Friday, June 25, 2010

Feeding Your Dog: Commercial or Home-cooked?

What to feed our dogs? That is a question many of us have on our minds. The three options today are commercial dog food (kibble or can), raw diets or home-cooked food. Each of these choices has its proponents and opponents. What should you choose?

Let's take a look at commercial versus home-cooked first.

Commercial versus home-cooked 

Commercial dog food is surely convenient, no doubt there. The main reason it's being recommended is that it provides balanced nutrition, each formula being calculated scientifically by professionals. That is a strong argument.

On the other hand there are questions about quality of the ingredients and, more importantly, whatever the ingredients are they are all highly processed. Processed foods are not good for us, why would they be good for our dogs? Let's face it, even if made with the best ingredients, the kibble ends up looking and tasting like bits of cardboard. And that is leaving the issue of preservatives aside.

Home-cooked food gives the ability to provide your dog with a diet made from fresh, human-grade, quality ingredients. You know what goes in and you have full control over it. It is much closer to 'real' food.

To balance or not to balance? 

The main argument against feeding your dog a home-cooked diet is that it does not provide the complete and balanced nutrition your dog needs.

Is it important that the food is complete and balanced, and is it possible to achieve this when home-cooking for your dog?

One thing I find interesting is that dogs in the old days, and most dogs in my old country until this day, were fed human left overs and yet they seem to have been healthier than our dogs are today. There was nothing balanced or calculated about their food, they just got fed with whatever was left or available. Could it be that even an unbalanced diet made from real food is still better for our dogs than the processed commercial dog foods? Perhaps.

For the sake of my dogs I did some studying about what nutrients dogs need, what these nutrients do and how they mutually interact. I did come to believe that it is important to feed my dogs a complete and balanced diet. I also learned that today it can be achieved with a home-cooked diet.

Jasmine has had digestive problems since she was little. Poor appetite, bad stools, stomach upsets ... you name it. It was discovered that she has ingredient allergies. She is now on a custom home-cooked diet and thriving on it. After years of struggling to get her to eat she now wants and enjoys her food.

What to balance and how?

There are now supplements specifically designed for balancing home-cooked dog food and both our holistic and TCVM vets can calculate custom diets for their patients' specific needs, using the same formula that is being used to calculate ingredients for commercial food.

The means are there.

I find it interesting that, when talking about complete and balanced dog nutrition, many people seem concerned about balancing proteins. If you're using quality meat protein sources, balancing proteins is the least of your trouble. Meat protein sources are about as balanced as it's going to get. You'd only have a hard time taking care of proteins in your dog's food is if you decided to feed a vegetarian diet.

Carbohydrates are also not really of concern. Technically, your dog does not need any. Of course having some quality fiber is important, but it is not that necessary to worry about the exact amount. Fiber does play an important role in your dog's health and I will talk about fiber later.

The original, natural source of energy for dogs is fat. Proteins can also be broken down and used for energy. Carbohydrates provide an expeditious source of energy and allow cutting down on the amount of fat and freeing proteins for their more important jobs.

Fats are also important for your dog.

However, the hardest nutrients to balance in a home-cooked diet for your dog are not proteins or carbohydrates, not even fats, but minerals and vitamins. While they are necessary in virtually trace amounts, minerals and vitamins play essential role in the dog's body and need to be present if you want to keep your dog healthy. They need to be present in a certain amount, and some of them even compete with one another.
In my following articles I will talk about each of the essential nutrients your dog needs, about their role and interaction. Stay tuned.


Related articles:
Dog Nutrition And Proteins: The Building Blocks of LifeDog Nutrition and Carbohydrates: The Essential Non-Essentials


  1. Can't wait for the next installment. I really wonder about things like this, so it's nice to read someone else's thoughts - especially those of someone who thinks for herself. I wonder what to feed Koda (I picked a name finally; yay me!) and if it'll be right for her.

  2. Puppies clearly have somewhat different nutritional requirements than adult dogs.

    Since the great product we are using is available in Canada only, my recommendation would be to find a holistic or TCVM vet to create a diet specific to your puppy.

  3. I think it's extremely important for people who choose to feed commercial food to understand that there are no strict regulations of the pet food industry. Marketing plays a very large role in the labeling and descriptio of foods and AAFCO standards do not cover all areas. For example, many people are adamant that holistic food is the only way to go. While I agree in the philosophical doctrine of holism I find the defining guidelines of holistic foods unnerving. In essence, the only thing a pet food company has to do to qualify it's food as holistic is the write the word 'Holistic' on the bag. That's it. No other regulations exist. So now we have well-meaning owners unknowingly feeding their pet a terrible diet just because the bag says 'holistic'. Bottom line: Do your research and talk to your vet - they know your pet and can recommend a diet (homecookd, commercial or raw) that is best for your pet.

  4. Hi. You're quite right that dog food marketing can confuse people and labels can be manipulated, all to the detriment of our dogs.

    Very few vets really understand nutrition though. Holistic or TCVM vets seem to know more about it. We have a nutritionist formulating Jasmine's recipes.