Fresh Dog Food – Precautions in Preparing Homemade Dog Food
Preparing raw or gently cooked food for your dog is a true act of dedication. Nevertheless, it comes with its own risks.
Before you embark on this path of feeding fresh food, you might want to read about a few precautions. As the old adage goes, better to be safe than sorry.
1. Fresh dog food – raw and gently cooked
The term “fresh” here is in the context of dog food that is prepared from raw ingredients which are not extruded, not processed into kibbles and not well-cooked wet food. There are two types of fresh dog food:
2) gently cooked
Raw dog food refers to meals made from uncooked ingredients. It can come in ground up form, in chunks or whole prey. This article covers the ground and chunky form of raw food.
Gently cooked dog food is – as the name suggests – food that is gently cooked, meaning it is heated just enough to kill pathogens such as salmonella and e-coli bacteria.
Both can be made at home or they can be bought ready-made from pet stores.
2. What is a nutritionally complete homemade dog food?
There is a lot of information available now on the web with tips on how to make fresh dog food from scratch. The quintessence of homemade dog food, however, is to be nutritionally complete.
This means the recipe must take into account all the basic nutritional requirements of a dog. It should also be suited to the individual dog’s specific needs.
In principal, homemade dog food should contain:
- Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty amino acids
Read here for more details on their importance and roles.
In total, there are 40 essential nutrients required by dogs. Each nutrient has a function in the body. When they are not provided in adequate concentrations, the function is not optimal and suffering may result. Similarly, an excess of nutrients can also cause illness.
3. Can you make your own fresh dog food?
Yes, of course. However, there are some precautions to consider when making homemade dog food.
Making complex calculations
Not only must you include all the elements for a nutritionally complete diet, you must get the percentage of each element correct as well as the portion to dog weight right.
A general rule you can follow to get the percentage of ingredient right is to go by the BARF diet ratio:
- Muscle meat – 70%
- Edible bone – 10 to 15%
- Vegetables – 7%
- Secreting organs – 5 to 10%
- Nuts or seeds – 2%
- Fruit 1%
All the ingredients must be fresh without any additives such as sugar, salt or flavouring.
The portion of food to dog weight depends on the dog’s stage of life. Full-grown dogs need about 2 to 3% of their weight. Senior dogs need less since they are far less active at this stage.
Puppies need more food as they are still growing. A rough estimate is 5 to 6% of the pup’s body weight spread across 3 meals until it reaches 6 months of age.
The last factor to consider is calculating the nutritional content of the different ingredients. How much and which part of the raw chicken should you use? What’s the correct weight for a big or small dog? What nutrients are found in a particular vegetable and how much of it should you include in the meal?
Each ingredient has different nutritional values and the quantity used affects the nutrient content of your dog’s meal. All these must be calculated properly to ensure balance and nutritional completeness.
Sticking to the recipe
It’s best not to improvise when you cook for Fido. Altering a recipe that has been prescribed for your dog can have unintended effects. For example, cooking chicken with or without skin and bone changes the recipe’s nutrient profile. You might also add or subtract the respective calories.
Swapping ingredients that seem similar does not guarantee the same nutrition. You can easily cause an imbalance in the diet. For example, corn, canola and walnut oil provide certain essential fatty acids that olive oil and coconut oil don’t have.
If your dog has health issues, it is not advisable to simply use a recipe off the web. The recipe must be catered to Fido’s specific needs. Not enough or too many of any given nutrient can lead to diseases, malnutrition, obesity and even death.
A word of caution – not all recipes have been checked to ensure they are nutritionally balanced. It is a good idea to consult with your regular veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to make sure that the recipes you use are balanced and meet your dog’s nutritional needs.
To make your own fresh dog food, it is advisable to have these equipment:
- A reliable meat grinder that can grind bone
- A food scale
- A measuring cup
Each ingredient of your pooch’s meal must be weighed accurately. Any bone that you wish to add to the meal must be ground up properly. Bone shards can get lodged in the dog’s throat or small intestine and cause injuries.
High standards of hygiene must be practised at all times, especially with handling raw meat. Your hands and any item with raw meat must be washed with soap thoroughly.
4. What supplements should I add to homemade dog food?
Certain ingredients, particularly animal organs such as heart and kidney, may be hard to come by in a supermarket or even a wet market. However, animal organs are an important part of a dog’s diet.
Inevitably, you’ll need to add supplements to complete and balance the meal with certain vitamins and minerals. Check with your vet first before doing this.
Follow all the veterinary advice to be sure that you’re providing the appropriate amounts of nutrients and considering any underlying health issues your dog may have.
Even the best recipes can be flawed. Which supplements you need to add depends on which nutrients are missing from his meals. A good recipe should include specific supplement instructions. If you’re unsure, talk to your pet nutritionist.
5. Foods that are toxic for dogs
Those sad puppy eyes staring imploringly can tempt you to share your food with your pup. Be wary, though. Some foods that we eat are actually bad for dogs and can be poisonous. Among them are:
- Artificial sweetener xylitol – present in toothpastes, candy, gum and some baked goods
- Avocado fruit and plant
- Onions and garlic
- Coffee, tea and anything that has caffeine
- Grapes and raisins
- Macadamia nuts
- The seeds of persimmon, peaches and plums
- Salt or food that is salted
- Sugary food and drinks
- Yeast dough
- Human medicine
- Baking powder or baking soda
This list is not exhaustive and other potential issues can arise if you’re not careful about ingredients. So make sure to always be aware of which foods are safe for dogs.
6. Best way to store fresh dog food
As with any homemade food, fresh dog food does not contain preservatives. These will spoil easily or become contaminated if not stored correctly.
Since preparing meals from scratch is a time-consuming affair, most dog owners will whip up one large batch at a time. This batch should be split into serving sized portions and kept in individual containers.
Cooked food must be cooled first then put into the freezer to prevent any germs that may be present in it from multiplying. Thaw only one serving portion at a time.
Freezing raw meat does not kill most bacteria or pathogens. It only stalls their growth. That is why you must not leave raw or freshly cooked dog food out after it is thawed.
If your dog doesn’t finish it or doesn’t even touch the food, it is best to chuck that portion into the bin. Any food that has been exposed to the air has a risk of becoming contaminated by germs.
7. Other precautions in feeding homemade dog food
Making the switch
Changing from a commercial diet to a homemade diet, or even varying the ingredients in a homemade diet, can cause some dogs gastrointestinal upset.
Make changes to your dog’s diet slowly, over at least a week, to allow your dog’s stomach time to adjust to the new food. If you see any signs of decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting or a change in stools, bring your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Monitor the effects
Keep a special log book to record observations of your dog from the start of the diet change. Take a photo of its fur and jot down points on:
- Its behaviour before the diet change
- The smell of its breath
- Its activity level
- The colour of its tongue and gums
- The colour and consistency of its stool
- The colour of its urine
After 2 to 3 weeks of being on the homemade food, jot down observations of the above points again. Don’t forget to date the progress.
Bring your dog to the vet’s to make sure it is not gaining or losing too much weight. If its weight is changing, check it again in a couple of weeks.
8. Can I add PetCubes to homemade dog food?
Definitely. PetCubes sells flash frozen raw dog food and gently cooked dog food. These come in single-serving cubes made from a mix of different meats.
Each animal meat has a different nutritional profile. And depending on what other ingredients are in the recipe, the percentage of nutrients will also vary.
It would be wise for you to share the nutrition facts of commercially available fresh dog foods with your vet. Then, decide on the best product to purchase for your dog.
Once you have done that, you can start introducing this new food to your dog by mixing a small amount to its regular food. Gradually increase the portion of new to old food over at least a week following this guide.
Keep in mind though, that it is best not to mix wet food – be it raw or gently cooked – with kibbles. Dry dog biscuits are digested at a different rate from wet food. This may cause indigestion.
Homemade dog food requires a lot of study, dedication and time. If this isn’t for you, you can buy carefully prepared ready-made (raw or gently cooked) dog food curated by pet nutritionists.
Most brands offer a variety of different meats. Do feed your dog this variety. Ensure that calcium is included in the contents of these store-bought fresh foods.
American Kennel Club. 31 October 2019. Cooking For Your Dog: Do’s & Don’ts of Homemade Dog Food. (Online) Available at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/cooking-for-your-dog-dos-and-donts/ [Accessed on 8 July 2020]
Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation. 29 June 2017. How to Make Vet-Approved Homemade Food. (Online) Available at: https://www.healthypawspetinsurance.com/blog/2017/06/29/make-vet-approved-homemade-dog-food [Accessed on 8 July 2020]
Whole Dog Journal. 9 July 2012. How to Make Homemade Dog Food (Online) Available at: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/home_prepared/how-to-make-your-own-dog-food/[Accessed on 8 July 2020]
Make Homemade Dog Food. (Online) Available at:https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/homemade-dog-food#2[Accessed on 8 July 2020]
Homemade Dog Food: Is It Healthy to Cook For Your Dog? (Online) Available at: https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/how-make-sure-your-homemade-dog-food-delivers-right-nutrients [Accessed on 8 July 2020]Slideshow: Foods Your Dog Should Never Eat. (Online) Available at: https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/ss/slideshow-foods-your-dog-should-never-eat [Accessed on 8 July 2020]