Homemade vs. Commercial Dog Food: Making the Best Nutritional Choice
When it comes to nourishing our furry companions, the age-old debate between homemade and commercial dog food continues to be a hot topic among pet owners. We all want what's best for our four-legged friends, but navigating the world of dog nutrition can be overwhelming.
In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of homemade and commercial dog food options, helping you make an informed choice to ensure your beloved pup gets the nutrition they deserve.
Let's dive in and uncover the secrets to providing your canine companion with the best possible diet.
Why Choosing the Right Dog Food Matters
Dogs are not just pets, they are part of the family. They deserve to eat food that is healthy, tasty, and suitable for their needs. Choosing the right dog food can have a significant impact on your dog’s physical and mental health, as well as their longevity and quality of life. Knowing how long can wet dog food sit out is an important consideration when choosing the right dog food. A good dog food should provide your dog with:
- Protein: Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscles, organs, skin, hair, nails, and immune system. It also helps with wound healing, hormone production, and energy metabolism. Dogs need animal-based protein sources, such as meat, eggs, or dairy, as they contain all the essential amino acids that dogs cannot synthesize on their own.
- Fats and fatty acids: Fats are a concentrated source of energy for dogs, and they also help with absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Fatty acids are important for maintaining healthy skin and coat, reducing inflammation, supporting brain and eye development, and regulating blood pressure and clotting. Dogs need both saturated and unsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which they cannot produce on their own.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy for dogs, as well as fiber for digestive health. Carbohydrates can come from grains, beans, fruits, or vegetables. However, dogs do not have a strict requirement for carbohydrates in their diet, as they can use protein and fat for energy as well. Therefore, carbohydrates should not make up more than 50% of your dog’s diet.
- Fiber: Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not digested by dogs. It helps with regulating bowel movements, preventing constipation or diarrhea, lowering blood sugar levels, and promoting a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber can come from various sources, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, or supplements. However, too much fiber can cause gas, bloating, or reduced nutrient absorption. Therefore, fiber should not make up more than 2.5-4.5% of your dog’s diet.
- Vitamins: Vitamins are organic compounds that are needed in small amounts for various biochemical reactions in the body. They help with growth, development, immunity, vision, nerve function, hormone synthesis, and antioxidant defence. Dogs need 13 different vitamins in their diet: A, D, E, K, C (although dogs can produce some on their own), B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin). Some vitamins are water-soluble (B and C) and some are fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K). Water-soluble vitamins are excreted in urine and need to be replenished regularly. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in fat tissue and liver and can accumulate to toxic levels if overdosed.
- Minerals: Minerals are inorganic elements that are needed in small amounts for various functions in the body. They help with bone formation, blood clotting, nerve transmission, muscle contraction, enzyme activation, and fluid balance. Dogs need 12 different minerals in their diet: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and iodine. Some minerals are macro-minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride) and some are micro-minerals (iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and iodine). Macro-minerals are needed in larger amounts than micro-minerals. Minerals need to be balanced in the diet, as too much or too little of one mineral can affect the absorption or function of another mineral.
- Water: Water is the most important nutrient for dogs, as it makes up 60-70% of their body weight. Water is essential for hydration, temperature regulation, blood circulation, waste elimination, and nutrient transport. Dogs need to have access to fresh and clean water at all times. The amount of water they need depends on their size, activity level, environmental temperature, and diet. Dogs that eat dry food need more water than dogs that eat wet food.
Pros and Cons of Homemade Dog Food
Homemade dog food is food that you prepare yourself for your dog, using ingredients that you choose and cook. Homemade dog food can have some advantages and disadvantages, depending on how you make it and what you put in it. Here are some of the pros and cons of homemade dog food:
- Full control over the quality, quantity, and variety of ingredients.
- Avoid ingredients that your dog is allergic or intolerant to, or that you do not trust or like.
- Adjust the ingredients according to your dog’s preferences, needs, and health conditions.
- Ensure freshness and safety of the food. You can avoid preservatives, additives, artificial colours, flavours, or by-products that may be present in some commercial dog foods.
- Avoid potential contamination or spoilage of the food that may occur during processing, storage, or transportation.
- Save money in the long run. Homemade dog food can be cheaper than commercial dog food, especially if you use ingredients that are in season, on sale, or from your own garden.
- Reduce waste by using leftovers or scraps from your own meals.
- Bond with your dog and show your love and care. Homemade dog food can be a way of expressing your affection and attention to your dog.
- Enjoy the process of cooking and feeding your dog, and see their satisfaction and gratitude.
- Time and effort in planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, storing, and serving the food. Homemade dog food can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially if you have a busy schedule or multiple dogs.
- Adequate kitchen equipment, storage space, and refrigeration facilities are needed.
- Ensure nutritional adequacy and balance of the food. Homemade dog food can be nutritionally incomplete or imbalanced if you do not follow a proper recipe or consult a veterinarian or a nutritionist.
- Add supplements or adjust the proportions of ingredients to meet your dog’s nutritional requirements.
- Monitor your dog’s weight, body condition, and health status regularly to check for any signs of deficiency or excess.
- Ensure palatability and digestibility of the food. Homemade dog food may not be appealing or tasty to your dog if you use ingredients that they do not like or are not used to.
- Ensure that the food is cooked properly and safely, without overcooking or undercooking it. Some ingredients may be hard to digest or cause gastrointestinal upset for your dog if they are not prepared correctly. You need to ensure nutritional adequacy and balance of the food. Homemade dog food can be nutritionally incomplete or imbalanced if you do not follow a proper recipe or consult a veterinarian or a nutritionist. The digestibility of the ingredients also impacts how long does it take dogs to digest food.
Pros and Cons of Commercial Dog Food
Commercial dog food is food that is manufactured by a company for dogs, using ingredients that are processed and packaged. It can have some advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type, quality, and brand of the product. Here are some of the pros and cons of commercial dog food:
- Convenience and ease of use. Commercial dog food is easy to buy, store, serve, and feed. You do not need to spend time or effort in cooking or preparing the food. You just need to follow the feeding instructions on the label and provide water for your dog.
- Nutritional assurance and consistency. Commercial dog food is formulated to meet the minimum nutritional standards and guidelines set by regulatory authorities and professional associations.
- The ingredients are tested and analyzed for their nutrient content and quality. The products are also labeled with their guaranteed analysis, ingredient list, feeding directions, expiration date, and other information.
- You have variety and choice. Commercial dog food comes in different types (dry, wet, semi-moist, freeze-dried, or raw), forms (kibble, canned, pouches, rolls, or patties), flavors (chicken, beef, lamb, fish, or vegetable), and formulas (life stage, breed size, weight management, or health condition).
- You can choose the product that suits your dog’s preferences, needs, and budget.
- Limited control over the ingredients. Commercial dog food may contain ingredients that your dog is allergic or intolerant to, or that you do not trust or like.
- Not knowing the exact source, quality, or freshness of the ingredients.
- Not be able to avoid preservatives, additives, artificial colours, flavours, or by-products that may be present in some products.
- Potential risks of contamination or spoilage. Commercial dog food may be contaminated with bacteria, fungi, toxins, or foreign objects during processing, storage, or transportation. This may cause illness or injury to your dog.
- Encounter products that are expired, damaged, or recalled due to safety issues.
- Need to check the product labels carefully and follow the storage instructions properly.
- Less personal involvement with your dog’s nutrition.
- You may not feel as connected or responsible for your dog’s health and well-being.
- Miss the opportunity to bond with your dog and show your love and care through cooking and feeding.
How to Compare the Nutritional Value of Different Dog Foods
Whether you choose homemade or commercial dog food, you need to compare the nutritional value of different options to make the best decision for your dog. Here are some tips on how to do that:
Read the labels carefully
Look for the guaranteed analysis, ingredient list, feeding directions, expiration date, and other information on the product labels. The guaranteed analysis tells you the minimum or maximum percentages of protein, fat, fiber, and moisture in the product.
The ingredient list tells you the sources and quality of the ingredients, as well as their order of weight. The feeding directions tell you how much and how often to feed your dog based on their weight and activity level. The expiration date tells you how long the product is safe to use.
Compare the dry matter basis
The guaranteed analysis is based on the as-fed basis, which includes the moisture content of the product. This makes it hard to compare products with different moisture levels, such as dry and wet food.
To compare them on an equal basis, you need to convert them to the dry matter basis, which excludes the moisture content. To do this, you need to subtract the percentage of moisture from 100%, and then divide the percentage of each nutrient by the result.
For example, if a dry food has 10% moisture, 25% protein, 15% fat, 5% fiber, and 10% ash (minerals), then its dry matter basis is:
100% - 10% = 90% (dry matter)
25% / 90% = 27.8% (protein)
15% / 90% = 16.7% (fat)
5% / 90% = 5.6% (fiber)
10% / 90% = 11.1% (ash).
You can then compare these values with other products on the same basis.
Compare the calorie content
The calorie content tells you how much energy your dog gets from the food. It is measured in kilocalories (kcal) per kilogram (kg) of food, or per cup or can of food.
You can find the calorie content on some product labels, or you can calculate it using the following formula:
Calorie content (kcal/kg) = 10 x [(protein % x 3.5) + (fat % x 8.5) + (carbohydrate % x 3.5)].
You can then compare the calorie content with your dog’s daily energy requirement, which depends on their size, age, activity level, and health status. You can use online calculators or consult your veterinarian to estimate your dog’s daily energy requirement.
Compare the cost per serving
The cost per serving tells you how much money you spend on feeding your dog per day or per month. It is calculated by dividing the price of the product by the number of servings in it.
You can find the number of servings on some product labels, or you can estimate it by dividing the weight or volume of the product by the recommended feeding amount for your dog.
You can then compare the cost per serving with your budget and preferences.
Tips for Making a Balanced Homemade Diet for Your Dog
If you decide to make homemade dog food for your dog, you need to follow some guidelines and precautions to ensure that it is balanced and safe for your dog. Here are some tips for making a balanced homemade diet for your dog:
- Consult a veterinarian or a nutritionist before starting. They can help you design a customized recipe that meets your dog’s nutritional needs and preferences. They can also advise you on any supplements or adjustments that your dog may need based on their health condition or life stage.
- Use a variety of ingredients from different food groups. A balanced homemade diet will include protein sources (such as meat, eggs, or dairy), carbohydrate sources (such as grains, beans, fruits, or vegetables), fat sources (such as oils, butter, or cheese), and vitamin and mineral sources (such as organ meats, fish oil, or supplements). Use lean meats and low-fat dairy products to avoid excess fat and calories. Use fresh and organic ingredients whenever possible to avoid pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics.
- Cook the ingredients properly and safely. Cook most of the ingredients to kill any harmful bacteria, parasites, or toxins that may be present in raw foods. Avoid using ingredients that are toxic or dangerous for dogs, such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, macadamia nuts, avocado, alcohol, caffeine, or xylitol. You should also avoid using bones, as they can splinter and cause choking, intestinal obstruction, or perforation.
- Balance the proportions and portions of the ingredients. A balanced homemade diet will have about 50% protein, 25% carbohydrates, 15% fat, and 10% vitamins and minerals. Also adjust the portions according to your dog’s weight, activity level, and appetite. You can use online calculators or consult your veterinarian or a nutritionist to determine the appropriate amounts of each ingredient for your dog.
- Store and serve the food properly. Store the homemade food in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer, and use it within 3-5 days or 2-3 months, respectively. Thaw the frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, and not at room temperature, to prevent bacterial growth. Reheat the food to a safe temperature (at least 165°F) before serving it to your dog. Also wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces before and after handling the food to prevent cross-contamination.
Well, That’s a Wrap
Homemade vs. commercial dog food is a personal choice that depends on various factors, such as your dog’s preferences, needs, health conditions, and budget. Both options have their pros and cons, and you need to compare them carefully to make the best nutritional choice for your dog. Consult a veterinarian or a nutritionist before starting or switching your dog’s diet, and monitor your dog’s weight, body condition, and health status regularly to check for any signs of deficiency or excess. Remember that your dog’s nutrition is an important part of their overall well-being, and you are responsible for providing them with the best possible food.