How to Make Homemade Dog Food

A homemade dog food diet isn't hard to design, but does require planning. Here is how to make dog food at home that is complete and balanced and that your dog will love!

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HOMEMADE DOG FOOD: OVERVIEW

1. Feed your dog a wide variety of foods from different food groups.

2. Make sure you supplement your dog’s homemade diet with calcium unless you feed raw meaty bones.

3. Stick to lean meats and remove skin from the poultry you feed unless your dog is highly active.

4. Keep in mind that the less variety of foods you feed, the more important supplements become.

5. Review your homemade dog food diet plan with a veterinarian for approval.


In the past few issues of Whole Dog Journal, I have offered critiques on homemade dog food diets in order to address the dog’s health concerns – or simply to optimize the dog’s diet plan. To do this, I analyzed the cooked and raw homemade dog food diets and compared them to the National Research Council’s guidelines for canine nutrition. I want to be clear, though: I don’t believe this is a requirement for feeding home-cooked dog food. Just as with the diet you feed yourself and your family, feeding a wide variety of healthy foods in appropriate proportions should meet the needs of most healthy dogs. The best diet for dogs, in effect, is a diverse diet.

Problems arise with how healthy dog food is interpreted. Too often, people think that they’re feeding healthy homemade dog food, when key ingredients may be missing or are fed in excess. Here’s how to make dog food at home, and specific guidelines to help ensure that the dog food diet you feed meets your individual dog’s requirements. You do not want just one dog food recipe to follow – you need several, and need to be comfortable mixing and matching ingredients, for reasons explained below.

Complete and Balanced Dog Food Diets

It’s important homemade dog food is “complete and balanced,” meaning it meets all of the dog’s nutritional needs. It is not important, however, that every meal be complete and balanced, unless you feed the same meal every day with little or no variation.

Home-prepared dog diets that include a wide variety of foods fed at different meals rely on balance over time, not at every meal. Similar to the way humans eat, as long as your dog gets everything he needs spread out over each week or two, his diet will be complete and balanced.

Make Homemade Dog Food

A human nutritionist would never expect someone to follow a single recipe with no variation, as veterinary nutritionists routinely do. Instead, a human would be given guidelines in terms of food groups and portion sizes. As long as your dog doesn’t have a health problem that requires a very specific diet, homemade dog food should be the same way.

For more on homemade dog treats, see “DIY Gifts for Dogs: Homemade Dog Treats & Healthy Recipes.”

Keep in mind that puppies are more susceptible to problems caused by nutritional deficiencies or excesses than adult dogs are. Large-breed puppies are particularly at risk from too much calcium prior to puberty. See “Puppy Food: Nutritional Guidelines to Maximize Health,” for more on puppy nutrition.

GUIDELINES TO CREATING BALANCED HOMEMADE DOG FOOD RECIPES

Following are guidelines for feeding a raw or cooked home-prepared diet to healthy dogs. No single type of food, such as chicken, should ever make up more than half the diet.

Except where specified, homemade food for dogs can be fed either raw or cooked. Leftovers from your table can be included as long as they’re foods you would eat yourself, not fatty scraps.

Meat and Other Animal Products: Should always make up at least half of the diet. A raw diet for dogs can be excessively high in fat, which can lead to obesity. Another potential hazard of diets containing too much fat: If an owner restricts the amount fed (in order to control the dog’s weight) too much, the dog may suffer deficiencies of other required nutrients.

Unless your dog gets regular, intense exercise, use lean meats (no more than 10 percent fat), remove skin from poultry, and cut off separable fat. It’s better to feed dark meat poultry than breast, however, unless your dog requires a very low-fat diet.

Raw Meaty Bones (optional): If you choose to feed them, RMBs should make up one third to one half of the total diet. Use the lower end of the range if you feed bony parts such as chicken necks and backs, but you can feed more if you’re using primarily meatier parts such as chicken thighs. Never feed cooked bones. Read a full report on raw meaty bones here.

Boneless Meat: Include both poultry and red meat. Heart is a good choice, as it is lean and often less expensive than other muscle meats.

Fish: Provides vitamin D, which otherwise should be supplemented. Canned fish with bones, such as sardines (packed in water, not oil), jack mackerel, and pink salmon, are good choices. Remove bones from fish you cook yourself, and never feed raw Pacific salmon, trout, or related species. You can feed small amounts of fish daily, or larger amounts once or twice a week. The total amount should be about one ounce of fish per pound of other meats (including RMBs).

Organs: Liver should make up roughly 5 percent of this category, or about one ounce of liver per pound of other animal products. Beef liver is especially nutritious, but include chicken or other types of liver at least occasionally as well. Feeding small amounts of liver daily or every other day is preferable to feeding larger amounts less often.

Make Homemade Dog Food

Eggs: Highly nutritious addition to any diet. Dogs weighing about 20 pounds can have a whole egg every day, but give less to smaller dogs.

Dairy: Plain yogurt and kefir are well tolerated by most dogs (try goat’s milk products if you see problems). Cottage and ricotta cheese are also good options. Limit other forms of cheese, as most are high in fat.

Fruits and Vegetables: While not a significant part of the evolutionary diet of the dog and wolf, fruits and vegetables provide fiber that supports digestive health, as well as antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients that contribute to health and longevity. Deeply colored vegetables and fruits are the most nutritious.

Starchy Vegetables: Veggies such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes (including pumpkin), as well as legumes (beans), provide carbohydrate calories that can be helpful in reducing food costs and keeping weight on skinny and very active dogs. Quantities should be limited for overweight dogs. Starchy foods must be cooked in order to be digestible.

Leafy Green and Other Non-Starchy Vegetables: These are low in calories and can be fed in any quantity desired. Too much can cause gas, and raw, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower can suppress thyroid function (cook them if you feed large amounts). Raw vegetables must be pureed in a food processor, blender, or juicer in order to be digested properly by dogs, though whole raw veggies are not harmful and can be used as treats.

And while you’re preparing these nutritious foods for your dog, consider boosting your own health by adding more veggies to your diet too!

Fruits: Bananas, apples, berries, melon, and papaya are good choices. Avoid grapes and raisins, which can cause kidney failure in dogs.

Grains: Controversial, as they may contribute to inflammation caused by allergies, arthritis, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); as well as seizures and other problems (it’s not clear whether starchy vegetables do the same). Some grains contain gluten that may cause digestive problems for certain dogs. Many dogs do fine with grains, however, and they can be used to reduce the overall cost of feeding a homemade diet.

Grains and starchy veggies should make up no more than half the diet. Good choices include oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, barley, and pasta. White rice can be used to settle an upset stomach, particularly if overcooked with extra water, but it’s low in nutrition and should not make up a large part of the diet. All grains must be well cooked.

DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS FOR HOME-FED DOGS

Some supplements are required in addition to natural food for dogs. Others may be needed if you are not able to feed a variety of foods, or if you leave out one or more of the food groups above. In addition, the longer food is cooked or frozen, the more nutrients are lost. Here are some dog supplements to consider:

Calcium

Unless you feed RMBs, all homemade diets must be supplemented with calcium. The amount found in multivitamin and mineral supplements is not enough. Give 800 to 1,000 mg calcium per pound of food (excluding non-starchy vegetables). You can use any form of plain calcium, including eggshells ground to powder in a clean coffee grinder (1/2 teaspoon eggshell powder provides about 1,000 mg calcium). Animal Essentials‘ Seaweed Calcium provides additional minerals, as well. And here is a good list of calcium-rich foods your dog may like. Just please note this list is for humans and includes orange juice, which is not a good thing to give your dog as the acidity can cause stomach upset.

Oils

Most homemade diets require added oils for fat, calories, and to supply particular nutrients. It’s important to use the right types of oils, as each supplies different nutrients.

Fish Oil: Fish oil for dogs provides EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids that help to regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. Give an amount that provides about 300 mg EPA and DHA combined per 20 to 30 pounds of body weight on days you don’t feed fish. Note that liquid fish oil supplements often tell you to give much more than this, which can result in too many calories from fat.

Cod Liver Oil: Provides vitamins A and D as well as EPA and DHA. If you don’t feed much fish, give cod liver oil in an amount that provides about 400 IUs vitamin D daily for a 100-pound dog (proportionately less for smaller dogs). Can be combined with other fish oil to increase the amount of EPA and DHA if desired.

Plant Oils: If you don’t feed much poultry fat, found in dark meat and skin, linoleic acid, an essential omega-6 fatty acid, may be insufficient. You can use walnut, hempseed, corn, vegetable (soybean), or high-linoleic safflower oil to supply linoleic acid if needed. Add about one teaspoon of oil per pound of meat and other animal products, or twice that amount if using canola or sunflower oil. Olive oil and high-oleic safflower oil are low in omega-6 and cannot be used as a substitute, although small amounts can be added to supply fat if needed. Coconut oil provides mostly saturated fats, and can be used in addition to but not as a replacement for other oils.

Other Vitamins and Minerals

In addition to vitamin D discussed above, certain vitamins and minerals may be short in some homemade diets, particularly those that don’t include organ meats or vegetables. The more limited the diet that you feed, the more important supplements become, but even highly varied diets are likely to be light in a few areas.

Vitamin E: All homemade diets I’ve analyzed have been short on vitamin E, and the need for vitamin E increases when you supplement with oils. Too much vitamin E, however, may be counterproductive. Give 1 to 2 IUs per pound of body weight daily.

Iodine: Too much or too little iodine can suppress thyroid function, and it’s hard to know how much is in the diet. A 50-pound dog needs about 300 mcg (micrograms) of iodine daily. Kelp is high in iodine, though the amount varies considerably among supplements.

Multivitamin and mineral supplements: A multivitamin and mineral supplement will help to meet most requirements, including iodine and vitamins D and E, but it’s important not to over supplement minerals. If using the one-a-day type of human supplements, such as Centrum for Adults under 50, give one per 40 to 50 pounds of body weight daily. Note that most supplements made for dogs provide a reasonable amount of vitamins but are low in minerals, and so won’t make up for deficiencies in the diet. Be cautious with small dogs; I’ve seen some supplements that recommend the same dosage for 10-pound dogs as for those weighing 50 or even 100 pounds. In those cases, the dosage is usually too high for the small dogs and should be reduced. Products made for humans are also inappropriate for small dogs.

Green Blends: Often containing alfalfa and various herbs, green blends may be especially helpful if you don’t include many green vegetables in your dog’s diet. You can also use a pre-mix that includes alfalfa and vegetables, such as The Honest Kitchen‘s Preference. Note most pre-mixes also supply calcium, so you should reduce or eliminate calcium supplements, depending on how much of the pre-mix you use.


Mary Straus is the owner of DogAware.com. Contact her via her website if you would like to submit a diet to be critiqued.

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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.

156 COMMENTS

    • My article does not mention skinless poultry. Diets that derive more than 50-60 percent of their calories from fat can cause weight gain from too many calories, regardless of where those calories come from, and can lead to nutritional deficiencies because there is just too little other food to provide needed nutrients. High-fat diets can also trigger pancreatitis in susceptible dogs and are not appropriate for the typical, rather sedentary, pet dog. See The State of the Commercial Raw Diet Industry in the September 2015 issue for more details.

    • Very informative article, thanks for this! Having recipes is nice but understanding the mechanics allows me to better spot deficiencies in the ones I choose.

      “fat does not make you fat”… Every diet, including keto, is a method of calorie restriction. Over eat approved keto foods and you will gain weight.

  1. Aaah the days when diet wasn’t a religion to defend and rally your troops around. Paleo and Keto don’t prove carbs make u fat. Eat 10 tubs of lard a day and u may just become fat. Carbs in the right amount provide an easy fuel for your brain to use. But who cares about whether fat makes u fat or not. Too few or too many of fats and especially certain fats is not good.

  2. You make it easy, but still, I think it’s tough to make your dog food at your own the reason is the balance of nutrients and calories which is very important to keep your dog healthy. I believe that the commercial food producers have in house laboratories which they use for testing and when you make food at your own, that may invite some unseen risk.

    I see your piece of advice as an advantage like the ingredients you discuss here I can add one in the commercial food as per my need to boot nutrient in my dog feed but to a very limited extent.

      • The biggest problem with homemade food is people dont put calcium and wonder why the animal has diarrhea.. the calcium will get pulled from ur animals bones if you dont add calcium.. that’s why raw chicken quarters are perfect.. but if your not doing raw then u need to add the calcium.. I dont know why it’s so hard for people to understand this.. also you should never mix kibble and raw bones because kibble has cooked bone and cooked bone is a irritant and moves faster so it will push out UNDIGESTED raw bone out of your animal .. disagree and talk all the shit u want. All I have to say is LOOK IT UP .. prove me wrong..

          • The book “Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets” by Patricia A. Schenck also mentions using Baking Soda as a source of Calcium where that seems like an simpler task of not having to dry out and grind egg shells. At least that’s what I’m using for now.

          • Rednroll, that book’s suggestion is very dangerous. The author claims that baking soda comes in the form of calcium carbonate, but that is not true (only baking soda substitutes use that form). If you gave your dog the amount of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in place of calcium need to balance the recipes, you would probably kill your dog. Please do not rely on this book that was updated by a vet who clearly does not care about animal welfare (Schenck was charged with felony animal neglect and pleaded no contest to a lesser charge).
            You can buy powdered calcium carbonate from many sources, such as NOW Foods and others, that will be just as easy to use. If you have been feeding your dog baking soda, I would have blood work done by your vet to see if they need treatment for metabolic alkalosis, hypokalemia, hypernatremia, or other issues that could be caused by ingestion of baking soda.

          • Mary, Thank you for the warning. I made one batch of food with the baking Soda. My dogs turned their noses up to it, where it seemed to give the food a strong amonia kind of smell. Anyways, they only had about 2 servings and I stopped feeding it to them since they didn’t like it and it didn’t smell right to me. Glad I stopped.

      • I’ve read about the awful things that go into some commercial dog foods. Chemicals including barbiturates; poisons; bacteria found in road kill. Horrible stuff. There is some government oversight but not nearly as much as most people think. I did research on this before starting to make my own dog food last year.

  3. That was so confusing to me I’m back to label reading on canned dog food. My boy has skin allergies because of where we live in the country but my house is for sale and we’re moving closer in toward town. I was hoping for a recipe that while giving me choices to vary his diet would be a basic I could work from instead of a list of do’s and dont’s.

    • All you need to do is just do research, dont use kibble and canned food.. dont use dog food at all. When u go shopping for your dog food you should be at the grocery store . My 4 year old pitbull is ripped and all muscle and is very healthy.. I stopped the dog food almost a year now and I wish I did research along time ago.. I now feed him chicken, ground beef, steak, pork chops, lamb chops, he loves sardines, cafe liver, and always add calcium , I use the seaweed calcium that’s on amazon.. but u can buy regular calcium from the store but it can NOT have D3. And most of them have D3. So find the right one.. D3 will mess your animal up bad.. also I add turmeric, black pepper. And veggies they dont need alot of, I use spinach and peas and kale.. but not alot at all. You can use oats but my dog is allergic to oats… just do research and just do it. It’s not hard. I cook 2 times a day for my dog.