How to make your own dog food
Nablopomo – (Man’s) best friend
This is a lot of info, guys. Huge wall of text. I’m not a qualified
nutritionist veterinarian and before changing your dog’s diet, you should probably talk to one.
But this is the main information I used when making the switch to making my own dog food. There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of mixed ‘facts,’ and a lot of weird looks when I said I make my own, but hey, I’m used to that, hehe.
Skip down halfway if you want the hardcore details of what they can eat, what they shouldn’t, measurements, recipes, etc. The first half is how we came to even having a senior citizen dog who still acts like a puppy and was spoiled rotten.
And please, please don’t let the do’s/don’ts make you think it’s not worth the time or will take forever. It might take some getting used to, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it won’t add much time to your week, your dog will likely be much happier/healthier, and it may even save you some money.
To make a long, very touching yet sad story, as short as I can manage….. when a close-friend-of-the-family-who-was-definitely-more-like-family passed away, she left her best friend, Buddy, behind. Her remaining family couldn’t/wouldn’t take him and was just going to drop him off at a shelter.
To say this dog was spoiled would be a vast understatement….he was her baby and was treated as king. Buddy ate specific Beneful dog food varieties…you know, the ones with real green beans, carrots, and roast beef chunks in gravy? Beggin’ Strips were given at least 2 at a time after each trip outside, handed directly to him or thrown in a very specific place toward the dining room table where he’d promptly gather them to his liking before eating. And Greenies? Those expensive little green tooth brush looking treats were his favorite but he’d get them stuck in his jaw and would have to have help getting them back out. After Charlene died, the G-word couldn’t even be said in his presence after his last one was eaten because he’d flip out, wanting his green treats…but none were available.
At the ripe old age of 12 years old, he was still very much so like a puppy. I’ve posted videos of him before….you’d never guess he was a senior. But as such, can you imagine him being adopted by anyone from a shelter? Of course not. Can you imagine, even if he were, that he’d adjust very well to anybody who filled his bowl with dry kibble or didn’t greet him at the door with faux bacon? Neither could we.
So to wrap this up a bit, my mom bought a house and I started home cooking all the dog’s meals. I’d like to say that’s an exaggeration, but uh, it’s not, lol. One of the things that sparked that big move where I posted all the banana boxes was finding a place with a fenced in yard or a yard period to give Buddy a new home.
He wasn’t going to end up dying in a shelter….he was coming home with my mom. In the many months of Charlene being sick and then the several after she died, Mom was making thrice daily trips out to their house to take care of him anyway, often just staying overnight to be there in the morning….. the craziness of buying her first house, packing everything, and moving stuff from three different locations….. actually simplified everything, ha.
Anyway, you want to know about the dog food, right? Dry kibble….so not going to happen. This dog had expensive tastes and all he’d ever known was the routine he and Charlene had. Moving into a home with 4 kids, a single mom, and me at the time, though, means that had to be adjusted at least slightly….especially in the budgeting department.
And so, I started researching. We’re told table scraps are bad for animals and the last thing I wanted to do was deprive this little guy of necessary nutrients. I’m not a dog food company, nor a scientist with years of nutritional information in my background.
But I had Google. :P Lots and lots of sifting through the BS, the opinions, the supposed facts, and the weirdo stuff that pops up when you search something innocent, and I finally felt like I had enough info to work with to make nutrient-dense, dog-appropriate food.
HERE’S THE PART YOU SHOULD SKIP TO IF YOU JUST WANT DOG FOOD FACTS/RECIPES
Basic ratio: 4/3/3……40% meat, 30% vegetables, 30% grain
Ideally, you want more meat than that. 60% meat would be better, and the grain is generally used as filler by dog food companies (often much higher than 30% even….ever looked at the ingredients in dog food before?)
Technically, it should be fresh and raw, but um, I don’t do that. That’s not what he was used to and I didn’t feel quite safe/comfortable doing that. 20% organs, 20% skin/fat, 35% muscle meat, 25% meat is the general breakdown I gathered. It seems the first two are on the high/max end and it’s more important to not go -over- those amounts as opposed to aiming for them.
Caution – Do *not* overdo it with the organ meats. They are very, very nutrient dense, so don’t skip them entirely, but liver, for example, is high in oil soluble vitamin A/beta carotene and can actually cause liver stones if you feed too much. I originally aimed for 10% and after making dog food in large batches enough times, I found it worked out well to just use what came with a whole chicken, for example, and skipped measuring specifically.
Bones – Give your dog raw bones, not cooked. That includes chicken bones being considered safe. It’s the cooking that causes them to become more brittle and splinter, posing a real danger to the insides. Other bones are considered safe when cooked, but the nutrient level is different and more just to make your dog really happy, hehe. That being said, I still don’t give raw chicken bones.
Tip – Don’t forget you can use eggs, too, so if you find yourself lacking in fresh meat or need some budgeting help, eggs are full of nutrients and won’t usually break the bank. The same goes for beans and peanut butter, although be careful with digestion issues. Try a small amount first.
Most vegetables are safe. Which ones aren’t safe or may cause issues are a bit disputed. Some say to avoid nightshade veggies because of possible arthritis or skin issues. Don’t use beets, onions, eggplants, garlic (also debatable), green peppers, macadamia nuts, avocado, mushrooms, chocolate, etc. The list goes on and I suggest you do your own research on this end, but…
To be honest, my dog wouldn’t want to eat those anyway. I stuck with much more basic veggies….. green beans, carrots, peas. Then again, he was picky enough that if the carrots weren’t cut small enough or the peas weren’t mixed in enough, he’d just kick them out of the bowl with his nose anyway. :P
(Sluggish? Your friend may have food sensitivities….just like humans do)
The key is to pay attention to how your dog reacts to the food. Start with the basics and then get more creative if you want to. Beware that some veggies like broccoli may cause some, uh, stomach discomfort or issues with some dogs, so just avoid that if you find your dog gassy, bloated, annoyed at you, etc.
If you need to up the amount of total dog food you’re giving each time to keep your dog full, try adding more veggies. The same goes for if s/he seems to always be hungry but could stand to lose some weight because you’ve been overdoing it in the treat department. Add extra green beans or even try giving frozen peas as a weird treat. If you have cats, too, beware….they love chasing them, hehe. Also, perfectly safe for cats to eat.
This one’s easy. Is it a grain? Go for it then.
My Buddy’s favorites? Oatmeal (zap some oats in the microwave with water for a minute), leftover rice, crackers, bread, corn, and pasta (cooked or not).
(When we were experimenting with bento boxes, Buddy got his compartmentalized, too, hehe….and no, that ratio isn’t shown correctly there, because he had likely been given more meat and bones throughout the day already)
Because this is more of a filler just to stretch a meal and less about being nutrient packed, then I just go with whatever’s on hand. Did we have spaghetti for dinner? I keep a little bit out for him before adding any sauce, etc. Rice in the freezer? Sure. Just don’t go crazy with herbed premade breads or start using leftovers that are doused in cheese, sauces, preservatives, etc.
Eggshells – When preparing large batches of dog food to put in the freezer, I take a few of the egg shells from the eggs I likely scrambled, and crush them up. Dry them and use a grinder, if you’d like, or take a butcher knife to them repeatedly, etc.
Why? “Eggshells consist of calcium carbonate (94%), magnesium carbonate (1%), calcium phosphate (1%)” and “One half teaspoon of ground egg shells yields about 2750 mg calcium carbonate which has 1100 mg of elemental calcium.” It’s one more way for me to feel like I’m not shorting him in the nutrition department.
Powdered milk/gravy – I can’t find the original source I had for suggesting using dry milk when making gravies and such, but regardless, use caution. Many dogs are lactose intolerant and may not react too well to dairy. Buddy was used to eating cheese and such, so didn’t seem to be an issue, but it’s not necessary.
Gravy is one of those things that animals seem to love on food (who doesn’t??) so feel free to make a basic one, but don’t sue lots of salt, pepper, spices, etc. You’re going more for texture than what might taste good to you yourself.
— Freeze it! Make a large batch, sort into small containers or ziplocs, freeze, and pull out single or double portions for each day. On that same note, toss the “makings” into the freezer to use later for a larger batch….leftover rice, drippings for gravy, scraps of meat you don’t want to eat yourself, etc.
(My sister made him waffles with ham because hey, if we’re already having waffles…. yeah, but no syrup, butter, etc, obviously)
— When preparing your own meals, think what parts your dog could eat. Make a little extra pasta or keep out a handful of peas. Once you get in the habit, you won’t even notice you’re doing it.
— Ask your butcher for leftover bones or scraps, if that’s your kind of thing.
— Use your kitchen sink. No, I’m not kidding. It’s a lot bigger than any of the bowls I have, doesn’t make a huge mess if pieces of rice try to flip out, and cleanup is a cinch. I know it sounds weird and maybe you wouldn’t feel comfy doing it with your own food, but for mass producing dog food, it worked great to wash it well, toss everything in, stir, split up into servings, and then wash the rest down the drain.
— You can buy large cans or bags of frozen veggies for super cheap. The same for whole chickens….toss in a crockpot for a few hours or boil until cooked, pull the meat off, and you have enough for quite a lot of food. See clearanced or sale meat that you don’t normally eat? A few bucks will go a long way.
— That can of Spam that’s been sitting in the pantry for a while? Or the creamed corn? Use it up. :P
Don’t want to deal with the math and specifics? I’ll be linking to recipes here.
At the end of the day, you know your dog. Does he seem healthier because of changes you made? Does he really hate the food you’re making? Is he having stomach issues? Adjust, abandon, discuss with his doctor, whatever….but if you’re going to go through the effort of making the food yourself, then make sure you’re paying attention for any changes and be willing to tweak as necessary.
In my case, I had to cut the carrots smaller or the darn thing would snub his nose at me even more than usual.