provide much nutrition.
If you don't feed veggies, I think it's a good idea to add a green blend or a mixture of kelp and alfalfa. Note that too much iodine from kelp can suppress the thyroid, so don't give more than the recommended amount. Kelp may also contain arsenic, so I think it's better to use a blend of several green foods, such as kelp, alfalfa and spirulina, rather than plain kelp.
Fruit: Apples, bananas, blueberries, papaya, melon, etc. are good foods to add. Overripe fruits are more easily digested.
Grains and Pasta: Grains seem to be related to a number of health problems in dogs, including allergies, arthritis, IBD, seizures, etc., so if your dog has any of these problems, try omitting grains (and maybe starchy carbs as well) to see if there is improvement. If your dog is healthy or does not improve when grains are removed from the diet, it's OK to feed them in moderate amounts: never more than half the diet, preferably no more than about 1/4 (25%) of the total diet. If carbs are half the diet, reduce raw meaty bones to 1/4 of the total diet, or half of the non-carbohydrate foods, with eggs, meat, liver and dairy making up the other half. Remember that dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, but they can be a source of less expensive calories, if needed.
Supplements: See the Supplements section below for guidelines on supplements you may want or need to add.
See sample diet plans below.
There are many brands these days that offer blends of meat, bone, organs and often vegetables and fruits. Unless they contain other ingredients as well, and state specifically that they meet AAFCO guidelines, these are not complete diets. That means you cannot feed them continuously by themselves, with no other foods or supplements added to the diet, without risking nutritional deficiencies and imbalances over time.
It is fine to use blends such as these as one half to two thirds of the diet you feed. The rest of the diet should be a variety of other foods, such as eggs, dairy, canned fish with bones, healthy leftovers, and perhaps some different kinds of muscle and organ meat. You may also want to add supplements, as listed below. It's also OK to add some grains, pasta or additional veggies, just don't make them a large percentage of the diet.
Most raw diet products are quite high in fat. Be sure to use mostly low-fat additions when the base of the diet is high in fat. Possibilities include skinless chicken breast, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and starchy foods, such as sweet potatoes and oatmeal. A small amount of egg and canned fish with bones should also be included for variety, even though they are also higher in fat.
Most incomplete blends are high in bone (calcium). Low-fat boneless meats or other foods such as grains or starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, etc.) can be added to help reduce the amount of calcium in the overall diet.
Bravo! Original Formula Blends are 10% organ meats (equal mixtures of liver, heart, and either kidneys or gizzards), 15% vegetables, and 75% ground meat and bones. Bravo provides a nutritional analysis showing that the percentage of calcium in these blends is appropriate, meaning there is not too much bone. Bravo suggests adding eggs, cottage cheese and fish to their blends, as well as supplements, which is good advice, though the diet would still be high in fat.
Oma's Pride offers mixes similar to Bravo!, but no nutritional analysis is provided and I suspect these mixes are higher in bone. They list 10% organs in their Beef and Poultry blends (none in their Lamb blend), 20% veggies, and the rest meat and bone.
Supplements: See the Supplements section below for guidelines on supplements you may want or need to add.
See sample diet plans below.
Feed at least half (preferably more) animal protein products, such as lean muscle meat, heart, liver, kidney, eggs, dairy (e.g., yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese), and canned fish with bones, such as pink salmon, jack mackerel and sardines. Meat and eggs can be fed either raw or cooked (light cooking is better than cooking for longer periods at higher heats).
Liver (and some kidney) should make up around 5% of the total diet.
Feed as wide a variety as possible of different types of foods (e.g., beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, canned fish with bones, eggs, dairy) and different parts, including heart.
No more than half the diet (preferably less) should be grains, pasta and vegetables. These should be cooked. Fruits can also be fed in small amounts. Note that grains seem to be related to a number of health problems in dogs, including allergies, arthritis, IBD, seizures, etc., so if your dog has any of these problems, try omitting grains (and maybe starchy carbs as well) to see if there is improvement. If your dog is healthy or appears to have no problems with grains, it's OK to feed them in moderate amounts. Remember that dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, but they can be a source of less expensive calories, if needed.
Add 800 to 1000 mg calcium per pound of food fed (cooked weight). You can use ground eggshell at the rate of 1/2 teaspoon per pound of food, or any other form of calcium is fine, including calcium carbonate, calcium lactate, calcium citrate and vegetable calcium, such as Animal Essentials Seaweed Calcium (which also provides additional minerals). If you use bone meal, add an amount that provides 1000 to 1200 mg calcium (more is needed than when using plain calcium due to the amount of phosphorus in the bone meal). Do not use calcium supplements that contain vitamin D, as the amount will be too high. These guidelines are for adult dogs only, not puppies (see my article on Homemade Cooked Diets for guidelines for puppies).
Healthy leftovers can also be added to the diet. These are foods you would eat yourself, not fatty scraps that should be thrown away.
Supplements: See below for information on supplements to add to the diet.See sample diet plans below. See my article Now We're Cooking! for more information on preparing a homemade cooked diet for dogs.
The wider the variety of healthy foods in appropriate proportions you feed, the less need for supplements there should be. Conversely, the more limited the diet you feed, the more supplements are needed. Supplements may be more important for cooked diets, since heat destroys some nutrients. Freezing also destroys some nutrients. The longer food is cooked or frozen, the more nutrients will be lost. Remember that calcium is always needed unless you feed a diet that includes raw meaty bones, where the bone is fully consumed. Following are some supplements that can be added to help ensure that all nutritional needs are met:
Vitamin E should be supplemented in all homemade diets in order to meet nutritional guidelines. Requirements increase whenever you add fish or plant oils. Give around 1 or 2 IUs per pound of body weight daily.
Fish oil (body oil, such as salmon oil or EPA oil) is a healthy addition to any diet. Sardines can also be used in place of fish oil to supply omega-3 fatty acids. If using fish, give around 1 oz of fish per pound of meat and other animal products.
Cod liver oil is high in vitamins A and D. If you don't feed fish regularly, you should give cod liver oil in an amount that provides around 100 IUs vitamin D per 20 pounds of body weight daily.
Other oils: Beef and chicken have different types of fat. If you feed a mixture of the two, including dark meat chicken (which has more fat than the breast), this will help to balance out the fats, but if you feed only (or primarily) one or the other, the fats in the diet will be unbalanced. If feeding primarily beef, add 1 tsp hempseed oil, walnut oil, safflower oil, or corn oil (or 2 tsp ground hempseeds, or 2-3 tsp canola oil) per 1-1¼ pounds of meat. If feeding primarily chicken, add 1 tsp flaxseed or chia seed oils (or 3 tsp freshly ground flax or chia seeds) per 1-1¼ pounds of meat.
Green blend or a mixture of kelp and alfalfa. Kelp supplies iodine that may be in short supply if it is not included in the diet. Too much iodine, like too little, can suppress thyroid function, so give no more than ¼ tsp to large dogs, and proportionately less to smaller dogs. If you do not supplement with kelp, you should add iodized salt, or a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that includes iodine. Another option is to use a mix such as Preference from The Honest Kitchen. which contains alfalfa, kelp, vegetables and fruit. These are particularly useful if you do not include vegetables in the diet you feed. Vegetables supply trace minerals as well as antioxidants, so a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may be needed if you are not feeding vegetables. See Supplements section for more options.
Oysters are very high in zinc, and are also a source of copper, iodine, and vitamin D. Zinc, copper and vitamin D may be in short supply if you don't include beef liver in your dog's diet. Add no more than 1 ounce of canned oysters per pound of other meat in the diet.
Organic apple cider vinegar may provide a minimal amount of trace minerals.
Fresh crushed garlic (no more than about 1/2 of a small clove per 20 lbs of body weight daily; see Garlic for Dogs - How Much and How Often? for more details).
Nutritional or Brewer's yeast, a source of B vitamins.
Molasses provides iron and B vitamins.
You can also give vitamin-mineral supplements (reduce the amount of added calcium if the amount in the supplement is significant). The following supplements are recommended by some veterinary nutritionists to help balance homemade diets (note that calcium must still be added separately unless you feed raw meaty bones). While nutritionists seem to use about 1 tablet per 20 pounds of body weight, I think it's better to give no more than 1 tablet per 40 to 50 pounds of body weight daily, since these supplements are high in vitamin D and iron. See Supplements for more info.
- One A Day Maximum Formula
- Theragran-M Advanced 50 Plus
- Centrum Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplement (Adults under 50)
Remember that it’s not necessary to feed a balanced diet every day, as long as the diet is balanced over time. For example, it would be fine to feed eggs one day alternating with organ meat the next, rather than feeding both foods every day. Or you might feed just muscle meat one day, with a mix of organ meat, eggs and dairy the next. Many raw feeders feed two meals a day: one meal of raw meaty bones and one meal of everything else.
Following are sample diet guidelines for a 40 pound adult dog. Amounts will vary depending on the individual dog, and on the amount of fat in the diet.
Sample daily raw diet:
- 6 to 8 ounces raw meaty bones (may include canned fish with bones once or twice a week)
- 4 to 6 ounces lean muscle meat/heart/tripe/leftovers
- 1/2 to 1 ounce liver or kidney
- 1 egg (daily or every other day)
- Spoonful of yogurt or cottage cheese
- 1 to 4 ounces cooked starchy vegetables (optional)
- Any amount of pureed or cooked green or other non-starchy vegetables
Sample daily raw diet using Bravo! (or similar) blends:
Note that Bravo Original Formula Blends have an appropriate amount of calcium and organ meats, so you do not have to add boneless meat or additional organs. Most other incomplete blends are higher in bone and need to be balanced with boneless meat:
- 7 to 14 ounces incomplete, high-bone blend (replace some or all with canned fish with bones once or twice a week)
- 2 to 4 ounces lean muscle meat/heart/tripe/leftovers/Bravo Boneless Meats
- ½ to 1 ounce liver or kidney, or 1 to 2 ounces Bravo Organs daily or every other day (optional)
- 1 or 2 eggs (daily or every other day)
- Spoonful of yogurt or cottage cheese
- 8 to 12 ounces lean muscle meat/heart/fish/leftovers
- 1 to 2 ounces liver or kidney (daily or every other day)
- 1 to 2 eggs (daily or every other day)
- 1 to 4 ounces yogurt, kefir or cottage cheese
- 2 to 8 ounces cooked grains, pasta, or starchy veggies (no more than half the diet, max)
- Any amount of green or other non-starchy vegetables
- 1000 mg calcium (for example, 1/2 tsp ground eggshell, or 1 tsp Animal Essentials Natural Calcium, or 1 tsp bone meal that has 1000 mg calcium per teaspoon)
- 1 or 2 fish oil capsules (300-500 mg combined EPA and DHA), or 3 small sardines.
- 40-80 IUs vitamin E (1 to 2 IUs per pound of body weight daily, or you can give higher amounts less often)
- 1/8 to 1/4 tsp green blend
- 500-1000 mg vitamin C once or twice a day
- Vitamin B-50 complex once or twice a day
- Cod liver oil in an amount yielding around 100 IUs vitamin D per 20 pounds of body weight (if not feeding fish)
- ½ teaspoon organic apple cider vinegar mixed with ½ teaspoon raw honey
- 1 clove fresh crushed raw garlic
- 1 to 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- Multi-vitamin and mineral supplement (may replace other vitamin supplements listed above). If using one-a-day products made to meet minimum daily requirements for people, you can give the full adult human dose to dogs weighing 50 pounds or more, half the human dose for dogs weighing 25 pounds, and 1/4 the human dose to dogs weighing 10 pounds. Larger dogs would get proportionately higher doses. If the human product you are using is designed to be high in vitamins and minerals, then base the dosage on the size of your dog compared to a person, where a dog weighing 60 pounds, for example, would get half the human dose. Very small dogs require products made for dogs in order to get the dosage right. Reduce the amount of added calcium if the amount in the supplement is significant.