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If you haven’t tried your hand at it yet, you might be surprised to learn that making your own dog food is easier and far less expensive than you ever imagined!
Best Dog Food
Regardless of variations in their size, coat texture, ear shape and/or other superficial, external differences, all breeds of domestic dogs are members of the same species and are known as Canis lupus familiaris.
As a result, internally, in terms of their dentition as well as their internal digestive anatomy and physiology, dogs are essentially identical to gray wolves, Canis lupus.
Both dogs and wolves are members of the Canidae family of the mammalian order Carnivora. This means they are meat eaters or carnivores.
However, dogs are not obligate carnivores, meaning that when meat is unavailable, they have the ability to subsist by consuming a modicum of plant matter.
But, this adaptation is for emergency survival only. Dogs were designed to thrive best on raw meat, bones, and organs of herbivorous prey-type animals, most particularly those of large grazers.
Thus, the healthiest and best dog food will incorporate, first and foremost, this important principle.
There are two ways to approach making homemade dog food that is most in line with what dogs would naturally eat in the wild, aka the “prey model diet”.
The first way is to feed whole intact animals. This means feeding entire, unbutchered animals, complete with such things as fur, feathers, scales, skin, heads, organs, glands, and entrails, etc.
If this seems unattainable in an urban setting, no worries.
The second and much more common method in homemade dog food circles is known as “frankenprey”.
This method assembles the parts and pieces of boneless meat, raw meaty bones (RMBs), and organs. These parts are fed, over the course of time rather than at every meal, in the approximate proportions that are found in a prey animal. These ratios are: (1)
- 80-85% boneless meat, ideally raw.
- 10% raw meaty bones
- 5-10% organ meats, at least half of which consists of raw liver.
It is important to note that these ratios are a general guideline only. One meal can have more bone content, while another could have more muscle meat or organs. The goal is to balance over time.
It’s also possible, if not preferable, to combine the two methods by feeding the occasional intact critter when available and frankenprey the rest of the time.
Risks of a Homemade Diet for Dogs
Note that some veterinary organizations discourage dog owners from pursuing a homemade raw meat-based diet (RMBD). The primary reason for opposing it was the potential pathogen contamination of the uncooked meat.
These organizations believe that the pathogen risks to the dog as well as to other pets, human family members, and members of the public in contact exceed the health benefits. (2)
Interestingly, the contamination risks from commercial pet food and frequent mass recalls were not mentioned! (3)
How to Make Homemade Dog Food
To make dog food yourself, all that’s required is the following three things.
- A working understanding of the prey model diet described above. In other words, feeding vegan dog food is not an option! Making DIY dog food grain free is not enough either. Stick to meat, bones, and organs only.
- Advance planning. This means that a bit more time and effort will be required than simply opening a can or bag of cooked, processed pet food and putting it into a bowl.
- Ample freezer space. This makes the process much easier and the chances of success far greater.
Stocking the Freezer
Thus, step one is to ensure that your freezer is stocked with a variety of different kinds of boneless meats, raw meaty bones, and organs. Pets enjoy homemade broth and the softened leftover bones too!
Since it’s best to feed your dog as wide a variety of different meats as possible, choose parts and pieces in the form of boneless meats, RMBs, and organs from as many animals as possible. Think beyond beef, chicken, and pork. Lamb, rabbit, duck, goat, bison, venison, ostrich, kangaroo, etc. also make great options for homemade dog food.
Buy the best quality you can afford. Pastured or grass-fed meats are great but not necessary.
Cut boneless meats into meal-sized portions, and choose RMBs that are appropriately sized for your dog’s mouth.
Once you’ve prepared the meat, bones, and organs properly, freeze into heavy duty bags.
What about Ground Beef or Turkey?
Ground beef is arguably the easiest way to feed a dog with home prepped fare. Even though it is fine to use occasionally, the healthiest dog food consists of primarily whole, unground raw foods.
That’s because it requires the animal to use its teeth and jaws to gnaw, rip and tear them apart, which provide the kind of natural scrubbing, flossing and stimulative actions that are essential to the promotion of optimal oral health.
DIY Puppy Chow
Can puppy food be homemade as well?
Puppies can begin the process of weaning onto homemade food at about 3 weeks of age. From three to six weeks, only serve minced meats. At six weeks, puppies can begin to handle meat and bone together, with one exception.
Chicken and duck wings should be fully separated into their three parts and the wing tip discarded to prevent a major choking hazard.
Between four and six months of age puppies cut their permanent teeth. They also grow rapidly, so be sure to provide a plentiful supply of meaty carcasses or raw meaty bones of suitable size along with small amounts of organ meats.
This article on the top 10 reasons to feed your pet raw has a video of healthy puppies consuming home-prepped chow.
Homemade Dog Food Recipes
Beware of homemade dog food recipes that contain plant foods.
Remember that dogs are carnivores, and while they can subsist on some plant foods temporarily in an emergency, this is not going to lead to optimum health long-term. Ideally, then, recipes you follow should contain animal foods only.
Adult dogs eat between 2-4% of their body weight every day. The upper limit is only for very active dogs. The typical dog that spends most of the day in the house will be closer to 2%. (4)
Using this guideline, a twenty pound (9 kg) adult dog will eat about 6.4 ounces of food per day.
Divide this amount per day by two, which will give you the portion to feed in the morning and again in the evening.
Easy Sample Meal
A sample meal for a twenty-pound adult dog based on the prey model would include:
- 5 ounces chopped raw meat
- 1-ounce meaty bone
- One-half ounce raw liver. Alternatively, you can sprinkle a small amount of raw liver powder over the raw meat.
For other ideas, check out the dozens of dog food recipes on the site raw fed dogs. (5)
While homemade dog food will cost you a bit more per meal, over the long term, you will likely get it all back and then some with lower vet bills. This is true even for dogs that are already chronically ill with diabetes, liver or kidney disease. Feeding them their natural diet gives them the best chances for recuperation and a return of vitality.
Hence, choosing to make homemade dog food is really about investing in their long-term health.
Economical Ways to Make Dog Food
There are many ways to reduce the cost to a minimum, such that the per month expense doesn’t far exceed what you would pay for vet-approved brands of commercial dog food.
Here are 7 tips to consider to keep the process as cheap as possible.
- Buy in bulk.
- Combine your purchasing power with that of others by participating in a buying club.
- Stock up on quantities of items that are on sale.
- Shop at ethnic markets. These grocers often carry a wide variety of raw animal-based foods at extremely reasonable prices.
- Make contact with hunters in your area and offer to take their scrap meat and organs. These are often discarded after butchering.
- Get to know those who process and butcher animals locally, from whom you may also score scraps, organs and other nourishing raw bits on the cheap or perhaps even for free.
- Advertise online on sites like Craigslist or Freecycle, offering to take the meaty contents of freezers that are being cleaned out.
Making the Transition from Commercial to Homemade
Many people I know feed their dog homemade food some of the time and rely on commercial vet-approved offerings when they are out of town or periodically strapped for time.
The bottom line is to take a look at your situation and budget and decide if you can commit to feeding your dog homemade just one day a week.
Once you have the hang of it, perhaps increase to two or three days a week.
Once you have suppliers that you can depend on and have developed the rhythm and expertise, it’s not much of a leap to go to 100% homemade!
(1) Guide to Feeding Dogs Naturally
(2) Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats
(3) Animal food recalls
(4) Feeding Guidelines for Dogs
(5) Recipes for Dog Food