Updated September 3, 2021
More and more dog owners are choosing to make grain-free or raw diets. Most vets, on the other hand, recommend premium commercial foods. Neither group is likely to change. I think it’s time vets put aside their beliefs to help dog owners get these homemade diets safely balanced.
If you prefer, click here to scroll down to a raw dog food recipe designed by a vet. Or click here for advice on home-made vegan diets. However, I hope you can stay for an explanation first. This vet-approved raw diet should be better than most, but it’s different, and I’d like to explain why…
Should Dogs Eat Wolf Diets?
Most raw diets are based around the theory that dogs should be fed the diet of their wild ancestors. While this is definitely good thinking, as a vet I have two concerns:
- When these diets are analysed they usually differ a lot from what studies show dogs need. The screenshot shows a diet advised by a local pet nutritionist. If this was a commercially-prepared food, it would be a scandal.
- There is good evidence that dogs and wolves don’t eat the same thing
The diet I’m going to build will keep referencing wolves but also take into account the changes in domestic dogs. It will also make a great (but still not guaranteed!) effort to be balanced.
Homemade Diets For Puppies?
Many breeders are now selling puppies already on raw diets. Personally, I’m uneasy with this and would wait until adulthood. The consequences of getting the diet wrong are worse for puppies, and raising puppies properly is complicated enough as it is!
Update 2021: there’s now a page on Raw Puppy Diets including some new evidence.
The following diet also won’t meet the requirements of cancer diets designed for dogs. Follow this link to learn more about this special case.
Raw Diet Ingredients
So what should we put in a raw diet and why?
Meat Selection For Dogs
If feeding raw, red meats such as lamb and beef should be chosen over poultry. Read here why feeding raw chicken is hazardous to dogs and people. If you need more convincing, think about wolves again. They catch and eat mammals, not birds.*
It’s absolutely true that chicken is better tolerated by dogs, especially at high amounts. This isn’t telling you that chicken is better, just that you’re putting too much meat in. Wolves don’t fillet out the best cuts and discard the rest. Being a ‘whole prey’ feeder means just that: eating an awful lot more than just muscle.
You can just as well use goat, camel or kangaroo. However, and I am on record on this point repeatedly, Australia’s pet food industry is under-regulated. Until this is fixed, I would only feed meat to dogs raw if it was fit for human consumption. This does add a lot to the cost.
*(Cats, by contrast, do naturally hunt birds; read here how & why I feed raw chicken necks to cats.)
Grains In Dog Food
There’s actually no firm evidence against grains, but they aren’t necessary or especially healthy either, so I’ll avoid them. One exception is rice, which for a long time has been recognised as beneficial to dogs. We even use rice to treat some tummy upsets.
This is where my ideal wolf and dog diets will differ. You can use brown rice, which I fully support, but I’ll use Basmati rice as it has a similar or lower glycaemic index and is a lot easier to prepare.
Fillers In Dog Food
Fillers are bad, right? Yes, but remember what I said about high meat diets. You do need something to balance out the rich ingredients. In a wolf’s world, this would be all the stuff they scavenge between kills, like bugs, roots, and the lower-value parts of their prey like gut contents (ick!)
I really like using pumpkin as it’s more fibrous and less starchy. However, there’s nothing to stop you experimenting with whatever you can get by the box at the farmer’s market. Just take a look at these bad foods for dogs first.
Raw Fruit & Veg
Any puppy owner who visits me knows I do go on a bit about raw fruits and veges. As long as you avoid grapes (onion too, but only an idiot dog would eat raw onion) they are great fun to try.
Add this after cooling to preserve the vitamins destroyed by cooking. Alternatively, you can do what I do and put a fresh bit from your own diet on each day’s meal. Dogs love a surprise ingredient.
Eating raw bone is natural for wolves. If you’re open to trying raw bone feeding, calcium should be no concern. Otherwise, adding a finely ground eggshell to the recipe will help. I believe you can make raw bone feeding low-risk by following these guidelines.
Despite what I tell my clients about never leaving a dog alone with bone, I trust my own dogs to be sensible so that they can chew on them when they desire. This keeps a steady mineral supply going in, firm poop coming out, and happy dogs throughout.
A Homemade Raw Dog Recipe
Serves the requirements of an 8kg dog for 3-4 days
- 250g chopped beef or lamb, raw
- 1 cup chopped carrots, raw
- 1 cup chopped apple, raw
- ¼ cup frozen peas, defrosted
- 1½ cups chopped pumpkin or squash
- ⅔ cup brown or basmati rice (will cook to 3 cups)
- 4 teaspoons sunflower oil
- 4g fish oil
- Other ingredients? See below
Method: no need to get fancy.
- Cook the rice and pumpkin together until soft, and allow to cool
- Mix in the raw ingredients (dogs mostly also like their peas raw)
- Feed the required quantity per day, refrigerate the remainder
- Can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 2 weeks
Analysis of almost any homemade meal would show multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In practice, this may be tolerated by your dog but I recommend a vitamin and mineral supplement. Balance IT is designed for home-made diets and can be ordered from the USA. If not using, the following supplements can be ground together and mixed in the recipe after cooling:
- 1 Cenovis® Zinc Tablet (25mg)
- 1 Trace Nutrients or Interclinical Copper Plus tablet (2mg)
- 1 g Iodised salt
- 1 Centrum® Advance Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplement
Most dog owners will have a favourite extra ingredient like chia or sardines. For me, each of my dogs gets fish oil. If you’re feeding something unusual it’s a good idea to check with your vet first. Also be careful with large amounts of oil due to the risk of pancreatitis.
How Much To Feed
Sorry! You’re going to have to do some maths. Using the diet above, 32 divided by your dog’s weight equals the number of days of food it will make. For example, if you have a 4kg Maltese, it will feed for 8 days. It’s up to you if you feed each daily portion in one meal or divide it into two or three.
Then watch the change in your dog’s weight and adjust the amount accordingly. No two dogs eat the same amount. Visit our page on how much to feed your dog for a longer discussion on the subject.
Finally, if you want the best and don’t mind spending $300, we have access to excellent veterinary nutritionists. They can design you a balanced homemade diet tailored to both your dog and your preferences (such as higher meat levels). All you have to do is ask!
A disclaimer: this diet, like most homemade raw diets, has not been analysed or tested. It is impossible to guarantee that it is nutritionally complete or that bacterial contamination will not occur. Use of this diet is at the dog owner’s own risk. Cooking the meat is safer and will not alter the diet significantly.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!