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The truth about cooking dog food at home

Tuesday, May 08, 2018
By Dan Massey

There is nothing better than a home-cooked meal, and many loving dog parents take the time to cook fresh for their dogs every day. After a few years of cooking for our own dogs, we’ve learned the hard way…preparing home-cooked dog meals by yourself, while always well-intended, is often guided by a few common misconceptions.

Dogs are carnivores, like us, though their nutritional needs are different. Certain vegetables and the vitamins found within them offer our pups the same benefits they offer us. Others can be deadly, and yet others can simply be inadequate.

Which leads us to our second-greatest misconception with home-cooked dog food. The idea that simply because a meal is home-cooked, it is balanced and nutritionally enough for your dog. This is many times, not the case, as home-prepared dog food without veterinary guidance often leads to a diet that is unbalanced, and lacking in essential nutrients.

If you plan to cook for your dog on your own, you’ll want to make sure to consult with your veterinarian beforehand. 

When we began cooking for our own dogs and learned the hard way that we were unable to nutritionally balance these meals without the careful supervision of a veterinarian, we sought out Dr. Justin Shmalberg. A practicing vet and clinical assistant professor of integrative veterinary medicine at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, he has in-depth experience in this field. He helped us formulate all of the NomNomNow recipes to make sure they were nutritionally balanced, and has years of practice doing so. 

From the desk of Dr. Shmalberg himself, here is what he has to say about home-cooked dog food.

Common home-cooked dog food mistakes

While balancing the nutrients of your dog’s diet isn’t easy, insufficient amounts of critical nutrients can have health implications for dogs. These typically include:

–  Inadequate fatty acids →  poor skin and coat health, possibly different responses to inflammation

–  Insufficient calcium →  reduced bone stores

–  Inadequate Vitamin D → poor calcium uptake

–  Inadequate trace minerals → anemia, tendon issues, poor skin or coat condition

–  Protein deficiency → muscle wasting, poor athletic performance, muscle atrophy, and in severe cases, heart failure

Misconceptions about the effects of unbalanced diets

While there is a misconception about what a ‘healthy’ diet actually is, ‘balanced’ is the best way to describe a truly healthy diet that provides enough of essential nutrients.

Myth: Dogs do well for a lifetime on ‘unbalanced’ diets.

Fact: Dogs have pretty wide tolerance for deficiencies, but feeding the same diet, if low in nutrients, for a dog’s entire life can have severe consequences like those listed above. Dogs can survive on many diets, but having optimal health and conditioning is another. Dogs only want to eat protein and fat; however, dogs enjoy carbohydrates and these provide phytonutrients, beneficial fiber (fuel for intestinal bacteria), and energy for cells.

Why veterinary formulations are so essential

Veterinary-formulated recipes are a sure-fire way to make sure your home-cooked meals are nutritionally enough. Throwing home-cooked chicken and rice in a bowl every day is kind, and certainly more delicious than dry kibble, but still not enough.

There is wide latitude in the nutrient requirements of dogs. Ingredients can vary, therefore, using a veterinary formulation ensures that specific detail is paid to make sure recipes meet the needs of critical nutrients and contain functional foods, which can be well digested and utilized by dogs. Veterinary nutritionists formulate thousands of individualized home-prepared diets and can tell owners when a diet may or may not be appropriate for a pet with a medical condition.

If you are currently cooking for your dog or planning to cook for your dog yourself, please make sure you have consulted with a veterinarian first and can be sure that what you are feeding your beloved four-legged friend is balanced and nutritious.

The true cost of cooking dog food yourself

You’ve done your research, you’ve spoken to your vet, and you’ve decided that your dog should be eating a fresh, home-cooked diet. With options like NomNomNow available, many pet owners wonder if they should actually pay a local company to cook for their dog, or simply do it for themselves (and hopefully save a little money in the process). Since we started out as a few people cooking for their dogs, and now cook for many of other peoples’ dogs, we know the ins and outs of doing it as a company and as an individual.

When thinking about cooking for your dog at home, Pinterest will have you believe it’s a breeze. Chicken and rice, maybe a DIY mix you buy, or perhaps a recipe shared in the form of the infographic. Easy, right? We’ve learned that it isn’t always as easy as they say. Of course, feeding your dog fresh, home-made food is always rewarding, which is why we do it. When preparing to cook for your dog and evaluate the cost, don’t forget the time required each week, and the importance of having any recipe you use approved by your vet (or a veterinary nutritionist). Here is the full breakdown of the cost of cooking dog food yourself, so you can decide if that’s right for you and your dog.

1. Ingredients

Let’s look at a classic beef recipe, balanced by a veterinarian nutritionist. Beef is a pretty standard recipe, and red meat tends to be more affordable than white. Below are the ingredient amounts for a weeks’ worth of dog food, based on a mid-sized dog of 34 pounds. This will yield the recommended 7 pounds of food for this dog.

Ingredients:

  • 80% ground beef ($15.15)
  • Russet potato ($1.16)
  • Eggs ($3.24)
  • Carrots ($0.61)
  • Peas ($1.76)
  • Vitamin and oil blend ($1.42)

Ingredients total: $23.24**Based on January 2017 average prices at a Safeway in Oakland, California.Let’s also consider that you should allot for gasoline/public transportation, and time spent going to the store and back each week ($7). If you have groceries delivered, have to drive further to the store, etc., this may change, but $7 is a safe medium. Total: $30.34.

2. Time

Cooking a typical recipe would require about 5 hours per week, given that you are cooking enough for 7 days. Depending on how you value your time, you could add an hourly value to that, or perhaps we just stick with the cost of purchasing the ingredients and the awareness that you will have to devote a decide chunk of time once per week.

3. Getting a recipe

Additionally, these costs above are assuming that you have already acquired a veterinarian-balanced recipe. Dogs, like humans, need a diet balanced in a variety of nutrients, and those recipes you might find on the internet don’t always provide what your dog needs long-term. If you haven’t already acquired a veterinarian-balanced recipe, the average cost of having a recipe made is a one-time $500 fee. If you plan to continue cooking for your dog, you can divide this cost over the numbers of weeks that you continue the habit of cooking.If you have found a recipe from a friend or online and would like to avoid the $500 fee, please make sure to ask a veterinarian nutritionist if it is balanced so you do not risk feeding something that may leave your dog with nutritional deficiencies. This will cost the same as a typical veterinarian visit (~$80).

What does it cost to purchase a home-cooked recipe like this?

This same beef recipe for a 35 pound dog from NomNomNow would cost $39.90 a week. If you consider that the ingredients for this recipe cost $23.24, and that you will need to spend about $7 on acquiring the ingredients, now a total of $30.34, you’re only spending about $9 more to save yourself 5 hours of work. If we include the cost of getting a recipe (one-time fee of $500), you’re also looking at a big commitment up front. If your dog doesn’t like the recipe, you’re going to have to use it for at least a year to get your money’s worth, and even then you’re only saving a few dollars.

We know firsthand the effort it takes to home-cook the right type of food for your dog, and the experts at Your Purebred Puppy recommend NomNomNow as an alternative to cooking your own dog food. Whether you home-cook fresh food for your dog or purchase fresh food from a local company, feed your dog the right kind of food, and it will be rewarding regardless of the time and price. You'll see excitement during mealtime that you've never seen before. Invest in more years together, and a happier and healthier future. 

For those who want to leave the recipe creation and cooking up to the professionals, give your dog a taste of Dr. Shmalberg’s balanced recipes

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