Homemade v commercial dog food: Which is best for your pet?

It might be tempting to show love for a canine pal with homemade meals, but experts say meeting animals’ nutritional needs is a delicate balance.

While treating your fur-child to homemade meals can be enjoyable and fulfilling, there are a few things to know before you start whipping up a culinary storm.

Making homemade dog food gives you control over the ingredients – but getting the nutritional balance right can be difficult, says registered animal nutritionist Shiva Greenhalgh.

“From the research that has been done the biggest concern with home-cooked foods is they are almost always unbalanced,” says Shiva, of Sydney Animal Nutrition.

One analysis of 106 home-prepared diets for dogs and cats found all had at least one nutrient below recommendations, and the potential to expose animals to deficiencies.

“People don’t notice any issues for months and the dog seems fine and happy, but over time issues of deficiencies or even surplus of nutrients do become apparent,” the report found.

The delicate art of meeting a dog’s nutritional requirements

Holistic pet nutritionist Clare Kearney believes homemade dog food can be healthier, provided it meets all their nutritional needs.

“It’s not sufficient to just provide meat and veggies – and a lot of the free recipes online (and some of the paid ones) are really unbalanced and often completely missing important nutrients,” Clare says.

This is where it gets tricky, as your dog’s daily nutrient and energy needs can differ depending on its life stage, whether it is desexed, its activity levels, and even breed.

“If an animal has other medical issues, then meeting their needs is further complicated and is not advised without the help of a vet or animal/vet nutritionist,” says Shiva, who also holds a Masters in Animal Science.

You will also need to understand the digestibility of ingredients.

Clare says she generally aims for around 80 per cent animal protein, including fish and eggs, and no more than 20 per cent plant matter.

“You want to generally select fairly lean meats, but some fat is essential,” she says.

“It’s easy to meet the minimum fat and protein requirements for dogs with fresh, homemade foods – it’s the micronutrients where people fall short, which takes a bit more skill to get right.”

What dogs need to eat

“Dogs are … primarily designed to eat a prey-based diet, which is mostly meat,” says Clare.

She recommends a variety of meats including organs (like liver) and oily fish.

“Eggs are great for dogs and they can also have some fruits and veggies,” she says.

While protein is important, Shiva says it’s vital not to overdo it.

“If anything, we are overfeeding them protein, which is not beneficial as you end up with a surplus or even deficiency of amino acids and other micronutrients,” she says.

“I find in many home-cooked diets for dogs, owners fail to add necessary carbohydrates and fats, which is crucial.”

Shiva’s recommended dog food ingredients include:

  • Poultry thighs, pork, red meat, organ meat (should not make up more than five per cent of the diet)
  • Cooked eggs
  • Red kidney beans, lentils
  • White rice
  • Tuna or salmon in spring water
  • Vegetables including broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, potato, peas, mushrooms
  • Oils including flaxseed, canola, coconut, olive
  • Kelp powder
  • Fish meal
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Turmeric, rosemary, oregano, parsley, ginger
  • Psyllium
  • Wheat bran

Foods not safe for dogs

  • Avocado
  • Onion (or anything from the onion family such as shallot, chives, leeks)
  • Garlic
  • Macadamia
  • Salt

Is homemade dog food cheaper than commercial products?

Shiva says it is difficult for a pet owner to compete on a cost scale with commercial companies who can source produce in bulk.

“It will probably never be cheaper than a supermarket brand of dog food, but I think the benefits are well worth it, and it’s very achievable to spend a similar price point to a premium kibble,” says Clare.

Shiva says cooking in large batches is the cheapest and most time-efficient way to prepare your dog’s meals.

Written by Claire Burke.