I used to feed home cooked food for dogs.
In fact, I had hired a veterinary nutritionist to design home made dog food recipes specifically for my dog.
I thought I was doing the absolute best by him. No expense had been spared. I was spending hours making elaborate recipes involving multiple ingredients that were baked and steamed and chopped.
I was reminded of this part of our journey this week. Another dog owner asked in conversation, “Why feed raw if I’m already doing home cooked food for dogs?”
It’s a good question.
The benefits of both raw and home cooked foods for dogs over highly processed foods like kibble are pretty clear.
When it comes to home preparing your dog’s food, does it matter if that food is raw or cooked?
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between raw and home cooked diets for dogs.
1. Cooked Food For Dogs Excludes Bones
This particular dog owner wanted to know why feeding raw would be better than feeding the exact same ingredients — but cooked.
For a start, a cooked food diet for dogs will never just be the equivalent of a raw diet for dogs, but cooked.
You can’t, for instance, cook bones.
Raw meaty bones for dogs are powerhouses of nutrition, but cooked bones are brittle and can splinter and perforate the digestive tract.
So if you’re cooking all your dog’s food, bones are out.
That’s a biggie.
Bones are arguably the single most important and health-promoting component of raw food for dogs.
Without them a diet simply cannot be optimal.
A cooked diet denies a dog the benefits of bones. For this reason alone, it is significantly lacking compared to a raw food diet.
Aside from the benefits for overall health, raw meaty bones assure a dog of healthy teeth.
2. Cooking Destroys Vitamins And Enzymes And Denatures Proteins
Heat destroys vitamins and changes the molecular structure of proteins.
This is the reason dog food manufacturers have to add back in nutrients as isolated chemistry and synthetic vitamins to their food in order to meet minimum standards.
That goodness was there in the fresh, raw food. But it was lost in the cooking process.
High temperatures are more destructive so gentle home cooking for dogs is far better than the extrusion process used to make kibble. But all cooking destroys nutrients.
3. Raw Food Is More Digestible For Dogs
According to integrative vet Dr Karen Becker, cooking improves the digestibility of things like soy and corn, which are biologically inappropriate foods for dogs in the first place.
Cooking also improves the digestibility of sub-standard protein sources like rendered meat by-products.
Hopefully we’re not feeding those anyway.
However, when it comes to high quality cuts of lean meat:
“Denaturation makes these once healthy proteins more difficult for your dog or cat to digest and assimilate.”
4. Cooked Food Is Not A Natural Diet For Dogs
Dogs began eating cooked food between 13 000 and 17 000 years ago, at domestication.
For the previous million years, they ate fresh, raw, whole prey. So, for the vast span of time during which their physiology and anatomy developed and became set, they ate raw.
Just because dogs have adapted to survive on cooked foods through their association with humankind does not make it natural.
And it does not mean there are not health consequences for a species of straying from a biologically-appropriate diet.
You only have to look at humankind to see what happens when a species strays far from a natural lifestyle and diet.
Given all we don’t know about dog nutrition, I think sticking as closely as we can to nature makes good sense.
5. Dogs Eat Mono Meals In Nature
The other thing about homemade dog food recipes is that they tend to massively overcomplicate a dog’s food.
The results look nothing like a dog’s natural diet.
They more closely resemble a dish I’d get served at a high end restaurant.
Heck, when I was feeding home cooked food to my dog, I was eating his leftovers!
That should have been a big flashing warning sign right there.
Humans and dogs are distinct species with different nutritional needs.
If it’s fit for me, then the food is bound to be in appropriate for my dog.
Cooking aside, nowhere in nature would dogs encounter the complex combination of ingredients that were in my vet approved homemade dog food recipes.
One of them included: pork mince, baked sweet potato, steamed cauliflower, steamed chard, steamed shiitake mushrooms, cold-pressed safflower oil, psyllium seed husk, fish oil… and three different supplements.
In nature, dogs eat one type of food per sitting.
They do eat plants in the form of fruits, but that happens when live prey is scarce and they’re forced to resort to a secondary food source. This ability is what makes dogs and wolves “facultative” carnivores rather than strict carnivores like cats.
But what you will never see is a wolf eating plants at the same meal as meat.
“Mono meals” are how dogs eat in nature.
In retrospect, I can see how crazy things had gotten in my kitchen.
6. Cooking A Dog’s Food Creates Too Much Room For Error
Once you mess with the composition of food, destroying some nutrients and denaturing others, you open a can of worms.
Owners then tend to add supplements and other isolated chemistry in an effort to rebalance the diet.
That sets up the potential for deficiencies and excesses.
Even if you try to meet the nutritional guidelines for what dogs require, it’s guesswork. After all, those guidelines are themselves a human overlay with all the fallibility that comes with that.
Just think how the advice about how people should eat has changed and been revised and reversed over time. The knowledge is even sketchier when it comes to dogs, because far less effort is invested in canine health than human.
By feeding whole foods in their natural form, you avoid all this and give dogs what nature intended, and what their bodies evolved eating.
7. Home Cooked Meals For Dogs Are More Work (!)
Most of us would do pretty much anything for our dogs but you also have to be practical.
This is a daily task, so it has to be workable. If it’s too hard, you’re likely to give up on it.
Cooking is a gajillion times more involved and time-consuming than trimming fat from raw meat, weighing and serving.
Of course, you’d do it if it was best for your dog. But it’s more effort for less benefit.
8. I Put To Bed The Fear About Bacteria In Bones
When I asked this dog owner what was her hesitation about feeding raw, or in what way she thought home cooked food for dogs might be superior, she named two worries.
- The risk of disease from raw
- The risk that bones will crack teeth
These are commonly held fears by owners contemplating raw. I know. I’ve held those same fears. I’d heard the same warnings about not feeding raw.
If you trace these ideas to their origins they’re in large part implanted by conventional vets in strange cahoots with dog food manufacturers trying to sell you a product that is very much not fresh or raw or natural.
Concerns about bones and bacteria (and many others) are addressed by the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society in their 2020 position statement which is worth a read if you need to hear the benefits of raw from someone in a white coat.
9. I Paid Attention To The Lived Experience Of Raw Feeding Dog Owners
The proof is in the pudding.
Owners who switch to raw are often very vocal in singing its praises. They can tend to speak with the fervor of born agains.
It’s because they’ve seen the transformation in their dogs firsthand. They are thoroughly convinced of the benefits of a raw food diet for dogs.
The evidence is lying at their feet, wagging its tail.
They’re excited about it.
They’ve been where you are. They have done the research, navigated the doubts and taken the plunge. They know it works.
These days, I am one of them.
10. Flea, Tick And Parasite Protection
Owners who feed a fresh, raw diet report their dogs showing a natural resistance to parasites like fleas, ticks and intestinal worms.
Perhaps this works through the diet’s effect on both the gut microbiome and the skin?
It goes along with other benefits observed by owners or raw fed dogs, including incredibly soft and shiny coats and the complete resolution of skin “allergies” and irritations.
As well as washing your dog less often, one of the things Bentons Road Veterinary Clinic recommends to prevent (and fix) skin problems is: “feed a fresh food, natural diet full of pre and probiotics and real vitamins and minerals”.
Concluding Thoughts: The Best Homemade Food For Dogs Is Raw
If you are still debating what to feed your dog, there is one way to be sure of what’s best.
Test both methods.
Try home cooked food for dogs. Try raw feeding your dog.
See what changes you notice in his health and wellbeing.
(I’m betting soon you’ll be shouting from the highest rooftops too.)