Homemade Dog Food Diets Don’t Require an Analysis


Follow proper guidelines to create a healthy diet for your dog, just as you do for your family.

For the past few months, I’ve been writing critiques of home-prepared diets for the Whole Dog Journal. My original intention was simply to review the diets and offer comments about what they might be missing or how they could be improved, but I ended up doing a full nutritional analysis of each diet to try to figure out why the dogs eating these diets were having problems, or to better understand a very complex diet.

My goal was two-fold: to find out how each diet compared to National Research Council (NRC) guidelines, which would be helpful to those experienced in feeding a homemade diet, and to help newbies get started with the recipes provided.

I was taken aback, then, when I received an email from someone who said that after reading the most recent critique, “It completely convinced me that I cannot home cook for my dog because I would be hopelessly lost and inept. . . . Variety was the point, but by the time a pet’s diet is so precisely fine tuned, you don’t leave much room for variation because it would throw everything off.” This was not my intention, and it made me stop and think about what I was doing.

In the past, my advice has always been to feed a wide variety of healthy foods in appropriate proportions rather than using spreadsheets to do nutritional analyses, but after completing a series of reviews on over 30 books about homemade diets (WDJ December 2010, January 2011, and March 2011), I was shocked at the bad advice I found in the majority of the books. Few of the cooked diets described in the books included calcium or organ meats, while those advocating raw diets were sometimes limited to almost nothing but raw meaty bones. I was also surprised to discover that when people did analyze diets similar to what I recommend and feed to my own dogs, they did not meet NRC guidelines.

That started me on an ongoing quest to better understand what might be missing from various types of homemade diets. Over the last year, I’ve been working with spreadsheets to determine exactly what NRC recommends (the numbers are not as straightforward as you might think), and which foods and supplements supply each nutrient. It’s a lot of work, and I’m far from done, but I’ve learned a lot.

I still feel bad about making someone feel that feeding a home-prepared diet to her dog is too complicated, when that’s not my belief. Yes, you need to follow certain guidelines, and it is important to make sure that some food groups and supplements (primarily calcium and vitamin E) are provided, but you don’t need to follow a recipe exactly, nor do I think this is an ideal way to feed your dog.

I’ve never analyzed the homemade raw diet that I feed Ella, my 8-year-old Norwich Terrier. Why? Because I feed so much variety that it would be just about impossible to do. I rotate between certain types of meals on a regular basis, making sure that she gets a wide variety of foods from all food groups with appropriate amounts of organ meat, raw meaty bones, vegetables, etc., and I work hard at controlling the fat content, since she has a tendency to gain weight, but I don’t follow a recipe and I don’t feed the same foods all the time. I do give her a multivitamin and mineral supplement, rotating between those as well.

Instead of my usual diet critique in the July issue of WDJ, I will offer dietary guidelines that can be used to create a home-prepared raw or cooked diet for healthy dogs. In the future, I’ll think carefully about how I approach these critiques so that I don’t continue sounding like it takes a degree in nutrition to feed your dog, any more than it does to feed your family.

Previous articleTracey v. Solesky ; Society v. Pitbulls – Maryland, 4/26/12
Next articleHoping for a Home for Mickey
Mary Straus has been a regular contributor to Whole Dog Journal since 2006. Mary first became interested in dog training and behavior in the 1980s. In 1997, Mary attended a seminar on wolf behavior at Wolf Park in Indiana. There, she was introduced to clicker training for the first time, and began to consider the question of how we feed our dogs after watching the wolves eat whole deer carcasses. Mary maintains and operates her own site, DogAware.com, which offers information and research on canine nutrition and health. DogAware.com has been created to help make people more "aware" of how to make the best decisions for their dogs. It's designed for people who like to ask questions and understand the reasoning behind decisions, rather than just being told what to do.  Mary has spent years doing research for people whose dogs have health problems, or who just want to learn how to feed them a better diet. Over this time, she has learned a great deal about dog nutrition and health, including the role of diet, supplements and nutraceuticals.  In 2007, she was asked by The Ivy Group to contribute to The Healthy Dog Cookbook. She previously also wrote a column for Dog World.