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Homemade Diets for Dogs

Photo of small dog with whole cooked chicken

Also see my series of articles on homemade diets for the Whole Dog Journal:

These articles go into a lot of detail, and I would recommend reading through the appropriate ones before beginning to feed a homemade diet. The guidelines below provide a summary of the recommendations I give in my articles.

See Also:


Quick Start

For updated homemade diet guidelines, see You Can Make It.

For those interested in switching their dogs to a better diet quickly and easily, you may want to start by feeding a dog food mix to which you add fresh foods.

If you want to consider feeding a homemade diet, I recommend reading at least one book on the subject (see my Homemade Diet Book Reviews). It is OK to feed an incomplete diet for a short while, maybe a few weeks for an adult dog (puppies are more susceptible to problems caused by incomplete diets), but it's important for you to learn during that time what it takes to feed a complete homemade diet if you want to continue to do so long-term.

Here are some sites that provide recipes to help you get started, but please do not feed single recipes long-term. The key to a healthy diet is variety. Any single recipe, even if provided by a veterinary nutritionist, is likely to cause problems if fed exclusively for long periods. Most of these diets are far higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein than I recommend, but they will be fine for short-term use, or you can reduce the amount of carbohydrates used in the recipes. Dogs do not require carbohydrates in their diet, and will benefit from more protein. 

Be wary of other recipes you find on the web or even in books. Most of those I've seen are woefully inadequate. While they won't do any harm as an occasional meal, and you could even feed them for a few weeks to an adult dog, the nutritional deficiencies (and in some cases excesses) will eventually lead to health problems if fed long term. In particular, recipes that do not add calcium should not be used (just feeding dairy products is not enough). See my Book Reviews for more information.

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Guidelines for Raw Diets that Include Bones

30%-50% (1/3 to 1/2) of the diet should be raw meaty bones, such as chicken necks, backs, wings and leg quarters, lamb breast, lamb necks, pork necks, pork riblets, beef necks (usually only consumed by large dogs), turkey necks, etc. These can also include canned fish, such as jack mackerel, pink salmon, or sardines (preferably packed in water rather than oil) -- do not feed much tuna, as it does not include bones and is higher in mercury. Be careful when feeding anything round and meaty, that your dog does not try to swallow it whole, which can lead to choking. Parts to especially watch out for include turkey necks (large dogs), chicken necks (small dogs), and ox tails.

Most raw diets are high in fat. Unless your dog is extremely active and has difficulty keeping weight on, it's best to remove skin from poultry, cut off separable fat, and stick to parts that are not overly fatty.

5% liver. Liver is nutritionally dense, providing nutrients that are hard to find in other foods. It should be a part of every diet, or you will need to provide suitable supplements to make up for its lack. Other organs such as kidney are also good, but should not be substituted for liver on a regular basis. Too much organ meat at one time can lead to loose stools. It's better to feed small amounts daily or every other day, rather than large amounts once or twice a week. Note I have revised my recommendation for liver down from 10%, as I no longer think that much is needed.

5%-10% heart, which is nutritionally more like a muscle meat. It's OK to feed more as long as it doesn't cause loose stools.

The rest a mixture of the following:

Muscle meat: Feed as much variety as possible, such as beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken. Don't feed most exotic proteins (venison, rabbit, duck, etc.); reserve most of those in case you ever need to feed an elimination diet to address possible food allergies. Use lean meats, preferably 10% fat or less.

Eggs: Feed as many as you want. Eggs that are lightly cooked (e.g., soft boiled) may be more digestible than raw, but either way is fine.

Dairy: Yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, etc.

Healthy leftovers: The kind of food you would eat yourself, not the parts you would throw away.

If desired, you can also add the following:

Vegetables: Note that some people choose not to feed veggies, either for their own convenience or because their dog won't eat them. Dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, so it's OK not to feed them, although I prefer to add them if possible, as they are a natural source of antioxidants, fiber and trace minerals. Veggies must be either cooked or pureed in order to be digestible by dogs. Legumes (beans) and starchy veggies, such as sweet potatoes and winter squashes, must be cooked. Whole, raw veggies are not harmful, they just don't provide much nutrition.

If you don't feed veggies, I think it's a good idea to add a green blend or a mixture of kelp and alfalfa. Note that too much iodine from kelp can suppress the thyroid, so don't give more than the recommended amount. Kelp may also contain arsenic, so I think it's better to use a blend of several green foods, such as kelp, alfalfa and spirulina, rather than plain kelp.

Fruit: Apples, bananas, blueberries, papaya, melon, etc. are good foods to add. Overripe fruits are more easily digested.

Grains and Pasta: Grains seem to be related to a number of health problems in dogs, including allergies, arthritis, IBD, seizures, etc., so if your dog has any of these problems, try omitting grains (and maybe starchy carbs as well) to see if there is improvement. If your dog is healthy or does not improve when grains are removed from the diet, it's OK to feed them in moderate amounts: never more than half the diet, preferably no more than about 1/4 (25%) of the total diet. If carbs are half the diet, reduce raw meaty bones to 1/4 of the total diet, or half of the non-carbohydrate foods, with eggs, meat, liver and dairy making up the other half. Remember that dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, but they can be a source of less expensive calories, if needed.

Supplements: See the Supplements section below for guidelines on supplements you may want or need to add.

Feed as much variety as possible, both in types of meat (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, fish, etc.) and in parts fed. Make sure that no one food, such as chicken, is more than 50% of the diet.

See my article A Raw Deal for more information on feeding a raw diet. Also see the K9Nutrition FAQ for more info on getting started with a raw diet.

See sample diet plans below.

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Guidelines for Feeding Incomplete Blends

There are many brands these days that offer blends of meat, bone, organs and often vegetables and fruits. Unless they contain other ingredients as well, and state specifically that they meet AAFCO guidelines, these are not complete diets. That means you cannot feed them continuously by themselves, with no other foods or supplements added to the diet, without risking nutritional deficiencies and imbalances over time.

It is fine to use blends such as these as one half to two thirds of the diet you feed. The rest of the diet should be a variety of other foods, such as eggs, dairy, canned fish with bones, healthy leftovers, vegetables, fruits, and perhaps some different kinds of muscle and organ meat. You will also need to add supplements, as listed below. It's also OK to add some grains or pasta, just don't make them a large percentage of the diet. You can add as much fruits and vegetables as you want, as long as they agree with your dog.

Most raw diet products are quite high in fat. Be sure to use mostly low-fat additions when the base of the diet is high in fat. Possibilities include skinless chicken breast, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and starchy foods, such as sweet potatoes and oatmeal. A small amount of egg and canned fish with bones should also be included for variety, even though they are also higher in fat.

Most incomplete blends are high in bone (calcium). Low-fat boneless meats or other foods such as grains or starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, etc.) can be added to help reduce the amount of calcium in the overall diet.

Other nutrients often low in incomplete blends include zinc, choline, iodine, manganese, and vitamin D. Copper is found primarily in beef liver, and therefore is likely to be short in products that don't contain beef liver. See my article Dishing on Diets that talks about most of these nutrients, and which foods provide them, for more information.

Bravo! Original Formula Blends are 10% organ meats (equal mixtures of liver, heart, and either kidneys or gizzards), 15% vegetables, and 75% ground meat and bones. Bravo provides a nutritional analysis showing that the percentage of calcium in these blends is appropriate, meaning there is not too much bone. Bravo suggests adding eggs, cottage cheese and fish to their blends, as well as supplements, which is good advice, though the diet would still be high in fat. Note that Bravo reduced the amount of fat in most of their Balance Blends and added the following supplements to make the diets complete: vitamins D and E, potassium, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, and iodine.

See my article A Raw Deal for more information on feeding a raw diet based on incomplete blends. Also see the K9Nutrition FAQ under Raw Diets/What to feed with Bravo/Oma's Pride for more info.

Supplements: See the Supplements section below for guidelines on supplements you may want or need to add.

See sample diet plans below.

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Guidelines for Cooked Diets, or those that include raw meat but no bones

Feed at least half (preferably more) animal protein products, such as lean muscle meat, heart, liver, kidney, eggs, dairy (e.g., yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese), and canned fish with bones, such as pink salmon, jack mackerel and sardines. Meat and eggs can be fed either raw or cooked (light cooking is better than cooking for longer periods at higher heats).

Liver (and some kidney) should make up around 5% of the total diet.

Feed as wide a variety as possible of different types of foods (e.g., beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, canned fish with bones, eggs, dairy) and different parts, including heart.

No more than half the diet (preferably less) should be grains, pasta and vegetables. These should be cooked. Fruits can also be fed in small amounts. Note that grains seem to be related to a number of health problems in dogs, including allergies, arthritis, IBD, seizures, etc., so if your dog has any of these problems, try omitting grains (and maybe starchy carbs as well) to see if there is improvement. If your dog is healthy or appears to have no problems with grains, it's OK to feed them in moderate amounts. Remember that dogs have no nutritional need for carbohydrates, but they can be a source of less expensive calories, if needed.

Add 800 to 1000 mg calcium per pound of food fed (cooked weight). You can use ground eggshell at the rate of 1/2 teaspoon per pound of food, or any other form of calcium is fine, including calcium carbonate, calcium lactate, calcium citrate and vegetable calcium, such as Animal Essentials Seaweed Calcium (which also provides additional minerals). If you use bone meal, add an amount that provides 1000 to 1200 mg calcium (more is needed than when using plain calcium due to the amount of phosphorus in the bone meal). Do not use calcium supplements that contain vitamin D, as the amount will be too high. These guidelines are for adult dogs only, not puppies (see my article on Homemade Cooked Diets for guidelines for puppies).

Healthy leftovers can also be added to the diet. These are foods you would eat yourself, not fatty scraps that should be thrown away.

Supplements: See below for information on supplements to add to the diet.

See sample diet plans below. See my article Now We're Cooking! for more information on preparing a homemade cooked diet for dogs.

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Guidelines for Adding Supplements to a Homemade Diet

The wider the variety of healthy foods in appropriate proportions you feed, the less need for supplements there should be. Conversely, the more limited the diet you feed, the more supplements are needed. Supplements may be more important for cooked diets, since heat destroys some nutrients. Freezing also destroys some nutrients. The longer food is cooked or frozen, the more nutrients will be lost. Remember that calcium is always needed unless you feed a diet that includes raw meaty bones, where the bone is fully consumed. Following are some supplements that can be added to help ensure that all nutritional needs are met:

Vitamin E should be supplemented in all homemade diets in order to meet nutritional guidelines. Requirements increase whenever you add fish or plant oils. Give around 1 or 2 IUs per pound of body weight daily.

Fish oil (body oil, such as salmon oil or EPA oil) is a healthy addition to any diet. Sardines can also be used in place of fish oil to supply omega-3 fatty acids. If using fish, give around 1 oz of fish per pound of meat and other animal products. See my article on Fish Oil for more info.

Cod liver oil is high in vitamins A and D. If you don't feed fish regularly, you should give cod liver oil in an amount that provides around 100 IUs vitamin D per 20 pounds of body weight daily. See my article on Fish Oil for more info.

Other oils: Beef and chicken have different types of fat. If you feed a mixture of the two, including dark meat chicken (which has more fat than the breast), this will help to balance out the fats, but if you feed only (or primarily) one or the other, the fats in the diet will be unbalanced. If feeding primarily beef, add 1 tsp hempseed oil, walnut oil, safflower oil, or corn oil (or 2 tsp ground hempseeds, or 2-3 tsp canola oil) per 1-1¼ pounds of meat. If feeding primarily chicken, add 1 tsp flaxseed or chia seed oils (or 3 tsp freshly ground flax or chia seeds) per 1-1¼ pounds of meat. See my article on Plant Oils for additional information.

Green blend or a mixture of kelp and alfalfa. Kelp supplies iodine that may be in short supply if it is not included in the diet. Too much iodine, like too little, can suppress thyroid function, so give no more than ¼ tsp to large dogs, and proportionately less to smaller dogs. If you do not supplement with kelp, you should add iodized salt, or a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement that includes iodine. Another option is to use a mix such as Preference from The Honest Kitchen. which contains alfalfa, kelp, vegetables and fruit. These are particularly useful if you do not include vegetables in the diet you feed. Vegetables supply trace minerals as well as antioxidants, so a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may be needed if you are not feeding vegetables. See Supplements section for more options.

Oysters are very high in zinc, and are also a source of copper, iodine, and vitamin D. Zinc, copper and vitamin D may be in short supply if you don't include beef liver in your dog's diet. Add no more than 1 ounce of canned oysters per pound of other meat in the diet.

Fresh crushed garlic (no more than about 1/2 of a small clove per 20 lbs of body weight daily; see Garlic for Dogs - How Much and How Often? for more details).

Nutritional or Brewer's yeast: Nutritional yeast is a good source of B vitamins (Brewer's yeast has less). Brewer's yeast is a good source of choline (nutritional yeast has less).

Molasses provides iron and B vitamins.

You can also give vitamin-mineral supplements (reduce the amount of added calcium if the amount in the supplement is significant). The following supplements are recommended by some veterinary nutritionists to help balance homemade diets (note that calcium must still be added separately unless you feed raw meaty bones). While nutritionists seem to use about 1 tablet per 20 pounds of body weight, I think it's better to give no more than 1 tablet per 40 to 50 pounds of body weight daily, since these supplements are high in vitamin D and iron. See Supplements for more info.

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Sample Diets

Remember that it’s not necessary to feed a balanced diet every day, as long as the diet is balanced over time. For example, it would be fine to feed eggs one day alternating with organ meat the next, rather than feeding both foods every day. Or you might feed just muscle meat one day, with a mix of organ meat, eggs and dairy the next. Many raw feeders feed two meals a day: one meal of raw meaty bones and one meal of everything else.

Following are sample diet guidelines for a 40 pound adult dog. Amounts will vary depending on the individual dog, and on the amount of fat in the diet.

Sample daily raw diet:

Sample daily raw diet using Bravo! (or similar) blends:
Note that Bravo Original Formula Blends have an appropriate amount of calcium and organ meats, so you do not have to add boneless meat or additional organs. Most other incomplete blends are higher in bone and need to be balanced with boneless meat:

Sample daily cooked diet: Sample daily supplements (most are optional)

Also see Sample Diets for some home feeding tips from people who feed raw diets, and Foods to Avoid or Restrict. For tips on feeding overweight dogs, see Pudgy Pups.

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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.