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Are the Best Recipes for Homemade Dog Food Safe?

I’ve always enjoyed cooking for myself and my family. When I got my first dog as an adult I wanted to try cooking for her. My dog absolutely loved my recipes for homemade dog food but I worried that she wasn’t getting all the nutrients she needed.

Later, during vet school, I was shocked to learn about all the nutrients dogs require. Dog nutrition is no light subject! Did you know your pup can develop very serious, life-threatening diseases from an excess or lack of essential nutrients in their diet? 

Dog food recipes on the internet often have serious nutritional excesses and deficiencies. The best recipes for homemade dog food for long-term use are usually created by a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist. They will analyze the ingredients to make sure every necessary nutrient is present and balanced in the right proportion.

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Incorrect ratios of phosphorus to calcium causes hyperparathyroidism. Too little vitamin D causes bone deformity while too much causes kidney failure. Too little vitamin E can lead to inflammation of all fatty tissues. And there are many other conditions caused by nutritional imbalances. 

The internet is filled with dog food recipes. Most consist of some kind of meat, a starch, and a vegetable. The magazine-quality photos of the prepared meals look fantastic. Bloggers promise their recipe is easy to make and that your dog will be over the moon about the taste.

But what they don’t tell you is that it’s deficient in linoleic acid, vitamin E and calcium (among other things). They don’t tell you because they don’t know it themselves. Practically none of the recipes shared by bloggers include any nutritional information.

They also don’t mention that even though their recipe is not complete and balanced, it will cost you five to ten times more than if you just bought a middle-grade bag of dry dog food from the grocery store.

So what you get for your trouble is very expensive dog food that could cause some serious problems for your dog if you feed it long enough. 

Best Dog Food Recipes

Dog food made at home should be nutritionally complete and balanced just like the high-quality dog food you buy from a store. 

It’s not that easy to create a recipe like this and it’s even less easy to make it perfectly day after day week after week. But it is possible and if you are truly interested in making food for your dog, check out my resources below.

What Do Dogs Need in Homemade Dog Food?

Veterinarians are pretty gun-shy about recommending home-cooked dog food. We’ve seen what people cook for their dogs and it usually consists of chicken and rice or ground beef and sweet potato, but it rarely includes all the vitamins and minerals a dog needs to thrive.

Most veterinarians recommend homemade food only as a last resort. It’s either when the dog refuses to eat anything else, or when a dog owner insists on preparing a homemade diet.

I love making my dog’s food. I would love it if more people would make their dog’s food. But I see how many pitfalls and challenges are involved.

Did you know that dogs require 10 amino acids in specific amounts, linoleic fatty acid, 12 vitamins and 12 minerals in their diet? Too much, too little or an imbalanced ratio of certain nutrients can lead to disease. 

What About Recipes That Claim to Be Vet-Approved?

Most of the time when you find a recipe that says it’s “vet-approved,” it doesn’t mean much. Unless the veterinarian has analyzed the nutrient content of the food, it’s pretty hard to say whether or not it meets the criteria for complete and balanced dog food. 

I don’t believe regular vets are analyzing the full dog food recipe when they supposedly approve them. I think they take a glance and say it’s fine for occasional use, assuming the dog is eating commercial pet food most of the time. 

My advice? Even if you find a homemade dog food recipe that claims to be vet-approved, don’t feed it as your dog’s sole source of nutrition without having it analyzed for all a dog’s required nutrients by a vet or veterinary nutritionist. 

BalanceIT.com® Makes It Safe to Feed Homemade Dog Food

Multiple studies have analyzed hundreds of recipes for homemade dog food. Invariably, the recipes are found to be deficient in one or more vital nutrients. 

One of these studies done in 2013 looked at more than 200 recipes and found that only a handful of them were nutritionally complete and balanced. And all of those were written by veterinarians! (1)

It is possible to create safe, nutritionally complete and balanced dog food at home But it requires a lot of careful analysis based on data that are difficult to find as a consumer.

These days, making safe dog food is as easy as choosing a few ingredients, typing them into free online software, and ordering a powdered supplement to make sure your recipe has everything your dog needs. And these recipes are safe to be fed every day, long-term.

If you are the owner of a healthy adult dog, check out the free recipe software at BalanceIT.com. You can choose from hundreds of common and exotic food items to produce a recipe and instructions for making safe, nutritious dog food. 

You will also order their recommended supplement to make it complete and balanced. I’ve been using these products for years, and I know that dogs accept them. The supplement is easier to use and is no more expensive than buying a bunch of separate supplements.

If your dog has specific health issues or is under the age of 12 months, you can purchase a custom recipe made by one of Balance IT’s veterinary nutritionists. 

Nutritionally Complete and Balanced Homemade Dog Food Recipe

Here’s an example of a recipe I recently made at Balance.IT.com for my dogs. You can see that it’s very simple and made with ingredients found in any grocery store. 

This recipe is appropriate for ONE DAY’s worth of food for a healthy adult 35 lb. dog, so if you want to feed a dog of a different size or life stage, please create your own recipe. It’s free! 

Here’s a simple recipe reproduced from BalanceIT.com with permission.

Hands mixing chicken and rice in a large metal bowl (recipes for homemade dog food)
Homemade dog food is fun and easy to make!

Balance IT® Turkey & Rice Feast Recipe

Recipe for one day’s worth of food for a healthy adult 35 lb. dog. 

IngredientWeight in GramsVolume Measurement
Ground turkey, 85% lean, 15% fat, pan-broiled crumbles (approx. 83% lean)202 g7 1/8 oz
Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked220 g1 1/8 cup
Oil, corn, all purpose salad or cooking11 g2 3/8 tsp
Beans, snap, green, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained without salt85 g5/8 cup
Applesauce, canned, unsweetened, without added ascorbic acid61 g1/4 cup
Balance IT® Canine9.1 g3 5/8 teaspoon
  1. All ingredients should be purchased and prepared. The method of cooking, if any, is typically listed within the ingredient name.
  2. Measure or weigh and then chop large pieces.
  3. Combine all ingredients and mix well.
  4. Prepared food can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 weeks.

NOTE: Food should not be re-heated after Balance IT Canine powder is mixed in. For batch cooking options, make your own recipe and choose Balance IT Canine Plus powder which can be re-heated once.

Nutrition Facts (for entire recipe)

  • Calories: 909 Calories
  • Protein: 25% protein calories (226 Calories)*
  • Fat: 47% fat calories (432 Calories)*
  • Carbohydrate: 28% carbohydrate calories (252 Calories)*
  • Moisture: 70.4%
  • Deficiencies: None, based on AAFCO, with supplement added, 15 without supplement added

Just Food for Dogs®: Done for You or DIY Dog Food

Just Food for Dogs is a California-based company that sells prepared fresh dog food made from human-grade ingredients. They employ veterinarians and animal nutritionists on their staff and have been offering high-quality products since 2010. JFFD products are a great option if you want to feed fresh, human food to your dog without having to cook it yourself. 

In addition to prepared dog food, they offer DIY Kits with a recipe and powdered supplement to make your own dog food at home. The site has several recipes made from common ingredients like chicken, fish, turkey, and ground beef that are nutritionally complete and balanced after adding the prescribed amount of powdered supplement that comes in the DIY Kit. 

The company states that their recipes have been through third-party feeding trials and are complete and balanced. They also have options for feeding puppies!

Just Food for Dogs uses ingredients that may add to a dog’s healthy nutrition. For example, the chicken and rice recipe includes not only chicken thighs, but also organ meat like chicken livers, chicken gizzards, and spinach.

I’ve made several different recipes that they provide for free on their website. I’ve found them to be simple and my dogs love the meals! 

lean ground beef cooking in a pan
Lean ground beef is high in essential amino acids

Here’s a sample of ingredients used to make my dog’s favorite JFFD DIY recipe with Beef and Potatoes:

  • Lean ground beef
  • Beef liver
  • Russet potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Green Beans
  • Green Peas
  • Apple
  • Safflower oil
  • Fish oil
  • JFFD DIY Nutrient Blend 

Click any of the (affiliate) links in this section to get the FREE recipe and order the nutrient blend to make it complete and balanced. Their DIY recipes can also be made in a slow cooker or Instant Pot®!

Recipes for Dogs with Special Needs

Does your dog have special nutritional needs like kidney insufficiency, food allergy, or inflammatory bowel disease? In addition to BalanceIT.com, you can contact a veterinary nutritionist at PetDiets.com or check out the directory for the American College of Veterinary nutritionists.

Recipes for Occasional Feeding

It’s generally recommended that you feed no more than 25% of your dog’s diet from unbalanced foods. That means you can make your dog an unbalanced homemade meal once a week without causing problems. If you want to feed homemade dog food for every meal–please, please, please follow the advice for complete and balanced recipes I mentioned earlier!

Here is a recipe I created for occasional feeding. It has several  ingredients that may enhance a dog’s health when fed fresh. 

This recipe is meant for occasional use only! It has not been analyzed by a veterinary nutritionist. Please don’t feed it for more than one meal per week. 

Lower Carb. Chicken Thighs & Rice Recipe (My Dogs’ Favorite)

Entire recipe feeds one healthy adult 50 lb. dog for 6 days. 

NOTE: This recipe has not been evaluated for long-term feeding. It is appropriate for occasional use only.

Group 1 Ingredients:

IngredientQuantity Measure
Water 5 cups
Chicken thighs, raw (boneless/skinless)7 lb
Dry white rice 2 cups
Chicken livers, raw7 oz

Group 2 Ingredients:

IngredientQuantity Measure
Corn oil 1/4 cup
Large egg, raw (without shell)4 eggs
Frozen broccoli, chopped finely 12 oz
Canned oysters, drained 6 oz
Ground flax seed  2 oz (1/2 cup)
Vitamin D (1000 IU capsule) 1 capsule
Vitamin E (200 IU capsule) 1 capsule
Bulk Supplements calcium carbonate 3 tsp
Now Kelp powder 4 scoops

Instructions

  1. Add Group 1 ingredients (in listed order) to Dutch oven, large pot or slow cooker. to pot. 
  2. Cook 6-8 hr. on low in slow cooker. To cook on stove top, bring to boil and reduce to simmer for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally, until meat is falling apart when stirred. 
  3. Pull apart meat into bite-sized pieces with 2 forks or by stirring with a hand mixer on slow speed.
  4. Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes. 
  5. Add Group 2 ingredients and mix well. The residual heat will cook the eggs and broccoli.
  6. Separate into 6 containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 weeks. Feed a 50 lb. dog ½ of each container twice a day.

Nutrition Facts (for ⅙ of recipe)

  • Calories: 1107 Calories
  • Protein: 46% protein calories 
  • Fat: 33% fat calories 
  • Carbohydrate: 21% carbohydrate calories 

If your dog is a different size, you’ll have to adjust how much you give for each meal. A rule of thumb for feeding homemade dog food is to give your dog about one and a half times the quantity of dry dog food you usually feed him. So if your dog normally eats two cups of dry dog food, you’d feed him about three cups of fresh homemade food for a meal.

Don’t Feed Your Dog These Human Foods

Dogs can eat many of the same foods you enjoy, but some are very toxic. Before you share anything with your dog, stop and think!

Some of the human foods that are not safe for dogs include cocoa, chocolate, garlic in large quantities, onions in large quantities, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, anything with xylitol sweetener and any kind of alcohol or caffeine.

Safe Toppings for Dog Food

Table foods that are well-tolerated by most dogs include cooked, lean meats such as chicken or turkey breast, whitefish, lean beef and canned tuna. Starch sources that most dogs do well with are rice cooked with extra water so it’s mushy, cooked pasta, cooked potatoes, cooked sweet potatoes and baked bread. 

Not all dogs will accept fruits and vegetables but many dogs seem to really enjoy them. Fruits and vegetables that are safe for dogs include broccoli, asparagus, peas, carrots, kale, cabbage, blueberries, watermelon, apples. Either chop these finely in a food processor and/or cook them–otherwise, your dog can’t digest them very well. 

Homemade Dog Food Topper Recipe

Maybe you’re not ready to jump in with both feet on feeding homemade food just yet. You can still give your dog the enrichment of eating fresh food while providing most of his nutrition from commercial dog food. Just make sure that you keep the quantity small, not exceeding about 25% of the total food allotment.

Here’s an easy recipe for a dog food topper you can add to your dog’s food to make it more nutritious (especially with the addition of omega-3 fatty acids from the fish oil).

You can make it up in a batch and freeze part of it and refrigerate the other part. It should keep fresh in the refrigerator for at least a few days. 

rotisserie chicken
Use ready-made rotisserie chicken to make a delicious dog food topper

Nutritious & Easy Dog Food Topper Recipe

NOTE: This recipe is not meant for long-term feeding. It is appropriate as a commercial food topper only and should make up no more than 25% of your dog’s daily nutrition.

IngredientVolume Measure
Rotisserie chicken, diced (no skin or bone, meat only)1 cup
Instant white or brown rice, cooked per package instructions1 cup
Frozen green peas, cooked¼ cup
Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet2 tsp.
  1. Put all ingredients into a large bowl and stir to mix well. 
  2. Use about 2 tablespoons for a small dog, 1/4 cup for medium dogs and 1/2 cup for large dogs as a food topper. Remember to reduce quantity of dry food to avoid overfeeding.
  3. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 

You can chop the mixture in a food processor if your dog prefers it that way. You may also add low sodium chicken broth to make it a smoother texture. 

Instead of chicken and rice, you can make this with other lean meats like ground turkey, beef, pork or even canned tuna. It’s OK to substitute another cooked/chopped vegetable for the peas. Try broccoli, green bean, asparagus or Brussels sprouts. 

Introduce any new food slowly and watch for stomach upset.

One Ingredient Homemade Dog Treats

What home cook doesn’t love making treats for their dog? You can find recipes and photos on Pinterest that look like they came out of a Parisian Bakery.

While those are fun to look at, let’s admit it–dogs scarf treats down super fast and the aesthetic beauty is completely lost on them. 

Why not try a simple, healthy dog treat recipe that requires only one ingredient? These are very popular with most dogs and keep them busy chewing for a while.

sweet potatoes for dog chew treats
Slice sweet potatoes thinly lengthwise and dehydrate for a dog chew

Universally Loved Dog Chews Recipe

Ingredients

1-2 Large sweet potatoes

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees F.
  2. Wash and dry sweet potato with clean water. 
  3. Slice lengthwise into ¼  inch thick slices with a large, sharp knife or mandoline.
  4. Place slices in a single layer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 
  5. Cook in 175 degrees F oven for 4 to 8 hours, checking hourly for doneness. Cooking is finished when slices are dried but still a bit pliable.
  6. Allow slices to cool and dry for about 8 hours before giving to your dog for best results.

How to Safely Add “People Food” to Your Dog’s Diet

Many dogs are very sensitive to any food change. It’s often because they’ve been eating only one kind of food for a very long time and their gut microbiome has become accustomed to only those specific ingredients. The good bugs kind of freak out when they’re presented with things they don’t expect.

To avoid the digestive upset caused by new food, introduce it very gradually over a period of 7 to 10 days. If you’re feeding commercial dog food with a homemade dog food topper, start with a teaspoon for small dogs and a tablespoon for large dogs. Feed that amount for a few days and watch for signs of digestive upset. If you notice changes for the worse, stop the food for a few days and start again more slowly after digestion returns to normal.

Summary

Dogs have very specific nutritional requirements that need to be met for them to thrive. 

If you want to feed homemade dog food, make sure the recipe is from a reliable source and that it is complete and balanced. I recommend using recipes from BalanceIT.com and JustFoodforDogs.com. Be sure to add the recommended powdered nutritional supplement to ensure the food has everything your dog needs to stay healthy. 

It’s okay to feed your dog an occasional unbalanced meal if it doesn’t make up more than 25% of his total food intake. It’s also okay to use human food as a topper for dry dog food as long as it doesn’t make up more than 25% of your dog’s daily diet.

As with the introduction of any new food item, go slowly and carefully when trying new recipes for dog food. Watch for signs of gastrointestinal distress and get help from your veterinarian during the process.

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  1. Stockman, J., Fascetti, A. J., Kass, P. H., & Larsen, J. A. (2013). Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 242(11), 1500-1505.