The Dog Food Dilemma – Our Search for a Better Dog Food

by Jenny Brown

Please note: I am not a veterinarian or a nutritionist and am not qualified to give advise regarding your pet’s medical or nutritional needs.  Thank you for understanding!

 

When we adopted our dog, Brewster, a German Shepard mix (of which we will never know for sure of what), he sneezed often and shed like crazy. Being a firm believer that the food you eat affects you for better or worse, I started with the dog food as a potential cause of these problems.

I began researching what ingredients to look for in rating quality dry dog food. My criteria became this:  Meat must be the first ingredient; if it said corn  anywhere in the ingredients, especially near the top, I ran the other direction. I knew corn was not only a cheap GMO filler in dog food but the most likely ingredient to cause allergies and stomach issues. I tried a few different brands that contained higher quality ingredients and were supposedly hypoallergenic, but Brewster continued to sneeze and shed hair like Linus’ blanket in ‘Peanuts’ sheds dirt.

I didn’t try every brand. There still might be one out there that works but an $80. a month dog food bill was out of the question.

I began to think realistically about this… what would my skin and hair look like if all the food I ate was processed and dried? The thought of canned dog food crossed my mind and was quickly dismissed. I wasn’t going to pay double for what was really just reconstituted dry dog food and I didn’t think I could bear the smell of that stuff every day. This finally led me to research a raw food diet.

Since we raise grass-fed beef cattle, a raw food diet for our dog fit very nicely into our lifestyle. I asked our butcher to grind all the tongue and the organ meats (except the liver – they do not like to grind livers because it makes an incredibly juicy mess – I have to chop the liver myself). We also had some of the fat and the lower cuts of meat ground. My recipe proportions were about 60% muscle meat, organ meat, and fat, 20% vegetables such as cooked grated carrots, squash, or pumpkin, and 20% either cooked potato, whole-grain brown rice, or millet. I added a few needed supplements, mixed it all up in a big tub, and put individual servings into Ziploc sandwich bags.

I left a few in the fridge and put the remainder of the packages in the freezer and defrosted a few days-worth at a time when needed. Right before serving, I stirred in a raw egg which raised the protein level a little higher and gave Brewster’s coat extra shine.

Within only a day of this dietary switch, the sneezing stopped. In one week, the shedding problem decreased dramatically, dog breath improved, the smelly dog farts ceased, and his poop wasn’t as offensive smelling and it biodegraded quickly. Go figure.

Raw dog food mixture. Not what I would call ‘pretty’ but extremely healthy. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have much of an odor…it’s all fresh ingredients. The white stuff is ground fat done by our butcher (My husband thought it looked like maggots. My kids thought spaghetti sauce with small noodles).

Bonus tip: If sending boys to help you transfer the packages to the freezer, inform them that the packages must be stacked neatly before they freeze. ‘Put in the freezer’ does not mean ‘toss in the freezer’.

This diet works great during butcher season but unfortunately it doesn’t last the entire year. I had to come up with another solution until the next butchering.

Since I didn’t have meat from our own animals available anymore and my budget doesn’t allow for organically raised meat bought elsewhere for dog food, I had to settle for store bought hamburger the rest of the year.  Sometimes being a purest is just not affordable and you do the best you can. I knew it was still better than whatever ‘meat’ is in commercial dog food.

Regardless how hard of an iron gut dogs supposedly have (which in reality is a high acidic level), I was not comfortable feeding the store-bought meat raw; it had to be cooked. I began hunting for homemade dog food recipes. After playing around with several different ones and adjusting the ingredients to fit my standards and meet the correct percentages of protein/vegetable/grain, I came up with my own ‘meatloaf’ recipe for dogs. The protein in the meatloaf is mostly meat but is also in the form of beans and eggs to help reduce the cost.

A few notes on feeding grain to dogs:

Many raw food advocates are against feeding dogs grain and think that all grains should be completely eliminated from their diet. I think they have good evidence that supports that grains were not a part of a dogs primitive diet but there is disagreement on the issue of whether some whole grains are a problem for dogs. Many of the higher quality dog foods contain a percentage of whole brown rice or potato.

We don’t feed grain to our cattle, why would we feed it to our dog?

For comparative purposes, let me first give you a picture of how livestock animals process their food:

Livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and goats are ruminants. A ruminant is an animal with four compartments in their stomach for digesting feed. Their digestive systems work like a fermentation vat and have a proper balance of microbes to break down and digest roughage such as grass, hay, and tree leaves. Adding grain into the mix (which is more acidic than roughage) causes imbalance and upset in the digestive system’s micro-organisms as they try to adjust to a more acidic feed. This can cause serious gas problems and reduce the animal’s over-all health. These animals are not made to switch back and forth from roughage to grain (One exception: a steady combination, gradually introduced, is necessary for lactating dairy livestock, especially goats).

Dogs, on the other hand, have a simple stomach, similar in some ways to humans but with some huge differences in chemistry. A dog’s digestive system has a highly acidic environment for breaking down proteins. Although dogs are carnivores, they are not solely dependent on protein for their food, but it is the most important part of their diet.

A dog that is fed a high grain-based dog food is more likely to have health issues and be a problematic dog. Dog’s will dig through garbage and tear up a house in search of protein if the diet lacks it. Dogs also do not have the enzyme in their saliva like we do which begins to break down starchy foods in the mouth. The result is that the starch sticks to their teeth and causes tartar and plaque build-up which, if fed too much grain, could lead to gum disease. Also, the digestive tract of a dog is short, and is not designed for processing large quantities of grain, it will just pass through the dog’s system, leaving you with “petrified logs” on your lawn. But, because of the higher acid levels in the dogs stomach, it is able to break down and utilize some grain.

I have chosen to include a percentage of whole grains in my dogs diet. My dog is very healthy and there have been no signs of allergies or any other problems from the low percentage of whole grains he is given. You’ve got to find a healthy balance that works for your dog and for you. Much of my reason for keeping the whole grains in the recipe is cost. Meat is the most expensive ingredient. If I felt whole grains was a detriment to my dog’s health, I would change it.

 

Brewster is also very fond of chicken.

Portion sizes and a few other ‘tid-bits’

As far as how much to feed your dog, I suggest starting with an amount that is recommended for the weight/activity level of your dog and watching to see if your dog maintains a healthy weight. I had to cut back a little from what was recommended for my dog’s weight because he started gaining a few waist sizes.

We feed our dog once a day at our dinner time. Food stays in the dog’s stomach for a longer period of time than your stomach would keep food. This allows the acids time to break down meat proteins, fat, and bone. This is why most dogs do fine being fed only once a day.

Unless your dog has better self-control than my dog, basing an appropriate serving size by how much a dog is willing to eat doesn’t work. Brewster is not what I would call “in tune with his body.” It’s definitely quantity over quality for him.

One HUGE bonus to this diet, whether I’m feeding raw food or the meatloaf recipe, is that I rarely ever have to scoop poop in my yard; it breaks down very quickly. One good rain and it’s part of the earth.

I have adjusted my recipe slightly from batch to batch depending on what and how much of the ingredients I have on hand. The most important rule is that the  percentage of protein does not drop below 60%. The higher the protein, the better. If you find that your dog is sensitive to grains, just as some humans are, the amount can be reduced or even even eliminated but it won’t likely hold together as well in a loaf form.

One more note: When switching from the raw food to the meatloaf, I have never had to ‘slowly introduce’ the change in food. There have never been any adjustment issues. With dry dog food, it was a different story. This is the case with my dog though; your dog may react differently.

 

Jenny’s Homemade Dog Food Recipe

This recipe will last about 1 month for one large dog. I like to make a big batch so I only have to make it monthly. It’s a bit of a project so set aside a morning or an afternoon to do this. If you do not have enough bread pans or don’t have the freezer room, you can cut the recipe in half or even quarter it. I use two large bread bowls for mixing.

In a big container or 2 large bread bowls, combine:

10# raw hamburger
12 c pureed, cooked beans (I usually use pinto or red beans)
1 dozen eggs
2c wheat germ
4c rolled oats (finely chopped in a food processor)
8c cooked brown rice, cooked millet, or cooked and mashed potatoes
8c liquid (either water, milk, yogurt, whey, or stock – can be a mixture)
4c cooked pureed vegetables (preferably squash, pumpkin, or grated carrots)
6 T. garlic powder (acts as a natural internal parasite deterrent)
1 T. salt substitute – such as ‘No Salt’ (potassium chloride – a needed form of potassium)
12 T. egg shell powder – a necessary source of calcium(I save my egg shells by rinsing them out immediately and letting them dry on a baking sheet with sides. When I    have saved a large amount, I grind them into a powder in my coffee grinder.)
6 T. kelp granules and any other desired supplements

Pre-cook beans and rice, millet, or potatoes, and the vegetables ahead of time. I like to work on this the week before I’m ready to make the recipe and just put them in the freezer until it’s time (except potatoes which do not freeze well.)

Mix all ingredients with hands in two large bowls or a large  container.

Divide mixture evenly into 12 bread pans

Bake at 350° for 1 hour.

Let cool completely. Remove from pan and cut into desired serving size slices.

Place individual servings in Ziploc sandwich bags and pack as many as will fit neatly into gallon Ziplocs for storing easily in your freezer.

 

You can skip to the end and leave a response.


82 Responses to “How to Make Your own Healthy, Natural Dog Food”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Sounds good, can I omit rice/potatoes though? My dog can’t hand le them. Would peas be a good substitute? Thanks so much.

  2. Deanna Says:

    When making one’s own dog food, can a multi-vitamin
    (for people) be included daily?

  3. Jenny Says:

    I would not recommend giving your dog a ‘people’ vitamin as their requirements are not the same; there are multi-vitamins available specifically for dogs.

  4. Jenny Says:

    You will have to decide for yourself if peas are a good choice for your pet. The challenge will be figuring out the quantity needed for adequate nutrients and whether or not it will work consistency-wise in the meatloaf. If you try it, let us know how it turns out!

  5. Suzanne Says:

    So we have been paying about $60 for a 26lb bag of GREAT dog food..but the cost went up and it’s about back to $70…That’s just crazy! We have a dog that has very sensitive skin & have tried lots of different things. I would like to find something cheaper – and if making it is I wouldn’t mind trying it. I’m just nervous about what to add (right now her dog food is the Simple Wellness Salmon & Rice so there are only about 5 ingredients in it). Also, I would prefer (thinking it easier) to have it be dry dog food that I can keep in a container in the garage. Suggestions? Comments?

  6. Whitney Says:

    I’m just curious, but what was the raw food recipe you were using before that you show being in large bins?

  7. Jill Says:

    What about using string beans from the garden in the receipe? I am going to give this an honest try.. My dog suffers from kidney stones, terrible shedding, vomiting, bad hips.. I want to try anything to help her..

  8. Amanda Says:

    How many cups are in each loaf? Trying to figure measurements for 2- 67lb dogs for 1 month. Thanks

  9. Jenny Says:

    There is about 5 cups in my commercial bread pans. Your pans may not be the same size though.

  10. Jenny Says:

    Pretty much the same thing but with our own grass-fed beef. I freeze it in serving sizes but do not bake it. I only bake it if I have to use store-bought meat.

  11. lynn Says:

    i buy puritan pride vitamins they are natural .and they have sales where you buy one get one free or buy one get two free i love the buy one get two free.i get the fish oil there also.did mean to sound bad in my last post but alot of people do not know what IMHA is as i did not until it hit home with my little fur baby. her IMHA was from the yearly shot and w/ small or tiny dogs garlic is more of a problem than w/ large dogs but if the big fur kid gets IMHA they to shouldn’t have garlic.i do home cook and did for my fur baby before the IMHA.shots heartworm meds and flea topic or oral many other things like a snake bite or spider bite can trigger the IMHA in the most healthy of fur kids.dr.jean dodds and dr.shultz are working hard to stop the rabie shots so often as if we go over seas we only get shots every 8 years. they are workingto 5-7 years . please look up IMHA it can happen to any dog. health has nothing to do with it breed size age or even mixed breeds.be informed it could save your fur baby to know the signs.and keep up home cooking for your fur baby they will be better to fight off anything that happens i had one fur child to live 21 1/2 years on home made food and my fur baby cat lived 28 years . remember when old farm dogs lived in their twenties? hummmmm… something to real food… health!!!!

  12. lynn Says:

    oops!!! i meant to say i did not mean to sound bad… so sorry i typed too fast to read what am typing so very sorryabove post

  13. Anita Says:

    Jenny,

    Thanks so much for all of the excellent advice and the recipe. I ran everything by my vet who agrees this is a nutritious recipe for homemade dog food.

    I have been trying for months to find a good homemade food recipe for my super picky 5 year old, 3 pound Yorkie rescue. She does not do well on commercial food and regularly goes days ignoring it. She suffers from messy poops, bad breath and the smelliest dog farts you’ve ever experienced. You would not believe the farts that can be produced by this teeny munchkin! And I have only fed her the highest quality commercial chow out there and brush her teeth daily.

    Well, let me tell you that she LOVES your homemade food recipe! It’s like Christmas morning when I make food now. She dances around with excitement while I’m preparing it and munches it down in its entirety in record time. Never before. I’m amazed.

    No messy poop; no smelly dog farts – none – and her bad breath is much improved. And she’s happy and has tons of energy.

    Thanks again ever so much!

  14. margaret Blackmore Says:

    I am going to try your dog food but I was wondering if the T stands for teaspoon or tablespoon. thanks for the information. I have dogs that don’t seem to be able to carry their pups and I read that to much vit K or vit a can cause some problems so am going to go natural and try this.

  15. Donna Mollaun Says:

    Don’t add the starchy beans. It causes a painful disruption to their digestive track. Green beans are OK.

  16. Connie Says:

    After a few recalls on dog food lately, I was nervous about feeding my dogs food available on the market so I decided to look for a dog food recipe and stumbled upon this I’ve made this a few days ago, it’s a wonderful recipe. I can tell it’s improving the health of my dogs already, plus my husky is very picky when it comes to his food and he devoured his meatloaf up. My oven is small so I had to cut the recipe in half but it’s enough to feed a Siberian Husky and a Golden Retriever for 9 days. The cost was $19 for me. Thank you so much for your recipe!

  17. Susan Says:

    Thank you…I cannot wait to try your recipe for my dog. She is a shitzu that we found in the deer woods a few years ago. She never liked dog food and always wanted our food, only I know a lot of the food it is not good for her. All the advice and tips are great! I probably will not need to make up as big of a batch though. haha! Marked your page…will try the recipe soon! Thank you!

  18. bukky Says:

    hi jenny, i leave in Nigeria and run a breeding kennel. i have 7 dogs. i tried your recipe on them and they really enjoyed it though i substituted thae egg shells and veggies with moringa leaves (which is abundant here). this way they get all the nutrients without me spending extra time preparing veggie and the nutritional contents far out weighs other vegetables. this also allows me skip the garlic

  19. Wendy Says:

    I just want to thank you for your homemade dog food recipe!!! It has literally changed my dog’s life! I have a 5 year old Fila Mastiff (rescue dog that we did not get from a pup) and over the years through self discovery and allergy testing we discovered that our boy is allergic to 15 different things. The food allergies are chicken, wheat, rice and apples. For years I have been buying him high end dog kibble only to have him in the end break out in hives, scratch them and have it produce a staph infection on his skin (and staph is one of his allergens.) This dog has been on antibiotics and steroids for his entire life. He was losing his hair, his liver enzymes were well over 2000 and he was lethargic due to the constant rounds of pills. I finally got fed up, went back to the vet (who I believe I built a wing on his house from all of the vet bills) and said we needed to change something, anything for this dog to try and get him healthy. The vet said well if something doesn’t change then we will just be making him comfortable for the time he has left, because his liver enzymes are far too high, but he can’t come off of the steroid antihistamines due to his many allergies. I did my investigating in to natural foods, and saw your recipe for making your own dog food. I thought well, what could it hurt to try? Because of this dog’s many allergies I didn’t want to go raw, but with some tweaking made a batch of your cooked food dog recipe with supplements. He loved it! But the biggest changes were yet to happen. He began to lose weight, losing his “bloated” look. He went from 200 pounds down to a slimmer 180. He runs and leaps around the yard now! His hair has all but grown back in, and he sheds much, much less. But the greatest effect this food has had on him, is that he hasn’t had a hive in over 3 months, which for this dog is a miracle! He is also down to 1 antihistamine every 2 days (with Benedryl every day still but this is a process). So I just wanted to say thank you for posting this recipe, it has done my dog wonders!!!!

  20. Lou Ann Says:

    Love this recipe! Has all the ingredients for a good basic nutrition. Love my pups have 2 collies and have raised dogs all my life (56 now) Of course–Have to include some of my own thoughts. Fruits are very important for dogs. And mine love them. Use fruits for treats throughout the day. I suggest that dog owners vary this recipe to whatever they can afford. Whatever you can afford to include in t his recipe will be a plus to they dry dog food bought in the store. No preservatives in the key point here. Whatever is used as a variant is so much better than what is bought in a typical bag of dry dog food. We all love our pets or we wouldn’t have searched for a homemade dog food now would we!. Experiment and do the best you can. Lovely site. And the garlic issue–well now just use common sense–it is in such a small quantity–if you are hesitant cut back the amount you include. A little goes a long way! Love and enjoy your pet, they give so much and require so little.

  21. Jenny Says:

    Yes, if it is a capital ‘T’ then it is meant to mean ‘tablespoon.’ Sorry about the confusion…I learned recipe ‘shorthand’ from my mother-in-law 🙂

  22. susan Says:

    This is probably the best article I have seen. Thank you for all the tips and the recipe. I can’t wait to get it started this weekend. Thank you!!!

  23. Jennifer Says:

    I have been feeding my 9 yr old English bulldog homemade dog food since he was 4 yrs old. We always bought him expensive holistic dog food but his gas was unbearable, he shed perfusely, he had awful dark tear stains, and the poor little guy almost seemed lathargic at times. I by no means am one of these you are what you eat health nuts but I swear on everything changing his diet saved his life. This is what I do every week. I boil 2lbs of brown rice, 2lbs of chicken liver, gizzard, and hearts (it’s like $3 at grocery store), that is boiled, chop 1lb bag of carrots, and 6 apples go right into my ninja bullet, 6 eggs just poached, 1 qt of plain yogurt, and 1lb bag of frozen green beans. Mix all together, put into large bowl and presto dog food for about a week. He gets 1 1/4 cup in the morning and 1 1/4 cup at night. He also gets a multivitamin in the morning as well as a fish oil pill at night. No lie no more gas, no more shedding, tear stains have vanished, he has the energy of a 1 yr old puppy…. Everywhere I go with him everyone is in awe of how beautiful he is and they can’t believe that he is 9trs old. The proof is in the pudding. Dozer (that’s his name) has been on this diet for 5 yrs and every year my vet thanks me over and over again for keeping him so young and vibrant looking. We did slice the carrots at first and noticed them chopped up in his poo but we are strong believers that they were the cure all for his miraculous eye recovery so we did not want to remove them from his diet so we chop them up now. I am so thankful to have such a healthy loving dog. Dogs want nothing but to please their owners how can we not give them the best. Cost wise is about $15 a week and 45 min a week. I can def give him that much for all his dedication….

  24. garcinia cambogia Says:

    It’s difficult to find educated people for this topic, but you seem like you know what you’гe talking аbout!

    Thanks

  25. Sondra Says:

    Rawsome! I am ashamed of ourselves. My husband and I have a 6 year old Jackabee (jack russell/beagle) mix. We too got him as a rescue when he was 7 weeks old. I have tried just about every food out there and to no success. He has always shed, sneezed and vomited. He also will scratch a lot. I never considered that his food my be the culprit. I currently feed him a $18.00 bag of dog food recommended by our vet (she don’t have to pay for it.) He has been eating this for a couple of weeks and no change. My daughter got me on pinterest and told me to search there. Thank my blessings I found you. I am going to try your recipe and see how he does. How do you handle vaccines. I have found a great flea & tick natural remedy that works, but I wonder how much of these vaccines are needed. I know you aren’t recommending anyone change or do as you did, but I sure would like just general opinions. The vet bills are awful and we just can’t keep it up. Would love any comments out there.

  26. Gayle Says:

    Can anyone please tell me if the 80% lean 20% fat ground beef will be enough fat in this meat loaf recipe or would more fat need to be added? Please anyone?

  27. Sandy Says:

    This website with all the contributors has really encouraged me to follow through with a homemade diet. I do some raw diet but did not realize the veggies really are best when steamed. I have 3 dogs and 3 cats. I would really like to move away from store bought pet foods. I’ve tried some of the ‘better’ dog foods but feel boxed in when I see how many recalls are listed. With the holidays coming up I think I can really cash in on a lot of sales for the ingredients. I am starting to garden some so this site has also given me a list of a few things I might not have chosen to grow. Super information! Thanks Jenny and all the others who have shared research, experiences, and gleaned information.

  28. ashley Says:

    So, either recipe you made… It is dry dog food then? As in looks like kibble? Or is it wet dog food like what comes out of a can? I am trying to figure out a dry kibble recipe for my 3 dogs and don’t want a strict wet dog food so I don’t have to pay for costly dental cleanings. Any thoughts to a dog that is allergic to any type of wheat products?

  29. Christina Says:

    I have a goldendoodle how much should I feed him a day using the cooked method?

  30. Sue Says:

    I’m late to this, but thank you…this is one of the most complete yet simple recipes. One comment….I like to add yogurt….but add it AFTER meatloaf is cooked (I cook in large casseroles then chop into freezer containers and stir in yogurt). Cooked yogurt will not retain probiotics. I also use beef heart as part of meat….gross but nutritious, cheap, and dogs LOVE it. If sondra is still viewing…many vaccines can be given every 3 years, not yearly…and my vet gives NO vaccines except rabies after 8 yrs of age. If you have access to a farmer with a deer license, venison is also a great, affordable protein source…i just have the processor grind it into large bags…and pay about 75 cents/pound….and I stock up on turkeys when they are cheap over the holidays.

  31. Jenny Says:

    I have never had a dog that followed the general feeding instructions to a ‘T’ with any form of dog food. I have let the dog’s waistline be a determiner. When I first started out feeding with this recipe, my dog thickened up rather quickly so I started to cut back slowly until he was at his perfect weight. I cannot tell you what your dog requires…that will have to be something you determine as the owner (with the help of your vet if you feel more comfortable or there are medical reasons) who knows their dog better than anyone and see’s them every day.

  32. Jenny Says:

    Hi Ashley,
    I only know about my dog…I am not a vet and I am not qualified to give any advice about allergies. Sorry I can not be of more help in that area. As far as the baked dog food recipe, it is neither wet (as in canned dog food) nor hard like kibble. It is like meatloaf.

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