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Homemade Diet Book ReviewsPhoto of Dog on Books

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Also see these articles on homemade diets for dogs:


Introduction

When someone becomes interested in feeding their dog a homemade diet, I always advise them to read at least one book on the subject before getting started. But which one should you choose? Guidelines run the gamut from diets that have been analyzed to ensure they are complete and balanced, to those that are dangerously inadequate. How do you tell the difference?

You may ask why I recommend reading books in the Internet age. Books offer a more complete and organized view of the author’s approach to diet, while even good websites often compress the information too much, leaving out important details, or scattering it onto different pages, making it easy to miss essential components.

Email lists can be a good resource for beginners when they run into questions, but they’re not organized in a way that lets you learn everything you need to know before getting started. Also, some email lists are dominated by people with a single point of view, who will tell you that there is only one right way to feed your dog, and who will attack, ridicule, and remove anyone who disagrees, ensuring that you see only one side. Others allow anyone to say whatever they want, meaning the advice you receive may be very good . . . or completely misguided.

Books allow you to see the big picture, refer back to relevant details, and (one would hope) gain a clear understanding of the whole diet before you start. You can read reviews, check references, and decide for yourself whether the information seems reliable. If you take the time to read a book thoroughly, you’ll be better able to distinguish the good from the bad when it comes to advice found on websites and email lists.

Whichever book you choose, it’s important that you read the whole book, or at least all of the sections pertaining to diet, rather than just looking at recipes. All of the books I recommend contain critical information about the diet in the text that you need to know before using their recipes or guidelines. If you just follow the recipes, you may miss essential details such as allowable substitutions, optional ingredients, and recommended supplements.

Unless a book says specifically that the recipes are approved for puppies or for all life stages, assume that they are meant for adult dogs only. Puppies and pregnant or nursing females have special nutritional requirements; if you want to feed them a homemade diet, you must make sure it will meet their needs.

Some books contain additional chapters on such topics as herbs, health issues, the evolution of the dog, and more. I have ignored those parts and focused my reviews solely on dietary guidelines and recipes. My recommendation of a book’s diet does not mean that I endorse anything else that the book may include.

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The Three Best Books for both Raw and Cooked Diets

Over the past few months, I’ve read more than 30 books on homemade diets for dogs. Many offered recipes that were dangerously incomplete; a smaller number provided acceptable guidelines but were confusing, unduly restrictive, overly complicated, or had other issues that made me recommend them only with reservations. A few were good enough to recommend without reservation.

This section is about the cream of the crop: three relatively new books (one is a new edition of an older book) whose authors have taken the time to analyze their recipes to ensure that they meet the latest nutritional guidelines established by the National Research Council (NRC). All three books offer boneless recipes as well as some that include raw meaty bones (RMBs), giving you the option of choosing either style of feeding, or a combination of the two, depending on what works best for both you and your dogs.

These three books take an approach that’s very different from the books that focus on just raw meaty bone diets, which I reviewed previously. Those books provided dietary guidelines rather than recipes, relying on common sense and mimicking the evolutionary diet of the wolf rather than nutritional analyses to provide diets that are complete and balanced. I believe such an approach is valid and follow it myself, but the guidelines are often misinterpreted, leading to diets that are missing critical ingredients or overloaded with others, and thus nutritionally unbalanced and incomplete.

The books reviewed below also differ from the boneless diet books I reviewed in the January issue: none of those books provided recipes that had been analyzed to ensure that they met NRC guidelines. The best of those books gave good guidelines for creating a complete homemade diet, but each required careful attention to the text to ensure that nothing was left out. People who just follow the recipes are likely to end up feeding an incomplete diet.

The three books included in this review are quite specific about what you should feed and what supplements you need to add.  They offer peace of mind for those concerned that the diet they’re feeding may not meet all of their dog’s nutritional needs. They provide a reliable alternative for those who are not able to feed, for whatever reason, the wide variety of foods needed to provide a complete and balanced diet without supplementation. They offer help to people whose dogs are experiencing health problems that could be related to their diet. And for those of us who just want to understand more about where essential nutrients come from in the diets that we feed, and what might be missing, the information they provide is fascinating.

Two of these books provide recipes that meet requirements for all life stages, while the third can be used for adult maintenance only. It’s important to pay attention to this factor when you’re looking for books to help you feed your puppy or pregnant or nursing female.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough, not only for those interested in starting their dogs on a homemade diet, but also for people who already feed one.

Update: A new book, published in 2012, looks like it will qualify for this section, though I have yet to read it all and do a full review. Feed Your Best Friend Better: Easy, Nutritious Meals for Dogs by Rick Woodford, the Dog Food Dude, provides a variety of cooked recipes for different situations, including feeding half commercial and half homemade. His supplement recommendations, including calcium, appear to be appropriate, and he has provided a complete nutritional analysis of all the recipes in his book on his website.

Click on the heading to see the full review:

Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats: Simple Homemade Food
by Beth Taylor & Karen Shaw Becker, DVM

2009 (2nd Edition), Natural Pet Productions (self-published), $13. 86 pages.

Rating: **** Highly Recommended

Summary: Includes five boneless recipes using chicken, turkey, and beef. Two additional chicken and turkey recipes include raw meaty bones. All recipes have versions for small and large batches. Includes instructions for making your own supplement mix and how much to add to each recipe. All recipes have been analyzed and meet the 2006 National Research Council (NRC) guidelines for all life stages. Expanded 3rd edition (since released in June, 2011) includes nutritional analyses for all recipes, and provides supplement guidelines for recipes that omit organ meats and other foods.

Pros: Recipes are high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and moderate in fat. Diet meets NRC and AAFCO guidelines when fed as directed. New edition due out in June includes the nutritional analyses for all recipes.

Cons: No dairy products used in recipes. No index.

Update: The 4th Edition was published in 2013. It contains only minor revisions, including one omission, minor changes to try to simplify the section on calcium, and a little added information about using other meats. Note the number of pages (180) is the same in both the 3rd and 4th editions.

Available from Natural Pet Productions, Dogwise and Amazon

Like Brown's book below, Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats includes recipes for both boneless and raw meaty bones (RMB) meals. These two books have similarities, as the authors have worked together in the past and relied on much of the same research. Both are particularly appropriate for those concerned that their homemade diets meet NRC guidelines, as all recipes have been designed and analyzed to ensure that they do.

These are the only homemade diet books that address the issue of balanced fats, going beyond the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Modifying fats may be beneficial for dogs with skin problems and other inflammatory conditions. Both books stress feeding lean meats, which they recommend feeding raw, but light cooking is acceptable for boneless meat. Both also advise using bone meal, or other supplements that combine calcium and phosphorus such as MCHC or dicalcium phosphate, rather than plain calcium to balance the boneless recipes. The extra phosphorus is needed to meet requirements for puppies, as the recipes are designed for all life stages.

Both books omit dairy products and grains (except for one recipe with a small amount of oat bran in Brown’s book), and limit the amount of starchy vegetables. This can be beneficial for some dogs, particularly those prone to weight gain or inflammation from health issues such as allergies and arthritis. Carbohydrates, however, reduce the cost of a homemade diet. Those with large dogs who do not feed RMBs (which are usually less expensive than muscle meats) may find these diets cost-prohibitive. Very active dogs and females used for breeding can also benefit from more carbohydrates in the diet.

Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats is the perfect book for those who want simple, clear recipes that meet NRC and AAFCO requirements for both puppies and adult dogs. I loved the 2009 edition that I originally read, but I’ve also had a chance to preview the new 3rd edition and it’s even better. The basic recipes are the same, but the new edition provides many more details, including nutritional analyses of all recipes. The authors still recommend feeding all of the foods in their original recipes, but the new edition offers options for omitting certain foods, telling you what additional supplements need to be provided in those cases.

Boneless recipes for beef, chicken, and turkey are included in both editions. The 2009 edition also has recipes for egg and sardine meals, with instructions that these can be spread out over a week rather than fed all at once. The new edition provides further details on how to integrate eggs and sardines into your weekly meal plan rather than feeding them separately. Along with the original recipes, the new edition also offers simplified versions that omit hearts and gizzards from the poultry recipes and allow you to use chicken liver with the turkey recipe, since it’s easier to find than turkey liver.

Recipes for meals that include chicken and turkey RMBs are provided as well. These recipes also include boneless meat and organs.

All recipes are 75 percent meat and organs, and 25 percent vegetables and fruits. Following the suggested rotation, the meat portion of the diet is about half poultry with the other half mostly beef, plus substantial quantities of eggs and sardines. In addition to muscle meat, some recipes also use liver and heart. No grains or dairy products are included in the diet. Two versions of each recipe are provided for making small or large batches, designed to feed a medium-sized dog for either one day or a week to 10 days.

In the 2009 edition, each meal includes its own veggie and fruit puree, while the new edition offers guidelines and three suggested recipes for putting together your own mixtures. There are separate sections for dogs and cats in the new edition, rather than combining the guidelines together.

All recipes include a vitamin/mineral mix, essential fatty acids, and a “bone replacement supplement” such as bone meal for meals that don’t include RMBs. The new edition provides a range of calcium to give, since puppies require more calcium than adult dogs do (the 2009 edition just gives the higher amount that can be used for either puppies or adults). Detailed instructions are provided for putting together your own supplement mixture; additional supplementation options will be provided in the new edition.

In the 2009 edition, krill oil is added to all meals, with additional flax oil in poultry meals and hemp oil in beef meals, to properly balance the fats. The new edition offers fish oil alternatives to krill oil, and has cut back on the need to add flax and hemp oils unless you are not able to feed both beef and poultry.

Clear guidelines are given for how much to feed adult dogs and puppies, and how to make the switch from commercial to homemade. Several chapters discuss specific types of foods and additives, including suggestions for substitutions in the recipes. Other topics covered include preparation, equipment and storage; commercial treats; and commercial frozen foods. The new edition has added chapters on “Optimizing your pet’s diet” and “Side roads, pitfalls, and problems.”

While the supplements may seem daunting at first, these recipes are easy to follow once you have your supplies in place. I particularly like the homemade vitamin/mineral mix, which is easier to use than measuring out individual supplements each day, and helps ensure that all nutritional requirements are met.

Also available:

See Spot Live Longer by Steve Brown & Beth Taylor (Creekobear Press, 2005), $18.
This book has a great deal of information about dog nutrition, including problems with commercial foods and how to minimize them, but is not a how-to book on homemade diets.

Functional, Fresh, Fast Food for our Furry Friends (DVD, running time 4 hours), $30, available from naturalpetproductions.com, (847) 533-6309.
Dr. Becker discusses the ins and outs of feeding an evolutionary diet to your dogs and cats. Dr. Becker’s book says that the DVD discusses the topic of feeding whole RMBs in depth.

Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet: Healthier Dog Food the ABC Way
by Steve Brown

2010, Dogwise Publishing, $18. 133 pages, including index.

Rating: **** Highly Recommended

Summary: Provides one boneless beef recipe, one recipe that includes chicken necks, and a combination recipe, plus four low-fat recipes. All recipes have been analyzed and meet the 2006 NRC (National Research Council) guidelines for all life stages. Also includes a chapter on one-day-a-week fresh food meals for those who feed commercial diets. Feeding guidelines are given based on weight, age, and activity level.

Pros: Recipes are high in protein, low in carbohydrates, with balanced fats. Recipes meet NRC guidelines; full nutritional analyses provided. “ABC day” guidelines are helpful to those who might want to supplement a commercial diet.

Cons: No dairy products used in recipes. Provides more detail than some people may be comfortable with.

Available from See Spot Live Longer, Dogwise, and Amazon (Kindle and e-book editions also available).

Like Dr. Becker's book above, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet includes recipes for both boneless and raw meaty bones (RMB) meals. These two books have similarities, as the authors have worked together in the past and relied on much of the same research. Both are particularly appropriate for those concerned that their homemade diets meet NRC guidelines, as all recipes have been designed and analyzed to ensure that they do.

These are the only homemade diet books that address the issue of balanced fats, going beyond the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Modifying fats may be beneficial for dogs with skin problems and other inflammatory conditions. Both books stress feeding lean meats, which they recommend feeding raw, but light cooking is acceptable for boneless meat. Both also advise using bone meal, or other supplements that combine calcium and phosphorus such as MCHC or dicalcium phosphate, rather than plain calcium to balance the boneless recipes. The extra phosphorus is needed to meet requirements for puppies, as the recipes are designed for all life stages.

Both books omit dairy products and grains (except for one recipe with a small amount of oat bran in Brown’s book), and limit the amount of starchy vegetables. This can be beneficial for some dogs, particularly those prone to weight gain or inflammation from health issues such as allergies and arthritis. Carbohydrates, however, reduce the cost of a homemade diet. Those with large dogs who do not feed RMBs (which are usually less expensive than muscle meats) may find these diets cost-prohibitive. Very active dogs and females used for breeding can also benefit from more carbohydrates in the diet.

For those who really want to understand the whys and wherefores of homemade diets, Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet is ideal. Author Steve Brown delves into the ancestral diet of the dog and compares it to the latest NRC guidelines. Step by step, he investigates the nutrients supplied by different foods, and how to go about combining those foods to achieve balanced meals that meet NRC guidelines without the use of synthetic supplements (he adds vitamin E and also uses bone meal for recipes that don’t include bone). Particular attention is paid to ensuring that fats are properly balanced, going beyond the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.

Brown provides one recipe for boneless beef, one for poultry that includes RMBs (chicken necks, whole or ground), and one that combines both. Other ingredients in the recipes include heart, liver, vegetables, fruits, sardines, eggs, oat bran, and oysters. Supplements include bone meal, hempseed oil, salt, kelp, chia or flaxseeds, vitamin E, and coconut oil.

Brown suggests rotating the recipes, using various ruminant meats (beef, lamb, bison, venison) for the first recipe, and different poultry meats (chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant) for the second. Substitutions for other ingredients are offered as well. Two variations of the combined recipe are offered for puppies and adult dogs; the others can be used for all life stages. Detailed feeding guidelines are provided for each recipe. Four additional low-fat recipes designed for dogs unable to tolerate much dietary fat are also included in the appendices.

Brown does not include substitutions for the RMBs in his chicken and combination recipes. Since some people are reluctant to feed whole RMBs and may not have access to a grinder or pre-ground products, I asked him if it might be possible to feed these recipes without the chicken necks. He responded that they can be replaced with the same amount of boneless chicken thighs or breast with skin and fat removed, plus 1 ounce of human-grade bonemeal or comparable calcium/phosphorus supplement that provides about 8,000 milligrams of calcium (the next edition of his book will include this information).

For those looking for a quick and easy way to improve their dog’s nutrition and health without having to feed a homemade diet, Brown also offers what he calls an “ABC day,” meals to feed one day a week to dogs who otherwise eat commercial foods. These meals do not meet NRC guidelines, but are instead designed to complement and improve the diets of dogs fed dry food, canned food, or frozen raw foods. Two recipes are provided: one for dogs fed traditional high-carb dry food, and the other for dogs fed high-protein, high-fat dry, canned, or frozen raw food. Both recipes use beef hearts, sardines, eggs, vegetables, and fruits.

Additional chapters provide information on food storage; the effect on the body of protein, fat and carbohydrates; and how to calculate the percentage of calories that come from each.

This book is more complex than many people want, though you can certainly use the recipes without following all the details about why each ingredient is used and exactly which nutrients it provides. Those of us who want to learn more about canine nutrition will find this book a real eye-opener. I refer to my copy frequently and find the information invaluable.

Steve Brown is the creator of Steve’s Real Food for Dogs (he no longer owns the company) and See Spot Live Longer Homemade Dinner Mixes (may no longer be available).

Also available:

See Spot Live Longer the ABC Way, by Steve Brown. E-book, $1.95
A simplified look at how to improve a commercial diet by feeding fresh foods one day a week.

See Spot Live Longer by Steve Brown & Beth Taylor (Creekobear Press, 2005), $18
This book has a great deal of information about dog nutrition, including problems with commercial foods and how to minimize them, but is not a how-to book on homemade diets.

Guidelines for Making a Complete and Balanced Diet for Dogs Updated recipes and guidelines available online.

K9 Kitchen, Your Dogs’ Diet: The Truth Behind the Hype
by Monica Segal, AHCW

2009 (2nd Edition), Doggie Diner, Inc. (self-published), $22. 210 pages, including index.

Rating: **** Highly Recommended

Summary: Includes 60 weekly diet plans for dogs of different weights and activity levels: 20 raw, 20 cooked, and 20 combination. Complete nutritional analyses provided for turkey necks, skinless chicken necks, chicken wings, chicken backs, whole rabbit, whole duck, and green tripe. A table of NRC requirements for adult dogs is provided. Includes guidelines for tracking down health issues that may be food-related. A chapter on treats with a couple of recipes is also included.

Pros: Recipes are relatively high in protein and low in carbs, with moderate amounts of fat. All recipes meet 2006 NRC guidelines for adult maintenance. Number of calories and grams of protein, fat, and carbs are shown for each recipe. Wide variety of foods used. Good information on possible links between diet and health problems. References provided.

Cons: Index so limited and inaccurate as to be of little value. Each recipe is for a specific body weight and activity level; no substitutions or conversions are provided. Instructions for putting together your own diet are fuzzy, and creating your own spreadsheet would be time-consuming and difficult to modify.

Available from Monica Segal and Dogwise (e-book edition also available).

Monica Segal’s book, K9 Kitchen, Your Dog's Diet, offers guidelines and sample recipes for diets based on raw meaty bones, cooked diets, and combinations of the two. Segal’s moderate approach encourages you to pick the style of feeding that you’re most comfortable with and that works for your dog. Sample weekly recipes for all three styles of feeding are included for dogs of various weights and activity levels.

Segal’s recipes use a variety of foods and supplements. Recommended foods include red meat, poultry, fish, organs, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and grains. Not discussed in the text but included in some of the recipes are dairy and legumes. Recommended RMBs include chicken necks, backs, wings, and carcasses; turkey necks and thighs; whole rabbit; and lamb rib.

Most weekly recipes contain between 7 and 14 ingredients, plus supplements. All recipes use kelp, zinc, and vitamin E; most use vitamin B compound and wild salmon oil; many use magnesium and manganese; and a few include cod liver oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, copper, multi-mineral complex, salt, and NoSalt. Calcium sources include calcium carbonate, ground eggshells, bone meal, and dicalcium phosphate. 3rd

This completely revamped 2nd edition of K9 Kitchen improves on the original in many ways. Gone are the frequent warnings about excess vitamin A and most of the overly precise recipe measurements. Recipe amounts are given in ounces rather than a mixture of ounces and grams. More sample recipes are provided, and all are weekly diet plans rather than daily recipes. Grams of protein, fat, and carbs are given rather than percentage of calories from each. On average, diets are higher in protein and lower in carbs.

Segal’s book contains a great deal of useful information, especially regarding dogs with diet-related health problems. It is a wonderful resource for those whose dogs have issues they suspect may be related to diet, including allergies, digestive upset, skin problems, and more. A chapter on stool problems and another on a variety of other health issues can help determine possible causes and dietary modifications to try.
My biggest concern with this book is that it makes things overly complicated for people with healthy dogs. Segal became interested in homemade diets thanks to her dog Zoey, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with a multitude of serious dietary issues. I suspect Segal’s need to control all aspects of Zoey’s diet resulted in her being overly concerned about details that are not an issue for healthy dogs (just as a parent with a chronically ill child might worry more about that child’s diet).

Segal makes many recommendations that I feel are unnecessary if your dog is healthy or has health issues unrelated to diet. For example, she says you must input any modifications to her recipes into a spreadsheet to ensure they meet NRC guidelines. NRC recommended amounts for minerals must be matched exactly. She advises asking manufacturers for independent laboratory analyses of all supplements.

My feeling is that if this isn’t something you would do for yourself or your family, there’s no need to do it for your healthy dog. Substitutions of similar foods could be made without the need to create a spreadsheet, as long as the dog does not react negatively to the changes. NRC recommended amounts don’t need to be matched exactly any more than our own diets must be made to match recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals.
It should also be acceptable to substitute comparable calcium sources. Dicalcium phosphate and bone meal are similar. Ground eggshells are primarily calcium carbonate.

There’s no need to be quite as exact as these recipes specify. Measurements to the quarter of an ounce over a week’s time are unnecessarily precise. Recipes for dogs weighing 52 to 53 pounds can be used for dogs that weigh 50 or 55 pounds. Vitamin B amounts can be increased, if that makes it easier to give daily. Round supplement amounts as needed for convenience; you needn’t worry about giving exactly 56, 105 or 595 mg of magnesium, for example, just give 50, 100, or 600 mg.

Pay attention to the section “Before You Use A Diet Plan” when using these recipes. Wild salmon oil capsules in the recipes are 500 mg, so you will need to give half as many if using the more common 1,000 mg gelcaps. Eggshells must be ground to powder, not just crushed. The amount of calcium in bone meal varies considerably between products; adjust amounts accordingly if the bone meal you use has different amounts of calcium than the 667 mg per teaspoon used in these recipes.

Converting recipes for dogs of different weights

Monica Segal’s recipes are designed for dogs of specific weights and activity levels; she does not tell you how to modify them to work for your dog. She emphasizes that the nutritional needs of dogs of various sizes are not linear; in other words, a 50-pound dog does not require twice as much of everything as a 25-pound dog does.

That’s only because larger dogs need less food per pound of body weight than smaller dogs do. I’m going to tell you how to convert recipes for a dog of one size to work for a dog of any size. In this spreadsheet, find the number in the intersection between the body weight the recipe was designed for and your dog’s ideal body weight. If your dog’s weight is more than the recipe weight, multiply recipe amounts by that number; if your dog’s weight is less than the recipe weight, divide recipe amounts by that number.

For example, if your dog weighs (or should weigh) 25 pounds and you want to use a recipe designed for a 10-pound dog, the number at the intersection of 10 and 25 is 2.0, so multiply the recipe amounts by 2. If you want to use a recipe designed for a 50-pound dog, divide the recipe amounts by 1.7 (the intersection between 25 and 50).

As a general rule of thumb, to double the body weight for any recipe, multiply recipe amounts by 1.7; to halve the body weight of a recipe, divide recipe amounts by 1.7. To triple the body weight of a recipe, multiply recipe amounts by 2.3. For example, if you want to use a recipe designed for a 20-pound dog for your 40-pound dog, multiply all recipe amounts by 1.7; if your dog weighs 60 pounds, multiply 20-pound recipe amounts by 2.3; and if your dog weighs 10 pounds, divide the amounts in a recipe for a 20-pound dog by 1.7.

Looked at another way, if you double the amounts in a recipe, multiply body weight by 2.5. For example, if you double a recipe for a 10-pound dog, it would be suitable for at 25-pound dog (10 x 2.5); if you double a recipe for a 20-pound dog, it would be suitable for a 50-pound dog (20 x 2.5), and so forth. If you halve a recipe, then divide body weight by 2.5: half of a recipe for a 50-pound dog is suitable for a 20-pound dog (50 ÷ 2.5).

If you have an active dog, it’s okay to use recipes for dogs of greater weight than your dog, or just increase the portion size. Be careful about using recipes for active dogs if your dog is a couch potato, though, as the recipes may be too high in fat, and reducing quantities may leave the diet deficient in some areas.

Also available:

Optimal Nutrition, Raw and Cooked Canine Diets: The Next Level by Monica Segal (Doggie Diner, Inc., 2007), $24.95, also available as an e-book.
Includes chapters that address lifestyle, ageing, pregnancy, and sample diets for heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, urinary tract stones, pancreatitis, Cushing`s syndrome, Addison`s disease, allergies, gastrointestinal disease, skin, and cancer. It also includes the NRC numbers, and analyses of a different selection of RMBs than those offered in K9Kitchen.
Each sample recipe is designed for dogs of a specific weight; no information is given on how to use the recipes for other dogs, but the same conversion table could be used. I have problems with some of the diets; for example, the diet for dogs with pancreatitis is so low in fat that it would cause serious deficiencies if used long-term, though it would be fine to use short-term during recovery.

Segal also offers a number of booklets (also available as e-books and packages) on various diet topics.

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Raw Diets that Include Raw Meaty Bones

Raw meaty bones (RMBs) are those that can be fully consumed by dogs, as opposed to recreational bones, such as marrow and knuckle bones, which provide chewing pleasure but are not meant to be consumed. Typical RMBs used by raw feeders include chicken necks, backs, wings, and leg quarters; turkey, lamb, pork, and beef necks; and lamb and pork breasts (riblets). RMBs provide a perfect balance of calcium and phosphorus, along with other nutrients. The act of tearing and gnawing at these parts also provides natural exercise and teeth cleaning.

The most economical way to feed a RMB-based diet is to prepare it yourself, which gives you complete control over the ingredients. It’s vital to realize that these diets consist of much more than just RMBs, however, which is why reading a book on the topic is strongly advised. Again, it’s important to choose the right book.

One of the biggest variations between books on RMB diets is the amount of bone included in the diet. Some books recommend feeding diets that are two-thirds or more RMBs. Too much bone provides excess calcium that can contribute to skeletal disease in large-breed puppies, such as hip dysplasia, hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD) and osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). Because calcium binds other nutrients, I believe that even adult dogs do better if the diet contains no more than 50 percent RMBs.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the available books on feeding your dog a RMB-based diet.

Click on the heading to see the full review:

Give Your Dog A Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs For a Long Healthy Life
by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, B.V.Sc.[Hons], B.Sc.Agr., Dip.Ed.

1993 (self-published), $30. 319 pages.

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: The original guide to feeding a diet based on raw meaty bones.

Pros: A tremendous amount of detailed information about the value of various foods. Diet includes a large variety of different foods.

Cons: Difficult to follow, as information is scattered and there is no index. Specifics such as amount to feed are unclear. Book provides misinformation about the amount of protein, calcium, and phosphorus in commercial foods and their effects on health. A few recommendations are potentially dangerous: I don’t recommend feeding more than 60 percent RMB, especially to puppies, or prolonged or frequent fasting, and guidelines for a vegetarian diet are inadequate. Australian terms hard to understand. No nutritional analysis.

Available from Dogwise and Amazon.

Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst wrote the first popular book on diets that include RMBs, which he called BARF diets, for “bones and raw food” or “biologically appropriate raw food.” His diet is based on the natural diet of wolves and wild dogs. He later wrote two more books, Grow Your Pups With Bones, on feeding puppies and dogs used for breeding, and The BARF Diet, an updated and condensed version of his first book (see reviews below).

I have a soft spot in my heart for Billinghurst’s first book, Give Your Dog A Bone, as it’s the one that I relied on when I started feeding a raw diet in 1998. The book has a tremendous amount of detail about the various ingredients that go into the diet, and helped me grasp the concepts of balance over time; feeding raw meaty bones; and that if we can feed our children without resorting to “complete and balanced” meals from a bag or can, we can do the same for our dogs.

Billinghurst’s books can be frustrating, though. The information is disorganized. None of the books contain an index, making it difficult to refer back to recommendations that are spread throughout the books. If you want recipes or simple, clear instructions, you will not like Billinghurst’s books. Even those who appreciate the details on the nutritional benefits of each type of food may find it difficult to extract the specific elements needed to formulate a diet and determine how much to feed.

Billinghurst’s first book recommends a diet consisting of 40 to 80 percent RMBs, up to 25 percent muscle meat, 10 to 15 percent organs, and the rest vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and other foods such as fish, dairy, eggs, apple cider vinegar, oils, honey, mushrooms, and table scraps. Useful additives include brewer’s yeast, kelp, garlic, and herbs. He also suggests supplementing with vitamins A, B-complex, C, D, and E.

In his first book, Billinghurst stresses the need for food separation, particularly feeding RMBs separately from other foods. He suggests feeding different foods at different meals. Over three weeks, you would feed 10 meals of RMB, 4 vegetable, 1 starch, 1 grain/legume, 1 meat, 2 milk, and 1 or 2 organ meat meals.

There is sometimes a bit of difficulty understanding Australian terms Billinghurst uses. Cereal (grains), lamb flaps (breast), linseed (flaxseed) oil, chooks (chickens), mince (ground), and offal (organs) are some of the terms he uses. He also warns repeatedly about hydatid disease, which is not a big concern in the U.S.

Despite having much that is good, this book contains significant misinformation and unsupported claims. Billinghurst blames everything from bloat to kidney disease on excess protein, calcium, and phosphorus in commercial diets. His first book was published before most of the studies showing that high levels of protein and phosphorus do not harm healthy kidneys, and protein does not cause orthopedic problems in puppies, but what I don’t understand is that the diet he recommends is considerably higher in all three nutrients than commercial foods are!

Billinghurst correctly states that too much calcium can lead to orthopedic problems in puppies, yet his first book recommends a puppy diet that is 60 to 80 percent raw meaty bones, which could be dangerously high in calcium, especially considering that the chicken necks, wings, and carcasses he recommends most are high in bone. Using average calcium values, those would provide 2.7 percent calcium on a dry matter basis if fed in equal portions as 80 percent of the diet, while AAFCO maximum is 2.5 percent (and large-breed puppies should get less than that).

A diet consisting of 80 percent RMB that are mostly chicken would also not provide the variety needed to make up a complete diet. He actually says at one point, “We have found that we can get away with feeding puppies almost one hundred percent chicken wings, chicken necks and lamb off cuts and very little of anything else.” He says the pups do have access to “soil and cow poop. These two ‘foods’ probably contain the nutrients which may be missing from the bones.” This advice is simply irresponsible.

I also disagree with his recommendation of one- or two-day fasts every couple of weeks for older dogs, feeding dogs only every second or third day, and adding “plenty of garlic” to make up for missing minerals in a vegetarian diet (too much garlic causes anemia in dogs).

Grow Your Pups With Bones: The BARF Programme For Breeding Healthy Dogs And Eliminating Skeletal Disease
by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, B.V.Sc.[Hons], B.Sc.Agr., Dip.Ed.

1998 (self-published), $40. 405 pages.

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: Guide to feeding a RMB diet to puppies, pregnant and lactating bitches, and stud dogs. Also includes information on breeding and health(not covered in review).

Pros: Covers RMB diets for all aspects of dogs in a breeding program.

Cons: No index or nutritional analysis. Suggested feeding amounts are excessive. Contains misinformation about high-protein diets causing orthopedic problems in puppies. Recommendations to starve dogs who are overweight or have skeletal problems by feeding primarily vegetables should be avoided.

Available from Dogwise.

Billinghurst’s second book, Grow Your Pup With Bones, improves his guidelines for feeding puppies. In this book, he recommends feeding 50 to 60 percent RMB, and introduces the concept of the “patty” for the rest of the diet. Patties consist of half meat and half vegetables and fruit, with added yogurt, egg, oils, liver, garlic, kelp, and vitamins B-complex and C. Other ingredients mentioned include raw milk, honey, grains (optional), food scraps, vitamin E, and larger (recreational) bones. He suggests alternating between RMB and patty meals.

Billinghurst says that the meat used in the patties can be ground wings or necks, which would once again push the amount of calcium too high. There are other problems with this book as well. The feeding guidelines are excessive – he says to start by feeding 10 percent or more of a pup’s body weight daily to determine the maximum amount the pup can eat, and then feed two-thirds of that amount as a percentage of body weight, adjusting as the pup grows but maintaining the same percentage. There are two problems with this approach: pups don’t ever eat ten percent of their body weight daily, and the percentage of body weight that they eat declines steadily as they grow.

I also object to Billinghurst's recommendations for what to do if a pup gets too heavy. In this case, he advises reducing the total amount fed by one third, and changing the meals to be just 20 percent raw meaty bones, with patties that are 80 percent vegetables making up the rest. The resulting diet would be 64 percent vegetables. Combined with the decrease in the amount fed, this would severely reduce calories. I agree that pups should be kept lean, but the solution is not to starve them.

Worse yet is what to do if your pup develops any form of skeletal disease. In that case, Billinghurst advising increasing the vegetables in the patty mix to between 75 and 90 percent, and then increasing the patties to between 75 and 90 percent of the diet. The net result could be a diet that is over 80 percent vegetables. If the pup is “really hungry,” you’re told to add more vegetables! In one anecdote, he talks of feeding a puppy a diet that is 95 percent vegetables for months. The calories in a diet high in vegetables would be very low, while the amount of fiber would be extremely high, likely leading to gas and digestive upset along with hunger and malnutrition if continued for very long. I find these recommendations irresponsible and dangerous.

This book also contains recommendations for feeding pregnant and lactating bitches as well as stud dogs, which appear to be appropriate. A large portion of the book is devoted to health issues, breeding, and history that are beyond the scope of this review.

The book contains undocumented claims that “recent analyses of a whole range of commercially produced dogs foods in both America and Australia, . . . showed that they contained excessive levels of calcium. Some of them contained up to 10 times more calcium than is required by a growing puppy. Most of them had at least twice as much as was necessary.” AAFCO guidelines allow calcium percentages between 1 and 2.5 percent of the diet on a dry matter basis for puppies; Billinghurst recommends 1.1 to 1.5 percent, not to exceed 2 percent. I simply do not believe that any commercial food has ten times the proper amount of calcium, nor that most contain twice that amount. He claims that excess calcium from bones is not absorbed, but provides no reference for this statement (which I don’t believe is true).

Billinghurst blames excess protein for causing skeletal problems, which has been disproved (excess calcium and calories do cause skeletal problems, which he correctly identifies). He goes so far as to say that if you do feed commercial foods, they should have no more than 20 percent protein and between 5 and 10 percent fat, both of which are far too low to meet a puppy’s needs (and which would leave more than 70 percent of the diet as carbohydrates).

While there is good information in this book, once again much of what is needed is buried in text with no index to help you find or refer back to it. Guidelines are often fuzzy and scattered – for example, can you figure out what to do based on the following? “When you feed your dogs the healthy oils that I am recommending, you must also feed appropriate anti-oxidants. That is, vitamin E, vitamin C, the B vitamins, zinc, chromium, selenium, magnesium, etc. At this point – human grade supplements are to be recommended. Bones, kelp, possibly brewer’s yeast, fresh vegetables and offal will all help.”

Note that there are frequent references to the first book; the second book is not meant to stand alone.

The BARF Diet: Raw Feeding For Dogs and Cats Using Evolutionary Principles
by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, B.V.Sc.[Hons], B.Sc.Agr., Dip.Ed.

2001 (self-published), $20. 109 pages.

Rating: *** Recommended

Summary: Updated and more concise version of the first book. Provides a complete overview on feeding a RMB diet.

Pros: Shorter and easier to follow than previous books. More emphasis on variety rather than feeding primarily chicken.

Cons: No index or nutritional analysis. Amounts to feed are excessive. Suggests starving puppies with skeletal problems by feeding almost all vegetables, which I do not advise.

Available from Dogwise.

Billinghurst’s third book, The BARF Diet, is the best of the three is many ways. It’s much shorter, making it easier to follow, even though scattered information and lack of an index continue to be issues. Australian terms have been replaced with more familiar ones. Much of the misinformation from prior books is missing, and it finally recognizes that the BARF diet is high in protein and that high protein is not dangerous. I was also pleased to see an acknowledgement that bones can sometimes cause problems, especially for dogs who gulp them, and a specific warning about turkey necks, which seem to cause choking more often than any other RMB.

Feeding recommendations are similar to the other books: 60 percent RMBs, 15 percent vegetables, 5 percent fruit, 10 percent offal (organs), and 10 percent “additives,” including various oils, yogurt, kelp, alfalfa, probiotics, eggs, garlic, and table scraps. Recommended supplements include vitamins A, C, and E. There is more stress on feeding a variety of different RMB, not just chicken necks, wings, and carcasses.

Two feeding methods (or a combination of the two) are offered: alternating RMB meals with a combination of other foods, such as meats (some including bone), organs, vegetables, fruit, and additives; or feeding “multi-mix patties,” consisting of the same foods, including RMBs, all ground together. The latter ties in with the introduction of “Dr. Billinghurst’s Meat and Bone Minces” from a company, BARF World, that he helped found (he is no longer affiliated with the company).

Guidelines for weight loss and fasting are much more reasonable than the two earlier books. Suggested feeding amounts, however, remain quite high. For example, he suggests feeding as much as 8 percent of an adult dog’s body weight daily. He provides an example of feeding a 50-pound dog 5 percent of its body weight, starting with 1.5 pounds of chicken wings. That’s 1,660 calories from the chicken wings alone, not counting the other 40 percent of the diet, while even an active 50-pound dog needs only 1,350 calories a day. Working dogs such as sled dogs might require this much food, but most pets need far less. A better rule of thumb is 2 to 2.5 percent of body weight daily for medium-sized dogs, with small dogs needing somewhat more and large dogs a little less.

Guidelines for feeding puppies with skeletal problems still involve starvation (feeding nothing but vegetables for weeks or months), which I cannot support.

Other errors include chicken necks and backs possibly being low in calcium (they’re actually higher in calcium than wings), and advising the use of black tea for dogs with diarrhea (the caffeine in tea is dangerous to dogs).

Raw Dog Food: Make it Easy for You and Your Dog
by Carina Beth MacDonald

2004, Dogwise Publishing, $13. 86 pages, including index.
Also available as an e-book for $9.

Rating: *** Recommended

Summary: Guidelines for feeding a Billinghurst-style RMB diet.

Pros: Easy for beginners to understand. Good ratio of RMBs to other foods.

Cons: No nutritional analysis done. Lacking details on the nutritional value of different foods.

Available from Dogwise and Amazon. Also available as an e-book.

Carina Beth MacDonald uses a lighthearted approach in her book, Raw Dog Food, to cover the basics of a RMB diet without making things too complicated. Like all the RMB diet books, her book provides diet guidelines rather than recipes. Recommended proportions are 50 percent RMBs, 20 percent boneless meat, 5 to 10 percent organs, and 20 to 25 percent veggies, eggs, and fruit. In my opinion, this is a better ratio than other books that recommend a higher proportion of RMBs. Optional ingredients include dairy products, grains, apple cider vinegar, blackstrap molasses, garlic, ginger, nuts, legumes, and leftovers.

MacDonald’s book covers all the basics that a beginning raw feeder needs to know: what bony parts to feed, other foods to include in the diet, preparation, and how much to feed (as a percentage of ideal body weight). Note that the amounts given for puppies and small dogs (up to 10 percent of body weight daily) are too high. Recommended nutritional supplements include fish oil and vitamins C and E. Additional chapters go over customizing the diet based on age and size, problem solving, and answers to common questions.

I think this is one of the better “getting started” books for raw feeders, as it covers all the basics in a manner that is clear and easy to follow. The index is also helpful when you want to refer back to specific details as you put your diet together.

Switching to Raw: A Fresh Food Diet For Dogs That Makes Sense
by Susan K. Johnson

2001, Birchrun Basics (self-published), $14. 107 pages (printed on one side only, so half are blank).

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Pros: Simple to follow. Wide variety of foods used.

Cons: Diet is too high in bone. No nutritional analysis done. No index.

Available from Switching to Raw.

Switching to Raw is a very simple and easy-to-follow translation of the first Billinghurst book. Both recommend feeding at least 60 percent RMBs; Susan Johnson’s sample menu suggests feeding two RMB meals every other day, with one meal of RMBs and one meal of other foods on alternate days. This comes to 75 percent RMBs in the overall diet, which I believe is too much. Instead, I would advise feeding just one RMB meal and rotating between the other foods Johnson recommends for the second meal each day.

In addition to RMBs, Johnson’s diet includes fish, eggs, organ meats (15 percent of the total diet), muscle (boneless) meat, and vegetables, with grains being optional. She gives guidelines for how much to feed dogs that weigh 20, 50 and 80 pounds, broken into meals of RMBs; vegetables with fish and egg; muscle meat with egg; and organ meat with egg.

Recommended supplements include fish oil and flaxseed or hemp oil; kelp and alfalfa; vitamins B-complex, C and E; cod liver oil; digestive enzymes and probiotics; and molasses (although the recipes in the “Amounts to Feed” section leave out vitamin E).

Note that the recommendation to feed puppies up to 10 percent of their body weight daily is too high.

Other sections include information on treats and recreational bones; making the switch; what to expect; and shopping and preparation. The book does not address potential problems with RMB for dogs who gulp their food.

Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: The Ultimate Diet
by Kymythy R. Schultze, CCN, AHI

1998, Hay House, $9. 135 pages.

Rating: * Not recommended

Summary: Guidelines for feeding a RMB diet.

Pros: None.

Cons: Diet is limited, details are few, and instructions are inflexible. No nutritional analysis has been done. No index or references.

Available from Dogwise and Amazon.

Kymythy Schultze wrote one of the early books on RMB diets, Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats. Her diet consists of muscle and organ meat, RMBs, eggs, and a very small amount of vegetables. Recommended supplements include kelp, alfalfa, cod liver oil, “EFAs,” and vitamin C. (Note there is no mention of added taurine for cats.)

Schultze’s book is filled with absolutes. She tells you to feed just one meal a day, and fast your dog one day a week. You’re not allowed to use aluminum foil for storage. She avoids both grains and dairy products, inferring without evidence that dietary guidelines for dogs with cancer will also help to prevent cancer. She makes other unsupported claims, such as that most pets cannot tolerate yeast, and that “research has shown that dogs who eat table scraps and homemade food are less likely to bloat than dogs eating a commercial food only” (I’m unaware of any such research and it’s unlikely to exist). Other statements are just odd, such as advising not to feed raw salmon “unless it has tested free of salmon poisoning.” Testing for the parasite that causes salmon poisoning is not a viable option for dog owners.

The kind of details that would enable a dog owner to feed this diet are lacking here. A few examples: Schulze recommends feeding fish, but offers no suggestions as to the type of fish. Instructions for adding oils are vague. Food ratios are never given and feeding guidelines are unclear. She provides sample amounts to feed dogs weighing 10, 50 and 100 pounds, but ratios cannot be calculated because amounts are in different units. To illustrate, this is what she says to feed a 50-pound dog: “3/4-1 cup muscle meat (plus organ meat or egg), 1 turkey neck or 6 chicken necks, and 3 tbl veggies, pulped.” Supplement amounts are also given: “2 tsp kelp/alfalfa, 1 tsp cod liver oil, 2 tsp EFAs, and up to 3,000-6,000 mg vitamin C.”

This book is too limited to be of much use, and doesn’t allow for variation in an individual dog’s needs. It also fails to address potential problems caused by bones. You can do better.

I am even more unimpressed with Schultze’s newer book, The Natural Nutrition No-Cook Book (Hay House, 2005). In this book Schultze offers human-style recipes, divided into sections on Beverages (10 recipes); Dressings, Dips, Sauces, and Salsas (10); Fruit (15); Meat and Fish (3 raw fish, 1 “steak tartare” recipe); Nuts and Seeds (5); Soups (5); and Vegetables (17).  No attempt has been made to make these recipes complete; the book has no value to those who want to feed a complete and balanced homemade diet to their dogs.

Work Wonders: Feed Your Dog Raw Meaty Bones
by Tom Lonsdale

2005, Rivetco P/L (self-published), $13. 118 pages, including index.
Also available as an e-book, $9.50

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: Guidelines for feeding a raw diet based on whole prey.

Pros: This is the only book on whole prey diets.

Cons: This type of diet is impractical for most people. Severe limitations on the type of foods fed. No nutritional analysis done.

Available from Raw Meaty Bones, Dogwise, and Amazon. Also available as an e-book.

Australian veterinarian Tom Lonsdale advocates a raw diet based on whole prey in his book, Work Wonders. I am not a fan of this style of feeding, as I feel it is impractical. It’s also restrictive; just because foods such as vegetables were not part of the evolutionary diet of wolves does not mean they provide no nutritional benefits. This book is the best guide available, however, for people who choose this feeding method. I’ll describe the distinguishing features of the diet and let you decide whether it appeals to you.

Lonsdale’s recommended diet consists of 70 percent RMBs, plus offal and table scraps. Lonsdale asserts that RMBs should come preferably from whole carcasses, such as rats, mice, and quail for small dogs; calf, goat, pig, kangaroo, and lamb for larger dogs; and rabbit, fish, and chicken for all dogs. Other recommended RMBs include chicken and turkey backs and frames (meat removed); poultry heads, feet, necks, and wings (small dogs only); sheep, deer, pig, and fish heads; lamb and pork necks; ox and kangaroo tails; sides of lamb; slabs of beef; and ox brisket. Table scraps and fruit are also allowed. Suggested sources include abattoirs (slaughterhouses), food deemed unfit for human consumption, and road kill.

Large meals of liver are fed once every two weeks. Other offal deemed suitable by Lonsdale include lung, trachea, heart, omasum (part of the stomach of ruminants), tripe, tongue, pancreas, and spleen. Lonsdale says that if you can’t get offal, it’s acceptable to feed 100 percent of the diet as RMBs, even stating, “Many of my clients fed almost exclusively chicken backs and frames – whether to adult dogs or litters of puppies – and their animals showed excellent health.” I do not recommend this! Another option he mentions is to feed large quantities of sheep and cattle omasums with only the occasional RMB (again, not something I recommend).

Ground RMBs are not allowed by Lonsdale except for dogs with no teeth or specific health issues such as megaesophagus or pyloric stenosis; ground food can also be fed to sick dogs for short periods only. Problems with RMBs such as choking are blamed on feeding pieces that are too small. Foods to be avoided include excessive meat off the bone, excessive vegetables, small pieces of bone, garlic, and milk.

Lonsdale is opposed to Billinghurst-style “barf” diets that use ground RMBs and include large quantities of vegetables and fruits. He is also opposed to adding supplements such as flaxseed oil, kelp, apple cider vinegar, glucosamine, and chondroitin. He advises against using vitamin and mineral supplements for any dog, including pregnant bitches and puppies, saying they can be harmful.

Lonsdale suggests feeding dogs once a day, and fasting healthy, adult dogs one or two days a week; he also suggests fasting “fat dogs” for “lengthy periods . . . even several weeks” (which I consider abusive). One feeding method is to feed several days’ supply of food in one large piece, returning what is left to the refrigerator after the dog has eaten his share. Part-eaten bones can also be left outside “for further gnawing over ensuing days.” Raw food can be made available at all times for puppies. He suggests feeding 3 percent of body weight daily for small dogs, down to as low as 1 percent for large dogs, not counting table scraps.

Lonsdale has an entire chapter that blames essentially all health problems on commercial diets, which he calls “junk foods.” He and his followers are adamant that there is only one right way to feed dogs; no deviation is permitted.

Lonsdale has another book Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health, which is not a how-to book; it's mostly a history of Londsdale’s war with the pet food industry and its ties to veterinarians.

New Books:

Raw Food Diet for Dogs: Feeding Fresh Meat Made Easy by Silke Bohm.
2011, Cadmos Books, $23. 95 pages.
I have not read this book, but from what I can see, the diet described is incomplete in many ways. The weekly feeding schedule shown on page 54 (available through Dogwise) shows a diet that includes five meals (out of 14) of "last night's leftovers," three meals of "bone ration" or "cartilage," and no supplements other than oils and possibly salt. Calcium is likely low (too little bone), and there's no mention of needing vitamin E when supplementing with oils.Not recommended.

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Boneless Diets, both cooked and raw

Books about boneless diets make up the largest category by far of homemade diet books. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad books out there. Many of the recipes they provide are nutritionally inadequate. There’s no harm in using them from time to time, or to replace a small portion (up to 25 percent) of a commercial food diet, but anyone who relies on these books to feed their dogs a homemade diet is likely to end up with issues that could range from dry skin to crippling orthopedic conditions.

Calcium, in particular, is often mentioned only in passing or left out of recipes entirely. As just one example of the problems this can cause, I heard from someone who relied on four popular homemade diet books, none of which stressed the importance of added calcium, to create a diet for her puppy. As a result, her pup developed nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, a metabolic disorder caused by lack of calcium that can lead to bone deformities and spontaneous fractures. At one point, her puppy’s bones were so soft that when an X-ray was being taken, the technicians actually bent the leg bone. I’m happy to say that the pup appears to have made a full recovery once she began adding calcium to his diet, but this could have resulted in irreparable damage.

In contrast with the RMB books, the books in this category provide recipes rather than just diet guidelines. Most of the food is cooked; only two books suggest using raw meat (and only one requires it). Some recipes are simple, consisting of a few, basic ingredients, while others are indistinguishable from human recipes, with multiple ingredients, seasonings, and preparation steps. All diets include grains, though the percentages of meat, grains, and vegetables vary considerably.

I have split the reviews into three categories: books that are recommended (though many with reservations); books not recommended due to inadequate calcium guidelines; and books that are not recommended because they're for supplemental feeding only, not complete homemade diets.

Recommended books (click on the heading to see the full review):

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats
by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn

2005 (3rd edition), Rodale Books, $22. 464 pages, including index (118 pages on diet).

Rating: *** Recommended

Summary: 19 recipes: 10 that are complete, 3 for supplementing kibble, and 6 recipes for special needs. Raw meat is recommended, but cooking is allowed. Nutritional analyses are provided for all recipes showing dry matter percentages of protein, fat, carbohydrates, ash, calcium, and phosphorus, along with number of calories and amount of vitamin A. Tables compare nutritional factors for various meats, grains, and legumes. Portion sizes are given for five weight categories. Also includes information on health and other issues (not covered in this review).

Pros: Complete diet, including supplements, in easy-to-use form. Recipes can be used for all life stages, plus there are some for special needs. Stresses variety, offers substitutions for each recipe. Nutritional analyses included.

Cons: Diet is high in grains. Recipes are fairly easy to follow, but you must read chapter 3 for additional details.

Available from Amazon.

Dr. Pitcairn was an early advocate for homemade diets for dogs, publishing the first edition of his book, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, way back in 1981. The latest edition (2005) offers several improvements. The recipes have been revamped; most are moderately higher in both protein and fat and lower in carbs than before. For example, the Doggie Oats recipe increased the amount of meat from two to three pounds and decreased the amount of oats from eight to five cups. The amount of bone meal to add to each recipe has been clarified, as different products vary in how much calcium they contain.

A wide variety of foods are recommended, including various meats, liver, eggs, dairy products, grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit, along with garlic, yeast, and such flavorings as soy sauce. Not all of these ingredients are specified in the recipes; some, such as liver and fish oil, are discussed only in the text. Supplements include vegetable oil; bone meal; vitamins A, D and E; and Healthy Powder (a mixture of yeast, lecithin, kelp, vitamin C, and bone meal).

Pitcairn stresses the need for variety and suggests substitutions for meats and grains in his recipes. Four of the recipes are vegetarian, but they use eggs and dairy for protein, which is acceptable (Pitcairn does not recommend vegan diets, and I agree). While his recipes are higher in carbs than I prefer, with 36 to 61 percent in the regular meals, they have an adequate amount of protein, ranging from 23 to 33 percent. According to Pitcairn, “You may also feed any of the basic cat recipes to dogs,” a good choice if you want to feed meals that are higher in protein and lower in carbs. Special recipes are provided for dogs with kidney disease, allergies and weight loss; the latter are high in carbohydrates (not ideal).

I did find a few math errors in this book. For example, the Healthy Powder recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of bone meal powder, which would be about 60 grams, supplying over 17 grams of calcium, yet the nutritional analysis of Healthy Powder says “Bone meal, approx. 9 grams” and lists the amount of calcium as just over 9 grams. None of the errors I found were dangerous, however, and the bone meal in Healthy Powder is just there to balance out the phosphorus in the other ingredients, not the diet itself.

Note that the first 118 pages of this book are about diet; the rest are about other issues, such as health, exercise, and grooming, which are beyond the scope of this review.

Despite the high carbs, this is still one of the better homemade diet books around. You can rely on these recipes to provide complete nutrition for your dog.

Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog
by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, D.V.M.

2000 (2nd edition), Howell Book House, $17. 314 pages, including index (105 pages on diet).

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: 1 recipe, including separate meals for breakfast and dinner with minor changes two days of each week. Raw meat is required. A nutritional analysis of the complete diet shows dry matter percentages of protein, fat, carbohydrates, ash, linoleic acid, calcium, and phosphorus, plus calories per pound. Portion sizes are given for eight weight categories ranging from 5 to 150 pounds. Also includes information on health and other issues outside the scope of this review.

Pros: Complete diet, including supplements. Nutritional analysis provided.

Cons: Recipe is complicated, with 20 different daily ingredients. Amount of calcium used is unclear and could be excessive. Nutritional analysis is unclear. Rigid rules, little variety.

Available from Amazon.

The 2000 edition of Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog has been completely reorganized, but the diet presented in the book is virtually identical to the original version. A single recipe is provided, split into two meals: a cereal meal that makes up 25 percent and a meat meal that makes up 75 percent of the diet. Cottage cheese is substituted for meat one day a week, and there is a half-day fast (modified cereal meal only) one day each week. The diet is 35 percent protein, 17 to 20 percent fat, and 34 to 39 percent carbs on a dry matter basis. Ingredients in order of weight: beef muscle meat, water, cereal grain, kefir/yogurt, cottage cheese, beef liver, egg, bone meal, apple cider vinegar, vegetable greens, herbs, molasses, wheat bran, safflower oil, fruit, honey, cod liver oil, wheat germ, kelp, egg shell brewer’s yeast, garlic vitamin B complex, vitamin C and vitamin E. Note these are the only ingredients recommended; most substitutions are provided only for dogs who cannot tolerate or will not eat the diet otherwise.

Much information in this book is unclear. A “guaranteed analysis” is provided showing percentages of protein, fat, carbohydrates, ash, linoleic acid, calcium and phosphorus. The numbers add up to 100 percent, which doesn’t make sense, as linoleic acid is part of fat, and calcium and phosphorus are part of ash. The calories per pound (2,172) are also higher than appears possible, unless it refers to dry matter only, which makes no sense (calories are always shown “as fed”). Since the percentage of moisture is not shown, these values can’t be converted to amounts fed and so have limited usefulness.

More importantly, the amount of bone meal to include is unclear. For example, the recipe for a 50-pound dog includes 2.5 tablespoons (7.5 teaspoons) of bone meal. This is more than twice the amount used in other books. Assuming 1,500 mg calcium per teaspoon of bone meal, this comes to a whopping 11,250 mg of calcium daily, far more than is needed.

The problem is that bone meal can vary greatly in how much calcium it contains. Dr. Pitcairn addresses this explicitly in his book, listing the amount of calcium in various bone meal brands and telling you how to adjust his recipes depending on which type you use. Other books tell you how much calcium is needed and let you calculate the amount of bone meal to use to provide that amount, or they specify how much is assumed to be in the bone meal supplement they recommend so that you can make your own adjustments.

But the Volhard book does neither. I finally found the brand of bone meal used buried in Appendix 2. I looked it up and discovered this particular brand has just 720 mg calcium per teaspoon, which cuts the total amount in half and makes it more reasonable. With no guidance in the text, however, I’m sure many people would get this wrong. Excess calcium is dangerous for large-breed puppies. Adult dogs excrete what they don’t need, but calcium binds other minerals, which could lead to nutritional deficiencies over time. You must be sure to use bone meal that has around 720 mg of calcium per teaspoon, or adjust the amount of bone meal that is added to the recipe proportionately.

Volhard recommends feeding only beef meat, as she says “testing thousands of dogs through kinesiology for over 20 years has shown me that the majority of dogs prefer beef.” Ignoring the question of whether kinesiology has any validity, there’s simply no reason to avoid variety, and many reasons not to.

There are other errors and ambiguities in the text. She states that corn oil “contains only a tiny amount of linoleic acid,” but linoleic acid is the primary component of corn oil. Instructions for adding supplemental fresh foods to a commercial diet for a 50-pound dog are difficult to decipher (feed twice a day, or split between meals?). You are advised to use blood tests to monitor the diet, but blood tests will not show nutritional deficiencies or excesses unless they are extreme (and often not even then).

Many people have had success with this diet, but some dogs don’t like the cereal portion, and the supplements are complicated.

Better Food for Dogs: A Complete Cookbook and Nutrition Guide
by David Bastin, Jennifer Ashton, and Dr. Grant Nixon, DVM

2002, Robert Rose, Inc., $20. 224 pages, including index.

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: 4 recipes each for dogs of various weights, with variations provided as well. A nutritional analysis for each recipe shows the number of calories and grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Tables provide a complete average nutritional analysis of the four recipes in each weight class compared to 1985 NRC minimum requirements. All foods are cooked. Human-style recipes are moderately complex. A chapter on cookie recipes is also included.

Pros: Recipes provide a reasonable amount of protein and are not too high in carbs; average nutritional analyses are provided.

Cons: No organ meats. Supplementation is complicated.

Available from Amazon.

Better Food for Dogs is one of the better books that use human-style recipes, though that says more about the quality of the competition than about this book itself. Recipes average 40 percent protein, 45 percent carbohydrates, and 15 percent fat on a dry matter basis, which is much better than books whose recipes are low in protein and overloaded with carbs.

Variety is stressed, with variations for some recipes provided. Recommended protein sources include lean ground beef and lamb; chicken and turkey breast; Atlantic salmon and snapper; and eggs. Carbs include brown rice, pasta and potatoes. All recipes add canola oil; most also add salt and/or salt substitute (potassium chloride). Bone meal is used as a calcium source. All recipes also require additional vitamin-mineral supplementation.

I have a number of reservations about the recipes. Neither liver nor heart is included; it’s a shame to leave out these nutrient-dense ingredients. Canola oil is added to chicken and turkey breast; I prefer to use dark meat poultry and skip the vegetable oils. No omega-3 fatty acids are added, and they even warn against doing so, which makes no sense. Some recipes are overly complex, with unnecessary ingredients such as basil, oregano, thyme, soy sauce, and tomato sauce.

I like the fact that tables are provided showing the average nutritional analysis for each set of recipes compared to NRC minimum requirements. However, they expect you to use these tables to calculate the amount of bone meal and other vitamin and mineral supplementation to add. You are also asked to make calculations involving the amount of canola oil to add when you make certain substitutions.

As with many books co-authored by veterinarians, you are frequently urged to consult with a professional. I find many of these recommendations unnecessary or impractical, for example:

  • “When feeding your dog this or any other diet, including commercially prepared dog food, we recommend working with your veterinarian to monitor its suitability.”
  • “Visit your veterinarian and let him/her know you are making significant adjustments to your dog’s diet.”
  • “Before giving your dog any dietary supplement, check with your veterinarian.”
  • “Before feeding your dog a multivitamin-and-mineral supplement, use the charts in Chapter 7 to be sure it offers the appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals and check with your veterinarian to ensure that it offers a balanced formulation for your dog.”
  • “When purchasing [a daily multivitamin-and-mineral supplement intended for humans], use the charts in Chapter 7 and consult with your pharmacist to ensure that you are adding the proper supplementation without reaching toxic levels.”
  •  “Giving your dog omega-3 fatty acid supplements should only be undertaken with the guidance of your veterinarian.”

There are also warnings that are overblown or just plain wrong, such as “oversupplementation of omega-3s should be avoided, as it may depress the immune system.” AAFCO maximums are listed under the heading “Toxicity Levels of Vitamins and Minerals,” while in many cases no level of toxicity has been established. Feeding raw food is forbidden.

All in all, I think this is a better book than many, especially those whose diets are higher in carbs and omit calcium, but the recipes and supplements may be more complicated than some people want to deal with.

Natural Food Recipes for Healthy Dogs: Everything You Need to Know to Make the Greatest Food for Your Friend
by Carol Boyle

2006 (3rd edition), Pyr Press Publishing Group (self-published), $20 (including shipping). 206 pages, including index.

Rating: *** Recommended

Summary: More than 100 recipes divided into sections: appetizers, soup, chicken, meat, main course, vegetable, and starch. Three treat recipes are also included. Recipe complexity varies; these are human-style recipes, meant to be shared with your dogs.

Pros: Practical approach to feeding dogs. Ratio of meat to carbs is appropriate. Wide variety of foods used.

Cons: Very little information on supplements. No nutritional analysis done.

Available from Natural Dog Food.

I first read Carol Boyle’s book, Natural Food Recipes for Healthy Dogs, in 2007, when she participated in my series of homemade diet articles for the Whole Dog Journal (you can read about the diet she feeds her dogs at Sample Homemade Cooked Diets for Dogs). I liked Boyle’s approach to sharing your own meals with your dogs so much that I began incorporating some of her ideas into the diet I feed my own dogs.

Rereading the book now, I’m still impressed. Boyle has a practical, common sense style that makes home feeding seem simple. She calls it “The Scatter-Shot Theory” of good nutrition, using variety, moderation, and balance over time to ensure that her dogs’ nutritional needs are met. She recommends feeding a diet that is two parts protein to one part carbohydrates by volume, with added servings of sweet potato, dairy, and eggs. Recommended proteins include various meats, organs, eggs, and dairy. Carbohydrates include pasta, rice, grits, barley, oatmeal, millet, quinoa, spelt, and artisan breads. Root vegetables, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables are also included, along with fruit. She recommends feeding two to three meals a month of liver, and the same for canned fish (sardines, salmon, or jack mackerel).

It’s important to read Boyle’s text and not just look at the recipes, which are for individual foods rather than for meals. Boyle gives guidelines as to how to combine these foods or others into meals to create a diet. She also stresses the need to add calcium at the rate of 1,000 mg per pound of meat, and gives instructions on using ground eggshells to supply calcium. Note that some recipes include onions, which Boyle suggests be removed before serving to dogs.

Boyle has had success allowing her dogs to self-limit the amount they eat by giving them as much as they want and picking the food up after 20 minutes, but she also provides suggestions on amounts to feed based on a percentage of the dog’s body weight. (I will never understand where all these self-limiting dogs come from; all of my dogs would have eaten themselves sick if given the opportunity.)

Boyle’s book provides little guidance on supplements, suggesting that you add vitamins C and E, fish oil, and possibly a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement as well, but advises you to ask your veterinarian or breeder for suggestions, which are not reliable sources.

The book includes a section on “Other Considerations” with suggestions for puppies, working dogs, older dogs, and dogs that are ill. These are not recipes, but rather modified guidelines for dogs with special needs.

Boyle’s book is a good choice if you enjoy cooking for yourself and your family. The guidelines can be used for occasional homemade meals or a diet that is part homemade, part commercial. You may find it even helps you improve your own nutrition!

The Healthy Dog Cookbook: 50 Nutritious and Delicious Recipes Your Dog Will Love
by Jonna Anne with Mary Straus and Shawn Messonier, DVM, Veterinary Consultant

2008, TFH. Publications, $20. 128 pages, including index.

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: 36 meal recipes, plus 13 treat recipes. A nutritional analysis for each recipe shows the number of calories and grams of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber per cup.

Pros: Recipes use appropriate proportions of animal proteins and carbs, and some include organ meats as well. Each specifies how much calcium to add.

Cons: Nutritional analyses were not compared to NRC guidelines. “Special diets” for problems such as fleas and bad breath are not likely to help. Portion sizes are too high.

Available at Amazon.

My name is on the cover (as a contributor) of The Healthy Dog Cookbook, so I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t there just the tiniest conflict of interest having me review my own book? Fair point – except it’s not really “my” book.

In 2007, I heard from an editor in England who had been contracted by TFH Publications to produce a homemade diet book for dogs. The editor asked if I would be willing to provide recipes for the book. I declined, as I prefer to give diet guidelines rather than recipes. The editor then asked if I would write the introduction, and I agreed, provided that the recipes met my criteria: at least half animal products (meat, eggs, fish, dairy); organ meat (particularly liver) included in small amounts; no vegan recipes; and an appropriate amount of added calcium. To my surprise, they agreed.

I do not know Jonna Anne, who created the recipes, nor did we ever communicate directly. The editor sent the recipes to me; I provided feedback, such as not feeding too much liver at one time, and Anne made revisions.

In the end, I wrote not only the introduction, but also the information presented with each recipe, which included portion sizes (which I now feel are too high) and the amount of calcium to add. While working on portion sizes, I realized that the nutritional analyses I’d been given did not make sense – for example, a turkey recipe was one of the highest in fat, while a duck recipe was one of the lowest. I redid all of the nutritional analyses myself so that I would have more confidence that they were accurate. Note that these were done only to show the number of calories and amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber per cup; they were not used to ensure that the recipes met AAFCO or NRC guidelines.

The recipes in this book use what I consider to be appropriate proportions, include a wide variety of foods, and aren’t overly complicated to make. Ingredients include various types of meat and fish, liver, heart, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, pasta, oatmeal, barley, quinoa, brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, green beans, peas, asparagus, beets, tomatoes, peanuts, and fruit, plus herbs (parsley, dill, mint, thyme). One recipe has peanuts, ones has brewer’s yeast, two have olive oil, one has garlic and apple cider vinegar, two have molasses.

My introduction includes sections on the need to provide calcium, variety, and balance over time; protein, fat, and carbohydrates in the diet; food preparation; amount to feed; and supplements.

I was paid a fee for my contributions to this book; I do not receive any royalties from its sales. I was not aware that they called me a “canine nutritionist” until after the book was published or I would have asked them to change it. While this is not the sort of book I would create myself, I think it’s better than many of the recipe books available, particularly those that do not include calcium.

Pet Food Nation: The SMART, EASY, and HEALTHY Way to Feed Your Pet Now
by Joan Weiskopf, M.S. Veterinary Clinical Nutritionist

2007, Collins Living, $16. 162 pages, including index.

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: 13 recipes: 2 breakfast, 7 dinner, 2 for kidney disease, and 1 each for heart disease and cancer. Much of the book (45 pages) relates to commercial foods and table scraps.

Pros: Good basic approach to feeding a homemade diet. Recipes are simple. Appropriate ratio of meat to other foods.

Cons: Calcium guidelines are unclear. Information is disorganized and sometimes contradictory. Portion sizes are given for 20-pound dogs only. No beef liver. Recipes for kidney disease are too low in protein (ratio of carbs to meat is 12:1). Little guidance on supplements. No nutritional analysis done.

Available from Amazon.

I found myself intrigued by the diet that Joan Weiskopf, author of Pet Food Nation, feeds her own dogs. In her introduction, she describes breakfast five days a week of chicken liver, heart, and gizzards, sautéed in coconut oil. She adds string beans, zucchini, yogurt, and a fish oil gelcap, plus grains in winter. Two mornings a week, she feeds eggs for breakfast. Lunch consists of a raw chicken neck. Dinner is boiled meat, including fish two days a week, plus seasonal vegetables, and sometimes rice or grains as well. For snacks, she gives air-popped popcorn and fruit. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, it was downhill from there. Weiskopf’s book is disorganized, with similar but not always consistent information scattered among different chapters. For example, she says in the introduction that she feeds raw chicken necks to her dogs (after dipping them in boiling water to kill surface bacteria), yet in another chapter, she says, “Bones are fine if they are fresh and raw, with the exception of chicken and fish bones.” Note she is opposed to raw diets due to the risk of bacterial infection, and even has a whole chapter entitled “Why Raw Food Diets Failed, which is filled with misinformation, such as that raw diet advocates think that feeding “a total vegetarian diet (puréed raw veggies)” is acceptable.

Weiskopf recommends a diet that is 65 percent protein (by weight), although just to make things confusing, in another place she says, “Dogs on a diet of homemade pet food could do well with having three-fourths of their diet be animal source by weight.” with the rest consisting of grains, vegetables, fruits. Protein sources include meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs; she also lists various grains as “good sources of vegetable protein.” Meats and some vegetables are sautéed in organic coconut oil (it’s unclear why she says her own dogs are fed boiled meats for dinner). She advises against feeding soy products of any kind and against vegan diets. All good advice.

Recipes are designed for dogs weighing 20 pounds (some make two servings); she says to double the ingredients if feeding a forty-pound dog, but gives no other guidance on portion sizes, except to say she picks up food bowls after 30 minutes. While she recommends variety, she does not offer any guidelines for substitutions in her recipes. Note that only chicken organs are used (in her Monday-Friday Breakfast recipe).

Calcium guidelines are jumbled. Of the 9 breakfast and dinner recipes she provides, five include calcium in the form of eggshell powder in appropriate amounts (although one says you can substitute leafy greens). A sidebar advises you to “mix ¼ tsp. [eggshell powder] into your dog’s or cat’s food several times a week” for a “calcium boost.” Two dinner meals labeled “Cooking Ahead: A Bulk Recipe for Dogs” and “Dog’s Every Night Dinner” do not include calcium. While you would be fine if you rotate through each of the recipes, your dog would run into problems if you fed the “Every Night Dinner” without calcium every night. Note that chicken necks are listed as “Dog Snack/Lunch” that she indulges her dogs in only if they are “particularly active (and insistent).”

Supplement recommendations are similarly unclear. In one place, she says “an occasional multi-vitamin supplement is a good idea.” In another, it’s “a top-quality fish oil capsule, a probiotic, and a multivitamin/mineral formulated for your pet from Standard Process.” In a third section, she recommends probiotics, plus “digestive enzymes (‘green food’) and a multivitamin mineral specifically for your pets several times weekly.” She includes “1/8 tsp. probiotic liquid” and “1 fish oil capsule” in her Monday-Friday breakfast recipe and “multivitamin/mineral for dogs” in three of her dinner recipes. Chapters on vitamins and minerals provide no guidance on what or how much to give; she simply says to “purchase a general multivitamin.”

In addition to being disorganized and giving misinformation about raw diets, there are a few other problems with this book. The recipe section starts out by talking about different breed groupings, and how that determines what you should feed and not feed, a topic I find irrelevant. There are several notes in the chapter on cat recipes that pertain to dogs as well, which would likely be missed by many dog owners. Her recipes for dogs with kidney disease are overly restricted in protein, with a ratio of 12:1 potatoes to meat or egg. Both use chicken fat, a source of omega-6 fatty acids that are not good for dogs with kidney disease; one says you can use a fish oil capsule instead, which is much better. Her Canine Heart Diet is listed in the “Dogs with Kidney Disease” section, and is also low in protein (4:1 ratio of potato to meat), which is particularly inappropriate for dogs with heart disease who need more protein, not less, than healthy dogs. All of the recipes for dogs with health conditions are high in fat.

I’m not certain exactly what Joan Weiskopf’s qualifications are. She is listed on the cover of her book as “M.S. Veterinary Clinical Nutritionist.” Her book and most bios I found are coy on the subject, but I finally found one that said she attended Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine for two years, but she is not a veterinarian, nor a member of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, as her biography and byline imply. I find this seriously misleading.

While this book is better than some, due to using appropriate ratios of protein and carbohydrates and including proper amounts of calcium, it is disorganized, sometimes contradictory, does not stress variety, and gives very little guidance regarding supplements. This diet won’t harm your dog, but you can do better.

 

Simple Cooking for Dogs 101: Straight Talk About Dog Food, Nutrition, Supplements, Behaviors, and much more. . .
by Katie K9 and Renée Sherrill, with introduction by Jessica Levy, DVM

2008, self-published, ktk9.com, $14 + $3.00 shipping and handling. 152 pages.

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations

Summary: 36 recipes: 15 quick meals, 4 breakfast, 6 vegetarian, and 11 dinner. Two of the vegetarian recipes use eggs or cottage cheese; one contains chicken. Also includes treat recipes and a chapter on basic care (not covered in this review).

Pros: Information and references are basically good. Calcium guidelines included in text. Substitutions offered for all food types.

Cons: No guidelines on using the recipes to create a diet. No ratio of meat to carbs given. Need for variety and inclusion of organ meats not stressed. Not all substitutions are appropriate. No nutritional analysis done. No index.

Available from KTK9.

Katie K9 is a dog trainer, not a dog with a ghost-writer, as I originally expected. All of the information in Simple Cooking for Dogs 101 is acceptable, but more details would have been helpful. No guidelines as to how to use the recipes to create a diet are provided. Nowhere is the appropriate ratio of meat to grains and vegetables discussed, and the recipes vary considerably, so it’s impossible to extract. While a sidebar mentions that liver, kidney, and heart should comprise 5 to 10 percent of the total diet, only four recipes include liver, and none contain heart or kidney other than one giblet recipe. Oddly, one of the “vegetarian” recipes contains chicken.

Calcium is not included in the recipes, but is described in the text with appropriate recommendations, though guidelines are given by number of eggshells to use rather than more common teaspoon measurements (one large eggshell makes about a teaspoon of powder, so you can do the translation yourself). Amounts are based on 1985 NRC recommendations.

Human-style recipes are designed to last a few days to a week. All recipes state how many cups they make, and tell you to store them in a 5-quart ice cream pail in your refrigerator. A table gives what appears to be appropriate portion size recommendations for dogs in eight weight categories.

Most recipes are acceptable, though one use 2 cups red pum jam and 1 cup maple syrup, and another includes 2 cups of cranberry sauce and 2 15-ounce jars of turkey gravy, all of which seem excessive. A chapter offers lists of food substitutions that can be used for all recipes, but the need for variety is not stressed, and not all substitutions are appropriate (e.g., cottage cheese or tofu for organ meats). Some recipes also mention substitutions.

Supplements recommended in various places throughout the book include Missing Link, garlic (powdered or fresh; note that powdered garlic doesn’t retain any of the benefits of fresh garlic other than flavor), canned pumpkin, fish oil, ground flaxseed meal, yogurt, probiotics, digestive enzymes and various herbs. A table gives dosage amounts for some, though they’re not entirely clear; for example, both fish oil gel capsules and regular fish oil are listed, with recommended amounts that vary dramatically between the two.

Using the recipes in this book won’t harm your dog, as long as you’re careful to add calcium, but it doesn’t provide enough detail for someone getting started with feeding a homemade diet.

New Books:

Dinner PAWsible: A cookbook for healthy, nutritious meals for cats and dogs, by Dr. Cathy Alinovi DVM 
with Susan Thixton 
2011, CreateSpace (self-published), $25. 144 pages. Available from Amazon.

I have not read this book, but was able to "look inside" at Amazon. The book offers 29 recipes for dogs "based on the National Research Council requirements," along with two healthy treat recipes. Each recipe shows number of calories, grams of protein and fat, and includes an appropriate amount of calcium. Recipes list ingredients by both volume and weight, and include a wide variety of healthy foods, such as meat, fish, organs, eggs, vegetables, fruit, pasta, beans, and cod liver oil. Meat can be fed either raw or cooked.

I'm not sure about a few things in this book. The amounts to feed are a little low -- for example, most dog food recipes have from 480 to 560 calories and each "serves one 30 pound dog, 2 meals, 1 day," but a 30-pound dog is likely to need 675 to 925 calories (or more) daily, according to the NRC. Whole foods are used rather than supplements -- for example, many recipes contain sunflower seeds to provide vitamin E, but I don't think this is enough. The amount of liver is high, often one-quarter to one-half the amount of other meat. I analyzed one recipe (Chicken & Sardines, page 115). The book says this recipe provides 36 grams protein, 15 grams fat, and 550 calories, while my analysis showed 42 grams protein, 21 grams fat, and 400 calories. The amount of calcium in the recipe adds up to slightly less than the amount of phosphorus. The amount of cod liver oil is quite high for a dog this size, and isn't needed since the recipe includes fish (the entire recipe contains over 1,000 IU vitamin D, while the NRC recommended amount is 128 IU -- I do think it's OK to give more vitamin D than NRC recommends, but this amount could be excessive, particularly if you end up having to double the recipe to provide adequate calories). Even with added sunflower seeds, the amount of vitamin E is just 3.4 mg, while NRC recommends 7.4 mg for a dog this size (and this amount would be increased because of the added oil). While these recipes are basically good, they don't appear to meet NRC guidelines.

Rating: ** Recommended, with reservations.

Dr. Greg's Dog Dish Diet: Sensible Nutrition for Your Dog's Health a by Greg Martinez, DVM 
Second edition published 2011, Riparian Press, $16. 146 pages. Price includes free download of Canine Crock Pot Cuisine with additional instructions and recipes if you order from his website. Also available from Amazon.
Also see Feed Your Pet to Avoid the Vet (self-published e-book), 2012, $15. 76 pages. Kindle version available from Amazon.

I skimmed this book but have not done a full review. The writing style is engaging, the ideas simple to follow. While I don't agree with everything he says, and the book is a little light on calcium guidelines, I think it's a good book for those who want something simple to start with, particularly if you are adding fresh foods to a commercial diet. I have not seen the free download or the e-book yet, but hope to expand my review soon after reading all three thoroughly.

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Inadequate Calcium Guidelines

The first thing I check for when I look at a homemade diet book is whether it offers appropriate guidance for adding calcium. If not, the book gets a thumbs down, no matter how much other good information it might offer. Leaving out, glossing over, or giving incorrect information on something that is guaranteed to cause serious nutritional deficiency is simply unacceptable. Calcium guidelines in the following books range from inadequate to missing altogether. (In fact, three of these books are ones relied on by the owner of the puppy who developed nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism due to lack of calcium in the diet.) None are recommended.

Not recommended due to inadequate guidelines on calcium: (click on the heading to see the full review):

The Whole Pet Diet: Eight Weeks to Great Health for Dogs and Cats
by Andi Brown

2006, Celestial Arts, $17. 240  pages, including index.

Rating: Not Recommended

Summary: Five cooked recipes; none mention calcium. One recipe is vegan; the others use chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb. Variations are provided. Portion sizes are given in 10 to 20 pound increments. Also includes information on grooming and other subjects outside the scope of this review.

Pros: Ratio of meat to other foods is appropriate.

Cons: Recipes do not include calcium and so would be dangerous to feed long-term. Vegan recipe is not recommended. No beef liver used. Amount of garlic in stew recipe would be dangerous for cats. No nutritional analysis has been done.

Available from Amazon.

It’s hard to believe that a book written by the director of a pet food company would provide recipes that do not include calcium, but that’s the case here. Andi Brown is the founder of Halo, Purely for Pets, maker of Halo Spot’s Stew (she sold the company in 2006). As such, she certainly must understand the importance of calcium in a dog’s diet, yet her Spot’s Stew recipe and the other recipes in The Whole Pet Diet make no mention of it. I cannot recommend it for that reason.

When I compare the ingredients in the Spot’s Chicken Stew recipe in the book to Halo Spot’s Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe, they’re almost identical, except that the commercial food adds calcium citrate, dicalcium phosphate, zinc gluconate, ascorbic acid, and copper gluconate. Brown knew that these minerals were necessary to create a complete diet, so why weren’t they included in her recipes?

Note that Brown does mention adding ground eggshell – in the second paragraph of a section entitled “More Diet Boosts for Healthy Teeth” in chapter 7, “The Art of Healthy Teeth and Bones.” Here’s what she says: “Bones and cartilage – and eggshells – are made of calcium, which is likely the most important nutrient for keeping teeth and bones strong. So once a week I like to grind an organic eggshell into a fine powder (so there are no sharp edges) and feed this to all my pets along with their stew. (I give each animal between ½ to 1 teaspoon.) . . . Pets can also get extra calcium from fresh, raw bones, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables.” She gives no indication what size her pets are; ½ to 1 teaspoon ground eggshell would provide enough calcium to balance out one to two pounds of meat for an adult dog (puppies need more). Yogurt contains only enough calcium to balance out its own phosphorus, and the calcium in leafy green vegetables is negligible. Even if you followed these instructions, they would not provide enough calcium for any but the smallest dogs, and they are buried in a completely separate section from the recipes.

Brown’s meat-based recipes include meat, organs, vegetables, and grains, plus garlic, kelp, rosemary, and oregano. Whole-grain bread is optional. She uses ratios of 40 percent meat, 50 percent vegetables, and 10 percent grains, with organs comprising one-sixth of the meat portion of the diet. She recommends feeding primarily poultry, along with fish and a limited amount of red meat. Eggs, dairy products, and fruit are not included in the recipes, though they are recommended as treats or toppings, and a recipe for homemade yogurt is included. While she includes a vegan recipe, she does not recommend vegetarian diets for dogs. All of this is fine – if she just included calcium!

Different chapters talk about other foods and supplements to add. Chapter Six recommends feeding “algae, such as spirulina and chlorella; cereal grasses like wheatgrass and barley grass; and all manner of sprouts, alfalfa being the most familiar.” Two recipes are provided, for a “liver and greens shake” and a “green pâté” that is served on crackers (no guidelines are given as to how much or how often to feed). Chapter Seven introduces Anitra Frazier’s Vitamin-Mineral Mix, which she recommends for the B vitamins. The mix contains yeast, kelp, lecithin, wheat bran, and calcium (note the amount of calcium in the mixture is about 40-110 mg per teaspoon, which is not enough to make up for the lack of calcium in the recipes). Chapter Eight recommends adding megadoses of vitamin C to each meal. It also recommends vitamins A and E and selenium, but, oddly, does not tell you to add them to the diet, saying they are supplied by her EFA oil blend, which is untrue, and by green foods.

Brown apparently does not know that garlic causes anemia in cats. Large amounts of garlic can do the same in dogs, but cats are far more sensitive. Brown recommends garlic for both dogs and cats throughout her book, without once mentioning the link to anemia. The amount of garlic in the book’s primary recipe, Spot’s Chicken Stew, is on the high side for dogs; it definitely would not be safe for cats. She also suggests giving ¾ of a clove of garlic to cats daily, which would be dangerous.

Brown recommends supplementing with a mixture of the following oils: soybean or olive, cod liver, wheat germ, and flaxseed. This is supposed to correct the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet, though it’s hard to see how, as this blend is primarily omega-6, which is already overabundant in the diet. She states that “pets need a 1:2 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s” and that common ratios in pet diets are “more along the lines of 1 to 30.” The solution should be to add omega-3s, not omega-6s, but her oil supplement has almost three times as much omega-6 as omega-3, in addition to the omega-6s in the diet. This makes no sense. Perhaps part of the problem is her belief that soybean oil “features omega-3 fatty acids,” while in reality the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in soybean oil is less than 1:7, and the form of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) in soybean oil is not one that dogs use well.

She also relies on cod liver oil for omega-3 fatty acids, but the amount they contain is not adequate. She says that cod liver oil contains “larger quantities of the needed EPA and DHA” than fish oil, but this is untrue; fish oil contains about twice the amount of EPA and DHA per gram as cod liver oil. She says you can substitute salmon oil or other fish oil for cod liver oil, which would be an improvement, though the nutritional value of cod liver oil is so different from fish oils that they are not interchangeable. Note that she also likes soybean oil for the amount of vitamin E it contains, but the 2.3 mg per ounce are not nearly enough to balance the PUFAs in the oil; you need to add more to prevent the fats from oxidizing in the body and creating free radicals – another requirement her book does not mention.

Brown’s book is filled with unsupported statements about the effects of various foods on health, such as that corn is the leading cause of obesity in animals, that three-quarters of the dogs in the U.S. need regular treatments for allergies, and that smelling food “diminishes the amount of oxygen that reaches all the other organs and actually causes the body to age prematurely.” She recommends fasting not only dogs but cats for a full day once a week. I’m not a fan of fasting pets, but most dogs will not be harmed by it; fasting is completely inappropriate for cats, however, who are susceptible to a serious and potentially fatal condition called hepatic lipidosis that is caused by not eating.

If you’ve gotten the impression that I don’t like this book very much, you’re right. It’s not that it is worse than other books that omit calcium; it’s that it claims to be (and should be) so much better. Because of the author’s credentials, readers will believe that this book provides a healthy diet, and may do permanent, severe harm to their pets as a result.

Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food
by Ann N. Martin

2008 (3rd Edition), NewSage Press, $15. 200 pages, including index (27 pages on diet).

Rating: Not Recommended

Summary: 20 cooked recipes, including 1 vegetarian, 1 puppy, and 5 special diets (two for weight reduction and one each for older dogs, hypoallergenic and convalescence). Only four recipes include calcium (the vegetarian, weight reduction, and older dog recipes). Guidelines for adding calcium are unclear and amounts are inadequate. Recipes have been taken from various sources, including other books, dog breeders and pet owners; complexity varies. Also includes treat recipes. Only the chapters on homemade diets for dogs are covered in this review.

Pros: None.

Cons: Ratio of meat to carbs is low. Most recipes do not include calcium and so would be dangerous to feed long-term or to puppies. Text is a confusing mishmash of quotes from various sources. No nutritional analysis has been done.

Available from Amazon.

Ann Martin’s book, Food Pets Diet For, is well known for its condemnation of commercial foods, a topic I will not address here, but it also includes two chapters on feeding a homemade diet to dogs, one describing the diet and the other with recipes.

Martin’s text is a confusing hodgepodge of information taken from a variety of different sources. The text has quotes from various books, many without enough context to make them useful. Recipes have been gathered from books, dog breeders, and pet owners; with the exception of four recipes, none make any attempt to be complete. Note that many of the books she uses are out of print. She does not appear to have updated the recipes in later editions of her book. For example, the recipe she attributes to Pitcairn’s Natural Health for Dogs and Cats isn’t found in the 1995 or 2005 editions of the book. She also lists no supplements with that recipe, while I’m certain that Dr. Pitcairn has always included calcium and Healthy Powder in all of his recipes.

Martin suggests a ratio of one-third protein, one-third carbohydrates, and one-third vegetables and fruits, plus added vegetable oil (she doesn’t appear to realize that vegetables and fruit are carbohydrates). She recommends feeding three or more meals a day, particularly to giant breeds, plus snacks such as sprouts, cheese, carrot sticks, apple slices, and homemade dog cookies.

For her own dogs, breakfast consists of oatmeal with a small amount of meat or fruit, while lunch and dinner include meat, grains, and fruit or vegetables. Suggested protein sources include meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and quinoa. Carbohydrate options are listed as brown rice, oatmeal, pasta, mashed potatoes, shredded wheat, whole grain cereals, and whole grain breads. Suggested vegetables include carrots, zucchini, summer squash, peas, yellow and green beans, yams or sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and small amounts of cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. (Why are potatoes in the “carbohydrates” category and sweet potatoes in the “vegetables” category? This is one example of how confused her text is.) Organ meats are never mentioned, although a couple of the recipes do include liver.

Martin’s guidelines are often unclear, partly due to her taking quotes out of context from a variety of different sources. She uses Andi Brown's book (see above) for her recommendations on adding vegetable oils, not what I consider a reliable source, but Martin makes things even more confusing by mixing quotes about vegetable and fish oils. Martin advises adding from one teaspoon (for small dogs) to one tablespoon (for large dogs) of vegetable oil daily. I’m not a fan of vegetable oils, and this amount would be too much for very small dogs. In addition, she confuses things further by saying in the recipe chapter that she adds a tablespoon of sunflower oil to her dog’s food just before serving, implying that it is added to each meal, not daily.

Martin doesn’t recommend adding any supplements for healthy dogs, though she adds that those who are concerned can “add a quality vitamin/mineral supplement.” She also says that Shawn Messonnier, DVM, recommends “whole food supplements” for dogs with food allergies, and that Alfred Plechner, DVM, advises giving a “quality, pet-digestive enzyme supplement” derived from plant sources to dogs with malabsorption problems.

For calcium, Martin quotes a veterinarian saying that the recommended dosage for dogs ranges from 100 mg for toy dogs to 500 mg for large dogs daily; “large puppies can use 10 percent more.” In contrast, NRC daily recommendations are 400 mg calcium for a 10-pound adult dog and 2,275 mg for an adult dog that weighs 100 pounds (minimum amounts 183 and 1,033 mg), with puppies needing more than five times as much. She also quotes another vet as saying, “A balanced vitamin and mineral supplement should contain all the extra calcium a growing dog or pregnant or lactating bitch needs.” (There’s no mention as to whether this applies to homemade or commercial diets, but no regular supplements would contain enough calcium to balance a homemade diet.)

Martin does not advise adding calcium to the diet, but rather using natural food sources. She lists the amount of calcium in a variety of foods, without mentioning that most of these foods do not supply enough calcium to balance out more than their own phosphorus, or that phytates in grains bind to calcium, reducing its bioavailability. She does say that “crushed eggshells” are a good source of calcium, but offers no guidelines as to how much to give.

In a section on whether or not to feed bones to dogs, Martin mixes information pertaining to bones and bone meal, concluding that “eating bones in any form is downright dangerous.”

Martin’s book contains other misinformation, such as that pork commonly causes diarrhea, and that turkey may be too rich. She warns that some dogs are allergic to eggs, but that would be true of any food.

Buy this book if you want to read horror stories about what goes into commercial foods, but if your goal is to feed your dogs a homemade diet, look elsewhere.

Barker's Grub: Easy, Wholesome Home Cooking for Your Dog
by Rudy Edalati

2001, Three Rivers Press, $15. 208 pages, including index.

Rating: Not Recommended

Summary: 33 cooked recipes, including 3 broth, 4 puppy, 11 main dishes, and 15 “healing recipes” for conditions ranging from constipation to kidney disease. Also includes treat recipes. Guidelines for adding calcium are inadequate.

Pros: Ratio of meat to carbs is appropriate.

Cons: Amount of calcium used is inadequate, especially for puppies. Amount of oils is too high. Feeding guidelines are too high. No nutritional analysis has been done. Misinformation on a variety of topics.

Available from Amazon.

Rudy Edalati runs a “dog food catering” business, and should understand the importance of calcium in the diet. Yet the instructions in Barker's Grub for adding calcium are completely inadequate. She tells you to mix ground eggshell with flaxseed oil and kelp or seaweed powder, and then “add a small pinch of the mixture to your dog’s fresh food.” Depending on the size of your dog, and the size of your “pinch,” this could provide too much calcium, or, more likely, far too little, especially for puppies.

Edalati uses a ratio of 50 percent protein to 25 percent carbohydrates and 25 percent vegetables (I do wish writers would realize that vegetables are carbohydrates and call that category “grains” or “starchy foods” instead!). Protein sources include meat, eggs, fish, and cottage cheese. Different meats can be used interchangeably in her recipes. She advises feeding a “rotation diet,” switching between different meals weekly or every two days, with a non-meat “Healing Diet” one day a week that uses eggs, cottage cheese, and rice. This is replaced by a vegetable and yogurt “purification” meal one day a month. I have no problem with these recommendations.

Edalati claims that including a “rainbow of colored fruits and vegetables in your dog’s meals” will guarantee that your dog gets all the vitamins and minerals required. While this is certainly a good practice, it will not supply adequate calcium, to name just one nutrient that cannot be obtained through vegetables alone (there are others as well).

For supplements, Edalati recommends Healthy Powder, wheat germ oil, and flaxseed oil. The first two are given four days a week, and the last six days a week. Her Healthy Powder recipe is taken from Dr. Pitcairn’s book, without attribution, although she apparently decided on her own to substitute “a tablespoon of flaxseed oil when you serve the Healthy Powder” if you choose to omit the yeast (Pitcairn advises reducing the amount of calcium and adding a complete multivitamin in that case); note that a tablespoon of flaxseed oil daily would be far too much for small dogs. The dosages she gives for both wheat germ oil and flaxseed oil are too high as well, supplying too many calories from fat. She advises giving no supplements to puppies or pregnant or nursing bitches without the advice of a veterinarian. She says its best to give these dogs more food, if they want it, but “spare the supplements.” Dangerous advice for dogs who need more nutrition, not less, in their diets. Note that while you shouldn’t give extra calcium to bitches during pregnancy, it’s needed while nursing.

Edalati’s book contains other misinformation, the strangest of which is the claim that too little fat causes aggression and a high-fat diet will “calm” aggressive dogs. She also recommends extra fat for dogs with separation anxiety, claiming it has a “sedative effect.” She recommends marrow bones for calcium and iron, which they cannot supply since they are not consumed. She provides information from William Cusick (an unreliable source) about breed-specific requirements that are absurd, especially considering that we now know via DNA analysis that most breeds were created in the last 200 years, far too little time for different nutritional needs to evolve. She quotes a holistic veterinarian, saying that “99 percent of ailments are linked to nutritional deficiencies” – if that were a true, dogs fed a proper homemade diet would never get sick. I wish that were the case, but life just isn’t that simple.

Edalati’s advice for dogs with certain health problems is also off base. She recommends flaxseed oil rather than the more appropriate fish oil for dogs with kidney disease, saying that, “flaxseed oil can actually reverse kidney damage” and that “within as few as three days, [the Morris Animal Clinic] has seen near-miraculous remissions.” Would that this were true! She also says that safflower oil is another good choice, which makes no sense at all, since safflower oil supplies omega-6 fatty acids that have been shown to speed progression of kidney disease.
Puppy guidelines are another oddity. In one place, Edalati says that puppies require extra protein and calories, and three meals a day, “up until the age of two” (in another section, she revises that to “eight or nine months of age or more,” which is more appropriate). She advises changing the ratio to 60 percent protein, and 20 percent each of carbohydrates and vegetables, and making food “mushier” because of teething when feeding puppies.

Feeding guidelines are limited. Edalati says, “It is generally a good idea to give your dog as much food as it wants unless it has a weight problem.” A table gives suggested feeding amounts for five weight categories that are too high; for example, she suggests feeding two cups a day to a 10-pound dog. If I gave that much to my Ella, she’d be a blimp in no time (and yes, she would certainly want that much)!

Recipes are given in “single serving” amounts that make about three cups each, as well as weekly versions, and most recipes offer substitutions for various ingredients. Recipes are fairly simple and use a variety of foods. None of the “main dish” recipes include liver, but one of the puppy recipes and three of the “healing recipes,” for anemia, surgery recovery, and constipation, are chicken liver-based (one says you can use beef liver). Note she provides weekly recipe amounts for each of these, which would be far too much liver and would likely result in diarrhea. She also recommends liver for curing feces-eating (life should be so simple).

“Healing recipes” generally are simplistic; for example, she reduces fat for dogs with heart disease and protein for dogs with kidney disease, omits grains for weight loss and vegetables for colitis. Each modification is at least somewhat appropriate, other than feeding high fat for “aggression reduction.” That recipe derives a whopping 60 percent of calories from fat, according to my calculations, which could easily cause pancreatitis in predisposed dogs, and at the very least would lead to weight gain in all but the most active working dogs.

Using this book could be hazardous to your dog.

The Ultimate Pet Food Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Feeding Your Dog or Cat
by Liz Palika

2008, Da Capo Press, $16. 274 pages, including index.

Rating: Not Recommended

Summary: 23 cooked recipes, including 2 puppy, 4 active and performance dogs, 1 for pregnancy, and 11 for “special needs” (weight loss, allergy, diabetes, seniors, antioxidant, and heart, liver and kidney disease), plus 3 raw recipes (no bones). Also includes treat recipes and a recipe for adding fresh food to a commercial diet. Guidelines for adding calcium and other supplements are inadequate. Some special needs recipes inappropriate.

Pros: Ratio of meat to carbs is appropriate. Recipes are simple.

Cons: No guidelines are given as to how much calcium or other supplements to add. No differentiation between different types of oils. No mention of organ meats. Feeding guidelines are too high. No nutritional analysis has been done.

Available from Amazon.

I enjoy Liz Palika’s contributions on PetConnection (now Honest Dog), so I looked forward to reading her book, The Ultimate Pet Food Guide, but I was disappointed. Her basic guidelines of 75 percent animal protein (meat, eggs, dairy), 15 percent vegetables and fruits, and 10 percent grains are fine, and her recipes are refreshingly simple, without the added human-style seasonings and complicated preparation steps that are found in many other books, but there is absolutely no guidance on how much calcium to add!

Each recipe says under Suggested Daily Supplements, “a bonemeal supplement; either natural bonemeal, finally ground eggshells, or a calcium lactate supplement.” Ignoring the issue that eggshells and calcium lactate are not bonemeal, she never gives a hint as to how much to add. Her chapter on supplements merely repeats this description (there’s a lot of repetition throughout this book), merely adding that “The ideal ratio is 1.3 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus. If a diet is high in meat, this ration [sic] can be achieved by adding some bones to the diet or by offering a natural bonemeal supplement.” This is particularly misleading, as the only bones she recommends are recreational, not raw meaty bones that are consumed.

The rest of Palika’s supplement recommendations are similar. Each recipe lists the following suggested supplements in addition to bonemeal: “a good-quality natural vitamin and mineral supplement; a green-food supplement, such as blue-green algae, spirulina, or barley grass; and a health food blend, such as Springtime, Inc.’s Longevity or Tri-Natural Product’s Missing Link.” Note that she says Springtime’s Longevity is “based on the super phytonutrient, spirulina, a blue-green algae,” which means you could be doubling up on this ingredient. Once again, no recommended amounts are provided. She simply says, “The dosages will vary depending upon your dog’s size, weight, age, and state of health. In addition, each supplement maker will have different directions and dosages. Make sure you read the directions.” This is fine for supplements made for dogs, but doesn’t apply to bonemeal or to human supplements, such as the “raw, natural human supplement” for vitamins and minerals that she says Shawn Messonnier, DVM, recommends (he says to follow your veterinarian’s guidance for dosages – good luck with that). She goes on to say, “No matter what brand you decide to use, the vitamin-mineral supplement should contain all of the essential vitamin and minerals; see chapter 2 for a complete list.” Chapter 2 lists vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, and K, and minerals calcium, phosphorus, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc. It describes the benefits of each, along with natural food sources of vitamins and problems caused by deficiencies and excesses of the various minerals, but once again, gives no hint as to how much to give.

Even worse is her guidance on essential fatty acids. Some recipes add specific oils, while others say to add “a fatty acid supplement, such as chicken fat, cod liver oil, salmon oil, fish oil, or safflower oil.” These fats are not interchangeable, as they contain completely different fatty acids. She never discusses the differences between them, or why you might add one rather than another.

All recipes are remarkably similar, including those for special needs. Supplement recommendations never vary, except that she adds “a nutritional yeast supplement” for some dogs. Some (but not all) recipes suggest possible substitutions. Her guidelines for using the recipes say to choose a recipe (or two or three), and that “by using two or three recipes plus their variations, you can feed your pet well and be assured your pet is getting the best nutrition possible.” This is not enough variety. In addition, organ meats are never mentioned in the text, and only one recipe (for puppies) contains liver.

Recipes are designed for dogs weighing 50 pounds, and each states approximately how many calories it provides. Palika gives the calorie requirements for dogs of various weights and activity levels in different sections of the book. Note her guidelines on puppies are incorrect, as she says they need up to twice as many calories as they will need when full grown, but this applies to calories per pound of body weight, not total calories.

Recipes for special needs are simplistic, most changing just one factor. At least one recipe, for dogs with kidney disease, is completely inappropriate, as it is high in phosphorus. She also adds safflower oil rather than fish oil to that recipe, even though the omega-6 fatty acids in safflower oil have been shown to be harmful to dogs with kidney disease, while the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are one of the few things known to slow progression of the disease.

There is a chapter on raw diets, but it is mostly about how she feels that raw meat and bones are unsafe. The three recipes in this chapter use raw meat but no bones, and are essentially the same as the cooked recipes. This is not a book for those who want to feed a raw diet.

With no guidance as to how much calcium to add, I cannot recommend this book, but even beyond that, the constant repetition without providing needed details makes this a book with very little value to those who want to feed their dogs a homemade diet.

Woofing It Down: The Quick & Easy Guide to Making Healthy Dog Food at Home
by Patricia O’Grady

2007, AuthorHouse (self-published), $13. 124 pages.

Rating: Not Recommended

Summary: 28 cooked recipes. Also includes recipes for treats, cookies and cakes. Guidelines for adding calcium are inadequate. Much misinformation.

Pros: Ratio of meat to carbs is acceptable. Recipes are relatively simple.

Cons: No guidelines are given as to how much calcium or other supplements to add. No organ meats in recipes. No feeding guidelines? No index. No nutritional analysis has been done.

Available from Amazon.

Patricia O’Grady self-published her book, Woofing It Down, and it shows. Grammar and punctuation are poor (quotes below are verbatim), and much of the information makes no sense. One example is that “a dog should never eat salt” because it causes calcium levels to go down (salt is a required nutrient in the diet and has no effect on calcium levels).

I have to tell you up front that I wasn’t able to read the whole book, so I have fewer details about this book than others, but I found all references to calcium, which are inadequate. In the text, O’Grady tells you to feed eggs twice a week and to grind the shells and mix those into the same meals. Only two recipes include ground eggshell, while many others use eggs. She also says, “It’s important that the vitamin you choose also has calcium; dogs require a high amount of calcium in their diet.” These guidelines are insufficient for feeding a homemade diet.

O’Grady says,“Vitamins and supplements are an important part of a dog’s complete nutritional need,” but her only guidance on using them is that vitamins “should be included in a dog’s diet in very small quantities,” and to look for ones that are natural versus synthetic. “If you are unsure of which type of vitamin and how much to give your dog you’re not alone and can get some help. Inquire either with your veterinarian or ask someone at the store who you feel is knowledgeable to suggest which vitamin would be better for your dog, and dog’s breed. Please note that you cannot give your dog human vitamins.” Relying on people who work in pet supply stores to tell you what supplements your dog needs is ridiculous (shouldn’t the author be able to give better advice than a store employee?), and dogs can certainly take human vitamins, in appropriate doses.

O’Grady recommends that meat make up at least 40 percent of each meal, with 30 percent each grains and vegetables. Vegetables should be served half raw and half cooked.  I couldn’t find if she tells you how much to feed, other than to say that all of the recipes “make many serving, depending on your dog’s size, some will make up to 2 weeks of meals.” While organ meats are mentioned in the text as being good to feed in smaller amounts no more than twice a week, none of the recipes include organ meat.

I’m sorry I can’t provide more details, but based on what I could see, I would not recommend this book due to inadequate calcium recommendations, misinformation, and poor editing.

The Simple Little Vegan Dog Book: Cruelty-Free Recipes for Canines
by Michelle A. Rivera 

2009, Book Publishing Company, $10. 80 pages.

Rating: Not Recommended! Awful, Awful Awful!!

Summary: 8 main dishes. Also includes treat recipes. Calcium and other supplements are never mentioned.

Pros: None whatsoever.

Cons: Everything! No calcium, no supplements, no feeding guidelines, no reliable information of any kind. No nutritional analysis has been done and special nutritional needs have not even been considered. Using this book to feed your dog a homemade diet guarantees nutritional deficiencies that could be fatal.

Available from Amazon.

I have to start by telling you that I’m completely opposed to vegan diets for dogs. Dogs are designed to eat meat, and it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to meet their nutritional needs without using animal products. With that said, I had hoped that this might be a thoughtful book, with suggestions for providing essential nutrients that are missing from plant foods.

Instead, I found The Simple Little Vegan Dog Book had no useful information at all. This book is so bad, it makes the other books in this category look good. If there is one book guaranteed to harm your dog, it is this one.

No supplement guidelines of any kind are offered. This book fails to include calcium in its recipes, much less other vitamins and minerals that are missing from a vegan diet. It mentions that cats require taurine, but omits the fact that we now know that at least some breeds of dogs also require taurine in order to prevent dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a fatal form of heart disease.

Most of the book is spent trying to scare you out of feeding commercial foods, implying that they all use 4D meat and dangerous artificial preservatives. No evidence is given for vegan diets being acceptable for dogs other than a few anecdotes from pet owners. She quotes from a survey done by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), saying it found that the majority of dogs being fed a vegan diet were in good health, but fails to mention that several dogs had heart problems, including dilated cardiomyopathy, though some recovered after being supplemented with L-carnitine and taurine. A number of other dogs died. The survey found that “there was a direct correlation between heart disease and the length of time as a vegan or vegetarian: All dogs with heart disease had been vegan for at least four years or vegetarian for at least 10 years.”

Michelle Rivera admits in several places that vets are opposed to vegan diets for dogs. Even a vet she calls a friend, who “has been an advocate of the vegan lifestyle for people for many years, . . . is not equally as positive about a vegan diet for dogs.” This vet goes on to say that people who choose to feed their dogs a vegan diet “have to watch them closely to make sure they are not getting malnourished because they are not getting the right proteins. Dogs on a vegan diet should have their blood tested regularly to ensure they are receiving adequate nutrition.” Unfortunately, nutritional deficiencies are not apparent on blood tests until they are quite severe and may have already resulted in irreparable harm; some of the most serious problems, such as DCM, won’t show up on a blood test at all.

Rivera also admits that dogs have trouble digesting protein from plants. Yet she offers no solution, other than to pressure your vet to accept the diet you want to feed so that they may “recommend the use of various supplements to compensate for whatever nutrients they feel the vegan diet is lacking.” This isn’t just a feeling; we know for a fact that dogs require certain nutrients that cannot be obtained from plants!

Rivera also reminds people about the huge pet food recall in 2007, which was caused by melamine contamination, but fails to mention that the adulterated ingredients were plant proteins (wheat and rice gluten) of the type that would be used in vegan dog foods.

Rivera even goes so far as to warn you that feeding dogs raw meat can “expose their aggressive side,” and that feeding a plant-based diet will make dogs less aggressive, “since blood lust no longer factors into their food.”
There is a great deal of other misinformation in this book that I won’t bother going into here, but to give you an idea of how “helpful” her guidelines are, here is what she says about portion size: “Each recipe’s yield will fluctuate depending on the size of the portions you give your dog. Obviously, large dogs need more food than small dogs, and their portion sizes will vary accordingly.”

If you are concerned about factory farming (and I share that concern), then search out companies that offer meat from animals that have been humanely raised, or buy direct from farmers where you can verify conditions yourself. If you simply cannot bring yourself to feed animal products to your pet, then please get a rabbit. Dogs were not designed to live on plants alone. Feeding the recipes in this book guarantees your dog will suffer.

The Dog Ate It: Cooking for Yourself and Your Four-Legged Friends
by Linda West Eckhardt and Barbara Bradley with Judy Kern

2006, Gotham Books, $15. 146 pages, including index.

Rating: Not Recommended

Summary: 72 recipes: 11 breakfast, 11 hors d’oeuvres, 10 salad, 32 main course (4 sauce), and 8 offal. Also includes recipes for desserts and treats. Recipes are appropriate for supplemental feeding only, though the book never says so explicitly.

Pros: None.

Cons: No guidance on using recipes. Recipes are appropriate for supplemental feeding only, which the book never states.

Available from Amazon.

The Dog Ate It is another book with complicated, human-style recipes, most designed to be shared with your dog. Ratios are given for the animal protein portion of the diet: “50 percent chicken, 40 percent muscle meats such as beef, lamb, and pork, and 10 percent organ meats including liver, kidney, and poultry giblets.” Yogurt and kefir are mentioned in the introduction but not included in the recipes. No information is provided as to the ratio of animal protein to vegetables and grains. Suggested feeding guidelines are given for small dogs (up to 12 pounds), medium dogs (up to 35 pounds), and large dogs (more than 35 pounds).

There’s not much point in going into detail. Calcium is never mentioned, supplements are never mentioned, and there is no guidance on using these recipes to create a diet for your dog other than to share your meals with your dog. The book implies that these recipes may be used to supplement kibble (Appendix B says, “And we do rely on certain dry kibbles and, on occasion, canned foods”), but this is never stated explicitly.

If you want to share your meals with your dogs, which I think can be a fine idea, I recommend Carol Boyle’s book, Natural Food Recipes for Healthy Dogs, instead (see above).

New Books:

Fresh Food & Ancient Wisdom: Preparing Healthy & Balanced Meals For Your Dogs 2nd Edition by Dr. Ihor John Basko, DVM
2013, CreateSpace (self-published), $70. 321 pages. Available from Amazon.

I have not read this book, but was able to "look inside" at Amazon. I was not able to find any reference to adding calcium in the text or in the recipes. In addition, the Kidney Failure Diet on page 146 is completely inappropriate for dogs with kidney disease. It contains large amounts of chicken liver, which is very high in phosphorus. There is also no mention of fish oil. Since reduced phosphorus and added omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are the only two things that have been shown to slow progression of kidney disease and prolong life, this recipe would not help with either. In addition, it is even more important to add calcium to the diet for dogs with kidney disease, since calcium helps to bind phosphorus, and he says nothing about added calcium. Based on this information, I would not recommend this book for anything other than occasional or supplemental feeding.

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Also not recommended

Feed Your Pet Right – The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim. This new book is not about homemade diets, and the small amount of information provided on the topic is not adequate for constructing one.

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You can contact me if you have any comments, but I regret to say that I can no longer respond to questions about individual dogs. See my Contact page for more information. My name is Mary Straus and you can email me at either or

   


Rocky is a Yorkie-Poodle mix who had suffered from digestive problems his whole life. Click on his image to read about the diet his owner finally found to help him.
Pashoshe Fisher, a Chihuahua, was a wonderful, joyful companion to his owner for 19 & a half years. He was on a high quality raw diet for over half his life.
This is Ella, my Norwich Terrier.