Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
 
Beagle in chef's hat licking his chops

Alternative diet choices for dogs, such as home cooked food, have become increasingly popular as dog owners become more aware and better informed about what they are feeding their dog due to the vast amount of information available on the internet. Scandals around pet food manufacturing and contaminated products have also contributed to this trend and the desire to control what is in a dog’s diet.

Opting to feed a homemade diet is not a choice a dog owner should take lightly. It requires much more planning, commitment and time than feeding a commercially formulated dog food. An adequate homemade diet must be nutritionally balanced and include nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the correct proportions to ensure a dog is happy and healthy. Feeding a homemade diet does however allow you to have full control over what your dog eats.

Ideally when starting to feed a homemade diet specialist advice from an animal nutritionist or veterinarian who is a specialist in dog nutrition should be sought. A wide range of recipes and advice can also be found on the Internet, but a diet should be formulated specifically for the dog in question, their health status and life stage.

Drawbacks of Home Cooked Diets for Dogs

Practical Disadvantages

Choosing a home cooked diet as an option to feed your dog requires dedication and everyday commitment. This may be difficult to combine with other work commitments or if you are travelling or leave your dog whilst on holiday. In addition to this, homemade diets generally end up being more expensive than a commercially prepared food. It should also be taken into account that the nutritional value of ingredients and foods can vary depending on where they are produced and sourced, time of year which can cause seasonal variability, cooking and individual interpretation of recipes.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Providing a fully balanced diet for a dog through home cooked food is not as simple as it may sound. If the diet is not formulated by a specialist who has knowledge of the nutritional requirements of dogs it is possible that it will not be adequately balanced. Some of the common problems which occur when dogs are fed home cooked diets that are not properly balanced include:

  • Imbalanced Vitamin and Mineral Levels: The addition of a vitamin and mineral supplement is usually required for home cooked diets. Finding one which is complete and contains everything necessary can be difficult. Vitamin and mineral imbalances often take time to show any effects of deficiency or cause toxicity and do not occur immediately, so even though it may seem ok at the time not to use or to substitute a supplement the effects can be severe in the long term.
  • Diets Too High in Protein: Excessive protein levels can affect the calcium levels in the body. This often occurs as many foods have higher levels of phosphorus than calcium, which can unbalance the ratio of calcium to phosphorus found in the diet. An imbalance of calcium to phosphorus ratios is most likely to affect large breeds and puppies. Bone meal or a supplement can be used to help correct or avoid this.

When feeding a home cooked diet it is easy to become sloppy over time, perhaps when it is not convenient or you may not have all the ingredients necessary. It is important that if you commit to feeding a home cooked diet that it is done properly, not just at the start when you are enthusiastic, but over the long term.

Foods to Avoid in a Home Cooked Diet for Dogs

There are certain foods which should definitely be avoided in any home cooked diets, these include:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Apple seeds
  • Apricot stones, cherry stones, peach stones and other fruit stones
  • Avocados
  • Sweets and chocolate (especially chocolate!), which are incredibly toxic to dogs
  • Coffee grounds and beans
  • Garlic, onions, onion powder, leeks and chives
  • Grapes, raisins, sultanas
  • Chewing gum – potential to cause blockages and sugar free gums often contain xylitol
  • Hops, used in beer brewing
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Mouldy food, which may contain Mycotoxins (toxic substances produced by fungi)
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard seeds
  • Potato leaves and stems (green bits)
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Salt
  • Tea as it contains caffeine
  • Tomato leaves and stems (green bits)
  • Walnuts
  • Xylitol (artificial sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs) – remember this is found in many sweetened foods, chewing gum and sugar free drinks and sweeteners.
  • Yeast dough

For more details about why certain foods are bad for dogs, see some of the foods which dogs can and can’t eat.

Benefits of Feeding Home Cooked Diets to Dogs

Diet Control

Home cooked diets are a means of rigorously controlling what your dog eats. In addition to a piece of mind about what a dog is eating this can bring a greater sense of involvement in a dogs life for some owners, feeling rewarded by the fact that their dog is happy and healthy. When compared to raw diets, which are also formulated at home, cooking food has the advantage that it prevents produce from going off as quickly and reduces the risk of contamination by raw food. Cooking also allows a wider variety of foods to be included in the diet, such as potatoes and cereals.

Diets can be modified relatively easily under expert guidance to cater for different needs, preferences or medical conditions throughout a dog’s life. Feeding a diet aimed at a specific disease in this way, such as a low protein diet for a dog suffering from kidney disease is one possible reason an owner may opt for a home made diet.

Allergies

A home cooked diet made using restricted ingredients, controlling both protein and carbohydrate sources can be used as a tool do diagnose and identify the source of any food allergies. This process requires feeding a limited diet and trial and exclusion over a period of time and should always be done working with a veterinarian and/or canine nutritionist. Once any ingredients have been identified as causing allergies a fully balanced diet should be formulated using foods that the dog is not allergic too, always ensuring that the diet is balanced and the vitamin and mineral content is appropriate.

Is a Home Cooked Diet the Right Choice?

Opting to feed a home cooked diet is not a decision to be taken lightly. It requires planning, commitment and time in addition to potentially being more costly than commercially prepared foods. For a home cooked diet to be successful in the long run, and to keep a dog happy and healthy, it is essential that it be nutritionally balanced. When starting out with home cooked diets it is important to fully research the topic and seek expert advice. Nutrition is an extensive and complicated subject an appropriately balanced diet must be designed for the dog in question to ensure it remains healthy in the long run.

Further Reading and Bibliography

  • Buff, P.R., Carter, R.A., Bauer, J.E., et al. (2014). Natural pet food: a review of natural diets and their impact on canine and feline physiology. J Anim Sci: 92 (9), 3781-91.
  • Davies, M. (2014). Variability in content of homemade diets for canine chronic kidney disease. Veterinary Record: 174, p. 352.
  • Delay, J. & Laing, J. (2002). Nutritional osteodystrophy in puppies fed a BARF diet. Animal Health Laboratory Newsletter: 6, p. 23.
  • Fiora, P., Carlotti, D., & Viaud, S.A. Retrospective study on the prevalence and causative allergens of food-induced atopic dermatitis in France. In: ESVD congress, Valencia 2013.
  • Gujral, N., Freeman, H.J. and Thomson, A.B. (2012). Celiac disease: prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment. World J Gastroenterol: 18 (42), 6036-59.
  • Lauten, S.D., Smith, T.M., Kirk, C.A., Bartges, J.W., Adams, A., Wynn, S.G. (2005). Computer Analysis of Nutrient Sufficiency of Published Home-Cooked Diets for Dogs and Cats. Proceedings of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum, 2005.
  • Niza, M.M.R.E., Vilela, C.L., & Ferreira, L.M.A. (2003). Feline pansteatitis revisited: hazards of unbalanced homemade diets. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery: 5, 271–277.
  • Pet Poison Helpline: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poisons
  • Polizopoulou, Z.S., Kazakos, G., Patsikas, M.N., & Roubies, N. (2005). Hypervitaminosis A in the cat: A case report and review of the literature. J Feline Med Surg: 7, 363–368.
  • Remillard, R.L. (2008). Homemade diets: attributes, pitfalls, and a call for action. Top Companion Anim Med: 23 (3), 137-42.
  • Roudebush, P. & Cowell, C.S. (1992). Results of a hypoallergenic diet survey of veterinarians in North America with a nutritional evaluation of homemade diet prescriptions. Veterinary Dermatology: 3, 23-28.
  • Roudebush, P. (2010). Adverse reactions to foods. In Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th, [M. S. Hand, R. L. Remillard, P. Roudebush and B. J. Novotny, eds.]. Topeka: Mark Morris Institute.
  • Roudebush, P. (2013). Ingredients and foods associated with adverse reactions in dogs and cats. Vet Dermatol: 24 (2), 293-4.
  • Stockman, J., Fascetti, J.A., Kass, P.H., & Larsen, J.A. (2013). Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: 242, 1500–1505.
  • Verlinden, A., Hesta, M., Millet, S., et al. (2006). Food allergy in dogs and cats: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr: 46, 259-73.

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