Homemade Diets for Cats and Dogs

November 18, 2010
By

By Jean Hofve, DVM

Homemade diets are great for our cats and dogs. By making your pet’s food at home, you control the quality of the ingredients, and commercial food additives such as colorings and preservatives can be avoided. Once you get the hang of it, homemade food is both time and cost-efficient. It’s definitely worth the effort!

Before you put your companion animal on a home-prepared diet, please discuss your decision with your veterinarian, or a holistic veterinarian  who understands nutrition and is comfortable with home-made diets. For a list of holistic veterinary practitioners by state, visit AHVMA.org.

We also suggest you obtain one or more of the following books, so that you have a more complete understanding of canine and/or feline nutritional needs. It is essential that you follow any diet’s recommendations closely, including all ingredients and supplements. Failure to do so may result in serious health consequences for your animal companion.

  • The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care. Dr. Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve, DVM. Available from Amazon.com — or if you’d like an autographed copy, from Celestial Pets.
  • It’s for the Animals! Natural Care & Resources. Helen L. McKinnon. C.S.A. Inc. Available from It’s for the Animals!; P.O. Box 1913; Fairview, NC. 28730; toll-free 1-888-339-IFTA (4382).
  • Natural Dog Care. Celeste Yarnall. Available from Celestial Pets.
  • Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, Steve Brown. 2009, ISBN 1929242670.

Meat may be fed cooked or raw. Meat amounts are given in raw weight. (While many holistic veterinarians recommend feeding raw meat, there are potential risks to your companion animal’s health from bacterially contaminated meat. Please discuss this issue with your veterinarian before feeding raw meat.) If feeding raw, it is recommended that meat be frozen for 72 hours at -4 degrees F prior to use to kill encysted parasites. Most meats can be refrozen one time safely, so once you mix the meal, it can be put back in the freezer until thawed for feeding. Raw ground beef is not recommended; if used, it must be organic.

Please note that feeding bones presents many risks; even raw bones can and do splinter. Bones may cause teeth to fracture, and may also cause life-threatening perforations, impactions, and obstructions.

Dogs’ nutritional needs can be met using a vegetarian diet, although this is neither natural nor recommended. As carnivores, dogs’ ideal diet is a meat-based one. See Vegepet for recommendations, recipes and supplements.

Cats should NOT be fed a non-meat diet. There are many potential problems and unanswered questions on the issue of vegetarian cats. Evidence is clear that cats are obligate carnivores who do best on a meat-based diet.

FOR ALL ANIMALS: Please pay attention to your animal companion’s health: his weight, energy level, skin condition, odor, coat quality, stool consistency, and oral health. If these are not maintaining or improving, consult your veterinarian about changing elements of the diet.

For Dr. Jean’s detailed recipe (and much more information on cat food and nutrition), check out her in-depth ebook, What Cats Should Eat, in our Bookstore or on Amazon.com

Alternative recipes:

Click here for Recipe #1 FOR CATS

Click here for Recipe #2 FOR CATS

Click here for Recipe FOR DOGS

 

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39 Responses to Homemade Diets for Cats and Dogs

  1. cldwtchr on March 4, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I just bought the ingredients to make homemade food for my cat. I am a little confused about a couple of the measurements. If someone can clarify them for me, I would greatly appreciate it. Does “1/2 salt substitute” mean a 1/2 tsp.? Also, for the multivitamin, it just says 1/4 and powdered. Does it mean 1/4 of a pill, then powder it, or 1/4 tsp. of powder, or what? Any feedback on this would be welcome. Thanks.

    • jhofve77 on March 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      Hi, sorry for the confusion. Please refer to the new links for better instructions!

      • cldwtchr on March 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm

        These links do not include your original recipe. I followed that recipe. I do not want to go raw. I cooked chicken thighs and added cod liver oil, as instructed. Do you still stand by the recipe that you previously posted? I really want to get her off the dry food, but won’t go raw. Also, is fish ok? She loves sockeye salmon.

        • jhofve77 on March 6, 2012 at 10:16 pm

          No, you pointed out some errors, and I saw some other issues that needed changing too. I had been considering taking those recipes down for some time. You’ll be making a slow transition anyway, so it will be fine. There was nothing “wrong” with the recipe, it’s a darn sight better than most…but I always emphasized that it had never been professionally balanced. I think the recipes I’m sending you to are much better than what I could do. You can use the supplies you have now, as you will make your transition over several weeks. Even if a diet says raw meat, it’s perfectly acceptable to cook it. It makes no difference in the nutritional content; just add your enzymes and probiotics to make up for what does get destroyed by heat. See: http://www.littlebigcat.com/health/switching-foods/, and on your question on fish: http://www.littlebigcat.com/health/switching-foods/

  2. Elizabeth Dice on January 30, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Unfortunately, a couple of my cats have stomatitis caused by calicivirus. The vet told me that wet food would aggravate the inflammation because it sticks to the mouth, and told me to feed the affected cats nothing but dry food. Have you had any experience with homemade foods and stomatitis? Any help you can offer would be appreciated.

  3. jhofve77 on January 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    My recipe is free, online, here: http://www.littlebigcat.com/nutrition/easy-homemade-diets-for-cats-and-dogs/

    Dr. Yarnall’s recipe (the one in Holistic Cat Care) is also free, online, at her website: http://www.celestialpets.com

    My Kindle books are all available in our bookstore as PDF files, which are delivered by email.

    But none of them are cookbooks.

  4. S. Frederiksen on December 14, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Dr. Hofve – My cat nearly died from liver failure last year and he was diagnosed with cholangiohepatitis. He has been doing well over tha last 18 months on Natural Balance food. Recently our vet noticed his kidney values have elevated and she recommended a commercial low protein prescritpion diet. He started that 3 months ago but developed hypersalivation and after much research and vet visits, I determined that the low protein was most likely causing arginine deficiency. I found some literature that said low protein is contraincdicated for cholangiohepatitis. My question is what to fee my poor kitty? how do I get low phosphates with good levels of protein so both the liver and kidneys are supported?

    • jhofve77 on December 16, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      I can’t give advice for any individual cat, but you can check Janet & Binky’s canned food chart, which lists phosphorus levels for dozens of foods. The range is stunning, but you can find quite a few with relatively low levels to choose from. To be safe, call the manufacturers to get current levels, as the chart is several years old.

      • CatAdvocat on August 12, 2013 at 4:28 am

        Someone said Janet & Binky’s chart will be taken offline. It’s still there as I post this but says it was last updated in 2008.

        Contacting the manufacturer – what questions to ask.

        Dr. Pierson has also posted a chart [pdf] with info on commercial canned foods and includes questions to ask when contacting pet food companies.

        She writes about her canned food chart: “9/8/12: I have spent hundreds of hours over the past several months working to create the Cat Food Composition chart…

        The chart will be updated when I receive new data from the companies. However, as time goes on, it will obviously become more outdated. Therefore, it is up the individual to call the respective companies if the most current information is desired.

        I will only accept ‘typical nutrient analysis’ (TNA) data for the Cat Food Composition chart – not ‘guaranteed analysis’ figures which are only minimums and maximums which, by definition, are inaccurate.

        The data required to be included on the Cat Food Composition chart is very basic. In fact, several companies have the information right on their website. …Kudos to them for full transparency.

        On the other hand, it has been extremely difficult to get data from many of the companies. Several have refused to provide it stating that it is “proprietary” information. This attitude shows a complete disregard for the consumer’s right to know what they are feeding their pet… [Companies are listed.]

        See also questions to ask when contacting pet food companies – “Commercial Cat Foods” – http://www.catinfo.org/?link=cannedfoods

  5. Josephine on October 1, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Hi Dr. Hofve,
    I have got one more question regarding steamed chicken meat. Does it contain phospnorus? Do you think if the percentage is too high for a CRF cat? Thanks.

  6. Josephine on August 25, 2011 at 9:50 am

    My 17-year-old cat, with CRF and chronic constipation, likes steamed chicken breast meat (skinless) very much. He won’t eat any renal dry food unless we mix some chicken breast meat in it (He doesn’t like renal can food at all!). Do you think it is a good idea to feed him long-term with renal dry food, mixed with chicken meat.

    Thanks.

    • jhofve77 on August 26, 2011 at 1:44 am

      Renal diets are low in protein on purpose. Adding chicken (almost pure protein) cancels any possible benefit from the renal diet. Please work with your veterinarian to come up with a satisfactory nutritional plan for your cat.

      • Josephine on August 26, 2011 at 6:15 am

        Hi, thank you for your reply.

        I have read one of your articles, mentioning the protein controversy. Is the protein contained in chicken breast belong to high quality protein?

        My vet suggested to give my cat whatever he liked, instead of starving him so as to make him eat renal diet. I remember seeing an article in this web, which presented similar point of view. I hope I understand correctly the meaning presented in your article.

        • jhofve77 on August 26, 2011 at 7:29 am

          OMG a vet who has become enlightened! :) Yes, I totally agree…and yes, chicken is a very high quality protein. If he likes chicken thigh and leg meat, those would actually be a little better because they’re higher in fat and slightly less in protein, while retaining excellent protein quality. Keeping weight on these guys is crucial, and fat’s a good way to do it. Eggs and fresh meats are always in the *highest quality* protein category.

          The things that are *not* good quality protein include animal and poultry by-products, meat (or beef) and bone meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal and other soy products, and other cheap substitutes for meat. Unfortunately, those are mostly what the “prescription diets” are based on. They’re cheap, is why. :(

          • Josephine on August 28, 2011 at 4:57 am

            Thanks Dr.Hofve! This is really a piece of good news to my cat. Chicken meat is not only a source of high quality protein to him, but high quality of life as well! Now he can have something to enjoy. Thanks again ^_^

  7. kathleen menendez burgess on June 6, 2011 at 8:48 am

    thank you so much for providing such helpful and healthful information for our fur babies. Question – on you sample dog recipe…….I am confused on the calcium supplement amounts. Example: animals essentials product lists about 1000mg. calcium per teaspoon and suggests 1 teaspoon per 1lb. of meat. Eggshellent calcium product lists about 1800mg. calcium per teaspoon and suggests 1 teaspoon per 1lb. of meat. Neither of these products has the added phosphorus one finds in bone meal products. Which amount is correct per lb. of meat and why did your recipe only use 400 mg. calcium per pound of meat in a calcium product which I would think was similar to the calcium of animal’s essential or eggshellent type product. I am so confused by this and want to get it right…….thank you so much for all that you do for our fur family members…….Kathleen and Keshi.

    • jhofve77 on June 6, 2011 at 2:12 pm

      I used to recommend bone meal, and you can certainly use it, but there is plenty of phosphorus in meat, and that is what needs to be balanced by calcium. My calcium amounts are based on Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s recommendations.

  8. stella on May 30, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Hello
    In my search for a new home-made recipe for my 16 lb dog, I came across this recipe.
    Unless I am mis-reading directions, it calls for 16 chicken breast or 12 oz of meat as the protein for ONE DAY OF FOOD FOR A 10 LB DOG?
    I’ve never seen a recipe calling for so much protein for such a small dog.

    Sorry if I mis-understood daily feeding

    Stella

    • jhofve77 on May 31, 2011 at 10:59 am

      LOL! You’re quite right, it should have read “16 OZ.” not 16 pieces of chicken! Thanks for catching the error!

  9. Sheldon E on May 23, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Thanks so much for this article! I’ve been wanting to make my rescued Siamese-mix Jade homemade meals since I discovered the concept (was VERY excited about it) and have a wide variety of protein sources available in my area that are raised on local farms. I just didn’t know how to go about it and I didn’t want to take advice from just anyone, or screw something up myself.
    I currently have her on Natural Balance’s LID duck and green pea dry food, and until reading the comments for this article I wasn’t aware that dry food is bad for them, I always thought it was more nutritionally complete. How so is wet food better? How would I go about transitioning from the food I feed now to a homemade diet, and is it okay to mix protein sources? Is the formula you published okay for all lifestages or does it need to be tweaked to take in account different growth stages and energy levels? Cost isn’t a concern for me and will be making the switch regardless after lots of research, but how much does a homemade meal plan cost as opposed to buying a commercial diet? Thanks for taking the time to read this :)

    • jhofve77 on May 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

      Cost depends entirely on the ingredients, which will vary depending on where you live, where you shop, the quality you buy, etc. I’ve seen cost comparisons elsewhere on the internet but don’t have any particular site in mind. Up front it is definitely more expensive, but you will save in the long run because you will have way fewer veterinary bills…however, that cost is hard to quantify.

      You might want to also check out my other nutrition articles for tips on why canned food is better, switching foods, why lifestages don’t matter, and much more.

  10. Lucy on April 20, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I have considered to put my cat on a home made diet for sometimes now. The issues is that my husband and I travel quite often and was wondering what would be a good substitute meal for our pet sitter/kennel to serve to my cat while we are away. I know that cats do not adapt to quick food change well and I want to avoid the possibility of any of the care takers change out the intended food to avoid the trouble of serving them. Also, what would you recommend for dental health since bone is not recommend.

    Thank you,
    Lucy

  11. Pixxi on March 20, 2011 at 5:19 am

    I have only just discovered this great site. Our old vet spent many years converting his clients to a raw food diet for their cats and dogs. He always kept a large freezer of ground raw meat and bones in his waiting room; instead of the usual bags of well-known brand dry food, found in most veterinary practices.

    I am lucky enough to live in the countryside so my cats have always lived long and happy lives based on a natural prey diet consisting mostly of fresh rabbit, squirrel, vole, mouse etc. (as well as occasional, though not very often – wood pigeon or partridge). They catch and devour their food without any help from me, and they have always had high-quality dry food (flavours vary) available at all times as well; so that if they are feeling lazy, or lackadaisical, they don’t have to go out and hunt if they don’t want to. But by choice, they eat very little commercial food.

    (My female cat has even been teaching my Chihuahua how to eat small mammals, so my 1yr old Chi now expects to share in some of the ‘meals’ the cats bring home!)

    One thing that I notice is that bones seem to be missing from the homemade diet on this page. Have I missed something? After all, this is what cats and dogs do eat, in nature. (N.B: I am of course only talking about raw here. I appreciate that not all animals will accept raw meat if they haven’t been brought up on it, so I’m certainly not talking about them eating cooked bones.)

    According to my vet, apart from the health benefits of eating bones; by chewing on them as well as through lots of skin and fur, it keeps their teeth clean and healthy too. My cats have been able to avoid anaesthetics and other drugs, related to teeth-cleaning procedures. So far, my little Chi’s teeth are looking very clean too :-)

    • jhofve77 on March 20, 2011 at 9:37 am

      After much deliberation and discussion with colleagues, I do not recommend bones for pets. Even raw bones can splinter, and they can also cause intestinal impactions, perforations, broken teeth, and other problems. Bones contain nearly equal parts of calcium and phosphorus. Since meat contains plenty of phosphorus, my sample recipe calls for a calcium supplement to retain that natural ratio. You could also use bone meal (which used to be highly contaminated with lead from gasoline, but these days is much safer. To get the dental benefits, you can also use finely ground bone; your butcher can grind whole chickens for this purpose. However, you would still need to supplement at least some calcium, since the meat-to-bone ratio in commercial meat chickens is far higher than in the cat’s natural prey.

      • Pixxi on March 23, 2011 at 3:59 am

        Thank you for your response. Ok, I see where you’re coming from. I do accept the arguments about it, and in fact one of my own cats has had a sliver of rabbit bone get stuck between tooth and gum on a couple of occasions, which did cause him (and us!) temporary stress. But that’s only twice in 14 years, and both times was when he’d caught an extra large rabbit, never with younger, smaller ones or smaller prey. However, I still find it interesting that there are plenty of vets who claim that the benefits of bone consumption really does outweigh those rare occasions when a problem occurs. Just one example is Dr Lisa Pierson, whose website claims that by grinding bone small enough, such problems are overcome. As I mentioned in my previous comment, my previous vet is also one of those. Also, in speaking to other owners and a couple of vets whom I know personally, about the issue of eating bone, apparently there are plenty of cats out there who have accidents/injuries by eating everyday commercial food; such as choking on a piece of kibble etc.

        Like many things in our 21st century life, it makes it hard to know if you’re doing the right thing, when, as a consumer, all you want is to do, is what is best for your pet’s health and happiness.

        And as for using commercial meat chickens, we buy organically reared, free-range chickens who have basically lived running around a large farm in the English countryside. So would I be correct in assuming that they would be closer to wild prey in terms of meat-to-bone ratio?

        • jhofve77 on March 23, 2011 at 9:04 pm

          Yes, as I said in my previous response, ground bone is fine. :) I agree that Dr. Pierson’s site is excellent–the best, really; she is a walking encyclopedia on cat nutrition and I have great respect for her. On the chickens, you’d have to ask the producer for specific information on meat-to-bone ratio, as it would depend on breed and other factors. They are probably “closer” to the wild ratio, but how much so I have no idea. Certainly their meat would be healthier to eat, with a more natural Omega 6:3 ratio, and probably less pesticide contamination, among other advantages. You are very fortunate to have access to it!

          It really is hard to know what’s right and best for our pets, but one thing for sure is that commercial pet food is *not* the best solution! It takes education and dedication to home-make our pets’ food, but gosh they are so much healthier when it’s done right.

          • Mollie Morrissette on June 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm

            One consideration is the amount of arsenic present in chicken bones. Typically chickens are fed arsenicals, such as Roxsarone, which deposit arsenic in their bones. Personally, I would caution against bones for that reason alone. Unless the manufacturer specifically states they do not use arsenicals in feed, I would assume they are. The USDA even allows it to a certain degree in their NOP, so it’s buyer beware.

          • jhofve77 on June 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm

            Yes, arsenic is a big problem in non-organic commercial chicken (found far more than organic). Always get organic when possible!

  12. Alison on February 10, 2011 at 8:08 am

    I have difficulty finding protein ingredients for my cat, Hope, who is showing early signs of IBD. She is part siamese and quite a fussy eater. Over the duration of food allergy trials for another cat, Mia (whom we lost before xmas 2010 from eosinophilic Colitis, severe pancreatitis, etc. relapse after original acute episode July 2010)I discovered that Hope also has food allergies to chicken, fish, and soy, including their oils or fats. So, I wonder how to handle the issue or rotating proteins. Right now she is on a turkey only (canned) 10% protein (no grains, vegs, etc. -Performatrin brand sold through Pet Valu in Canada) and Blue Buffalo Basics dry food – turkey only (snacks only).
    I want to get her transitioned to home cooked and then raw if at all possible but she won’t go near it, even if mixed in her canned. She is 10 years old and symptoms have gotten better with food changes.

  13. Helen on February 3, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Thanks for this informative article! Can I use sea salt instead of regular table salt?

    • jhofve77 on February 5, 2011 at 1:41 pm

      You could, although we are really looking for the sodium for balance, and not other minerals.

  14. Dorkusbalorkus on January 19, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Thanks for posting this! I have been intrigued by home-made cat food for a while but am hesitant to do raw food diets (plus–who has the time to grind up whole rabbits?). Anyway, my question is whether I could use ground turkey, instead of beef? Would the amount be the same?

    Also, do you happen to know how the moisture content of this compares to standard canned food? I have a FUS cat that has greatly improved on canned food. I don’t like that the only canned food I can afford for two cats is purely by-products and contains animal digest. It scares me to not know exactly what’s in their food. However, because of the one cat’s condition, I would rather feed her cheap canned food than even the most expensive dry kind.

    Do you feed your cats home-made meals? Thanks!

    • jhofve77 on January 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Yes, turkey is fine, but it’s important to vary the ingredients over time to prevent deficiencies, excesses, allergies, and finicky behavior. The moisture content is about 70%, but you can add a little extra water or broth (make sure it doesn’t contain onions or garlic); this makes it a little easier to mix up, too. The higher protein is also beneficial for these kitties because it produces a more acidic urine.

      I agree, the worst canned food is way better than the best dry food!

      I do feed my cats homemade food; right now we’re doing turkey, but I alternate with chicken and bison. I haven’t found a local source for ground rabbit, but I’d love to try it! :)

      • Dorkusbalorkus on January 20, 2011 at 5:45 am

        Thanks so much for the info! One more question…if I choose to give my cats a supplement that is supposed to provide them with their daily vitamin and mineral requirements requirements and enzymes, then do I leave out all of the other supplements from their food? I was thinking that I would still need to add bone meal, but then I wondered if the meal was just for calcium, and the vitamin contains the daily amount of calcium, would I still need to add bone?
        I don’t want to take up so much of your time—I’m just new to this whole thing.

        • jhofve77 on January 20, 2011 at 10:22 am

          There are so many variables that can arise if you choose not to follow the recipe the way it is written; it’s impossible to guess at the results. I’d recommend working with a holistic vet or having your version checked by a nutritionist.

  15. Cindy Drozda on December 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you for publishing the cat food recipe! My cat has lived with CRF since he was 2 years old, and is supposed to get a low protien diet. When you say “For a lower protein/phosphorus diet, substitute egg whites for 1/3 of any meat and 1/2 cup white rice (not quick-cooking) for 1/3 of any meat.”, Do you mean 1/3 meat, plus 1/3 rice, plus 1/3 egg whites? How many egg whites? Would I weigh them and use 1/3 of the protien source weight?
    Best regards,
    Cindy

    • jhofve77 on December 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      Hi Cindy! The actual amount depends on what size batch you are making. For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of meat, you would use instead 1/3 cup of meat, 1/3 cup egg whites (you can buy these separately, they come in a pint carton like cream), and 1/3 cup of rice. Please work with your veterinarian as you make the transition, to ensure that he is tolerating the change!

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