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essential tips
homemade pet food for cats and dogs

The essentials

  • Homemade pet food isn’t simple — Whereas it’s fine for people to follow a recipe on their phone for dinner, dogs and cats need a bit more research for their diets.
  • 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 can aggravate a pet’s allergies.

There are a lot of reasons pet owners might want to make their dog or cat’s food. From fears about food recalls to health conditions that make the right store-bought food harder to find, homemade pet food for cats and dogs is sometimes the best option. Pet owners can even opt for a high-fiber diet to satisfy pets that are always hungry or avoid fillers that don’t offer nutritional value.

It isn’t as simple as cracking open a cookbook and preparing their food with your dinner. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits and risks of homemade diets for pets and how to prepare them if it’s what’s best for you and your four-legged friend.

Benefits of homemade pet food for cats and dogs

The biggest benefit of DIY dog or cat food is that you have more control over the ingredients. For healthy pets without dietary restrictions, this is less of a concern. However, 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. When compiled with additional issues though, feeding can become very difficult.

When homemade dog or cat food is properly balanced and prepared, it can make a big difference in your pet’s quality of life, health, and overall care — although this mostly applies to pets who have chronic health conditions that are aggravated by commercial foods. Another plus: Homemade pet foods can be made without preservatives, which aren’t always easy to digest (for us or our pets.) In some cases where pets are on expensive commercial foods, homemade diets might even be less expensive. More on this in a minute.

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

betterpet veterinary advisor

Drawbacks of making homemade pet food 

While homemade pet food is a great thought, there are some things pet owners should keep in mind before taking a trip to the grocery store.

  • Research time. Make sure to use a trusted site — we like Balance IT — staffed by veterinary nutritionists to create your 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 (or fridge) life. Homemade pet foods made without preservatives expire faster, which might drive up the cost if you’re not able to freeze large quantities.
  • Cost. Just like human food, high-quality ingredients for pet food might 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 hurt pets.

Alternatives to homemade pet food

If homemade pet food sounds like a big investment of time and money, consider adding a food like ZipZyme™ Omega to a quality commercial pet food. ZipZyme™ is a wholesome fresh source of DHA, the most important type of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to your pet’s health from head to tail, enhancing everything from their brain function to skin issues. Mixing one teaspoon of ZipZyme™ into your dog or cat’s daily meal can enhance its nutritional value and provide necessary DHA. Neither pets nor people can produce significant DHA internally and it’s often missing from modern diets — make sure it’s a part of your pet’s commercial or homemade diet.

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Basic ingredients in homemade pet food for dogs and cats

When selecting any ingredient for your homemade meals, pick fresh food that’s high-quality and nutritious. Most pet owners who avoid commercial diets will only buy human-grade ingredients, ensuring their pets get the best possible food.

Here are the basic ingredients all pet food should have, regardless of whether it’s commercial or made at home.

Protein. While cats are obligate carnivores and require a high protein diet, dogs can get by with less protein. Cat food for healthy cats should be high in protein. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores and don’t need a high-protein diet. Examples of proteins that work for both dogs and cats include:

  • Poultry: Duck, chicken, or turkey
  • Fish: Salmon or tilapia, for example
  • Organ meats: Hearts, lungs, or livers
  • Bovid meats: Beef or lamb

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

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 .

Fat. Chicken, beef, salmon oil, and various other sources can all provide dogs and cats with the fat they need in their diets. For obligate carnivores like cats, animal fats are essential for their overall health.

Carbohydrates. For dogs, carbohydrates regulate glucose levels and provide energy. Foods with carbohydrates can add fiber as well as structure to the food. Carbohydrates are important for dogs, but they aren’t as important for cats. Even as cats have evolved, 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.

Essential additives. It’s also important that your pet get 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 to make sure DIY pet foods meet these needs. In some cases, these supplements can do more harm than good .

2 homemade pet food recipes

Ready to talk to your pet’s nutritionist? Here are some recipes that might inspire you when creating a recipe. Discuss your pet’s needs with a professional; these recipes are ideal for younger, healthy adult pets that aren’t pregnant or lactating.

Simple chicken and rice for dogs

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz lean boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1⅞ cups cooked wild rice
  • 7 tsp all-purpose corn oil
  • ¼ cup each: cooked green beans, grated carrots, and cooked cauliflower
  • Balanced supplements

Directions:

  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. For both the chicken and vegetables, consider mincing them 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

As obligate carnivores, cats need certain nutrients from meat. Here’s a protein-rich recipe for cats to help felines stay happy and healthy.

Ingredients:

  • ⅞ oz lean boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • ⅝ oz ground beef
  • ⅞ oz chicken hearts
  • ¼ oz lean ground turkey
  • 1 large hard-boiled egg, halved
  • ½ tsp all-purpose corn oil
  • Essential supplements

Directions:

  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.

Want more? Add our DIY dog treats to your pup’s diet for a yummy, healthy snack. Or, make some healthy peanut butter and oatmeal cookies for picky eaters.

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 largely not. 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.

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 good for healthy pets. For those that have medical concerns, though, homemade pet foods might be a better, healthier option.