Feeding Our Canine Friends


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By Leslie R. Dye, MD, treasurer, NGWPR    This is taken from the National German Wirehaired Pointer rescue Blog published quarterly on Medium:

My rescue dog, Neko, was diagnosed with pancreatitis at age 10 after starting a new bag of dog food. It was a well-respected brand, normally very expensive, but purchased at a cut rate price. We were told it was probably unrelated to the food, however, after he recovered, we refed the same food and the problem recurred. I looked more closely at the bag, and realized that while not expired, the expiration date was within a few months. At that point, we started making our dogs’ food to decrease the fat content. I later was informed that commercial food can be left in shipping containers at very high temperatures for long time periods, affecting the fat, which may have been the problem. No one needs to hear the saga that followed, but we continue making their food and mixing it with kibble.

Since that time, he has had no recurrence of pancreatitis and he turned 11-years-old in November. Are we doing the right thing? After researching this topic, I have no idea!

Some general resources on diet:

Why are dog owners choosing to prepare their dog’s food?

  • Distrust in pet food companies-recalls occurring, concerns of safety, quality, and nutritional value of food
  • Desire to feed a more natural diet
  • Perception that the food to be more palatable
  • Perception that the food to be healthier
  • Concern that complicated medical needs may not be met by a commercial diet

How common is feeding homemade dog food?

According to a publication in 2020 (1) evaluating feeding practices in feeding practices in Canada, New Zealand, the UK, Australia, and the USA, feeding non-commercial and unconventional foods, either as the sole source of nutrition or in conjunction with a conventional diet, is higher now than has been in the past. Even though most dogs are still receiving conventional pet food, more are receiving additional homemade foods and raw animal products, with a smaller proportion offering vegetarian and vegan diets. All the countries are similar, except Australia, where Australian respondents reported decreased feeding of conventional diets, particularly in favor of raw animal products.

Recipes for Dog Food from Dr. Google:

Finding the perfect recipe or advice on homemade dog food is like finding a unicorn and then learning how to feed it! First, there are several companies that sell “home-made style dog food,” which is obviously different than making it yourself. It is also sometimes difficult to determine if the recommended diet is a “maintenance diet” to be the sole food source or if the diet should be supplemented with dry foods.

I started by looking at sites for the public online. One source recommends using ingredients that another suggests avoiding. For example, I looked at a site that was very critical of using any carbohydrates from rice, pasta and potatoes and another that is “vet reviewed, and pet approved” stating up to 50% of the dog’s diet should come directly from those sources.

Then I turned to scientific literature:

One study (2) compared eleven “homemade-style foods” for adult dogs that were purchased online. The nutrients were analyzed for crude protein, amino acids, fatty acids, and minerals. There were 11 raw and cooked diets purchased and analyzed (eight were locally manufactured and three were imported).

The findings

  • Water content was 67–87%
  • Crude protein, amino acids, and crude fat met recommended nutrient profiles for adult dog maintenance in all 11, although 2 of the recommended fats were not detected in 7 of the 11 and one product exceeded the maximum level recommended for omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio
  •  None of the 11 met the requirements for minerals, with selenium being the one most frequently below the guidelines

Ultimately, six of the 11 products did not meet the recommended nutrient requirements for adult dog maintenance.

What is the evidence?

There are no peer-reviewed clinical trials to support claims that home-prepared diets are healthier than commercial ones. An improperly prepared diet can be harmful, especially for puppies. It is suggested that all owners who want to prepare a dog’s food at home should consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and be prepared to follow a strict recipe daily. A general guide for recipes is that two people making identical recipes should make identical diets every time.

A very interesting review in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association from 2013 (3) evaluated recipes for home-prepared diets for adult dogs via computer-based software compared with recommendation for essential nutrient intake in adult dogs as provided by the National Research Council (NRC) and Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). They also compared those written by veterinarians and non-veterinarians. They searched veterinary textbooks, pet care books for owners and websites for recipes.

200 recipes were evaluated


  • 133 from veterinary textbooks
  • 9 pet care books for owners
  • 67 from websites

The writers

  • 129 veterinarians (64.5%)
  • 71 non-veterinarians (35.5%)


  •  92% contained vague or incomplete instructions, requiring 1 or more assumptions for ingredients, method of preparation, or supplement-type product
  • 29% had no supplement-type products included 
  • 84.5% did not provide specific feeding instructions
  • 85.5% did not provide calorie information or target body weight for a pet
  • 6.5% included garlic or onion, which are associated with hemolytic anemia in dogs

Drum Roll-How did they do?

  • Only 3 provided all essential nutrients in concentrations meeting or exceeding the NRC recommended allowance and 2 provided all essential nutrients in concentrations meeting or exceeding the NRC minimal requirements. These were written by veterinarians.
  • 9 provided all essential nutrients in concentrations exceeding the AAFCO nutrient profile minimums for dogs and 4 of these met or exceeded the recommended allowance or minimal requirement of the NRC. Of these 9, 8 were written by veterinarians. These are the requirements for commercial pet foods.
  • 95% resulted in at least one essential nutrient at concentrations that did not meet NRC or AAFCO guidelines
  • 83.5% had multiple deficiencies
  • Some deficiencies did not meet 50% of the NRC recommended allowance
  • 9 surpassed the safe upper limit of Vitamin D and 6 the upper limit for the combination of two fats

It is suggested that all owners who want to prepare a dog’s food at home should consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and be prepared to follow a strict recipe daily.

Even if one has the perfect recipe………

This happens:

  • “Diet drift”
    •  One must follow the recipe exactly every time
    • A Tufts study found that only 13% of owners were still feeding the original balanced diet recipe they were given and almost all changes were made without consultation
    • 62% did not recognize they made changes
    • Substitutions, even changing brands can dramatically alter the nutritional profile
  • Expense
    • In most cases, it is significantly more expensive to prepare a nutritionally complete diet at home than to purchase a good-quality commercial diet, especially for large breeds.
    • Some expense related to ingredients but also because more frequent veterinary visits and laboratory tests are recommended
  • Quality Control
    • Home-cooked diets do not undergo any testing for safety or nutritional adequacy
    • Requires more frequent veterinary visits and laboratory tests are recommended

How to evaluate if the diet is working?

There is no perfect way to determine if a diet is adequate, but some indicators that may help are:

  • Body weight, condition, activity level
  • Skin and hair color and texture
  • Eye exam
  • Stool sample
  • Blood taurine levels if vegetarian diet
  • Other laboratory studies may give gross overall estimation of nutritional status

And here is the part that is scary: pets eating deficient diets can go months-years without having clinical signs or obvious problems.

Common myths:


  • · A dog requires nutrients not ingredients
  • It is important to focus on how the ingredients come together rather than on each one separately

Marketing and Advertising

  • Much information
  • No company can say food “cures” or “treats” any disease without proper drug testing
  • Many imply this with words like “support” and “promote”
  • WSAVA guidelines include performing clinical trials in dogs, showing a benefit, and publishing those results in peer-reviewed journals.

“No” Diets 

Companies promote food saying they have “no” blank. They imply that what they don’t have is bad for the dog. This is not always true. For example, some say “grain free,” although no studies show that grain-free diets are better than those with grain.

  1. Dodd S, Cave N, Abood S, et.al.: “An observational study of pet feeding practices and how these have changed between 2008 and 2018,” Vet Rec. 2020 Jun 27;186(19):643.
  2. Choi B, Kim S, Jang G: “Nutritional evaluation of new alternative types of dog foods including raw and cooked homemade-style diets,” J Vet Sci 2023 Sep;24(5):e63.
  3. Stockman J, Fascetti A, Kass P: Evaluation of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs,” J Am Vet M Assc 2013 Jun; 242(11):1500–1505.

Bottom Line: From the limited research of this rescue dog-loving, human, doctor blogger with the help of her very capable veterinary friends, it seems that feeding a dog sufficiently and accurately with homemade food alone is difficult. Adding kibble probably helps. Enlisting the services of a veterinary dietician and or canine personal chef (a chef for your dog, not a chef that IS a dog) may solve the problem. Based on the equivocal results of this investigation, the topics of raw vs cooked diets and the principles of food safety were not addressed.

Other topics in the “not with a ten-foot pole” category that I will not blog about, include: Loch Ness, Yeti, and Bigfoot

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