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Homemade pet food for dogs and cats

The essentials

  • Homemade pet food isn’t simple — Whereas people can easily follow a recipe on their phone for dinner, dogs and cats need a bit more research for their diets to be nutritionally balanced.
  • Commercial foods are regulated — By law and in certain countries, commercial pet food has to provide a minimum amount of essential nutrients for pets.
  • Not all pet food is created equal — Homemade or commercial, certain ingredients may not be right for every pet.

There are a lot of reasons pet owners might want to make homemade pet food. From fears about food recalls to health conditions making the right store-bought food harder to find, homemade pet food for dogs and cats is sometimes the best option. 

But, it isn’t as simple as cracking open a cookbook and preparing their food with your dinner. Our pets require a nutritionally balanced diet for every meal, which makes it imperative to follow vet-approved homemade dog and cat food recipes that hit on all the essential nutrients. 

Here’s everything you need to know about homemade pet food for dogs and cats.

Factors to consider with homemade pet food

The homemade pet food movement has risen in recent years, driven by a desire for ingredient control and the gravitation towards healthier eating. Fear of recalls and the quest for people to find healthier choices for themselves and their pets have led many to try homemade dog food recipes.

When compared to commercial pet food ingredients, homemade food gives pets access to whole food ingredients, like their owners. However, there are some considerations before jumping headfirst into the homemade food journey.

  • Must be properly balanced.  Dogs and cats require different essential nutrients that must be met to perform their regular bodily functions. Homemade pet food recipes need to be approved by a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist. Many recipes out there are dangerous, causing nutrient deficiencies or excessive nutrients.
  • Health conditions. For diabetic dogs or cats with liver disease or diabetes, ensuring they have the right food is essential. Many commercial brands cater to these needs, making life easier for pet parents. 
  • Can be made without preservatives. These aren’t always easy to digest (for us or our pets). In some cases where pets are on expensive commercial foods, homemade diets might be the more affordable option. 
  • Research time. Make sure to use a trusted site — we like Balance IT — staffed by veterinary nutritionists to create a homemade food recipe. The recipe you select or create has to meet your pet’s nutritional needs.
  • Prep and cooking time. Making homemade pet food for dogs and cats takes time. Prepare to spend a lot of time shopping, prepping, cooking, and storing your pet’s food. Most recipes are in bulk, so you’ll need freezer space as well.
  • Limited shelf life. Homemade pet foods made without preservatives expire faster, which might drive up the cost if you can’t freeze large quantities.
  • Cost. Like human food, high-quality ingredients for pet food tend to be more expensive. Avoid things treated with questionable chemicals that could harm your pet’s health or contain additives, like spices in chicken broth, which can be toxic to pets.
  • May be harder for picky dogs. You may need to change up your recipes periodically for pickier dogs. They may grow tired of repetitive flavors and adhering to one recipe may pose a challenge in keeping their interest piqued.

According to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and veterinary nutritionists at the University of Florida, the average commercial diet for dogs can be $1.50 to $2 per pound. Homecooked diets average $3 per pound or more!

Dr. Erica Irish

Nutritional needs of your pet

Your pet needs a nutritionally balanced diet, which is what commercial pet foods strive to accomplish. It’s not as easy as just giving your pet some meat and veggies you ate for dinner. Not feeding your pet a completely nutritionally balanced diet can lead to severe nutrient deficiencies and can be fatal .

Your dog’s nutritional needs

Dogs rely on an adequate caloric intake made up of the proper balance of nutrients from protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat tailored to your specific dog. They also need essential vitamins and minerals, which can be added through supplementation. This ensures they’re getting a balanced homemade food diet.

Tailoring your dog’s homemade food needs to take into consideration their health conditions, age, breed, and size, just as you would with commercial dog food. For instance, some breeds may be prone to certain health conditions or food sensitivities, and if your dog suffers from any of these, you’ll need to adjust your ingredients based on a veterinarian’s recommendations. 

Additionally, a younger, active adult dog versus a more mellow and less active senior dog will require a different caloric density to support them. Dogs with certain health conditions, like diabetes, will need fewer carbohydrates than non-diabetic dogs. Typical dogs need roughly 50% carbohydrates, compared to diabetic dogs, which should have around 25% carbohydrates .

Your dog’s diet should contain specific amounts of nutrients from protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat. It also needs to be balanced and complete, which can be amended with supplements.

  • 10% protein. Dogs are omnivores and don’t need a high-protein diet the same way cats do. Examples of proteins that work for dogs include poultry like duck, chicken, or turkey and fish like salmon or tilapia. Other protein sources include organ meats like hearts, lungs, and livers, and bovid meat like beef and lamb.
  • 50% carbohydrates. For dogs, carbohydrates regulate glucose levels and provide energy. They also help with generating heat in the body and with certain biological functions. If carbohydrates aren’t available, energy will be taken from other sources within the body, like the muscle tissue. Pregnant and lactating dogs need carbohydrates in their diet to support higher energy demands, and homemade food may not be the best choice for them.
  • 2.5%–4.5% fiber. Carbohydrates are a main source of fiber in dog food. Fiber helps absorb excess water and helps maintain regular bowel function. Fiber is also needed to help keep your dog’s gut happy. However, a diet that’s too high in fiber can cause digestive issues like diarrhea and prevent your dog from absorbing the nutrients they need.
  • 5.5% fat. Fats are essential in a dog’s diet. Chicken, beef, salmon oil, and various other sources can all provide dogs with the fat they need in their diets. It contributes to many functions in their bodies, including energy and insulation.
  • Essential supplements. It’s also important that your pet gets the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. Quality commercial foods are carefully formulated to be balanced, but homemade pet food may not be if they aren’t vet-approved. Pet owners will likely have to include additives or supplements to make sure their homemade food meets these needs.

Proper nutrition for cats

The nutritional requirements of cats vary depending on their life stage and age. For healthy, young adult cats, the nutritional requirements will be based mainly on their activity level. And while kittens may not be particularly selective about their food, as cats get older, their preferences may change. So, you may have to keep a few homemade cat food recipes in your arsenal. 

Transitioning into adult cat age, cats will need other nutritional requirements to meet their aging needs but may develop medical conditions. In this life stage, monitoring weight and activity levels will help you adjust their diet accordingly to meet the new nutritional requirements.

  • 26% minimum protein. Cats are obligate carnivores and require a high-protein diet. Examples of proteins that work for cats include poultry like duck, chicken, or turkey and fish like salmon or tilapia. Organ meats like hearts, lungs, and livers and bovid meat like beef and lamb are other good protein sources. While tuna is popular for being a fish cats love, it’s also high in mercury. Limit your cat’s tuna consumption to occasional treats to reduce mercury exposure.
  • 10% carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are important for dogs, but they aren’t as important for cats. Modern cats should be kept on a low-carbohydrate diet . If any carbs are added, they should only be in small amounts for a boost in energy.
  • 9% fat — A variety of sources like chicken, salmon oil, and beef can fulfill the fat requirements of cats. As obligate carnivores, animal fats are essential for their overall health.
  • Essential supplements. — Ensuring your cat has the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids is crucial to their health. You may need to incorporate supplements to make sure your homemade cat food fulfills all nutritional requirements.
  • 6% fiber. The amount of fiber in your cat’s diet will affect their stool consistency, bathroom habits, colon function, and digestive health, and help push undigested food through their digestive system. Insufficient fiber in your cat’s diet can negatively affect your cat’s health.

Fiber helps with regulating gut motility and different types of fiber (soluble vs insoluble) actually "feed" good gut bacteria and supports the utilization and transformation of "probiotics" that exist in the regular foods.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

How to prepare homemade pet food

Just as we care about selecting ingredients for our own meals, our furry friends deserve the same level of attention. When selecting any ingredient for your homemade meals, pick fresh food that’s high-quality and nutritious. Many pet owners who avoid commercial diets will only buy human-grade ingredients, ensuring their pets get the best possible food.

  • Get high-quality ingredients — Selecting high-quality ingredients provides your pet with optimal nutrition free from artificial additives and preservatives. Choose lean proteins, whole grains, and fresh vegetables.
  • Have a food scale ready — Using a food scale is critical in making sure you’re prepping the proper portion sizes so you can create consistent and accurate balanced meals. 
  • Prep in an area without harmful foods — Many foods are harmful to pets. Make sure you keep your preparation area separate and clean to prevent any toxic foods from mixing and to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Measure ingredients — Use your scale to measure your ingredients according to the recipe. This ensures your pet receives the right amount of protein, carbs, fiber, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Cook ingredients and mix together — You’ll want to make sure your ingredients are cooked thoroughly to eliminate potentially harmful bacteria. Make sure they’re cooked to the right temperature and texture before combining.
  • Place food in containers and refrigerate — Proper storage is a necessity for homemade pet food. Once it’s prepared, portion it into airtight containers and refrigerate or freeze it to prevent spoilage and bacterial growth. Label and date them so you know how long they’ve been there.

👉 Fish bones can be small and sharp. When preparing fish for your cat or dog, completely debone it to prevent internal injuries and emergencies.

Two sample pet food recipes

Ready to talk to your pet’s nutritionist? Here are some recipes that might inspire you when creating a recipe — but it’s still essential to discuss your pet’s needs with a professional. These recipes are ideal for younger, healthy adult pets who aren’t pregnant or lactating, but each pet is still unique and may have needs that only your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist can help with. 

Simple chicken and rice for dogs

Ingredients Measurement
Protein: Lean, boneless, skinless chicken breast 6oz
Carbohydrate: Cooked wild rice 1⅞ cups
Fat source: All-purpose corn oil 7 tsp
Fiber: Cooked green beans, grated carrots, and cooked cauliflower ¼ cup each
Balanced supplements Follow instructions on the packaging

Directions for homemade dog food

  1. Boil the chicken thoroughly before chopping it into small pieces. As you prepare the chicken, cook your wild rice as well.
  2. Boil the vegetables until they are soft enough to eat, then chop.
  3. Consider mincing the chicken and vegetables in a food processor or blender. This prevents larger pieces from being a choking hazard.
  4. Blend meat, vegetables, rice, oil, and supplements.

This recipe, as written, provides about 900 calories per day for a dog. Consult with your vet about how many calories your dog needs every day to maintain a healthy weight and feed accordingly.

All-meat homemade cat food

Ingredients Measurement
Protein 1: Lean, boneless, skinless chicken breast ⅞ oz
Protein 2: Ground beef ⅝ oz
Protein 3: Chicken hearts ⅞ oz
Protein 4: Lean ground turkey ¼ oz
Protein 5: Hard-boiled egg 1 large, halved
Fat: All-purpose corn oil ½ tsp
Essential supplements Follow instructions on the packaging

Directions for homemade cat food

  1. Boil water and add the egg. Once finished (about 10-15 minutes), remove it from the water and, with the shell on, cut it in half.
  2. For the chicken, roast it in the oven until done. For reference, it takes about half an hour at 350°F to cook a 4 oz chicken breast.
  3. Brown the ground beef in a pan on your stovetop. Don’t put oil in the pan; because the beef isn’t lean, fats from the meat should be enough. You’ll also want to boil the turkey or include it with your ground beef once the pan is warm enough to liquefy the fat.
  4. Once everything is cooked, mince the meats, a little oil, the supplements, and half of the egg (don’t forget the shell!) to create a pate for your cat.

Tips for successfully transitioning your pet to homemade pet food

Making homemade pet food is a complex endeavor, but it can be done safely and successfully with enough planning. Start by talking with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist, and go from there. 

When transitioning your pet to homemade food, you’ll want to follow a recipe that’s vet-approved, not just a random one on the internet. After you’ve spoken with your veterinarian about a diet tailored to your pet and their needs, you can make the transition. 

Here are a few tips for transitioning safely and successfully:

  • Choose the right ingredients. When choosing ingredients, look at the expiration dates, the ingredients, labels, and anything else you would normally check for yourself or your family.
  • Transition gradually. Anytime you change your pet’s food, doing it gradually will lessen the chance of making your pet sick. Regardless if it’s homemade or commercial, you’ll want to transition for at least 5-7 days, mixing more new food with their previous food each day.
  • Use vet-approved recipes. Follow the recipe and don’t stray from it unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Not including the appropriate amounts and types of nutrients can cause severe nutrient deficiencies, which can be extremely harmful to your pet.
  • Follow instructions. The way ingredients are cooked can change the nutritional composition of ingredients, leading to nutritional deficiency. Don’t make assumptions, and speak with your vet if the instructions on how to cook the food are unclear.
  • Monitor your pet. Keep a close eye on them during and after their transitions to monitor changes in bathroom habits, gastrointestinal upset, or weight. If you notice any changes, talk with your veterinarian.

While making homemade pet food for dogs and cats is challenging and time-consuming, if done correctly, it’s a viable alternative to commercial foods. Make sure to consult your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to ensure it’s done right. 

Your dog’s health and well-being are the most important factors and should take precedence in your decision to transition to homemade food. Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial to continually assess your dog’s health.

Frequently asked questions

Can I feed my cat and dog the same homemade food?

You may be able to feed your dog and cat a few of the same ingredients, but it’s probably not a good idea. Dogs and cats have different nutritional needs. While one homemade pet food may be ideal for your feline, it could lead to serious health problems for a dog due to a lack of appropriate nutrients.

What is the best cooked homemade food for cats?

Homemade cat food should be high in protein and low in carbohydrates. As obligate carnivores, cats need animal protein and fat, among other essential nutrients, to be healthy.

What’s the healthiest food for pets, homemade or store-bought?

Commercial foods are regulated and held to a standard of certain minimum requirements. Quality commercial foods do more than meet those standards and are typically a good choice for healthy pets. For those who have medical concerns, homemade pet foods might be a better, healthier option. Speak with your vet about what’s best for your pet.

What are the best ingredients to use for homemade dog food?

The best ingredients for homemade dog food recipes include all the essential protein, vitamins, and minerals your dog needs. You’ll want to make sure it’s made up of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat, along with additional supplements to create a fully balanced diet.

Is it cheaper to make your own pet food?

For some people, making homemade pet food may be a better, more affordable option, especially if you have smaller animals. However, many homecooked diets end up costing more than commercial dog food and are much more time-consuming.