More pet owners are switching to homemade dog food today than ever before. Proponents of “natural” way of feeding dogs through homemade diet have presented many great arguments and reasons to start cooking for our dogs. And now with plenty of free homemade dog food recipes available online, it's very easy to make the switch from commercial pet foods. But is homemade food for dogs always as healthy as we think it is?
The short answer is no, but there's more to this that pet owners must know. When done right, home prepared diet for dogs can be the absolute best option; however, the problem is that many pet owners jump in without doing enough research, which ultimately results in a recipe for disaster in a long term.
If you're subscribed to our YouTube channel, you know that I cook for my dogs very often and over the years have done a lot of research in this area. In today's solo podcast episode, I'm taking a look at some of the research behind home cooked diets for dogs as well as certain misconceptions pet owners new to homemade dog food may have. Tune in!
Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.
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Is Homemade Dog Food As Healthy As We Think It Is?
(raw podcast transcript)
Hey everyone, I am back with another installment of “Theory of Pets” and this time I want to talk with you guys about homemade dog food. I've done a couple of podcasts recently about homemade dog food and the benefits of it, the pros and cons. Today I want to discuss the question: “Is homemade dog food as healthy as we think it is?”
A lot of people think that homemade dog food is the healthiest option for your dog and it certainly can be. A lot of people, while they feel that it's the healthiest option, they choose not to feed homemade because they believe it might be more expensive or that it's going to be more time consuming to make. And I do touch on those questions in my previous podcasts. So, if you're interested in that check those out – they're right on our website at theoryofpets.com.
But today, what I really want to delve into is this question of whether or dog food is as healthy as we think it is. When we think of homemade dog food, I know for myself and a lot of others and maybe you as well, we think of things like fresh meat, raw meat, fruits, vegetables, some supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, fish oil – things that are really super healthy for our dog. And we're leaving out all of those fillers and additives – the grains and the preservatives — the stuff that's in commercial dog food that isn't as healthy for our pets.
So we think of homemade dog food as this super healthy option, that offers our pet everything that they need. While that can be true, it actually is also true that homemade dog food and a lot of the recipes that you find on line aren't nearly as healthy as we think they are. Now the reason that I came up with this topic for the podcast this week and where a lot of the research that I'm going to talk about today comes from is from a study that recently came across my desk. It's actually a few years old but the study comes from the University of California Davis School of Veterinarian Medicine.
The UC Davis School of Veterinarian Medicine is very highly known in the veterinarian field as being an excellent school for education of veterinarians. They do a lot of research and a lot of studies. They're very highly praised in the veterinarian field. So anyway, the long story short is that they wanted to answer this question too — “How healthy is homemade dog food?”
They tested about 200 recipes that came from online and books, different sources. Many of these recipes were actually written by veterinarians. So, of course you're thinking, one, they're homemade food, so they're going to be healthy. Two, these recipes are written by vets who know what dogs needs and they're going to write these nutritionally balanced recipes, of course.
So, they expected to find that a lot of these were balanced, were full of essential nutrients and were going to be a very healthy option for dogs. In turn, what they actually found was that most of the recipes — actually a great majority of the recipes — were short on some of the essential nutrients that dogs actually need in their daily lives. So it's not things like glucosamine and chondroitin that help with hip and joint health. These are essential nutrients, they're things they aren't eating, they're not supplements that are going to help with some health issues like arthritis or anything like that. These are essential nutrients. Nutrients that are needed by the canine body every single day to perform just the basic tasks that the dog's body performs every day.
So this is a huge deal that many of these recipes, and again, most of them written by veterinarians, are coming up inadequate in meeting the health needs of canines. So, they were really surprised by this and it surprised me as well to read through this research. And if you're interested in looking at it yourself, the study was published in the Journal of the American Veterinarian Medical Association and of course there is information on the UC Davis website as well. I'm going to link to that, so if you're listening to this on YouTube or social media, you can click the link, jump on our website, and that link's going to be there, and you can read the study and check it out.
But, I'm going to give you a very brief rundown of it, and then for anybody that wants more detailed information, it's certainly there to find it. But I don't want to take up all your time with that. What I do want to talk about is, again, let's answer that question of is homemade dog food as healthy as it appears, or as we have come to think that it is?
And this research, and others, now, that have been done, since then, have shown that a lot of the homemade dog food recipes out there, whether they come from books, whether they come from online sources, whether they're written by veterinarians, are not meeting the standards,
So, homemade dog food: is it as healthy? It can be. You need to go about creating recipes or finding recipes in a very specific way, and a lot of pet parents they jump online and they think that they can type in “homemade dog food for Labradors” or “homemade dog food for senior pets” – or whatever the case may be, whatever kind of food they're looking for. I've spoken with people that have fed their pets recipes that they've found online by just googling homemade dog food for a certain health condition, for dogs with cancer, for dogs with renal disease, for dogs with diabetes.
So, if your dog is a senior pet, a puppy, dealing with a certain health condition, obviously diet is going to play a very important role in different life stages more than others, and with different health conditions more than others. So, if you're feeding a diet that isn't nutritionally sound, it's really going to take an extra toll on these dogs.
For example, lets talk about puppies. This is an easy one. If your puppy – puppies need a lot of additional nutrients. They need more protein, more calcium, they need a lot more nutrients than your typical adult dog, because their bodies are growing very rapidly and so they need those extra nutrients.
So if you just google “homemade dog food for puppies” you may come up with a recipe that your dog is going to love, he's going to scarf it right down, that part of it is going to be fine, you think it's nutritionally sound, it's full of meat proteins, vegetables, fruits, so you think that it's very healthy. But, when you actually were to… and you're not going to do this, maybe some of you are trained in canine nutrition, but most of us are not. But if you actually spoke with a canine nutritionist, somebody trained in canine nutrition and animal nutrition, they would be able to analyze this recipe for you and tell you that maybe there's not enough protein. Maybe there's too much protein. There's not enough calcium. That's a very common thing found in homemade dog food, that calcium is lacking. So, you don't know this.
A lot of pet parents base it on what they would eat themselves. For dinner you might have a meat, a vegetable and a carbohydrate, a starch, some kind of potatoes or a bread or something like that. So when you see a dog food recipe that's kind of aligned with the way that we eat ourselves and with the thinking that we have about what's good for our bodies, you actually aren't choosing the right diets for your dog. You can't choose the right diet for your dog based on what would be best for you, or best for a human. Because, dogs have so many unique nutritional guidelines that they need to meet, that are so different than humans. So just choosing healthy ingredients isn't enough.
What you need to do to make a homemade dog food recipe healthy is work with a canine nutritionist or a veterinarian, that is trained in nutrition. Whether, it's pet nutrition or canine nutrition, specifically is ideal, of course. But, your typical average veterinarian, and we love our veterinarians. So, I'm not in any way speaking down on veterinarians. But, they have a very general education on animals. For example, our veterinarian works on cats and dogs and small animals. She sees…. We live in rural Maine, for anybody that follows my podcast. We live in a very rural area. She works on some farm animals, sometimes. So, her veterinarian knowledge is vast and it's wonderful. She's been outstanding for us, with our pets, and that's the reason that we go there.
But when you're focused on that general knowledge of a broad range of animals and how to care for their medical needs, you're not getting that education that is based specifically on the nutritional needs of animals and in this case the nutritional needs of cats and dogs, specifically is what we're talking about. As a veterinarian, again, certainly not speaking down to them but they don't have the specific education that a nutritionist is going to have.
So if you can find a canine, feline nutritionist, if you can find a pet nutritionist, they're going to be able to give you recipes, help you create recipes, sit down and create a diet plan for your dog. And that is the only way that you can make homemade dog food healthy for your pet.
And this conversation that we're having, and what I'm talking about right now is not for necessarily the people that are feeding their dog homemade dog treats in lieu of a store-bought commercial brand, or for somebody that just likes to give their pet a little treat every once in a while so they'll make a homemade dog food recipe and give their dog a little delicious extra snack sometimes. That's not really what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is people who want to feed their dog strictly homemade food.
You have to figure if you're using homemade treats or homemade food just as a little supplement or a little additional treat for your pet, he's still getting most of the nutrients that he's getting through his diet from whatever commercial food you may be feeding. And of course we've had this conversation in previous podcasts, too, but if you're feeding a commercial diet you need to make sure that it is nutritionally balanced for your pet in his life stage, in his health condition.
So if you're feeding a nutritionally balanced commercial food, you don't have to worry because it's the manufacturer's job to do the testing. And of course, again, I've touched on this in other podcasts, so, if you want more information go back and look at those. Because every commercial food certainly isn't up to par in that area. But I'm assuming that you've done your research and you found a commercial food that's really high quality and does their quality control testing and their analysis testing.
So, what happens is every batch of their food they make gets analyzed to make sure that there is the right amount of protein, the right amount of carbohydrates, the right amount of nutrients in it for whatever life stage the food is made for. So that's why they can say they are nutritionally balanced dog foods, commercial foods.
You don't get that with homemade food. You can't tell when you're making a recipe, whether it is for yourself or your pets, that it's nutritionally sound — not without the right training. So, working with an expert and I am not talking about veterinarians, I am talking about an expert in canine/feline nutrition, pet nutrition.
When you work with this expert, they are going to break it down to exactly what your dog needs and this is going to be based off many variables. They are going to do an exam of your dog, of course. It's going to be based on their size and their breed, their weight, if they're overweight or underweight, that's going to play into the diet that they need. Their activity level, so they're going to ask you about that. Is your dog active just a few hours a day, is your dog a working dog that's active 10 or 12 hours a day? That can play a huge role in the diet that your pet needs. If he lumps around on the couch for 9 hours a day or 10 hours a day while you are gone to work, his nutritional needs are going to be much less than a dog that is out working in the field for 10 hours a day hunting or corralling cattle or whatever his job may be.
So certain things effect your dog's diet immensely and this expert is going to take all of those needs into consideration. Of course, any underlying health condition that your dog might have; whether it be something more major like kidney disease or diabetes or whether it's something a little bit more mild like a certain allergy or your dog has dry/itchy skin; anything that is a health concern of any kind, they will take that into consideration.
They are going to break it down and work with you. They will give you a map, I call it, for your dog's nutrition, but it's more of a guide. What it is and what they'll give you is a breakdown of your dog should be eating meals that are 50% protein, 20% carbohydrates, he needs this much calcium, he needs antioxidants. You should add fish oil. Whatever the exact specifics for your dog are going to be, they're going to recommend that. Ninety-five, even maybe 99% of the time, you're not going to be able to meet your dog's needs 100% with a homemade dog food. And the nutritionist that you work with is going to also probably recommend a supplement or a multi vitamin. They make these specifically for canines and just like the multi vitamins they make for humans, these vary differently depending on the brand, the type that you buy.
So, your canine nutritionist is going to say that your dog needs a diet that consists of this, this, and this, and then they're going to tell you that you should add a certain multi vitamin. Now, they're going to recommend a multi vitamin based on what your dog's going to be getting from his diet. So, they're going to tell you to use this much meat of a certain kind. They might make certain recipes for you, help you design a meal plan almost for your dog so that he's not eating the same thing every day. You might get five or six recipes in a rotation for him.
And then they're going to add this supplement on top. The reason why you need to work with a specialist again, a big reason, is you don't just want to make your own food, and add a multi vitamin, and think, “Oh, yep. He's going to get everything through his diet, and with this multi vitamin, he's going to get 100% of his needs met.”
While that may be true, it's not always true. If you're feeding a diet, let's say you're adding certain fruits or vegetables that are high in vitamin A or high in vitamin C, then you're adding a supplement in on top of it that adds those vitamins in as well, you're going to give your dog too much. And too much of a good thing, in this case, could be very harmful. Vitamin A toxicity, vitamin C toxicity, your dog can overdose on calcium. It sounds foolish to think that something as healthy as vitamins and minerals, there could be too much. But if calcium starts building up in your dog's system, it's going to cause some major problems. Again Vitamin A toxicity, certain vitamins and minerals when your dog gets too much of them and especially if you're feeding a homemade diet all the time so he's getting too much of them on a regular basis it could have some serious consequences, it could even be fatal.
So, it's very, very important that you don't just assume that your dog food is going to be healthy because you add a multivitamin. You need to work with a trained professional that tells you which vitamin works best with the diet that you're feeding. They may not recommend a multivitamin. They may say that your dog's homemade diet, the recipes you've worked out, they're great, but they're lacking in just calcium or just a certain vitamin. And they're going to recommend not necessarily a multivitamin, but just one, two, three, additional supplements that your dog may need. Because he may be all set with calcium but lack in a certain vitamin, or vice versa.
And you're not going to know that just on your own, unless you do a lot of extensive research and educate yourself on the exact specifics of canine nutrition. But that's going to take you so long and be so tedious and tiring, that it's certainly worth working with a canine nutritionist that knows exactly what to recommend and what to do for your dog.
So going back to that question of — “Is homemade dog food as healthy as we think it is?”
My answer is, personally, is no. It's not.
When you just think about feeding your dog a homemade diet and you're thinking about finding recipes on line, finding recipes in books — go back to that UC Davis research study. Again that information is on our website if you want to look into it, but over 200 recipes were tested. Those recipes came from 34 different sources. One of those sources was veterinary text books, different veterinary text books, so this is what veterinarians, those general veterinarians like I told you, this is what they're learning from. And the recipes in there aren't nutritionally sound.
So this research to me is just shocking and it's a huge eye-opener. It's something that all pet parents should be educated about and conscious of, especially when you're thinking about making homemade food. The researchers in this study evaluated the ingredients and the instructions for each recipe. They used a computer based program that quantified I guess the nutritional content of the food described by, written into each recipe. And then they also use the instructions, because cooking food sometimes removes some of the nutrients found in the food.
So not only did they look at the ingredients, they looked at the way the ingredients were supposed to be prepared. After running them through this computer program and looking at the nutritional value of them they actually found that only nine, nine out of the 200 recipes, 8 of those 9 were written by veterinarians. So eight recipes written by vets, one recipe that was not. Nine recipes in total provided all the essential nutrients in the right concentrations to meet the minimum standards that are established for your average adult dog by the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
And if you don't know – just a brief little statement on the AAFCO – they're the ones that regulate the contents, the minimum requirements for pet food on the commercial market. So, based on those minimum standards by the AAFCO only nine of the recipes met those standards. Only five of the nine recipes, five of the recipes in this group were written by veterinarians. So five vet written recipes provided essential nutrients, again in the right concentrations that met the National Research Council's minimum requirement for adult dogs.
So, this is just mind-blowing to me and I'm assuming it's mind-blowing for you too . What this screams to me and the reason I wanted to do the podcast topic of the health of homemade dog food today. is because so many pet owners think “I'm going to switch to homemade food – I'm going to jump on the internet.” We're all addicts of Google now — we jump on as soon as we have a question and find the answer. While I think most of us as pet owners understand that everything you read on the internet isn't always the truth, or can't always be trusted, when we see things that are written by veterinarians, claim to be written by someone in the pet industry that should know what they're talking about we automatically think that, that's advice that we should take.
And not saying that the veterinarians that are writing these recipes don't know what they're talking about, it's just as I said they have that general education versus a nutritionist who has the specific education to know exactly what a dog needs. A veterinarian can generalize it, they can tell you that most dogs need about this much protein, about this much calcium in their daily diet, but they can't tell you based on your dog's exact breed, size, weight, health conditions, all those things exactly what nutrients are going to be best for your pet.
Can they give you a ballpark? Sure, but overtime, if the recipes that you find are lacking just a little bit, as you feed that recipe more, overtime that deficit is going to grow. Same thing with the additional ingredients like we talked about, if you're feeding your dog just a little bit too much calcium every day, over time that quantity is going to grow — your dog's getting too much calcium and it will build up overtime and cause problems.
So even being off by just a little bit, could take years off your dog's life and none of us want that. Just to recap, my answer to the question — “Is home made dog food as healthy as most of us think it is?” No, it's certainly not. It is when you do it properly, but in order to do it properly, it takes a lot of work, a lot of research and it's going to cost some money , you are going to have to meet a nutritionist and talk about It.
Another quick point that I want to make too, is that you can't feed your dog the same diet from birth or eight weeks old when you adopt your puppy all the way through his senior life. You need to have a working relationship with your nutritionist, and your veterinarian of course and if they can both work together that's even better.
But you need to have a relationship with them and when things change, when your dog goes from the puppy phase to the adult phase, when he becomes a senior, most puppies I should say are very active. So when your dog kind of starts to slow down, they start maturing a little bit and they're not as active, it's time to visit the K9 nutritionist. Let them know, he went from being active eight or ten hours a day to five or six hours a day. Or whatever it may be. If your dog's health conditions changes, that should be something that's consulted with your nutritionist immediately. Or your cat. I keep saying dog. I'm used to dogs, because we have dogs. All of this information is the same for cats as well.
If you want to feed a homemade diet, you need to speak with a nutritionist. You need to speak with them frequently. You need to keep them in the loop of all your dog's medical changes. If anything changes as far as his health, if he's diagnosed with anything, that's something that needs to be spoken to your nutritionist about immediately. Then you can make those changes about his diet together and get that taken care of, so that your dog's eating the healthiest that he possibly can.
So when we just generally think of homemade food with the meats and the vegetables and the fruits, is it as healthy for our dogs as we anticipate it to be? No, but when done right, when you talk to a nutritionist, when you add some supplements in there, and get exactly what your dog needs, it can be very healthy for your dog. It can certainly help. Homemade food can certainly be the healthiest thing that you can feed your dog. You just need to go about it in the right way and not jump in and try and seek out recipes on your own — whether they're from books or the internet.
And again from that research from UC Davis, we've learned that you can't even trust recipes that claim to be written by veterinarians, because they're not always meeting the needs of your typical, average dog. Of course, if your dog has certain health conditions or things like that, things are going to be a little bit different. UC Davis looked at those recipes and compared them to the nutritional needs for the average adult dog; and very few of them, only nine of them actually, were meeting those standards by the AAFCO.
So something to think about — if you're thinking about feeding homemade food, if you already do feed homemade food, and you just check around the internet for recipes, it's time to make a change. It's time to do what's best for your dog's health and that is to seek out the help of a professional. It's very, very important.
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