Dog Food for Thought—Homemade Raw or Cooked?

My pet sitter Sally is making organic chicken for the little white wagger, Ginger. Ginger has already done the prancing bit, her delicate tiny paws clicking against hardwood. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be Ginger’s Fred.

I am at my kibble dish that my human Pat brought to the sitter’s house, but my eye is on Sally. The chicken aroma as Sally pulls it from the oven, it’s too much.

I do my own jig, paws thumping on the hardwood, there’re no Fred moves here, it’s more of a Scoobie shuffle. I sit next to Ginger. Both of us crane our necks, alert: Me, grande. Ginger, trés petite.

After it cools a bit, Sally dumps the cooked chicken in Ginger’s dish. Ginger has a low growl in her throat like she isn’t gonna take any of my sh**. Ginger is alpha but I can’t control my nose, not at all. It is plowing forward toward Ginger’s dish like an express train heading south at 80 miles per hour in rush hour, stopping for nothing, my mouth opening, my tongue unfurling.

“NO, WILY!”

Sally sounds as if she doesn’t even like me right now.

What’s not to like?

We are all crazy. It’s the chicken with its magical organic chicken powers. Chicken is one big fat crazy pill.

Cockadoodle doo!

Sally banishes me to the yard while Ginger eats, but I see Sally look backward over her shoulder at me through the glass. Then she cooks up some chicken for me too, even though I was supposed to get the kibble. What can I say. Sally and I, we got a thing, ya know?

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Dog food is a topic near and dear to my heart and this won’t be the last time I bark about it. These days there is a raging debate about what is best for you waggers. Here is food for thought on a homemade diet and some further information to help your human navigate the choices.

Considerations in a Homemade Dog Diet:

  • This is a ton of work for your human. Your human needs to be a super-sonic smarty pants, who knows a ton about nutrition for your species as well as you as an individual, including age/stage and medical considerations. They need to read credible dog nutrition sources and consult the experts, including your vet, to get it right. For instance, did you know the following is bad for you? Onions, grapes, avocados, cooked bones and most raw ones too, and a whole slew of other goodies.
  • Poorly designed homemade diets can hurt you. Most humans don’t make the grade as DIY dog chefs. A dog’s nutritional needs are very different from a human’s. Vets treat waggers all the time for diet-related health problems and nutritional deficiencies when well-meaning DIY humans didn’t know what the heck they were doing. Be aware, it is easy to make mistakes. Check out this cautionary tale of a St. Bernard puppy eating homemade over a five-month period, landing in the hospital.
  • Well designed homemade diets can be nutritionally top drawer. That being said, IF your human is in fact a super-sonic smarty pants with everything that goes along with that, including being a diligent hard-working pet parent who is willing and able to put the time and effort into your chow—homemade diets have the potential to be nutritionally excellent. In addition to your human talking to your vet and other experts about designing a good homemade diet, they can check out Dr. Karen Becker at Healthy Pets Presented by Mercola, especially if they want to learn about raw. There is some great info here on dog food.
  • Raw or Cooked? Even within a homemade diet there are a lot of choices and considerations. Here are just a few high-level considerations (among many) when your DIY dog parent is choosing between a raw or cooked homemade diet for you.
Raw Cooked
Enzymes are present in a raw diet that help us break down the food. Enzymes are killed in the cooking process.
Could have nasty parasites and bad bacteria—E. coli, campylobacter, salmonella & T. solium (pork), to name a few. Per Ask.Vet, some of bugs are “zoonotic” meaning infections can pass to your human. Wild game and salmon come with additional health concerns in this area, so study up! Parasites and bad bacteria are killed in the cooking process.
 Bones that are large and marrow filled (hip/femur) of cows and bison and non-weight baring/hollow bird bones are the only bones that can be okay, per Dr. Karen Becker. Bones left in meat could splinter and break and cause dangerous internal punctures if swallowed; de-bone all meat.
Your best option for keeping teeth in good shape. Not the best for teeth. (SIDE NOTE: Commercial canned can make dental disease worse! Commercial kibble is middling in the teeth department.)

Here’s another note. If your wagger is on a prescription diet due to a disease process, that trumps everything food-wise. Keep your wagger on the prescribed diet. Food is an absolute cornerstone in healing and being healthy. If you still want homemade for your wagger, it is completely possible but you need to get the vet on board. They can refer you to veterinary nutritionist who can help build a homemade prescription diet. It is completely possible to do it, although get ready for some possible push back at the doc’s office. A great place for information is the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

What about Pat?

My human Pat has a demanding job with lots of hours so she gives me kibble, for the most part. She will give me canned a couple times a week to mix it up. She knows I’m getting the balanced nutrition and calories because she talked to her vet to get a good quality brand for me, and even though it’s not a top-drawer homemade diet, it’s pretty okay nutritionally and is good for our lifestyle and budget right now.

The thing about commercial diets is that the science behind it ensures that you can get it right for age and stage and medical issues. For example, when it’s labeled for “growth,” puppies get what they need.  Some giant breeds need finely-tuned nutrition while they grow, so it’s better not to switch them to homemade until they are done growing.

Anyway, Pat would rather spend her free time giving me the health benefits of hiking in the hills than designing me a homemade dog diet. For us, that is the tradeoff. I’m A-OK with that. Besides she’ll slip me a li’l some’in’ some’in’ every once in a while under the table, if she knows it’s good for me. I love our time together out in nature and the exercise keeps me fit. So, although Pat is not a DIYer in terms of my meals, maybe Pat’s a super-sonic smarty pants, anyway.

What are your thoughts and experiences in the great food debate?

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Here are resources with more food for thought on chow time:

American College of Veterinary Nutrition

Choosing a Dog Food, The Dogfood Advisor

13 Pet Foods Ranked from Great to Disastrous, Healthy Pets with Dr. Karen Becker Presented by Mercola, July 21, 2010

The Risks and Benefits for Raw Meat Diets for Dogs (March 14, 2014) and Raw Dog Food Basics from PetMD

AAFCO Talks Pet Food. From the AAFCO Website: “The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.”

“Complete and Balanced” Pet Food, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Not on the Label, The Economist, September 4, 2008

Wet Food Vs. Dry Food for Dogs, doghealth.com

Do They Really Use Dead Dogs and Cats to Make Pet Food, The Dogfood Advisor