Homemade Dog Food: Recipe and Cost

By Elizabeth Lang on 25 February 2010 (Updated 23 February 2011) 56 comments
Photo: Sadeugra

During the "great dog food scare of 2007" when melamine was found in dog food made in China — leading to hundreds (maybe even thousands) of pet deaths — many people turned to U.S. made natural dog food. While these foods are nutritious, a down side is that they are exceptionally expensive.

In our house, we had always considered buying natural dog food, not because of where it is made but because of what is in it. (If you want to read details about what is in dog food, this article is straightforward without exaggerating or being too graphic.) But ultimately the day-to-day cost of natural food was just too steep. (It's arguable that with the long term cost of huge vet bills due to kidney disease or another possibly-preventable disease, natural dog food is worth the cost.) How much does a bag of natural food cost? Usually around $50-70 for a 30 pound bag. Compare this to a $15-20 40 pound bag of the "cheap" dog food.

The most recent addition to our family, a black flat-coated-retriever named Murphy, has a food allergy. He is most likely allergic to poultry and also to either soy or corn — common fillers in the cheaper dog food. Because of the allergy, we had to start feeding him natural dog food. As a 60 pound dog he eats a lot of dog food. Which costs us a lot of money.

So we looked for and found an alternative: Homemade Dog Food. Here's the recipe we use.

Homemade Dog Food Recipe

2 boxes barley, cooked
5 pounds lean beef
3 pounds ground pork
1 egg
3 eggshells
3 small potatoes
5 carrots
3 squash
water (lots of it)

We cooked the meat first and discarded the grease. Then we cooked the barley in a 5 gallon pot and added all the other ingredients with a lot of water. We cooked all the food until the vegetables were mushy, added in the cooked meat, and used an immersion blend to blend it all together. In the end this homemade dog food recipe made about 4 gallons of food which at two cups a day is enough for just over a month of food. Once you let the food cool it's easy to put in smaller storage containers and freeze. You can substitute different vegetables and add more if you wish. (Just see the list below of foods that dogs can't eat.)

We now combine natural dry dog food with our homemade dog food. Since the ingredients for the homemade dog food were just under $20 we are saving about $30/month. (We can buy 1 bag at $60 and make 1 batch of dog food which will last for a total of 2 months. This costs $80 as opposed to two bags of dog food for $120.)

Just be sure if you are making homemade dog food you avoid ingredients that can be poisonous for dogs. Below is a list of the most common.

What Dogs Can't Eat

Onions
Grapes
Garlic
Mushrooms
Uncooked potatoes

Have you ever made homemade dog food? How would it compare in cost to the brand of food that you currently buy?

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Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for this, Elizabeth. I've been thinking a bit about natural dog food lately and trying to figure out if I'd have the ambition to start making it.

When my dog was small, he'd knock over the garbage can to eat the eggshells inside. But I never thought of feeling them to my dogs - do they blend well?

Guest's picture

I've been making my own dog food for about 2 years. (My Westie can't handle something in commercial food.) The cost of the meat was a challenge for me, so I put an ad in the paper for people who were cleaning out their freezers and had meat they were getting rid of to call me. Freezer burned meat, or meat has just been in a freezer longer than humans feel comfortable consuming, usually because of the taste changes, is perfectly safe for dogs. In less than a week I ended up with an entire freezer full of meat.
Archie is happy and healthy, and gets incredibly excited when I pull out the food processor. He knows that's "his" food I'm mixing up!

Elizabeth Lang's picture

I love the idea about Craigslist!  I would just want to be sure the people I'm getting the meat from are trustworthy...

Guest's picture
Cathy

Wanting to feed a natural/healthy diet and then loading the food up with grains and cooked meats seems contradictory. If it's about saving money, supplementing (or feeding 100%) raw can be just as economical. Plus the added savings of buying fewer poop bags. ;-)

Guest's picture

Got any advice for cat food?

Guest's picture
Guest

we feed our 60 lb lab a raw diet of a quarter pound of hamburger, a few grated carrots, a raw egg and its shell, an apple or a banana, and any bland leftovers we have lying around (potato peels, bread crusts, old oatmeal) twice a day. The cost works out to be about 1.25 a day for the 2 meals. Not the cheapest, but since everything is raw, we find she occasionally gets sick if we buy bargain basement meat or eggs. (which was a wake up call to us to not buy this stuff for ourselves either). She is the healthiest, glossiest dog and the vet is always shocked by how clean her teeth are. I am not a big raw evangelist, but it is true that dogs don't get much out of the grains--I have observed that they come straight out the other end. There's also some evidence grains irritate the stomach and intestines of all dogs and that chronic inflammation can lead to problems down the road...

Guest's picture
Laura

Dogs (and cats) don't need any vegetables, and certainly not grains. You can feed a dog with a lot less effort by simply buying raw meat (chicken necks and backs, on sale pork and beef) with suitable amounts of bone and organs.

And please, why cook it? Dogs love raw!

Guest's picture
Daniel

Please do not say that dogs do not need anything but meat. This is completely, not true. Cats are obligate carnivores and only consume meat to survive. Dogs, who descend from the same animal bears do, need a good amount of plant matter in their diets. The same as humans, you cannot survive on meat alone.

Guest's picture
Cate

Please DO NOT give advice on things you clearly know nothing about. Dogs are NOT carnivores, like cats are, they are omnivores, so YES they do eat vegetables.

Guest's picture
Cat

TOTALLY UNTRUE, Dogs NEED some vegetables, necks, as these carry essential vitamins and are also tumor/cancer defensive, for example green leaft veg helps prevent cancer and tumors, pear is good for the heart, also the fact of dogs needing offal, necks, heart and organs is NOT TRUE, These are generally too rich for dogs and should only be available as a SMALL treat maybe once or twice a month. Dogs should generally be fed on LEAN HIGH PROTEIN MEAT- Chicken and turkey breast is the best followed by darker cuts of these meats as second best. The requirements are 25% grain, 25% PUREED veg (dogs cannot digest chunks of raw or cooked veg too well) and 50% lean protein in each day, divide it by however many meals you feed him, Also many dogs have pork allergies so its best to avoid. It is also best to add a little oild like olive oil to their meal and/or if you have it omega 3 dog oil. A calcium supplement is also best. I cannot comment on the raw diet as I admit I haven't tried that nor would I ever, I believe it to be an ancient medieval "belief" that dogs need only meat and it raw as our good advanced science tells us the benefits of a well BALANCED but varied diet. I have just finished and passed year one animal nutrition course, therefore the information I give is from all I have learned.

Guest's picture
Guest

An all meat diet can be bad for a dogs temperament and diet. Do your own research...the original poster is extremely misinformed.

Guest's picture
Guest

The canine digestive system is much shorter than the human digestive system, and while most dogs can eat grains they don't process them as well. I have a miniature Schnauzer who is very keyed up and reactive (barking) when he has even a tiny amount of grain, so we feed him raw and feed him a diet high in lean meats and vegetables.

Andrea Karim's picture

My dogs can't handle an all-meat diet. I tried feeding them meat alone and they were incredibly sick, even after the adjustment period. I don't know if it's because of a couple thousand years of being bred as Chinese lapdogs or what, but they do really well with grain food, but not so much on an all-meat diet.

Guest's picture
Satsuki

I second the cat food question- any ideas or recipes? I'd love to see another article.

Guest's picture
Amanda

I didn't know this.

The dog I had when I was a kid used to eat the Concord grapes right off the vines in the woods. She'd pick a bunch of them in her mouth then go off and eat them one-by-one, spitting out the pits.

She was an awesome dog.

Guest's picture
Sandy

We make homemade dog food for my dog, also named Murphy. I buy the natural dry dog food at a local pet store that carries a generic brand from a local dog food maker. It's a little pricey - $45 for a 30-pound bag, but it lasts at least two months because I heavily supplement it with homemade dog food. I buy my dog the cheapest cut of meat I can find. He loves eating pork shoulder, so I buy a big 7-8 pound shoulder and that lasts about two weeks. Just throw it in the Crockpot with some water and it's done and makes a nice gravy. I can find a pork shoulder for .69 per pound, so it's typically around $5. I was buying Science Diet for about $1.69 a can and that would last him about 3 days. So I'm saving about $3 every two weeks and this carnivore is eating his meat without all the crappy fillers and by-products.

Guest's picture

Feeding a more natural diet is absolutely better for your dog, and can be done quite economically. I'd even suggest that you may save money over time with the liklihood of fewer vet visits and dental cleanings. Not to mention, most dogs just seem to really enjoy it!

Some sources/people will tell you that it has to be complicated. You can make it complicated if you want, but it's certainly not necessary.There are, however, some important things to keep in mind when feeding a home made diet to your dog.

I see two importnat things missing from your sample recipe: Firstly, bones. You've included egg shell, presumably for calcium, but what about the other minerals found in bones? what about the dental and mental benefits dogs get from eating raw --never cooked!-- bones? Secondly, no organ meat. Organs (especially liver and kidneys) are important to a health canine diet. They contain essential vitamins not found in other meats. Veggies are not a safe bet for vitamins for carnivores who are not as able to digest and utilize nutrients from veggies. There are other ways around it, but IMO meat, bones, and organ are the best way to achieve a well-rounded diet.

There is a really great, friendly, nonmilitant raw dog & cat feeding group on Yahoo groups. They are really encouraging and helpful to people just starting out, or even just looking for information to make a decision. I'd encourage anyone interested in exploring the possibility to check it out. Here's the link: http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/RAW-lite/

Rachel

Guest's picture
Andrea

What is best for a dog to eat really varies from dog to dog.

Most unconventional "natural" dog foods are a huge step up from commercial dogs foods whether or not they contain only protein, or include grains or potato. I have tried everything from homemade raw to homemade cooked, grain or potato based foods, grain or potato-free foods, and also high protein. But always under the watchful eye of my vet.

I've discovered that my dog is allergic to beef, and, if I give her bone-based calcium in her homemade food, her skin will flare up and hair will fall out in masses. She does best on 60% meat (chicken or fish) and 40% fruits and veggies. But this may not be true for all dogs.

If your dog doesn't have any dietary issues, then you're lucky; enjoy it, and just be sure to switch the food up so they don't develop allergies. If he or she does suffer from allergies, like mine, then experiment with different combinations with the help of your vet until you find something that works for YOUR dog.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

yeah..i have a peke like Andrea's, and he can't handle even just chicken.  He seems to do better on this rice/meat mix that my mom buys for him from the vet.  I guess pekingeses are just too inbred or something.

Guest's picture
Croatian1

I just often question who all of a sudden decides what a dog can or cannot eat. I had a toy poodle growing up who pretty much ate what we ate---lived to age 14. He loved grapes! My next dog was a cocker spaniel who ate every veggie and fruit put before him! Grapes again were a favorite. He loved raw potatoes also, so when I would be peeling he would get a peeling or two and a chunk of potatoe. I cook with onions, alot. Again that meant he would consume cooked onions. He lived to age 16. We currently have a little shitzu/poodle. He got itchy from most dog food. My niece found for her dog that a formula with duck and potatoes worked for her dog. He is now itch free! Dick VanPatton puts it out. Again, note it has potatoes in it. He also eats, grapes, onions (cooked)and is in excellent health at age 10!

So, again who all of sudden decided these were bad for dogs? I know when we were giving grapes, etc to my cocker 7 years ago we had never heard then not to give these to him.

Guest's picture
Croatian1

I just often question who all of a sudden decides what a dog can or cannot eat. I had a toy poodle growing up who pretty much ate what we ate---lived to age 14. He loved grapes! My next dog was a cocker spaniel who ate every veggie and fruit put before him! Grapes again were a favorite. He loved raw potatoes also, so when I would be peeling he would get a peeling or two and a chunk of potatoe. I cook with onions, alot. Again that meant he would consume cooked onions. He lived to age 16. We currently have a little shitzu/poodle. He got itchy from most dog food. My niece found for her dog that a formula with duck and potatoes worked for her dog. He is now itch free! Dick VanPatton puts it out. Again, note it has potatoes in it. He also eats, grapes, onions (cooked)and is in excellent health at age 10!

So, again who all of sudden decided these were bad for dogs? I know when we were giving grapes, etc to my cocker 7 years ago we had never heard then not to give these to him.

Guest's picture
Croatian1

I just often question who all of a sudden decides what a dog can or cannot eat. I had a toy poodle growing up who pretty much ate what we ate---lived to age 14. He loved grapes! My next dog was a cocker spaniel who ate every veggie and fruit put before him! Grapes again were a favorite. He loved raw potatoes also, so when I would be peeling he would get a peeling or two and a chunk of potatoe. I cook with onions, alot. Again that meant he would consume cooked onions. He lived to age 16. We currently have a little shitzu/poodle. He got itchy from most dog food. My niece found for her dog that a formula with duck and potatoes worked for her dog. He is now itch free! Dick VanPatton puts it out. Again, note it has potatoes in it. He also eats, grapes, onions (cooked)and is in excellent health at age 10!

So, again who all of sudden decided these were bad for dogs? I know when we were giving grapes, etc to my cocker 7 years ago we had never heard then not to give these to him.

Guest's picture
Guest

I see others have already covered the raw food. It's a waste of time, effort, and storage to make cooked grain-based food for dogs. Add in vet bills (we have none besides routine exams), and it's no bargain, either.

Guest's picture
Guest

My animals don't get sick either, and they eat kibble. :)

Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs. They don't always, but they do sometimes and isn't sometimes enough?

Onions can cause anemia.

Raw salmon can be dangerous, as well.

Question for author of article -- can you give any guidelines for amounts to feed for different sizes of dog? Are you saying 2 cups a day is enough for your 60 pound dog? That doesn't seem like enough food, considering the amount of moisture in homemade dog food. Also, what size are the boxes of barley?

Guest's picture
Guest

One more question -- do you have a nutritional breakdown for your recipe?

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

dogs also can't process chocolate, but I guess noone would be mixing chocolate into dog food anyway. 

Guest's picture
Lucille

The dog food was not made in china. Wheat gluten that was made in China was tainted with melamine. That wheat gluten was then shipped to the US and processed into dog food. So US made dog food was poisoning animals, not Chinese made dog food. I would hate to have someone get a false sense of security.

We moved our dog to a home made food with a small supplement of a dry dog food we researched and felt had a lower risk. Even high end foods were wrapped up in the recall so price is not an indicator of safety. One food we fed after the recalls (Canidae) quietly changed their recipe without telling customers. Many dogs became sick from the change. They added dried pea hulls, this is basically useless junk in the food. Our dog refused to eat that brand after the change.

The biggest improvement we saw was when we switched to a mostly home made food. Our dog felt better and looked far more healthy. She also stopped constantly shedding.

Guest's picture
Guest

My two dogs got sick from Canidae when they changed their formula without notice. They had vomiting and bloody diarrhea for more than a week before I figured out it was the food. That company quickly went downhill.

Guest's picture
Lucille

I worked as a vet tech for about a decade and had some additional training in companion animal nutrition. A couple of things to keep in mind regarding home made food and raw diets. Small bones and poultry bones are not good for a dog. Just because they may have consumed these in the wild doesn't mean that they didn't cause problems. Small bones can lodge in the GI tract or perforate it. The risk of death or a major emergency surgery are simply not worth the dietary benefit.

If your looking for a calcium supplement powdered calcium can be found at most health food stores that have bulk spices and natural food additives. Tums can also be added to food but it can throw off the taste if your dog is a picky eater. Raw food has its own risk. Our commercial food supply has higher instances of ecoli and salmonella than existed decades ago or even in the wild. So there is as much risk with raw food a there is in cheap commercial foods, possibly more.

Too much fat can also be a problem. Dogs can not digest fat as humans do. Excessive fat can inflame the pancreas and require hospitalization to get them through it. Make sure your trimming fat off of cuts of meat and not using something extremely fatty.

Guest's picture

For almost a year now, I've been doing a mixture of ground turkey, brown rice, mixed vegetables, and Blue Buffalo organic food and Orijin which is completely without grain. The reason for the mixture is that my vet pointed out there are millions of dolalrs spent on research for giving dogs the best healthy alternatives with dry and canned food. However doing human-only food was something he warned me about since humans are different than dogs. My dogs have lost weight, feel better, and are much more active because of this balance. Above all else, check with your vet for their input - this is why they went to school for so many years.

Guest's picture
SonyaAnn

Our cat passed away because of melamine poisoning. Our dog didn't seem to have kidney problems because of tainted food but she had had seizures her entire life. It was getting to the point where the vet wanted her on medication. It's not that we trying to neglect our dog but we want to try and change her diet before we started drugging her. We quickly started cooking her food. She hasn't had a seizure in years. She is 14 and going strong. I will never go back to buying dog food. We just save all of our scraps and add it to her food.
Thank you for the post!

Guest's picture
Tyler

As a veterinary technician,
Dogs and cats -cannot- digest raw vegetables. The cannot break down the cellulose in them Also how do you even know if this "dog food" is nutritionally balanced? It's not.

Guest's picture
doktorlehar

Check out this excellent website:

www.catnutrition.org

I have been feeding our two cats a raw diet, based approximately on this site's recipe, for 4 years. They LOVE it, are in fantastic health, and look like show animals even though both are mutts adopted from the local shelter. Regarding cost, I find here (in central Missouri) it costs about $20 a month to feed two cats this way, which is more than dry bagged food but less than canned, although the price is going to vary based on food costs in your area and the appetites of your kitties. It takes some work--that is the only disadvantage--but if like me you enjoy messing around in the kitchen, it's quite fun to do and the cats will adore you for it.

One really important thing about cats: it's essential that you make sure they are getting an adequate supply of taurine. This is an amino acid that their bodies cannot synthesize but is essential for their health, rather like Vitamin C for humans. Taurine supplements are required, therefore, unless you have access to organ meat like heart that contains large quantities of taurine. Without it, they will have various health problems, including possible blindness.

Guest's picture
catastrophegirl

i don't feed my pets homemade food but i noticed a few mentions of organ meats being included and it seemed appropriate to mention a source of inexpensive organ meats that i see quite often - asian grocery stores. there are two near me with in house butchering that sell every single part of the animal.
following links not vegetarian friendly

i did seriously consider getting my dog the "beef feet" as special occasional treats but he tends to take his sloppy treats onto the light colored carpet and roll around on them so this will be a warm weather outdoor special treat in a couple of months

Guest's picture
Daniel

For all the people in here asking about cat food articles, I wrote a post on a forum a while ago regarding this. It was long and I figure it is easier to just paste in a link.

http://www.stevepavlina.com/forums/438104-post17.html

Guest's picture
Guest

Wow - TUMS instead of giving the dog a beef bone? Really?

Guest's picture
Guest Peter

The idea of home made dog food is good. I buy raw fish, cook it with waste indomie, and you are done. Serve when coo. The indomie waste is from the local factory. My three dogs have been living on this for the past three years, and very healthy. Peter

Guest's picture
Guest

Consider replacing the potatoes with sweet potatoes. Any veggie in the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potatoes) can aggrevate arthritis. Otherwise, it looks great, and I'm going to try it :)

Guest's picture
LolaBellesTreats

As the owner of a HomeMade Dog Treat and Food company I have done a LOT of research on this subject. I think the evidence is overwhelming on why one should NOT feed (most) commercial dog food. But what is the "right" diet for you and your dog? Cooked? Raw? No grains? No veggies? Mixed with a Natural Commercial food? Just like feeding children, there is more than one "right" way. Some kids thrive on a vegitarian diet, others do not. Same with your pets. It's important to gather information and research until you find what is best for you and your dog!

I have had some scold me for not selling a raw diet but you know, we just don't feel comfortable with that. If that is something that works for you and your pet and you have done the research on safe meat handling and you are providing a balanced diet then go for it! We encourage everyone to care enough to prepare or purchase nutricious meals for their pets! Make it yourself or if you don't have time or hate to cook, that's where we come in! Visit us at

www.LolaBellesTreats.com

The most important thing is to lift the veil off the commercial pet food industry and see it for what it really is. Do the right thing for your pet. Go HomeMade!

Guest's picture

Could someone please help me with the :

Homemade Dog Food Recipe - 2 boxes barley, cooked

How much is in a box?

I live in Mexico where our cost for one can of Science Diet is about $3.00 US. Needless to say, I can save a lot of money by cooking my own and I'm delighted to find this site and recipe. So, can someone give me an idea of how much is in a box please.

Desperately seeking help :) English only please I do not speak Spanish.

Guest's picture
Mags

Thank you for letting people know about making pet food at home. However we need to be careful as to what is put in food, such as egg shells, as they throw the calcium levels off causing bone and joint issues (I am an animal nutritionist).
I see owners feeding their pets recipes that fall short of requirements in the food. I see pets with weight issues or severe skin allergies and most of all liver and kidney problems. Barley is not a normal food staple for dogs or cats. Also over cooked food is void of the many naturally occurring minerals and vitamins. I could go on but this would take up many pages to provide you with all the information. The best information is in books that you can find at Veterinary universities. Good luck with your pets.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

How much barley is in one box?

Guest's picture
tom

Ive done a lot of research and it all shows barley is bad for dogs? Can this reciepe be sued without the barley?

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, you could use it without Barley - you may want to substitute another whole grain.

Guest's picture
tom

Do you feed this soup to the dog cold?

Guest's picture
Guest

Could you be more specific about how much a "box of barley" is? Barley where I live comes in many different size boxes, bags etc.

Also, is any organ meat necessary in this recipe?

Guest's picture
Paris

my vet says dogs are not supposed to eat starches of any kind (rice, potatoes, etc.), grains, corn, dry legumes or soy. potato skins are particularly hard on dogs' stomach linings. dogs are just not meant to eat those things. she says to aim for about 75% meat and the rest, veggies (but dogs cannot eat all veggies).

Guest's picture
Guest

I have been feeding home cooked to my pup for a while now. She looks great has tons of energy and really looks forward to her food. If the meat is a cost issue for some, consider 1/2 the amount of meat and add lentils for protein. They are very healthy. I also cook dried beans (be sure they are mashed and mixed in well for digestion) do this a little at a time in first couple batches to be sure your dog can ea beans. Just like us they take getting used to. my pup does great with them.
Please consider feeding cooked food. when I was young we fed table scraps all the time. Our dogs were healthy and long lived. We have been told thats bad for them. Now they are riddled with health and skin issues and cancer is more common then ever.

Guest's picture
Anita

I've been feeding my dog a high end dry dog food. Would homemade help with his gas issues. He can clear a room.

Guest's picture
casie mitchell

i have been makeing homemade dogfood for almost a year now useing meat and rice and veg i also give dry food to snack on to make sure they get all the viamins they are very healthly and they love it

Guest's picture
Tamara

Hi, I'm so happy I found this but I have a few stupid question. Do you cook or hard boil the egg first? Can this be ran through a food processor and if so should I pour the water off and reserve it to add back to it?

Guest's picture
Kenzie Smith

I really want to do this whole "homecooked" meal thing for my three dogs, Gracie my 8 lb yorkie/dachshund, biscuit my mix, and Roxy, my full blooded 7 month old boxer. Sadly, my parents won't let me explain to them why homemade dog food is better to buy. They THINK it's too "expensive". I'm 14 and would like to start doing this for them. Where do u get all these ingredients for the meals?

Guest's picture
stephanie

your recipe sounds great, I will also add brown rice and yes more veggies and fruit like apples. dogs love apples and so good for them. BUT dogs can eat garlic, it keeps bugs and worms away as well as its a natural antibiotic, dogs get heart worms by mosquito bites, well feeding your dog garlic keeps that at bay along with the vit B's.

Guest's picture
Bowen Wood

I think this is a great recipe for my dog, My dog dislike any vegetables. but one day, I searched natural diet, homemade dog food by dr. fox. I think this recipe is natural, wholesome. I highly recommend this recipe!

Guest's picture
Kassiann

Absolutely wonderful! We have 2 special needs dogs that one is allergic to lamb and the other chicken, they are both weigh 30lb and 55lb and this works wonders! Thank you so much, I even enjoyed making it.

It just felt right! Many many many thanks! We even posted 2 pictures, and of course the chihuahua wanted a taste :)