Irish Setter Sitting at Kitchen Island during Food Preparation

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

Many dog owners have strong opinions about whether or not to cook for their dogs. Some people claim that commercial dog food is positively evil and cooking organic food is the only healthy option. Veterinarians often disagree. They believe that commercial dog food is nutritionally balanced and there are high-quality brands available that are safe for your dog.

So, what is the best option for a dog parent who wants to provide his dog with healthy meals?

There is no question that pasture-raised poultry and beef and wild-caught fish are really healthy for all of us, including your dog. However, not all commercial dog food is “evil” or bad, and high-quality brands can provide really good nutrition. Also, it is important to understand that dogs cannot eat everything that humans can and need different foods.

So, if you are committed to following a nutritionally balanced recipe specific to canine needs, then you should cook for your dog. If you do not have the time and cannot include the necessary ingredients, then you should not. You will be better off feeding your dog high-quality commercial dog food.

When Home Cooked Meals Make Sense

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

Most people today are aware of the value of eating healthy food. When possible we often opt for organic fruits and vegetables and pasture-raised poultry and beef. Additionally, wild-caught fish that is low in mercury are considered the best options.

Since our furry friends are important members of our family, we may want to step up their meals and provide them with similar fresh food. Commercial dog food is more processed and is less likely to have organic and pasture-raised food products. Additionally, most dog foods have some form of preservatives ranging from human-grade safe sorbic acid to less safe and even toxic preservatives like BHA or BHT.

There are many high-quality commercial dog food brands available, however. You can check resources like dogfoodadvisor.com 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. However, if you decide you can afford something like this, just be sure to check the ingredients and how they are sourced.

Reasons to Cook for Your Dog

Here are the key reasons to cook for your dog because you:

  • Want your dog to eat as healthy as you do
  • Love to cook
  • Prefer that your dog eats fresh, unprocessed food
  • Have ample freezer or refrigerator space for storage
  • Will commit to following a vet’s or canine nutritionist’s recommended recipe
  • Can cook for the long-term as your dog may not want to go back to commercial dog food
  • Need to cook a special diet for your dog due to a medical condition
  • Want your dog to have something tastier than commercial dog food
  • Would like to avoid potential toxic mold or sub-par ingredients in some low-quality kibble brands

Certain medical conditions may necessitate a diet change. Veterinarians can offer specially formulated dog food in some cases, but your vet may recommend a home-cooked meal. Many owners are familiar with the boiled rice and chicken breast recipe for dogs who have had GI problems. But this is usually temporary as it is not a fully balanced diet. Some pet parents switch to cooking organic foods after their dog has been diagnosed with cancer to help support their immune system.

Since you will not be adding preservatives to your dog’s food, you will need to cook frequently or make small batches and refrigerate or freeze. Most meals will be okay in the fridge for about 3 days. If you cook once a week in a large batch, you will need to freeze at least half of the meals. Be sure to purchase meal-sized glass or safe plastic containers with air-tight lids.

Just be aware that your dog may never want commercial dog food again! I cook on and off for my dogs. They seem to prefer my cooking, but fortunately, they have never stopped gobbling up their kibble! However, some dogs can be very picky eaters.

When You Should Not Cook for Your Dog

A lot of people are just too busy to cook and barely cook for themselves. Therefore, it does not make sense that you would cook for your dog. And, cooking for your dog is actually a little more complicated than cooking for ourselves. Dogs cannot eat the same human foods that we consume, and they need enough variety of foods to get the proper nutrients.

Remember being told to eat a lot of different foods each day? This is so you will get enough of your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. The same is true for dogs. But it is a lot harder to cook up 3 varied meals each day for a dog, so people usually do it in big batches with several ingredients. They also add vitamin and mineral supplements specific to a dog’s needs and may also include fish oil and probiotics.

The primary reasons you should not cook for your dog are because you:

  • Hate to cook!
  • Do not have time to cook for yourself or your dog
  • Have not consulted with a veterinarian or canine nutritionist to get a diet plan
  • Do not have enough refrigerator or freezer storage space
  • Are raising puppies or a pregnant/nursing dog (due to special needs and frequent feeding for pups)
  • Give your dog the same cooked food you eat
  • Have not taken the time to learn about good foods for dogs versus toxic ones
  • Not willing to add vitamins and supplements

If this describes you, then your dog is better off eating kibble. Be sure to see my post “Is it Okay to Feed Dry Kibble to Your Brand New Rescue Dog? for more information about how to find a good commercial dog food. The post also includes a list of foods that dogs can and cannot eat.

What Veterinarians Say About Cooking for Your Dog

“Think of commercial dog food, not so much as processed, but as all ingredients 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. Lori Prantil, MPS, DVM

Warnings from Vets

A lot of vets are wary of owners cooking for their dogs. They worry, and rightly so, that their dogs will not receive a balanced meal or will get the wrong foods.

People who give their dogs table scraps, for example, are doing more harm than good. Human food usually has too many carbs and a lot of seasoning and spices that do not agree with their dog’s sensitive tummies. They end up with obese dogs who have a lot of GI problems and indigestion.

As you will see in the graphic below, once you start cooking for your dog there may be no way back to commercial dog food. Like us, a canine’s preferences can change over time. Even if your dog loves kibble (as mine do), it is certainly not as tasty as steak and potatoes!

Vets also warn that many online websites offering home-cooked dog food recipes are actually not very good. And, each dog is different, which is why vets prefer to create a diet specifically for your dog if you do decide to cook his meals.

Controversies

And finally, there are current controversies regarding certain ingredients in dog foods such as whole chicken versus chicken meal or by-products. Chicken by-products are really all of the parts of the whole chicken that humans throw out, but canines in the wild eat as part of the entire chicken. These by-products often contain a lot of important nutrients. The more important question is the source of the protein. Does it come from healthy or diseased animals, for instance?

Many people are now advocating for grain-free diets due to GMO grains as well as corn and wheat which are often added to commercial dog foods. This is due to potential allergy problems. Also, the assumption is made that grains add too many carbs. But vets warn that some grains are necessary and scientific studies have shown that dogs who do not eat any grains can suffer from cardiac problems.

See this diagram below from a post about home cooking for your dog posted by Cummings Veterinarian School at Tufts University:

What Vets Recommend

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 is Balance It which was formulated by a vet.

Dr. Prantil was happy to create a diet plan for home-cooked meals specifically for my two dogs if I was interested. Otherwise, she recommended a high-quality dry kibble from companies such as Purina Pro, Iams, or Royal Canin. She liked Royal Canin in particular because they do feeding trials. She also pointed out that all three companies have good quality control by third parties, they have their own factories, do ongoing research, and have a nutritionist on staff.

I asked about the fact that commercial dog food was processed and that I try to avoid processed food in my own diet. She replied, “Think of commercial dog food, not so much as processed, but as all ingredients 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 BalanceIt.com website was very reputable and could help with developing a personalized diet for my dogs.

Hybrid Approach — Home Cooked Food and Kibble Diet

I would love to cook for my dogs, but I struggle to cook healthy meals for myself. So, I do a mix of both. I give them a high-quality dry kibble and sometimes top it with boiled chicken or beef and a few vegetables such as carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, and maybe add some rice. They love it, especially if they have been sniffing what I have been cooking all day for myself.

I often do this when I am roasting a chicken or making a pot of beef stew. First, I cook a little bit for their dinner without any seasoning and set it aside for later. I then continue cooking my own stew or roast and add spices and salt. I give them their stew as a topper keeping the ratio about 80% kibble to 20% stew. Otherwise, it will throw off the balance of their nutrients. Also, giving them something totally different as a full meal could be bad for their digestion.

New food should be integrated slowly so their digestive systems can get used to it. Be sure to see my post Can I Feed My Dog Homemade Food and Kibble for more information about mixing kibble with home-cooked food. You can also get a high-quality canned dog food gourmet stew and use that as a topper. My dogs also really love that as well.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that dogs smell much better than they taste. They can smell hundreds of times better than humans but have only about 1/12 the number of tastebuds as humans. And given how fast my dogs gobble down their food, they probably barely taste it! So, just make sure whatever you give them smells good, and that it is a fully balanced meal.