Irish Setter Sitting at Kitchen Island during Food Preparation

When You Should Cook for Your Dog and When It Is a Bad Idea

Last updated on January 26th, 2024 at 06:35 pm

Deciding how to best feed a beloved pet is a decision that I, like many dog owners, take seriously. While some advocate for strictly home-cooked meals, citing the superiority of organic ingredients, others, including veterinary professionals, endorse the benefits of scientifically formulated commercial diets.

It’s clear to me that the inclusion of quality proteins, such as pasture-raised meats and wild-caught fish in a dog’s diet, can be beneficial. Yet, one cannot overlook the convenience and nutritional balance that high-quality commercial dog foods offer.

It’s imperative to recognize that canines have specific dietary requirements distinct from our own. Therefore, if you have the knowledge and resources to adhere to a balanced recipe designed for dogs, home cooking can be a rewarding part of my pet’s diet.

Conversely, if you are pressed for time or unable to source the necessary dietary components, understand that it’s in your dog’s best interest to rely on top-tier commercial options. Additionally, a combination of both approaches might be an effective strategy to consider.

Key Takeaways

  • High-quality ingredients are beneficial but must be appropriate for canine nutrition.
  • Commercial dog foods can offer balanced diets if chosen carefully.
  • A mixed diet of both home-cooked meals and commercial food might be a viable option.

When Home Cooked Meals Make Sense

Today’s Healthy Eating Habits Have Changed — More Organic, Fresh Food

As a pet owner who values healthy eating, I’ve noticed a trend towards more organic, unprocessed foods in my own diet. It’s only natural to want the same quality of food for my dog, considering they’re a cherished part of the family. Preferring organic fruits and vegetables, and prioritizing pasture-raised meats and wild-caught fish, are now staples in my household.

In contrast, many commercial dog foods, even though convenient, often contain processed ingredients and a range of preservatives. While some preservatives are human-grade safe, others can be downright harmful. When possible, I prefer to provide meals that mirror the fresh, whole food quality that I choose for myself, reducing the risk of exposure to undesirable additives.

Reasons to Cook for Your Dog

Deciding to prepare homemade meals for your dog can stem from various motivations:

  • Healthier Diet: I aim for my dog to consume meals as nutritious and unprocessed as mine.
  • Passion for Cooking: I enjoy the process and creativity involved in preparing my dog’s food.
  • Storage Space: My kitchen is equipped with ample freezer or fridge space, essential for storing homemade dog food.
  • Commitment: I’m dedicated to consistently follow vet-approved recipes to ensure nutritional balance.
  • Special Diets: Sometimes health issues dictate a specific diet, and home cooking can cater to these needs.
  • Palatability: I want my dog to have meals that are more appealing than dry kibble.
  • Safety Concerns: To avoid the potential risks associated with some commercial foods, such as toxic mold or low-quality ingredients.

Further, it is helpful to create a tailored diet suitable for your dog’s age, body weight, and energy level — including the right mix of proteins like ground turkey and organ meat, carbs like brown rice, and veg like green beans. Focusing on homemade diets allows for small, controlled meal portions that cater specifically to maintaining a healthy weight for your dog.

Creating a homemade diet using human-grade ingredients involves incorporating healthy fats, whole-food ingredients, and enough calories to sustain your dog’s activity level. Opt for a variety of fresh ingredients in different recipes, such as leafy greens, egg yolks, and whole grains, and sometimes include supplements like fatty acids for optimized nutrition.

Typical DIY Dog Food

Here’s a snapshot of what goes into a typical DIY dog food:

Main IngredientKey NutrientsPreparation Notes
Ground TurkeyProtein, mineralsCook thoroughly
Brown RiceFiber, carbsUse a rice cooker or pot
Green BeansVitamins, fiberChop into small pieces
Organ Meat (e.g. beef hearts)Iron, B-vitaminsMix with other ingredients
Peanut ButterHealthy Fats, proteinUse in small quantities
Cottage CheeseCalcium, proteinBlend or add directly

Preparation methods I use regularly involve a trusty food processor to ensure all ingredients are in small pieces, making digestion easier for my dog. I aim to feature leafy greens and other veggies as staple components, blending them to a fine consistency to prevent my dog from picking around them.

See this great video which offers a step-by-step process for making DIY dog food:

The decision to mix home-cooked meals with kibble is viable too, provided that the balance is proper and the dog gets a well-rounded diet. Homemade meals usually don’t last beyond three days in the fridge, prompting me to cook large batches and freeze in air-tight containers.

Through incorporating natural foods, consistent quality, and tailoring the diet to their dog’s individual needs, many owners have seen improvements in their health and energy levels. However, it’s essential to remember that what works for one dog may not suit another, so always consult with a vet or canine nutritionist before you attempt to create you own DIY dog food.

When You Should Not Cook for Your Dog

Cooking for your dog might seem like a way to show love, but it’s not always the best choice. Here’s why:

  • Time Constraints: If you’re someone who rarely cooks for yourself due to a busy schedule, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to prepare meals for your dog.
  • Expertise: Cooking for canines requires knowledge of their nutritional needs, which differ significantly from ours. Dogs require a careful balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Simplicity: Sometimes, simplicity is key. A high quality kibble provides balanced nutrition for dogs and doesn’t require preparation time.

There are many high-quality commercial dog food brands available, however. You can check resources like to get reviews and find out about recalls.

Also, there are several commercial dog food brands emerging that use organic ingredients, as well as a number of ready-to-eat fresh dog food delivery services. But these can be expensive options.

Risks of Home-Cooking Without Guidance

  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Without consulting a veterinarian or a canine nutritionist, you risk creating a diet that lacks essential nutrients, potentially leading to health issues.
  • Health Problems: Cooking for puppies, pregnant, or nursing dogs can be problematic without understanding their unique dietary requirements.
  • Food Allergies: Not being aware of or inadvertently ignoring food allergies can lead to an upset stomach or more severe reactions.

Common Mistakes in Home-Cooked Meals

  • Toxic Foods: Human foods like macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs. I emphasize the importance of knowing which foods to avoid.
  • Raw Food Diets: Raw dog food diets are controversial and can pose health risks if not managed properly.


  • Storage Space: A lack of refrigerator or freezer space can spoil the effort of cooking in big batches.

To explore a balanced approach to your dog’s diet, consider my article “What to Feed to Your Brand New Rescue Dog”, where I discuss commercial dog food choices and provide a list of dog-safe foods.

What Veterinarians Say About Cooking for Your Dog

Women holding small brown dog discusses her dog's diet with vet.

Warnings from Vets

Veterinarians express concern over pet owners cooking meals for their dogs because it can be challenging to provide a nutritionally balanced diet. Human foods are often too rich in carbohydrates and seasonings, which can cause gastrointestinal issues and contribute to obesity in dogs. Therefore, giving dogs table scraps is not advisable.

Vet professionals have seen cases where once dogs become accustomed to home-cooked meals, they may refuse commercial dog food, limiting their intake of essential nutrients. They also note that many home-cooked meal recipes found online may not meet a dog’s nutritional needs, as each dog has specific requirements.


The debate over appropriate ingredients in dog food persists, with opinions divided on the use of whole chicken versus chicken meal or by-products. Although by-products can be nutrient-rich, the quality of protein—whether it comes from healthy or diseased animals—is crucial.

Additionally, many advocate grain-free diets due to concerns over GMOs, potential allergies, and excess carbs. However, veterinary nutritionists warn that grains can play a necessary role in a canine’s diet and that a lack of grains has been associated with cardiac issues in dogs.

What Most Vets Recommend

The general consensus among most vets is that a balanced diet is the cornerstone of a dog’s health. When considering home-cooked food for a dog, it’s challenging to ensure meals meet all of their nutritional needs daily. Adding a veterinary-formulated nutritional supplement might be necessary.

Quality commercial dog food, such as that from Royal Canin, Iams, or Purina Pro, often undergoes stringent quality control and is formulated to meet a dog’s daily values for all necessary nutrients. Companies like Royal Canin conduct feeding trials and have nutritionists on staff to formulate their products.

As tasty as home meals might be for a dog, the balanced nutrition from a trusted commercial food brand is designed specifically for canine wellbeing and should not be viewed as just processed food but as a comprehensive diet plan.

I recently consulted with Dr. Lori Prantil, MPS, DVM of VCA South Shore Animal Hospital in Weymouth, MA. She said that “the best diet is a balanced diet”. Regarding home-cooked meals, Dr. Prantil went on to point out that it is really hard to get all of the nutrients needed from whole foods. Even people struggle with this and need to vary their diet each day. When cooking for your dog, you will need to add in a vitamin and mineral supplement. Since supplements are not regulated by the FDA, her favorite supplement is Balance It which was formulated by a vet.

I asked about my concern that commercial dog food was processed She replied, “Think of commercial dog food, not so much as processed, but that all ingredients are cooked at the same time like a big meatloaf. It is very well balanced and includes 100% of the 42 nutrients that dogs need. Commercial dog food is probably much better balanced than the food that humans eat”.

Dr. Prantil also said to be wary of popular theories and recommendations by people who are not nutritionists. There are a lot of DIY diets on the internet and a lot of them are not the best for your dog. But she added that the website was very reputable and could help with developing a personalized diet for my dogs.

Hybrid Approach — Home Cooked Food and Kibble Diet

Golden Retreiver looking at bowl of kibble and fresh food.

Ingredients of Toppers

When juggling the nutrition and enjoyment of my dogs’ diet, I’ve found a balance by combining high-quality dry kibble with home-cooked foods. I typically use an 80% to 20% ratio—favoring kibble to maintain essential nutrient balances.

I have been using Fromm’s Adult and now Senior Gold dry kibble for a few years and my dogs love it. It seems to agree with them and does not cause gastric problems and does not have a history of recalls. Fromm is a medium-sized and family owned business which prides itself on producing small, safe batches of high quality dog food.

To supplement their diet, I top off the kibble with nutrient-rich ingredients such as:

  • Boiled chicken or beef (unseasoned)
  • Carrots, peas, and sweet potatoes
  • Occasionally, plain cooked rice

This variety not only enriches their meals but also satiates their curiosity about my cooking. The culinary delight for them is reminiscent of a gourmet stew, especially if served at room temperature, which enhances the aroma and taste. Importantly, it’s crucial to introduce new foods gradually to ensure proper digestion.

How to Prepare

Here’s how I manage the process:

  • Prep: Cook a small portion for the dogs separately, avoiding spices and seasoning.
  • Store: Use an airtight container to keep the home-cooked toppers fresh.
  • Serve: Combine the mixture with their kibble in the dog’s bowl when it’s mealtime.

For those less inclined to cook, options like high-quality canned dog food or pre-made stews can be equally effective as toppers. Always being mindful of the ingredients list ensures that the store-bought food complements the kibble without causing dietary imbalance.

For more insights on combining homemade meals with commercial foods, check out my post, Can I Feed My Dog Homemade Food and Kibble. This flexible feeding strategy supports my dogs’ health while providing the occasional culinary treat, meshing seamlessly with my routine without compromising their dietary needs.

Final Thoughts

As a pet owner, finding the best way to feed our furry family members is paramount. It’s been my experience that the pet food industry can sometimes be unpredictable with food recalls, which is why taking complete control of your dog’s diet can be a good idea. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Crafting homemade meals ensures that what our dogs consume is of the highest quality and free of unwanted additives.
  • Dogs rely more on scent than taste, so a meal that smells appetizing is usually well-received.
  • A balanced diet is critical; it’s not just about the aroma or taste but also ensuring nutritional completeness.

Committing to homemade meals can be a great way to strengthen the bond with your dog—it’s akin to cooking for any human family member.

Remember, the goal is not just to delight their olfactory senses but to serve nutritionally balanced meals. And for those eager to embark on a homemade diet for their dogs, this free eBook can be a valuable resource with practical guides.

Managing a pet’s diet isn’t just about love; it’s about responsibility. It requires effort and knowledge, but the rewards of a healthy, happy dog are immeasurable.

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