In my quest to educate myself about pet nutrition, I signed up for an online pet nutritionist program earlier this year. When I received an assignment for Steve Brown’s book, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, I was super excited to try out the recipes. Being a good student, I made sure to read the entire book first so that I fully understood the science behind the ingredients.
My next steps involved researching where I could get the necessary ingredients, finding the best deals on meat, and purchasing a quality meat grinder. I spent a couple of weeks procuring everything on the ingredient list, buying and pre-washing storage containers, and getting familiar with how the grinder worked.
Since Charlie had been on a commercial freeze-dried raw food mixed with fresh raw meat and was acclimated to eating raw, this diet was an easy transition. She was already in good health before the switch, but I noticed that after being on this fresh food diet her eyes are brighter, her coat is softer and shinier, and her body is leaner. Charlie has been eating a rotation of the beef and chicken recipes for three months now, and she absolutely loves it!
Because it’s so important to understand the science behind the recipes, I urge you to read Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet for nutritional information and feeding guidelines. You need to have a good understanding of your dog’s health and nutritional needs before starting a homemade feeding plan, since feeding an unbalanced homemade diet can do more harm than good.
If you are considering making the switch, here are a few other things to keep in mind before taking on the task of making your dog’s food at home:
Your pet’s health is in your hands, and you need to be their advocate. I highly recommend consulting a veterinarian or pet nutritionist before starting a new diet. Omitting or substituting ingredients can have detrimental effects, so I follow the recipes strictly to ensure the nutrients are properly formulated. I also weigh every meal on a kitchen scale to determine the appropriate amount of calories for Charlie’s weight and energy level.
I make enough food to last Charlie about two weeks, which means that every other Sunday I dedicate about three hours to making her meals (not including shopping for ingredients). If you have limited time and can’t commit to full-time homemade feeding, there are options for improving the health of your dog by substituting fresh, whole food in place of regular kibble just one day a week.
Investing in good equipment makes a big difference, too. If you don’t have a meat grinder, you can expect food prep to take a little longer. Once you get familiar with the recipes and the ingredients, it will take less time, and you can split up the steps on different days to make it fit into your schedule better. I grind up all the meat and organs and freeze them in individual containers by weight on one day, so that when I’m ready to assemble a recipe, all I have to do is thaw out what I need.
I found items such as hempseed oil, flax seeds, and liquid vitamin E at the local health food store, I ordered bone meal and kelp online, and I found the beef hearts and liver at a local specialty meat store. Bulk meat such as beef and chicken thighs were the least expensive at our local food club warehouse, while the rest were just regular grocery store items.
When I started this process, I thought that working with the organ meats was going to be the hardest part, but I was actually more grossed out by the oysters, since I am not a fan of seafood. At first, even Charlie hesitated before eating the chicken recipe containing the oysters. I wasn’t sure if it was the texture of the raw chicken or the sharp, tangy smell of the oysters that made her pause, so I ended up lightly cooking the chicken-recipe ingredients for the first couple of weeks, until she got used to the flavor.
I love feeding Charlie and watching how much she enjoys this food. I know it’s the best and healthiest thing I can do for her, and the amount of time, money, and effort I put into this now will save me on heartbreaking vet visits later.
Homemade pet food and raw diets aren’t right for everyone. Some dogs might not like the flavor or textures of certain foods, and the time and cost can make it impractical for some people. But while you may pay more for fresh food now, you’ll likely save that money in the long run, because a healthy dog typically won’t have as many costly medical issues later in life.
Traveling with a raw food diet can be a challenge as well. I often keep commercial freeze-dried raw food on hand for those times when it’s not possible to bring Charlie’s homemade food along.
Food bowls should be glass or metal, not plastic, and they need to be cleaned thoroughly after each feeding. Proper handling of your pet’s raw food and bowls is essential to preventing food-borne disease, and for this reason, households with small children can be a challenge for raw food diets.
As always, be sure to consult your veterinarian to determine if your dog’s health or age are factors to be considered when making a diet change. Begin with educating yourself, then start experimenting with a few recipes and see how your dog likes it. Once you see the positive changes in your dog’s health, you may just decide to overhaul your own diet with fresh, whole foods!
Does your dog get homemade food? Share your experience and advice in the comments.
Read more on what to feed your dog:
About Heather Burt: Accountant by day, aspiring pet nutritionist by night, Heather Burt is a weekend adventurer and constant advocate for getting healthy and active with your dog. Bringing awareness to dog-friendly trails and the benefits of getting out into nature, she documents her ongoing adventures with her ever-active dog, Charlie, on her blog, Hiking With Heather. She is also enrolled in a program to become a pet nutritionist and bakes healthy dog treats for her side business, Kanine Kitchen.