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How to Substitute Ingredients in Homemade Dog Food Recipes

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I'm often asked about my recipes and possible ingredient substitutions for these homemade dog food recipes. Some dog owners want to cater meals based on their own individual dog's allergy issues and food preferences, for financial reasons or to use up ingredients that they already have at home. That's doable, and I'll explain how.

Substituting Ingredients in Recipes

Whatever your reason for wanting to do dog food recipe ingredient substitutions, there are many ways you can do this. Whether you'd like to use a different protein source or a different carbohydrate source (especially fruits and vegetables), as long as the new ingredients are dog-friendly, they can probably be added or replace another ingredient.

What you must keep in mind is your dog's nutrition requirements. Most commercial dog foods are already nutritionally balanced to provide the nourishment that the dog requires. If you're making homemade dog food, especially steering away from the original recipe, creating complete and balanced meals becomes your responsibility.

One of the most well-known studies on homemade dog food recipes was performed by researchers at the University of California. They analyzed more than 200 homemade dog food recipes from 34 different sources, including pet care books, veterinary textbooks and internet websites.

The unsettling results of this study is that they found only nine recipes (out of 200) that would provide dogs with all the essential micro and macronutrients that meet the proposed requirements of AAFCO and NRC.

When you're making substitutions for homemade dog food recipes, it is crucial that you talk to your vet or a canine nutritionist to ensure that these substitutions you are making will provide the adequate nutrition that your dog needs. An expert will be able to walk you through your dog's nutritional needs and guide you on how much protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats your dog's diet should include each day.

How to Substitute Ingredients in Homemade Dog Food Recipes

Dog Food Recipes with Different Ingredients

I cannot recommend the “best ingredients” to feed your dog, because I am not a canine nutritionist. I've expanded more on this topic in several of my other guides: this one and this one. However, I can give you guidance on some of the healthiest dog-friendly ingredients that you may be able to use as substitutions for homemade dog food recipes.

1. Protein Sources

Dogs, like humans, cannot survive without a diet rich in healthy protein sources. It is a necessary source of dietary energy for dogs, and protein also aids in a healthy immune system among other things.

The best protein sources in homemade dog food meals are meat-based.

Most common recommended protein sources are beef, chicken and turkey. However, some dogs have food allergies or sensitivities to these common protein sources, which is when you need to exchange these ingredients with something else.

Some meat source substitutions for dog food recipes you can make are:

  • rabbit
  • lamb
  • venison
  • bison
  • goat

2. Carbohydrate Sources

Carbohydrates typically make up a large part of most commercial dog foods. While current evidence seems to show that carbs are not essential in a dog's diet, there's also no evidence that they're harmful. This is important because carbohydrate rich foods come with other benefits, such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.

In the dog's small intestine, carbs are broken down into molecules of glucose. Glucose is a common source of energy that can be used by most of the cells in the body. It is needed by the nervous system and the brain, and glucose is also a source of quick energy. However, dogs can also easily use fats (and even prefer it) over carbs for energy sources.

Nevertheless, as long as including dog-friendly carbohydrates in dog food recipes isn't harmful to the dog, you can add many foods. The most common carbohydrates sources usually come from the category of grains known as “cereal grains.” Carbohydrate sources that can be used as substitutions for homemade dog food recipes include:

  • brown rice
  • whole wheat
  • oats
  • barley
  • corn
  • white potato
  • sweet potato

3. Fruits and Vegetables

While also providing carbohydrates, it's important to dedicate a separate section to fruits and vegetables. As with humans, these foods supply necessary vitamins and minerals that a dog needs. With that being said, there are some fruits and vegetables that are beneficial for the human diet but can be toxic to your canine companion.

When making substitutions for homemade dog food recipes, be sure to do your research to ensure that the fruits and veggies you're using are safe and healthy for the dog. Some fruits and vegetables that are good to include dog food recipes include:

  • apples
  • bell peppers
  • bananas
  • broccoli
  • blueberries
  • carrots
  • cantaloupes
  • green beans
  • mangos
  • peas
  • zucchini

4. Fat Sources

Most of us think of added fat as a bad thing to add to recipes, but the truth is that your dog needs a certain amount of healthy fats in their diet. Most experts will recommend a diet with about 10-15% fat for the average dog.

If the fat level in your dog's food is too low, you may notice dry/itchy skin or a dull coat. If your dog's diet is too high in fat content, then you will see him gaining unnecessary weight. The right amount of healthy fats will provide a concentrated form of energy that is twice as potent as carbohydrates.

So, what types of fats and oils are best for dogs to include in recipes? Try some of these:

  • flaxseed oil
  • canola oil
  • fish oils
  • poultry fat
  • sunflower oil
  • corn oil
  • coconut oil
  • soybean oil

Remember, when you're making your own ingredient changes in homemade dog food recipes, it is crucial that you talk to a veterinarian or a canine nutritionist. Every ingredient offers different nutritional benefits, and you need to make sure that the recipe you're providing is complete and balanced for your dog's nutritional needs.

Your dog's unique nutritional needs are based on the dog's age, weight, activity level, breed, health condition and other variables. It's important to discuss these needs with an expert that will be able to walk you through them and guide you on how much protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats your dog's diet should include each day.

READ NEXT: 13 Balanced Homemade Dog Food Recipes

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My Guide on Substitutions for Homemade Dog Food Recipes