Are you ready to level up your dog’s health through home-cooked meals? Of course, you are. My goal is to help dog moms and dog dads gain confidence in the kitchen. This recipe will give you a solid foundation to get you started on the right foot.
The ratios above are your starting guideline. Adjustments can be made depending on your dog’s individual needs.
You may have seen variations of “ratio-recipes” but they either:
- Over simplify it, which leads to an unbalanced meal
- Add carbohydrates in portions that aren’t needed.
- Don’t state ingredients sources for calcium, omega-3s, or vitamins and minerals.
- Focusing on a one size fits all approach which doesn’t work for dogs. Hello, that’s why we don’t feed kibble.
As a Certified Canine Nutritionist, I use formulation software to test and validate the foundation recipe.
So yes, it may intimidate you at first but trust me, it’s not that hard. It’s a recipe for success, and once you understand the WHY behind the core recipe, you’ll feel at ease that you’re feeding your dog correctly.
- These ratios are based on a goal to ensure you meet your dog’s nutritional needs based on AAFCO’s standards.
- The advice given is the closest I can get you to a nutritionally sound recipe without requiring you to use a spreadsheet or hire me to create a personalized formula.
- The formulas are for a healthy dog that isn’t suffering from any medical ailments.
- I focus on a limited ingredient, nutrient-dense approach
- I stay away from recommending ingredients that can cause problems like shellfish, green tripe or fermented foods.
Whole with Minimal Synthetics
There are two approaches when preparing your dog’s food.
- Ingredients will always be from whole foods and meals will be synthetic-free: Emphasis is placed on utilizing whole food sources to fill nutrient needs.
- Whole foods + synthetics approach: Supplements can be used to fill gaps in minerals and vitamins due to the inability to find whole food sources.
I advocate for using whole food sources first before turning to synthetic supplements for the following reasons:
- Whole food is more bio-available than synthetic sources.
- It isn’t easy to make mistakes when you use whole food sources as it relates to over-supplementation and causing vitamin and mineral toxicities.
That said, sometimes you can’t use whole food ingredients due to lack of access to it, budget, and allergies.
Batch versus Individual Meals
There are two ways in preparation
1. Batch cooking all of the ingredients at once and storing the food in individual servings.
- You might be able to save money because you buy ingredients in bulk. However, on the flip side, you need to buy or have the ingredients on hand at the time of meal prep.
- Save time throughout the time you have food on hand.
- Meal prep time can be exhausting – taking three to five hours.
- You need to have freezer space to store all the food.
I used to cook meals this way. I would drive around town to buy all of my ingredients and then spend a night cooking, portioning it out, and then storing and freezing.
I found this method to be exhausting. Meal prep nights meant I would have to be in the kitchen all night.
2. Cooking the ingredients and keeping them in daily servings
I found this approach to be easier. It also allowed me to shop sales and store my ingredients instead of buying it all at once.
- It allowed me to take advantage of sales.
- It allowed me to break up my cooking nights. For example, if I went to Costco and bought 5 pounds of turkey. I could cook it that night, portion it out in daily servings and then pull it out when I needed it.
- More cooking nights but … I spend a lot of the week cooking anyway, so this wasn’t a big problem for me.
The Core Recipe For Home Cooked Meals
Knowing what ingredients to add, at which amounts, and how often to rotate them are the skills you need to learn this core recipe.
These “ratios” are starting guidelines to get you started.
50 to 65% Muscle Meat. Choose one protein for the meal. Rotate every day or every week
- Rotate your proteins. I change out a different protein every night of the week. You can rotate every two, three, four, five, six but no more than seven days (mix it up weekly)
- Choose leaner cuts of meat.
- I feed red meat more frequently. I actually don’t feed chicken as the main protein since I use chicken feet and chicken hearts often.
- Feed eggs daily. I recommend pasture-raised eggs. They are higher in vitamin A, E, and omega-3s, as well as lower in cholesterol and saturated fat. They also help you fill your choline requirement daily. My 20-pound dogs eat half an egg, each meal or one egg a day. You can feed the eggs scrambled or hard-boiled.
5% Organ Muscle Meat. Rotate your variety monthly but always include gizzards or heart in your meals as often as you can.
Not to be confused with organ meat, “organ muscle meat” will be the other cuts of meat from the tongue, heart, and gizzards.
Organ muscle meat will have a different profile of nutrients from muscle meat which is why it’s beneficial to feed it.
Interestingly enough I used to think that taurine came from hearts but it’s actually the highest in gizzards.
- You must NEVER FEED COOKED BONES. The compromise is to dehydrate them at home or buy them already dried. Or feed them raw.
- You can increase bone to 12% if their poops are solid enough. It should be like a cigar that can roll down a sloped sidewalk. You should be able to pick it up with ease. If it’s too hard, it will turn white the next day and you need to ease up on the bone.
- In a pinch, when you don’t have bone, you can use eggshell powder or seaweed calcium. Additional alternatives include bone meal or calcium carbonate.
5-10% Fish: Pick two and rotate monthly
- For example, I love to feed salmon and mackerel. Those are the two fish I feed most of the time, and occasionally, I’ll have access to capelin, smelt, sardines, or anchovies.
- I normally cook fish low and slow in a small amount of water and then include the water in their meal.
Some Dogs Can Eat Shellfish
You can use mussels for manganese and oysters for zinc
- 2.5% Blue mussels which are needed for manganese.
- You can get both of these ingredients from your local Asian market.
- You MUST cook them. Most blue mussels already come cooked.
- Cinnamon can be a replacement for manganese if your dog doesn’t have a palatability issue with cinnamon.
- 2.5% Oysters are fed for zinc. They are typically frozen and need to be cooked prior to feeding to eliminate the problem with thiaminase.
- If you are unable to find frozen oysters you can buy them canned. Some dogs react to canned foods. Typically they start itching between 30 minutes to 3 hours after they eat it so you will very quickly be able to tell.
- Zinc in it’s natural whole food form is up to 6.5 times more bioavailable than synthetic sources.
- If you cannot source oysters, you can use the amino acid chelated zinc supplement such as L-OptiZinc® in a 15 mg dose. Capsules are easy as you can break them apart. Small dogs can turn to Zinc drops. There are Ionic zinc sold on Amazon.
KEEP IN MIND: NOT ALL DOGS CAN EAT SHELLFISH
Not all dogs can eat shellfish. I used to feed these ingredients to my dog but one had a bad reaction to oysters and I have now put shellfish on the “feed with caution” list.
I suspect that the issue has to do with sourcing.
Interestingly enough I found texts referencing ancient dietary advice that say that seafood has to have both skin and scales.
Scientists have taken years to discover and now agree that fish with scales AND fins are equipped with a digestive system that prevents the absorption of poisons and toxins into their flesh from the waters they call home.
Oysters and mussels absorb toxins from the water in which they dwell. And while manganese is highest in mussels and zinc in oysters, not all dogs can eat shellfish.
3-5% Liver: Choose two and rotate monthly
- Liver is extremely high in Vitamin A.
- The copper yield in liver varies depending on the source.
- For example, I rotate my liver between beef, lamb and pork liver. I feed it for about 7 to 10 days and then switch to a different liver.
- Air-dried liver treats can be a substitute to cooked liver.
- The reason why I recommend only 4% liver is feeding more leads to higher levels of Vitamin A as well as possibly copper being fed.
High copper liver includes: beef, calf (veal), lamb, goat, goose / feed around 3%
Mid-range copper liver includes: duck, deer / feed around 4%
Low copper liver includes: pork, chicken, turkey / feed around 5%
5% Other secreting organs: Choose two and rotate monthly
- If you can source spleen – it’s great to feed as it has the highest level of iron
- Air-dried kidney or spleen can be a good substitute for cooked
- The Power is in the Plants and how much you contribute depends on your dog. You can actually add up to 20% more vegetables of what the food weighs prior to add it. So let’s say you put all of the ingredients together and it weighs 5 oz, you can add up to 2oz of vegetables. There are a few caveats:
- Always blend, steam, puree, and cook the vegetables
- You can add fermented vegetables from time to time
- Some companies offer freeze-dried options
- Add at least two vegetables and pair them so that one is an underground vegetable and the other is an above-ground vegetable
- Buy organic vegetables when you can
- Focus on what’s in season
- Feed a wide variety of vegetables
How Much Food To Feed Your Dog
- I could formulate a portion to your dog’s individual caloric needs but you can also safely estimate it to be between 2% (adult semi-active dog) to 4% (adult active dog) of their daily weight.
- You will have to monitor their body condition score regularly to know if you are feeding the correct amount.
- Low and slow. Cook your proteins, organ, fish, low and slow. I typically prefer you cook each ingredient separately as opposed to one batch since things like liver and spleen are in such small portions it’s hard to mix it so that it’s evenly distributed at feeding.
- NEVER, EVER cook bone. You can feed it raw, or in my case, I dehydrate it.
- Allowing for moisture loss during cooking
Putting It All Together In The Bowl
To save money, it’s been easier for me to purchase ingredients as I’m out and about doing my own grocery for my family and taking advantage of sales.
As such, I store all of the ingredients in individual servings and defrost the next day’s meals in the fridge.
I prepare their meals twice a day. Supplements are minimally used unless I was unable to source the whole food source.
Supplements To Add
- Calcium: When I don’t have bones I use eggshell or seaweed calcium powder.
- Kelp: A trace amount of kelp goes a long way. A pinch is all you need. If you overfeed this – depending on the brand, you can easily be entering overfeeding a dangerous amount of Vitamin A and/or D.
- Vitamin E: If you are able to source bone marrow one to two times a week you won’t have to feed vitamin E supplements.
- Vitamin D: If you are feeding enough fish you won’t have to feed Vitamin D.
Know Function, Deficiencies, and Excesses of Key Nutrients
The deficiencies for the commonly missed nutrient in home-cooked meals are as follows:
Function: Constituent of thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Thyroid hormones have an active role In thermoregulation, Intermediary metabolism, reproduction, growth and development, circulation and muscle function.
Deficiency: Goiter, fetal resorption, rough coat, enlarged thyroid glands, alopecia, apathy, lethargy
Excess: Similar to those caused by deficiency. Decreased appetite, listlessness, rough coat, decreased immunity, decreased weight gain, goiter, fever
Function: Component and activator of enzymes (glycosyl transferases) lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, bone development (organic matrix) reproduction, cell membrane integrity (mitochondria)
Deficiency: Impaired reproduction, fatty liver, crooked legs, decreased growth
Excess: Relatively nontoxic
Function: Calcium and phosphorus homeostasis, bone mineralization, bone resorption, insulin synthesis, immune function
Deficiency: Rickets, enlarged costochondral junctions, osteomalacia, osteoporosis
Excess: Hypercalcemia, calcinosis, anorexia, lameness
Function: Biologic antioxidant, membrane integrity through free radical scavenging.
Deficiency: Sterility (males) steatitis, dermatosis, immunodeficiency, anorexia, myopathy
Excess: Minimally toxic. Fat-soluble vitamin antagonism, increased clotting time, (reversed with vitamin K).
Excess: Relatively nontoxic. Reported cases were because of consumption of pennies or zinc nuts
Function: Constituent or activator of 200 known enzymes (nucleic acid metabolism, protein synthesis carbohydrate metabolism, skin and wound healing, immune response, fetal development, growth rate
Deficiency: Anorexia, decreased growth, alopecia, parakeratosis, impaired reproduction, vomiting, hair depigmentation, conjunctivitis
Being familiar with the ailments lets you know if you’re overfeeding or underfeeding your dog.
Best Supplements To Add
- Milk Thistle: Liver support and detox.
- Quercetin: Nature’s Benedryl. Feed to dogs with yeast, allergies, IBD, and inflammation. Only feed 30 days at a time
- Digestive Enzymes
- Mushrooms: Helps the fight against cancer and reduces inflammation.
- Omega – 3s. I like to get keep my Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio in the 3:1 ratio or even 2:1 and that would mean I would have to feed almost double the amount of fish or just add an Omega 3 supplement. I NEVER advise omega-3 oil as it oxidizes and goes rancid but I do recommend Omega-3 powder.
Commercial Home Cooked Food
The fresh food movement is gaining in popularity and you can have home-cooked meals delivered to you from Just Food For Dogs, Nom Nom Now and The Farmer’s Dog to name a few.
I’ve tried all three brands and found the carb content to be high. All of the recipes I tried didn’t have fish or seafood. And energy can come from fat or carbs.
If you prefer to have meals cooked for you and delivered to your door, they are great options. I would suggest you:
- Add more fish
- Add more protein
Why I don’t Include Carbohydrates
Dogs do not need carbohydrates to survive. It’s not species-appropriate.
However, in some cases, I will utilize carbohydrates when it’s a therapeutic diet and for whatever reason, it needs to be in there.
Also if there in imbalance like ‘damp heat’ (yeasty dogs) I may add a tablespoon of barley to a dog’s meals during the time we are trying to rebalance them.
Another option is to add sweet potato or squash but the high level of fiber might cause problems for their stomach.
Remember to rotate and add variety. Don’t fall into the trap of only feeding chicken, or turkey, or pork. Dogs need to eat different proteins to be healthy.
You can very easily learn how to make your dog their own homemade meals and you’re also welcome to work with me on your first recipe.