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I am interested in getting my dog on a more natural diet.

I've been wondering whether homemade dog food is safe and healthy for my dog.

Which specific vitamins & minerals should I ensure are included to be as healthy and well-balanced as possible?

  • A good topic--I'm looking forward to the input. After the last nutrition question, I looked on Ha! A good topic--I'm looking forward to the input. After the last nutrition question, I looked on >dogfoodadvisor.com< and compared ingredients I cook with some of the prepared dog foods. Checking with your vet is generally smart as well. and compared ingredients I cook with some of the prepared dog foods. As with most things, being mindful is an excellent route to good decisions. Checking with your vet is generally smart as well. – M.Mat Mar 24 '17 at 0:48
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Dogs are not pure carnivores and so do need a certain percentage of vegetable matter in their diet, but the majority of the diet should still be meat and with a little variation in the type of meat. About 20% of the remainder of the diet should have some vegetables in it.

From the meat perspective, you want to have a decent mix of organs, muscle, skin and fat roughly in proportion to what they'd get from prey or scavenging. The meat that you use, though, should be meat that is fit for human consumption (even if we don't want to eat it). The vegetable mix can include things like squash, lettuce, carrots, cabbage, and similar, don't use carbs.

A good source for more detail, along with some recipes to help you get started at Dog Training Central or at Know Better Pet Foods.

As with any diet, you should very carefully monitor the health of your friend as you transition his diet, pay particular attention for any signs of gas, vomiting, or other unusual behaviour such as lethargy.

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First and foremost, your dog's nutritional requirements will be relative to their lifestyle (exercise routine), size, breed, age and if female, whether or not they are pregnant/nursing. Review this guide to essential nutrition for dogs from the folks at Waltham for a basic overview of nutritional fundamentals. Note that the guide (index pictured below) lists which nutrients (including vitamins and minerals) are essential.

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How can I ensure homemade dog food is healthy for my dog?

As you change your dog's diet, keep an eye on your dog's weight - it should not fluctuate. In general you want their ribs noticeable but not protruding. The breed and their coat, of course, will factor in here. I have an older, arthritic tripod, so I try and keep her a little "underweight" - but your dog has their own particular weight factors.

Also make note of their bowel movements for diarrhea, constipation, mucus or blood. Monitor their urination for color and odor. Is it always dark yellow and pungent? If so, the diet may be too rich. Are they lethargic or as active and attentive as ever? If they are lethargic they may be getting inadequate nutrition, or, you may simply be poisoning them. Do they vomit the new diet or refuse to eat it? Is their breathe odor any better or worse? Bad breath may indicate health problems. Are dry scales forming on their nose? These scales may indicate health problems. Are they displaying odd behavior? Sudden changes in behavior and temperament may indicate health problems. A little gas can be expected with big dietary changes, but extended flatulence and especially abdominal distention are signs that your dog is not doing well on the new diet.

It should go without saying that cooking for your dog is not the same as cooking for yourself and the rest of your family. Avoid all additives like sugar, salt, seasoning, etc. in your dog's food. Fresh ingredients are best of course, but if canned, make sure there's no added salt or preservatives.

If you decide to cook for your pet, consult a veterinarian and/or veterinarian nutritionist about a diet appropriate to your dog's breed, age, size and activity level. Then have your vet monitor the dog's health regularly. Consult with them about how to monitor your dog in between regular check-ups.


I am interested in getting my dog on a more natural diet.

Depends entirely upon what you mean by "natural". To make a diet based on what animals ate before domestication is poor reasoning as canines have changed physiologically since domestication. Also, most domesticated canines would not survive or would simply survive miserably if they were "in the wild" and left to scavenge and hunt but I presume this is not your goal.

If by "natural" you mean without a lot of artificial additives and preservatives (e.g. BHA, BHT, and TBHQ), then stick to fresh and organic ingredients. Also, you can look for commercially available pet food sources which feature feeding trials and guaranteed analysis in the labelling as well as advertising "no artificial preservatives". Per this article, "Blue Buffalo, Orijen, Nature's Variety, Evo, Innova, California Natural and Dr. Tim's manufacture dog food using natural preservatives." See also my answer to the question, "What should I look for in nutritious dog food?"


I've been wondering whether homemade dog food is safe and healthy for my dog.

It can be.

If you are feeding your dog raw foods though, be vary careful with preparations as to not spread things like salmonella or E.coli to the rest of your home. Both salmonella and E. coli are zoonotic - meaning they are diseases which can pass from animals to humans. This could happen from something as simple as feeding your dog something raw and then your dog licking you. Note as well that despite the fad popularity of a "raw food diet" dogs are susceptible to salmonella from uncooked eggs and raw meats (poultry, beef, pork etc. as well as unwashed fruits and vegetables):

Salmonellosis is an infection found in dogs caused by the Salmonella bacterium. It often leads to disorders, including gastroenteritis, spontaneous abortions, and septicemia. This bacterial disease is also zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted to humans.

The severity of the disease will often determine the signs and symptoms that are overtly present in the dog. Symptoms commonly seen in dogs with salmonellosis include: Fever, Shock, Lethargy, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Anorexia, Weight loss, Dehydration, Skin disease, Mucus in stool, Abnormally fast heart rate, Swollen lymph nodes, Abnormal vaginal discharge, Miscarriage or spontaneous abortion.

Chronic forms of salmonellosis may exhibit some of these same symptoms; however, they will be more severe. These include symptoms: Fever, Weight loss, Loss of blood, Non-intestinal infections, Diarrhea that comes and goes with no logical explanation, which may last up to three or four weeks, or longer

(Source: PetMD)

Dogs are also susceptible to infection with E coli from feeding your dog raw meat, unwashed vegetables and such:

E. Coli infection is commonly found in newborn puppies in the first few week's of life; however, it can be found in dogs of any age. The onset is very sudden, and can lead to serious complications, so it must be treated immediately. E. coli infection can lead to blood poisoning, or septicemia, and has been found to compound with parvovirus in dogs and puppies, leading to an increased risk of death by parvovirus.

Symptoms of E. Coli Infection in Dogs: vomiting, lack of appetite, dehydration, rapid heart rate, depression, lethargy, malaise/weakness, diarrhea, low body temperature, and bluish gums, nostrils, ears, lips, or anus

(Source: WagWalking)

So, I would recommend strongly against a raw food diet. No matter how much more "natural" it may seem, it is a dangerously sentimental mistake.


See this answer for an example recipe which the author claims is approved by their vet for their dog - not necessarily approved for yours though. If you decide to go this route, CONSULT YOUR VET so they may evaluate your dietary plans and recipe(s) in the context of your particular dog's health profile, history and especially their lifestyle (e.g. how much exercise they get). Much of what makes an appropriate diet is in relation to how much exercise your dog gets. 80% meat protein might be fine for working sled-dogs, but this may be a lethal diet for an older house-dog. A minimum of 18% meat protein is recommended for maintaining an adult dog. Puppies, pregnant dogs and working dogs will require more. Also consider the fat content of the diet. Maintaining an adult dog requires a minimum of only 5.5% fats and no more than 15%. Too much fat can cause problems.

In addition to lean meats, consider the kinds of vegetables which are known to be good for dogs in reasonable amounts:

  • Carrots. Cooked, not raw. Raw carrot is alright in small doses, but too much can tear up the insides of your dog if they are not chewed well enough.
  • Sweet Potatoes. Only cooked and no skins.
  • Green Beans
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Soy Beans
  • Cucumbers. Peeled.

...best in only small amounts:

  • Asparagus.
  • White Potatoes - cooked potato is fine but no shoots, stems or green parts. No raw potato, no skins.
  • Broccoli.

...as well as grains like

  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley

These grains, or pumpkin puree can also aid in keeping your dog regular if they have diarrhea.

...also, too much citrus is not a great idea, but some fruits are okay in small amounts:

  • Apples.
  • Watermelon (no seeds or skins) and other melons.

Also consider 1tsp of apple cider vinegar diluted with 1TBSP of chamomile tea and a 1/4 cup of minced parsley, young wheat grass shoots or sprouts.

Your vet will be able to help you tailor your recipe(s) to your dog's stage in life as well. If they cannot, they should be able to recommend a veterinarian nutritionist. If they cannot, find a better vet.


What specific vitamins & minerals should I ensure are included to be as healthy and well-balanced as possible?

From "What is a 'Balanced' Dog Food?"

Dogs and cats also require more than 50 key nutrients, the most vital of which are vitamin C and minerals magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. The balance between these nutrients is important, too. “The body is a very complex organic place where biochemical reactions are going on,” explains Kerri Marshall, DVM, a licensed veterinarian and chief veterinary officer at Trupanion.

Further from The European Pet Food Industry Federation:

  • Dogs need a careful balance of calcium/phosphorus and sufficient vitamin D for strong bones and healthy teeth.
  • Fats and oils are a source of energy which is important for active and large dogs.
  • Protein is required to maintain the body muscles.

For a comprehensive overview of the vitamin and minerals needed, see The National Research Council's "Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats."

For a basic listing of vitamins and minerals see this article by the AAFCO. The necessary minerals include: Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Iodine, Selenium, et cetera. The necessary vitamins include: Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pantothenic acid, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Folic acid, Vitamin B12, Choline, et cetera.

In addition to the list of necessary proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals, you will also need to consider their interactions in the context of your dog's activity level, breed and such particulars as your vet will be familiar with in order to ascertain an overall dietary profile. Too much or too little can be bad and the effects not readily apparent. In addition to reviewing the information in my answer, you should consult your vet or have them recommend a veterinarian nutritionist. Otherwise just stick to USDA, FDA, and AAFCO approved dog foods.

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    I appreciate all the effort you've made here. I do not agree with not recommending raw food. It depends on where you live. It is highly recommended to feed raw meat and raw bones where I live, in fact cooked bones splinter and can be dangerous, they can also cause constipation. Simple hygiene practices need to be used whenever handling raw meat – user6796 Apr 6 '17 at 18:21
  • @YvetteColomb Sure, including raw foods in the diet can be safe and just fine with a little common sense, hygiene and precaution - especially with the handling and preparation of raw meats/bones. I don't recommend a 100% raw food diet as such common sense is fairly uncommon (especially when the motivation for such a diet is some sentimental notion about wild animals or appeasing an unexamined ideology). As for bones, I have never had a problem with using cooked soup bones (marrow bones) as chew toys (for larger dogs), but agreed - bones can be very dangerous and best used with common sense. – Mr. Kennedy Apr 6 '17 at 18:32
  • Be careful not to infer too much into natural diet. Many of the commercial dog foods meet a minimum base requirement and do not contain as much meat as a dog would naturally eat. It's all about economics not animal health. So asking for a natural diet, i.e. one without grain to start with doesn't necessarily mean paleo. – user6796 Apr 6 '17 at 18:36
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    @YvetteColomb sure. Grains may not be an essential part of a dog's diet, but they can also be a good source of some nutrients (see the Waltham guide). I don't know that dog's get Celiac's disease (like ~.5% of humans), but there is certainly a small chance that a dog may have grain allergies. As for "meat" the meat protein is essential, but it is a mistake to imagine that a domesticated pet needs to eat like a wild dog or wolf, also, it is a mistake to feed a house dog (minimum ~20% protein to maintain) like a working sled dog (up to 80%) - too much protein can also be a problem. – Mr. Kennedy Apr 6 '17 at 19:05

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