Many dog owners consider cooking for their pet rather than constantly relying on store-bought foods like kibble. The benefits are numerous. Cooking for your dog is not only a way to provide him with a perfectly balanced (and tasty) diet, it can even be a way to save money.
However, giving your pup a bowl of what you have for lunch isn’t that easy. There are a few rules you must follow if you want your pet to be healthy and happy.
1. Avoid ingredients that could be dangerous
Just because a dog would eat something doesn’t mean you should let it. And we don’t just mean obvious things like trash or your shoes. There are many foods that are perfectly safe for human consumption and can make your dog sick.
The big one most people have heard of is chocolate. Chocolate and other cocoa products contain theobromine, a substance with a stimulating effect. Depending on the amount, it can cause digestive problems such as diarrhea and vomiting, and in more severe cases, seizures or even death.
Other foods that are toxic to dogs include onions and garlic, which can lead to anemia, grapes, and raisins, which can cause kidney failure, and macadamia nuts, which can be deadly even in small amounts. Before you start cooking for your dog or even giving him any leftovers from your table, make sure you research the full list of foods that are toxic to dogs.
2. Learn about raw food
Opinions differ on feeding your dog raw food. The consensus seems to be that it’s mostly fine, but with a few caveats. After all, you’ve probably seen him eat a lot worse.
Dogs are essentially carnivores and their digestive systems are designed to consume raw meat, so the likelihood of E. coli or salmonella poisoning is minimal. However, raw meat and fish always carry a risk of parasites, so make sure you only feed your pet fresh food purchased from a reputable source.
Buy smaller batches instead of buying in bulk and letting it sit in your fridge for too long, and wash your dog’s bowls regularly. For your own safety, wash all surfaces you use and your hands every time you handle raw meat. Raw eggs are also relatively harmless for dogs, but keep consumption within limits. Too many can cause biotin deficiency, so stick to one or two a day.
3. Find the optimal balance
While it may not be the tastiest option, store-bought dog food is usually balanced to meet a healthy dog’s nutritional needs. If you take it upon yourself to cook for your dog, it’s important that you make an effort to strike a similar balance.
Not every meal needs to be equally balanced — instead, try to look at the big picture on a weekly basis. In general, half of your dog’s diet should consist of protein from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. The other half should be a mix of raw or cooked vegetables and fruits, plus some starches and carbohydrates.
Fats should be present but in small amounts. Dogs need calcium too. Bones are traditionally a popular source, but they can actually be dangerous. Not only do they pose a choking hazard, but they can easily splinter and injure your pet’s gums, stomach, or intestines. It is generally considered much safer to simply opt for calcium supplementation.
4. Watch out for spices and condiments
When cooking for your dog, forget the human idea of what tasty food is. Not only are dogs perfectly content to eat foods that we might find boring, but it’s also even better for them. In most cases, the foods that humans eat are far too salty for dogs.
Dogs are much more sensitive to salt than we are, and eating too much can lead to stomach problems, excessive thirst, and even dehydration. Spicy food can cause similar problems, although dogs don’t taste spicy food the way we do. Spices like paprika and pepper can also cause skin and eye irritation, which is another reason to avoid them.
Finally, avoid giving your pup nutmeg at all costs. While its aroma may seem heavenly to you, it has been known to cause severe abdominal pain and, in some cases, death in dogs. Many other herbs and spices are completely harmless, but because dogs have a much more developed sense of smell than we do, a dog could simply refuse a meal based on the aroma of a particular spice.
5. Increase your dog’s health
Just as there are certain foods that you should absolutely avoid, there are others that are truly amazing for your dog’s health. In general, high-protein foods are excellent choices, whether as part of a full meal or just as a snack. This includes dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese unless your dog is lactose intolerant.
Dairy products are also a good source of much-needed calcium. However, always remember to read the ingredient list and choose products with no added sugar or sweeteners. And don’t overdo it — too much dairy can cause digestive problems.
Peanut butter is a great high-protein, high-fat snack, but should be given in moderation as an occasional treat. In addition to being high in protein, salmon and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids – which are good for the heart, kidneys, bones and joints, and many other aspects of your pet’s health.
Finally, fresh fruits and vegetables like carrots, asparagus, squash, and spinach are an invaluable source of nutrients, while also being good for your teeth and crucial for digestion thanks to their fiber content.
Just like humans, dogs need variety in their diet to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. If your dog suffers from chronic health conditions, consult your veterinarian before switching to homemade meals.