Homemade dog food: Essential nutrients & their sources

Plant-based balanced diet is strongly believed to result in a longer, healthier life—in dogs and humans alike. After a lot of reading and understanding the concept, I decided to feed Boone a vegan diet at least 5 days a week.

So I started with my 'research' on the essential nutrients for dogs and their (plant and animal) sources. Here are my findings.

Essential Nutrients

The most important nutrients in a dog's diet are:

  1. Water
  2. Proteins
  3. Lipids: oils, fats
  4. Carbohydrates
  5. Fat soluble Vitamins: A, D, E, K
  6. Water soluble Vitamins: B complex, C
  7. Macrominerals: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride
  8. Microminerals: Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Selenium, Zinc, etc.

Unlike humans, dogs don't produce the enzymes required to break down plant cell walls. But as long as they are properly processed—i.e., grated, mashed, ground, cooked, or pureed as necessary—they are readily metabolized.

1. Water

Healthy dogs regulate their water intake so long as clean and fresh water is always available. Other sources, especially in case of dehydration:

  • Coconut water
  • Watermelon
  • Cucumbers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Millet porridge (e.g. Ragi malt)

2. Proteins

  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Meat (Muscle, Organ)
  • Soybean meal (Oilseeds, Legumes, Lentils)
  • Wheat
  • Corn (Sweet corn, Field corn/Maize)
  • Sweet potato, Potato

3. Lipids

(Don't forget to keep a tab on your dog's weight.)

Omega-6 fatty acids: An average diet provides plenty of omega-6 fatty acids, so particular care is usually not necessary.

  • Vegetable oils (Sunflower, Corn, Safflower, Canola/Rapeseed, Soybean)
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Lean Meat

Omega-3 EPA & DHA fatty acids:

  • Cold water fish & their oils (Salmon, Cod liver, Albacore tuna, Mackerel, Lake trout, Alaskan halibut, Sardine, Herring, Menhaden)

Omega-3 ALA fatty acid:

  • Vegetable oils: (Flaxseed/Linseed, Soybean, Canola/Rapeseed)
  • Walnut
  • Certain algae (used in vegan omega-3 supplements)

Dogs can readily use the omega-3 EPA & DHA fatty acids found in marine oils, whereas their body needs to process Omega-3 ALA fatty acid found in plant oils to derive EPA and DHA. Your dog should do just fine with either as long as its fed a complete diet.

Foods with higher unsaturated fatty acid content (ω−3, ω−6, GLA, CLAs, etc.) must be balanced with an increased level of antioxidants to protect against rancidity and oxidation.

4. Carbohydrates

Only small amounts of carbohydrates are required in your dog's diet. They are available abundantly in grains and vegetables.

  • Cereal grains (Rice, Wheat, Corn, Barley, Oats, Millets)
  • Sweet potato, potato
  • Banana
  • Tubers
  • Carrot
  • Green beans

5. Fat Soluble Vitamins

Excess amounts of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), like dietary fats, are stored in the liver and adipose (fat) tissue. It is for this reason that dietary deficiencies of fat soluble vitamins develop much more slowly than those of water soluble ones, and also why the fat soluble vitamins pose the biggest threat if over-supplemented—the risk of toxic effects (so be weary of supplements.).

Vitamin A:

  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Yellow fruits & vegetables (The more intense the color, the better.)
  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Liver, Meat

Vitamin D: Only found naturally in animal sources.

  • UV radiation (Sunlight)
  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish and fish oils
  • Liver, Meat

Vitamin E:

  • Wheat germ (Cereal germs, Whole grains)
  • Cold-pressed vegetable oils (Wheat germ oil, Sunflower oil, Olive oil)
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Corn
  • Nuts
  • Egg
  • Liver

Vitamin K: The bacteria present in a healthy intestine can synthesize all the vitamin K your dog needs, so supplementation is generally not necessary.

  • Cabbage
  • Parsley
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Cauliflower
  • Cereals
  • Soybean
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Liver

6. Water Soluble Vitamins

Water soluble vitamins are generally absorbed passively in the small intestine and excess amounts are easily eliminated from the body via the urine. Except for cobalamin (vitamin B12), the body is unable to store water soluble vitamins, so it is important that the body can absorb them daily in appropriate amounts. Also, because they do not accumulate within the tissues, there is minimal risk of toxic effects (unlike fat soluble vitamins).

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine):

  • Nutritional or brewers yeast
  • Wheat germ
  • Whole grains (e.g. Wheat, Rice)
  • Soybean, Beans, Peas
  • Peas
  • Bran
  • Milk products
  • Fish
  • Liver, Lean meat

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):

  • Yeast
  • Legumes
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Liver, Lean meat, Organs

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Found in most foods.

  • Yeast
  • Legumes
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Liver, Lean meat

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid):

  • Yeast
  • Legumes
  • Broccoli, Cabbage
  • Sweet potato, White potato
  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Lean meat

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Found in most foods.

  • Yeast
  • Wheat germ
  • Banana
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Lean meat

Vitamin B8 (Biotin): Found in foods that are good sources of B vitamins.

  • Yeast
  • Corn
  • Soybeans
  • Egg
  • Liver, Kidneys

Vitamin B9 (Folic acid):

  • Yeast
  • Carrots
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Melon
  • Apricots
  • Pumpkin
  • Whole wheat
  • Egg
  • Liver

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Found exclusively in animal-derived foods.

  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Liver, Lean meat

Vitamin C: Synthesized in the liver by dogs and is therefore not an essential vitamin in your pet's diet. Found in almost all vegetables.

  • Citrus fruits
  • Berries
  • Kiwi
  • Tomatoes
  • Cauliflower
  • Potato
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Green peppers

7. Macrominerals

Since reactions occur between minerals in the body, over-supplementation of one can result in a deficiency of another, which may be harmful to your dog's health.

Calcium:

  • Soybean, Tofu, Green Beans, Legumes
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Nuts
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Dairy products
  • Egg shell powder
  • Bones (Not recommended)

Phosphorus deficiency is a significant problem in a predominantly vegan diet, as seen commonly in herbivores.

  • Beans (Legumes)
  • Nuts
  • Dairy products
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Meat (Muscle & Organs)

Magnesium: Cooking at high temperatures can remove magnesium from the food.

  • Wheat germ (raw)
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Banana
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato
  • Dairy products
  • Fish
  • Meat

Potassium, Sodium & Chloride:

  • Table salt (Common salt)
  • Whole grains
  • Banana
  • Sweet potato
  • Beans (Legumes)
  • Tomato
  • Dairy products (esp. yogurt)
  • Fish
  • Meats

Potassium is widely distributed in many foods so deficiencies in the diet are not likely if dogs are fed a balanced diet.

Sodium and chloride toxicity generally does not occur in normal animals with access to good quality drinking water. Any excess intake of sodium or chloride is filtered through the kidneys and excreted into the urine.

8. Microminerals

These minerals are required in very small quantities and deficiencies in a good diet are very unlikely.

Copper:

  • Whole grains (esp. Wheat)
  • Beans (Legumes)
  • Nuts
  • Fish
  • Liver

Iodine:

  • Sea salt, Iodized salt
  • Fish
  • Dairy products

Iron:

  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Fish
  • Liver, Meat

Manganese:

  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Peas
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Beetroot
  • Egg

Zinc:

  • Yeast
  • Wheat germ
  • Beans (Legumes)
  • Egg
  • Liver, Meat, Bones

Notes

  1. Feed fruits in moderation, like some snack.

  2. Other healthy foods (not included above) for your dog include: Coconut meat, Ragi sangati, etc.

  3. The Dog Daily | "If your dog is eating a well-balanced dog food, a supplement isn't necessary. Oftentimes, you can overdo it. For example, adding additional calcium could cause irreversible kidney damage."

    Personal Note: I avoid dietary supplements at all costs. Apart from making sure that his each meal is as balanced as possible, I rotate the ingredients of my dog's food, so that anything missing in his meal today (nutrition-wise), if at all, would be compensated in the next day's meal. This also has the added advantage of keeping the dog excited about mealtimes.

    I prefer whole foods, and I believe so should you.

    See if you can make 3-4 different diets with totally different ingredients. My belief is that good food isn't exactly science as long as you are rotating the essential ingredients often enough.

  4. Calm Mind Busy Body | "Oil is best when it is fresh. Check the bottle of oil for the 'Pressed on' date. You shouldn't buy oils in clear containers as light can degrade the oil's quality. Store your oils, regardless of type, in a cool, dark place."

Sources

  1. Banfield Pet Hospital | Nutrients 101
  2. Banfield Pet Hospital | Essential Nutrients for Dogs and Cats: Vitamins
  3. The Dog Food Project | Nutrition Primer
  4. The Bark | Important Vitamins and Minerals for Your Dog
  5. Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine | Nutrition for the Adult Dog [PDF]
  6. Doctors Foster and Smith | Nutrition and Feeding Dogs
  7. Wikipedia

Questions, Feedback & Suggestions