2 Vet-Approved Recipes: Homemade Food for Senior Dogs

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“Rufus is feeling five years younger! He loves his food now and just seems so much happier.” I’ve heard pet owners gushing like this over and over after I’ve recommended they switch to homemade food for senior dogs. 

Home-prepared dog food can make a huge difference if your buddy has lost a bit of interest in life or is a picky eater. It can also be used as a tool to treat diseases common in senior dogs. But it’s extremely important to make the food complete and balanced! Otherwise, your dog could end up worse off than he is with dry dog food. 

Homemade food for senior dogs can be as simple as chicken, brown rice and green beans as long as you add the right supplements. It’s easy (and free) to create a complete and balanced recipe with BalanceIT.com®. I’ll show you two vet-approved recipes I created there that are perfect for senior dogs. 

[JUMP TO RECIPES]

Feeding Challenges for Older Dogs

Weight and muscle loss are common in geriatric dogs. Scientists believe these may occur due to increased recycling of old body cells (autophagy)(3). 

We want our older dogs to maintain their fat and muscle mass for as long as possible. But it may take more calories and a different macronutrient ratio to combat geriatric wasting once it starts. Home-prepared food can be tailored to fit your dog. Most dogs also find it tastier so they eat more of it. 

It’s not unusual for senior dogs to experience changes in appetite. If a dog is eating less, the food needs to have a more concentrated level of all required nutrients to meet the dog’s needs. 

Home-prepared food can be made with more calories per cup and still have all the vitamins and minerals your dog requires for health. Some of the reasons senior dogs have a lower appetite include: 

  • Dental disease–so many senior dogs have dental disease to the point of having pain and an overall unhealthy condition.
  • Mobility issues–spinal pain, muscle stiffness and arthritis are common in older dogs.
  • Other systemic diseases–urinary tract diseases, liver disease, chronic gastrointestinal disease and endocrine disease are all more likely to occur in senior dogs. 
healthy senior dogs can eat homemade dog food

Does Your Senior Dog Need Fewer Calories?

Obesity is rampant amongst pets in the United States. And older dogs are more likely to be obese than their younger counterparts. Not only have they had more years of over-consuming highly digestible food, but they also tend to burn fewer calories due to inactivity. 

The smartest thing is to get an honest assessment of your pet’s weight from your veterinarian. If your pup needs to lose weight, ask your vet what your dog’s ideal weight would be. Also, ask them to help you figure out how long it should take to lose the weight. 

Getting an obese senior dog to a healthy weight could add years to his life. And it will definitely make those years more enjoyable. 

Do Senior Dogs Need More Protein?

A lot of internet dog enthusiasts are saying senior dogs require more protein than adult dogs. Is that really the case? 

AAFCO and NRC do not have official senior dog food recommendations (1). Instead, they fall into the Adult Dog category. 

Any “senior” labeling on dog food is purely made up by the manufacturer. There is no official standard for senior dog food. Some products have less protein than adult food while others have more. 

There’s a lot we don’t know about the nutritional needs of senior dogs. 

Some researchers have wondered whether older dogs absorb less dietary protein. This idea led them to think seniors need more highly digestible protein to maintain health (2).

But several clinical studies have found no difference in protein requirements between healthy geriatric vs. younger adult dogs. 

A 1985 study showed no difference in the ability to utilize nutrients from different diets when considering a group of 10-12-year-old dogs compared to a group of 8-year-old dogs (4). A 2001 study also found no difference in whole-body protein turnover between geriatric and young adult dogs while eating 16%, 24, or 32% protein. They concluded that 16% dietary protein may be perfectly adequate for geriatric dogs (5).  

The current thinking amongst veterinary nutritionists is that healthy older dogs don’t need more protein than younger dogs. Most high-quality adult dog foods have plenty of protein for senior dogs. 

Or Do Senior Dogs Need Less Protein?

Some dog foods manufacturers assume senior dogs all have some level of renal dysfunction/kidney insufficiency. 

There was a time when veterinary nutritionists recommended feeding all dogs with kidney disease less protein. That’s why some senior diets provide a lower level of protein than adult diets. 

Current opinions on this practice vary, but many nutritionists recommend protein restriction only for dogs with advanced kidney disease. If your dog has kidney disease, please consult your veterinarian for help formulating an appropriate homemade meal. 

Vet nutritionists currently recommend healthy elderly dogs eat dog food with at least the amount of protein recommended for adult dogs. The protein source for seniors should be highly digestible. Human-grade sources of protein used in BalanceIT.com’s recipes are generally highly digestible. 

Each case must be assessed separately as some older dogs are overweight, some have arthritis, some have failing kidneys and others are healthy except for the loss of muscle mass. Work with your vet to determine if your dog needs a special therapeutic diet. 

You don’t have to be a professional chef to make homemade dog food!

Challenges and Pitfalls of Making Your Own Dog Food

If homemade dog food is so great, why don’t vets recommend it more and why don’t all dog owners make their dog’s food? There are some obvious reasons…

Nutritionally Unbalanced & Incomplete Food

It’s super common for well-intentioned pet owners to feed a homemade diet consisting only of meat and starch. Most people don’t consider all the deficiencies in this sort of diet. 

Unbalanced diets scare us vets! We don’t want to see dogs showing up with rickets from lack of calcium or skin disease from the wrong balance of essential fatty acids. So we tell people to feed a commercial food instead of cooking their own.

Overly Complicated Recipes with Expensive Ingredients

I’ve seen some dog food recipe doozies in books and on the internet. 

I mean, really? 15+ ingredients??? And many are hard to find and expensive. 

It’s a turn-off for all of us pet lovers. But you’ll see below that recipes don’t have to be complicated or super expensive. 

The animal protein components are the most expensive and most important part to keep as simple as possible. Consider using lean ground turkey or ground beef, chicken breasts, chicken thighs or less expensive types of fish like tilapia. 

For the carbohydrate component, white rice is probably the least expensive option. You could also use brown rice, sweet potato, white potato or even oats. 

It’s not required, but why not include a little anti-inflammatory boost by adding fish oil? These days it’s easy to find and usually not expensive. 

You can get as fancy as you want or keep things ultra simple with a meat, carb and veggie recipe. Using more common ingredients will make it easier to buy everything you need for your dog’s diet at your usual grocery store.

Time & Storage Issues

It’s a lot easier to grab a huge bag of dry kibble off the shelf at the supermarket than it is to source multiple items from multiple stores for cooking at home. Then there’s the issue of having to cook for your dog daily. 

And many people don’t have the freezer space to pre-cook a month’s worth of dog food. 

I’ll show you how to deal with each of these points. My system makes it feasible to feed my two dogs fresh food daily for over 10 years. I spend only a few hours a month on it and it’s less costly than some high-end commercial food products. 

Homemade Dog Food Recipes (Vet-Approved)  

Making food for your dog is not difficult. I’ve been doing it for 10 years for my two dogs. It does take a little more effort but the payoff is so worth it. 

Today we are fortunate to have a free resource at BalanceIT.com for creating a nutritionally complete homemade dog food diet that can be safely fed long-term.

Balance IT was founded by Sean Delaney, DVM, MS, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (DACVN). Dr. Delaney is a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. His team has created powerful software that vets and pet owners can use free of charge to create millions of pet food recipes. 

Balance IT also offers supplements to go along with each recipe to ensure there are no nutritional deficiencies. That means your fresh food recipe will be just as complete and balanced as high-end commercial veterinary diets. 

You won’t have to worry about your pup developing diseases from eating an unbalanced recipe like just chicken and rice. And your vet won’t fuss at you for endangering your pet!

Simplify Your Food Preparation

I prefer to cook my dog’s food in batches, preparing at least one week’s worth at a time. You can tell the BalanceIT software to calculate the recipe for one day, a week or even up to three week’s worth of food for your dog.  

You must cook the ingredients separately, exactly as instructed in your recipe. Don’t try to throw everything in one pot to cook or the food will not be balanced properly!

On my pet food prep days, I cook my meat and starch, weigh and mix everything in a giant bowl and then portion it out and put it in the refrigerator and/or freezer. That’s it. Once you get the routine down, it’s not a big deal. 

I’ve created two sample recipes that work well for my senior dogs. But there are many choices when creating dog food recipes with BalanceIT.com. You can make a super simple three-ingredient recipe or choose multiple “superfood” ingredients. I suggest starting with a simple recipe. 

Extremely Important: Add a Balancing Supplement

I prefer using the Balance IT Canine Plus supplement which allows you to reheat your pup’s meal one time without destroying the nutrients. If you opt for the regular Balance IT Canine supplement, you’ll have to mix it in after you’ve reheated the food, or you can serve the food cold.

Failing to add the supplement will lead to critical nutritional imbalances. These can result in serious health problems over time. Please take this very seriously!

Make a Recipe Tailored to Your Own Dog’s Needs

I encourage you to create your own recipe based on your dog’s weight and preferences. Head on over to BalanceIT.com. It’s EASY and FREE! Here’s the one I made for my dog…

chicken and rice dog food recipe

Chicken & Rice Senior Dog Food Recipe (7-Day Batch)

Serving Size:
14 meals for a healthy, non-obese 52-pound dog
Time:
Total: 60-90 minutes, about 20 minutes of active time
Difficulty:
EASY

Calories: 8414 for the entire recipe, 601 calories per meal

Macronutrients: Protein 28%, Fat 39%, Carbohydrate 33%

I modeled this recipe on a popular chicken and rice adult dry dog food. It’s made with inexpensive everyday ingredients. The only thing you’ll have to order is the Balance IT supplement. Please review the instructions that come with your recipe. Here’s how I prepared mine:

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. 8 oz. ROASTED boneless, skinless chicken breast (weight of COOKED chicken, not raw)
  • 14 1/8 cup COOKED Regular long-grain white rice (measurement of COOKED rice, not dry/raw)
  • 1 1/3 cup Corn oil
  • 8 3/8 cup Canned green beans, drained
  • 37 5/8 tsp (94 grams) Balance IT® Canine powder (or 26 7/8=94 grams Balance IT® Canine Plus powder)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Optionally, slice the raw chicken breasts lengthwise (like butterflying) so they’re half as thick–they’ll cook faster. Place raw meat chicken breasts on a foil-covered baking sheet. Do not add any oil. Roast in oven at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes until juices run clear and the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees F. Remove from oven, discard juices and allow to cool. Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces.
  3. While chicken is roasting, prepare and cook rice as directed on the label. You can use a slow cooker, a pot on the stove, a rice cooker or even cook it in the oven. Remember the amount called for in the recipe is the cooked amount which is approximately double the dry rice amount. For my recipe, I’ll be measuring Just over 7 cups of dry rice and 14 cups of water into my stovetop pot. Allow rice to cool after it’s fully cooked.
  4. Open and drain canned green beans while waiting for the rice and chicken to cool.
  5. Measure all ingredients according to the recipe using a kitchen scale, measuring cups and spoons. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well.* 
  6. Portion equally into 7 sealable storage containers. Balance IT recommends only storing food in the fridge for 3 days, so refrigerate 3 and freeze 4. 

Feed ½ of each container for your dog’s meal twice a day. 

Each day, move one container from the freezer to the fridge so it has a few days to thaw before feeding. 

*If you want to reheat the food before serving, use Balance IT Canine Plus powder which is made to withstand being reheated up to 165 degrees F one time. Regular Balance IT Canine powder should not be reheated so you need to serve the food without reheating it (most dogs don’t mind cool food at all). 

ground beef and sweet potato dog food recipe

Beef & Sweet Potato High Protein/Grain-Free Senior Dog Food Recipe (7-Day Batch)

Serving Size:
14 meals for a healthy, non-obese 52-pound dog
Time:
Total: 60-90 minutes, about 30 minutes of active time
Difficulty:
EASY

Calories: 8409 for the entire recipe, 600 calories per meal

Macronutrients: Protein 30%, Fat 36%, Carbohydrate 34%

This recipe is loosely modeled on another best-selling brand of grain-free, high-protein kibble dog food. The basic ingredients are ground beef, sweet potatoes and green beans. It could work for dogs who can’t tolerate chicken. 

You can easily alter this recipe using the FREE Balance IT software to use any protein you want including ground turkey or chicken breasts. Please review the instructions that come with your recipe. Here’s how I prepared my recipe:

Ingredients

  • 4.3 lb. 85% Lean ground beef, COOKED/pan-browned (weight of drained, COOKED beef, not raw)
  • 16 1/8 cup Sweet potato, COOKED/baked without salt (measurement for COOKED flesh only, no skin)
  • 6 1/4 teaspoon Corn oil
  • 8 3/8 cup Canned grean beans, drained
  • 26 3/4 tsp (67 grams) Balance IT® Canine powder (or 19 1/8=64 grams Balance IT® Canine Plus powder)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Rinse sweet potatoes, poke the skin a few times with a fork and place them on a foil-covered sheet pan. Roast in the oven until they’re slightly soft when pressed, about 40-50 minutes. Take them out of the oven and allow them to cool. Scoop the flesh out and discard the skins.
  3. While sweet potatoes are roasting, cook ground beef in a large pot on the stovetop until there is no more pink color to the meat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat (discard pan drippings) and allow it to cool.
  4. Open and drain your canned green beans while waiting for sweet potatoes and beef to cool.
  5. Measure all ingredients according to the recipe using a kitchen scale, measuring cups and spoons. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir well.* 
  6. Portion equally into 7 sealable storage containers. Balance IT recommends only storing food in the fridge for 3 days, so refrigerate 3 and freeze 4.

Feed ½ of each container for your dog’s meal twice a day. 

Each day, move one container from the freezer to the fridge so it has a few days to thaw before feeding. 

*If you want to reheat the food before serving, use Balance IT Canine Plus powder which is made to withstand being reheated up to 165 degrees F one time. Regular Balance IT Canine powder should not be reheated so you need to serve the food without reheating it (most dogs don’t mind cool food at all). 

How to Switch to a New Dog Food

Discuss any diet change with your vet if your dog has any health problems or a history of reacting badly to food changes. I always tell people to gradually change to the new diet over 7 days for dogs who tolerate changes well. Change over a period of 14 days if you know your dog tends to get an upset stomach with food changes. 

Stop the new food and contact your veterinarian if vomiting, diarrhea or decreased appetite occur. 

Homemade Dog Food Serving Size

As a rule of thumb, for most homemade dog food 1.5 cups is about equal to 1 cup of dry dog food. So a dog who eats 2 cups of dry food twice a day will be eating closer to 3 cups of homemade dog food twice a day. 

Luckily, you don’t have to guesstimate since your Balance IT recipe will tell you exactly how much to feed your dog.

Cost of Homemade Dog for Senior Dogs

It costs me around $95 per month to feed a 52-pound dog with the chicken and rice homemade diet shown in this article. That figure could go up significantly if you’re using more expensive proteins like lamb or fish. 

Chicken & Rice Recipe Cost per Month for 52 lb. Dog:

IngredientCost
Chicken Breast$40
White Rice$4
Corn Oil$3.50
Canned Green Beans$7
BalanceIT Supplement$44
TOTAL$98.50

I’ve figured out that my homemade dog food recipe costs 66% less to feed my dogs than commercial raw dog food (~$300/month), which I used before I started cooking for them. 

I also feel better feeding home-prepared cooked meals after several of the raw diet products I was buying were recalled due to serious bacterial contamination.

Homemade dog food indeed costs about 25% more than high-end dry food (~$75/month). And it costs a lot more than mid- or low-range kibble-style dry food. 

But the difference in the quality of ingredients, control over preparation, psychological and physical benefits are definitely worth the extra money!

So if you have a couple of hours a week to cook food for your dog, you can feed fresh meals for just a fraction more than it would cost to feed high-end dry dog food. Why not give it a try?

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References

  1. Carlson, E. (2020). In 42nd Annual OAVT Conference & Trade Show. Woburn, MA; Ethos Veterinary Health. 
  2. Mundt, H. C. (1991). Nutrition of old dogs. The Journal of nutrition, 121(suppl_11), S41-S42.
  3. Pagano, T. B., Wojcik, S., Costagliola, A., De Biase, D., Iovino, S., Iovane, V., … & Paciello, O. (2015). Age-related skeletal muscle atrophy and upregulation of autophagy in dogs. The Veterinary Journal, 206(1), 54-60.
  4. Sheffy, B. E., Williams, A. J., Zimmer, J. F., & Ryan, G. D. (1985). Nutrition and metabolism of the geriatric dog. The Cornell Veterinarian, 75(2), 324-347.
  5. Williams, C. C., Cummins, K. A., Hayek, M. G., & Davenport, G. M. (2001). Effects of dietary protein on whole-body protein turnover and endocrine function in young-adult and aging dogs. Journal of animal science, 79(12), 3128-3136.

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