I have often said that formulating healthy homemade dog food recipes is difficult. That is why 95% of recipes available online or published are nutritionally inadequate. I would like to give you some insights into homemade dog food recipe formulation by walking you through the process I use for creating nutritionally balanced recipes. This requires that I have two sets of data available to me. The first is the USDA Database for the nutrient contents of food. The second is the National Research Council (NRC) nutritional guidelines for dogs and cats.
From the USDA database I am able to determine exactly how much of all 42 essential nutrients are available in any given amount of any food ingredient. The NRC guidelines make sure I choose the amount of that ingredient that meets the necessary daily requirements for dogs. With these tools I am ready to formulate a recipe.
- How Much Protein Does Homemade Dog Food Need?
Initially I choose an initial amount of a meat cut that generally meets total protein requirements for the dog and check if that amount delivers the necessary amounts of all ten essential amino acids. I make adjustments until it meets the necessary amino acid profile and also is enough to satisfy a 21-28% of total recipe calories from protein. For example, chicken breast has twice the amount of the essential amino acid tryptophan as beef. A recipe using beef needs more meat than one using chicken.
- How Much Fat Does Homemade Dog Food Need?
The next step is to determine how much fat must be added to the meat to assure total dietary fat requirements and meet the specific dietary requirements for the essential fats, linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, and the omega-3 fats, alpha-linolenic, DHA and EPA. Using the two databases I am able to determine the exact amount of oils I need to balance the diet. I use corn/canola or soybean and fish oil because these are the richest sources of preformed* essential fatty acids than any other available oils. I try to maintain a fat content that represents 30-38% of total calories from fat.
- How Much Carbohydrate Does Homemade Dog Food Need?
The amount of carbohydrate added is to achieve ideal recipe calorie count. The nutrients that they provide are evaluated using the databases and adjusted so that the addition rounds out the necessary daily nutrient requirements. Typically this represents 40-45% of total recipe calories and helps keep homemade recipes affordable. It also ensures that the delicate calcium:phosphorus ratio is maintained. Excessive protein in the diet can promote phosphorus overload and lead to osteoporosis and soft tissue calcification. Excessive fat in the diet can decrease appetite and lead to malnutrition.
I hope this explains why formulating nutritious homemade dog food recipes is more than just throwing a variety of ingredients together and hoping for a good outcome. Proper nutrition is more complicated than that. And nutritional deficiencies take years before clinical symptoms appear and can be confused with other causes. Also this is just one part of recipe formulation. It only balances the macronutrients protein, fat and carbohydrate. Vitamins and minerals are the next phase. Stay tuned for that post.
*Preformed means that the fatty acids are ready to use by the body. All other plant oils have undifferentiated linoleic and alpha linolenic acids and no DHA or EPA. That means the body must convert these undifferentiated forms into essential fatty acids. Fat conversion is the most inefficient body function and is dependent on health, age, and sex. It also means that more oil and unnecessary calories must be added to compensate for the inefficient conversion. Using other oil sources means there is no way to know exactly if a dog is getting the proper amount of essential fatty acids.
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN