Here’s a behind the scenes look at our dogs’ mixed feeding combination of homemade and commercial dog foods. People tend to eat a wide variety of different foods and aim to balance their nutrition over time. Ready-to-serve commercial dog foods are often marketed as full and complete balanced diets, and a lot of owners just feed a steady diet of the same food. If your dogs love to eat just about anything (like ours) they probably don’t complain, but their bodies might. It’s a lesson we’ve had to learn through our own mistakes and we continue to evolve our feeding plan. If you’ve ever thought about switching diets or adding more variety, we encourage you to look into it further and see whether it might be right for you and your dog. Mixed feeding is honestly much simpler and more economical than I thought before we made the transition, and our dogs are wild about their meals. Here’s the scoop on our evolution, reasons, process, economics, and more.
Note: This post was first shared many years ago. Since then, senior Oli has passed away. Due to health factors, we’ve made significant changes in our feeding plan for Humphrey. He’s currently on a rotation of freeze-dried raw and air-dried food as his primaries, with a small amount of other ready-made, fresh raw, and home cooked foods. We also include a variety of add-ins, toppers, and supplements. He still enjoys plenty of different storebought and homemade treats, with a few little tweaks to better balance with his new diet and digestion.
Our Food Journey
Oli’s Middle Aged Spread
Dalmatians love their food, but Oli was always a particularly voracious eater. Exercise helped keep things in balance. Or it did until he was bitten by a snake (we lived in Australia at the time). Yikes! We were lucky, his recovery from the venom and anti-venom required avoiding exercise or elevated body temperatures for a month. No exercise and too many guilty treats later, he needed a doggy diet. Efforts to trim down with exercise and controlled intake weren’t working, and we turned to our vets for help. Oli was put on a prescription diet to support weight loss, which meant lots of filler fibre to feel fuller with less (read between the lines: more poop). It worked, but I was uncomfortable about the longer term prospects. Oli was an older dog at this stage, but not elderly. With his weight down and stable, we wanted to transition him back to nutrient rich foods in the hope of giving his body the best chance at a long healthy life.
Looking for Better Dog Dietary Options
I started to read, research, and reach out for advice. From there we worked, with the support of his vets, to slowly transition his diet to a different type of kibble. Why kibble? Options weren’t as broad. At the time, ready-made raw, freeze-dried, air-dried, and other ready-to-serve alternatives weren’t yet common. Not sure about your food? Looking at options and alternatives? Review sites like Dog Food Advisor or Pet Food Reviews can be handy resources. Learning more about dog food ingredients and nutrition, how to interpret information on dog food and treat labels, and taking a deep dive on product information has helped a lot in shaping different choices for us, too.
The Dalmatian Dilemma
Dalmatians have a genetic issue with processing purines, which poses a problem for healthy dog diet planning. We try to moderate purine intake, and this limited our locally available commercial food options. High quality foods typically include purine rich ingredients. These ingredients are great for most dogs, but potentially risky for Dalmatians. Oli had other health factors to consider, and Humphrey’s young age meant that he was still in the early years of heightened risk for monitoring purine-related stone formation. We needed a compromise.
Transitioning to a Mixed Feeding Plan
From kibble, we decided to transition to very low-level mixed feeding with fresh and home cooked foods as a small portion of their daily intake. It took us a long time, but eventually we settled into a feeding routine that worked well. Oli’s weight remained stable, even as he continued to further slow with age. His skin and coat had never been better, and he loved meal time! This post was titled “Breakfast of Champions” when we first shared it because breakfast time was when we used the main homemade dog food toppers in their feeding plan.
Adapting and Adjusting
Over the years since this post was first shared, our feeding plan continued to evolve along with our boys ages, activity levels, and individual needs. Many of the fundamentals remained the same. Brands and formulas for ready-made products like commercial foods and treats were still carefully selected after reading ingredients and checking quality. Preparation of homemade dog food toppers remained an exciting time for the boys, sniffing good smells while meat seared, roasted, and/or poached in the slow cooker (my source for free dog-friendly broth for treat making) and drooling while supervising shredding, pureeing, and packing of tasty toppers. With no history of urinary issues so far, we also relaxed our purine moderation a little and started including new air-dried raw complete foods with their kibble.
Solo Dog Life and Quarantine Weight Gain
Senior Oli passed away during New Zealands extended on/off COVID restrictions. Humphrey adjusted to solo dog life with the help of time, love, and the company of furfriends, when permitted. Activities were often limited and the humans were usually working from home. Add the creep of time to middle age to the mix and, unfortunately, conditions were perfect for adding extra weight. We reduced his extras and treats back to a fairly basic commercial diet and increased his exercise. But losing weight can be difficult. After a while, we took advice and put him on a feeding plan mixing his diet with a vet weight control kibble. We did extra activities, as much as weather and schedules allowed. Then we added extra playdates. He was doing great. Outwardly great, that is, until a routine vet check found an issue that upturned everything in our world. After discussing options with his specialist and our vet, we changed his foods completely.
Humphrey’s Current Mixed Feeding Plan
Humphrey’s current feeding plan is primarily a rotation of freeze-dried raw and air dried commercial complete and balanced foods. We also include commercial cold-pressed and canned wet foods for extra variety (and sneaking in his supplements and medications). We are rotating brands and proteins to try to get lots of variety in his overall diet, but with care for his sometimes sensitive digestive system. My trust in commercial foods is still a bit shaky at this stage, as I’m sure you can imagine, so rotating is good for that too. As extras, we also feed a small amount of raw (green tripe is a favourite), lightly seared or cooked meats (turkey and chicken are current favourites), and a variety of different fruits, vegetables, toppers, and supplements. Check out “What’s in Humphrey’s Bowl”later in the post for full details.
What's the Best Type of Food for Your Dog?
There’s no perfect answer to that question. It’s a decision that you’ll need to make individually after you investigate the options that might work for you and for your dog’s needs. Some dogs have breed specific considerations (like our Dalmatians and purines), individual dietary needs or sensitivities, or other health factors that will affect food choices. Include your trusted vet (and nutritionist, if you use one) in the discussion. Your lifestyle, family situation, and budget are also big factors. Ready-to-use foods are convenient for busy owners or for dogs that often travel or board. Ready-to-feed raw diets usually require more effort to balance, a whole lot more fridge and freezer space, and have extra food safety and handling risks. Homemade foods require effort to balance, prep time, and storage space, but can be great for special needs. Or you can pick the pieces that fit from different models and create your own customised mixed feeding approach.
Nutritional Planning for Individual Dog Diets
With people, we tend to eat a lot of different foods. Individual meals or days may not be complete or balanced, but we trust that things balance themselves out nutritionally over time. People tend to be much more static with their dog’s foods. It’s a rut that we’ve fallen into ourselves, especially during Humphrey’s weight loss diet. Unfortunately, this amplifies the risks of deficiencies, conflicts, intolerances, etc.
Feeding balanced and complete foods (or a balanced and complete rotational plan) is very important. And this isn’t easy when you’re making your own dog food. Heck, it’s not always easy to do when you’re feeding ready-made foods either! The good news, if you’re keen to try making some of all of your dog’s foods, is that the world is incredibly connected these days. You can do a remote consult with a nutritionist to build a customised diet plan, or use one of the food calculators to check the balance in your homemade dog food recipes.
You won’t find any homemade dog food recipes or specific feeding information here on the blog because I genuinely believe that every dog is different. Whatever foods you choose need to be purchased or prepared as well as portioned to that specific dog’s individual needs, health, age, and activity level. Our boys had different feeding programs with some overlapping elements, but the needs of young active Humphrey and slower senior Oli were always very different, even though they were both big male Dalmatians.
Considering Different Dog Food Options
Making homemade food or assembling a homemade raw diet. This can be a great option, if it’s done in balance and well-suited to the individual dog’s needs. Customised home prepared diets can also be particularly useful for managing allergies, dietary issues, and other health concerns. If you are keen and committed, please don’t be intimidated by all my words of caution. There are plenty of professionals and professional resources available to help you find the right food combinations and build a balanced plan for your pet’s specific needs.
Feeding ready-to-serve raw dog foods. Unless your raw food comes prepared as a full and complete balanced diet, this requires the same type of careful balance as preparing your own raw or homemade foods, but may be more convenient than starting from scratch. Additionally, products may include ingredients that you’d otherwise have difficulty sourcing, like processed organs or ground bone for dogs that can’t chew or digest full raw bones. Raw food suppliers may also offer assistance with balancing custom diets using their products.
Feeding ready-to-serve complete commercial dog foods. There are some excellent commercial foods on the market now, especially if you don’t have to consider special issues like purine. These can be used for stand alone meals, as part of a mixed feeding plan, or as a supplementary part of a primarily homemade diet. The market is growing rapidly, and there are so many more options available now than when we started our dog food journey. New Zealand is a small market, but others have an even bigger variety of dog food options. I’ve been really excited about some of the new foods we’ve been integrating with Humphrey’s diet and rotation. Complete commercial dog foods used to be synonymous with kibble or canned, but now there are cold-pressed, air dried, freeze dried, and fresh options, too.
Including complementary foods, toppers, and treats. These types of extras aren’t usually complete and balanced foods, so you’ll need to moderate the portion of your dog’s daily intake that’s allocated to extras. Alternatively, you’ll need to treat them like other unbalanced homemade or ready-to-serve foods, do the calculations, and ensure that the full diet is balanced.
Combination, blended, or mixed feeding plans. As long as it’s done in balance and with due care for digestive concerns, you can combine different ready-made and/or homemade products to customise your dog’s diet. This is the approach that we’ve taken. We’ve retained a primarily commercial feeding plan, with some raw and homemade add-ins. It’s a better balance right now for Humphrey’s current health needs and for his digestion. It’s also well suited for lots of variety, but still keeps the prep, storage, and serving fairly convenient.
You might also enjoy our post on why I started making dog treats. Although treats are a much smaller part of the diet than meals, the same opportunity for healthy informed choices still applies. Whether making homemade dog foods or treats, being a dog chef is not for everyone. Nor right for every dog. Quality commercial has it’s place. We still buy lots of different ready-to-eat dog foods and treats.
Benefits of Adding Variety to a Dog’s Diet
As I mentioned above, feeding a dog a single complete and balanced diet is something that many of us do, without realising that it can have some serious risks. Pet foods can be marketed as “Complete and Balanced” if they meet AAFCO (or equivalent) nutritional profiles and/or have passed feeding trials. In theory, this means that they contain all of the essential nutrients to maintain you pet’s health. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into full and complete feeding, bioavailability, or an end-state healthy balance for an individual pet.
Freshness, recipe formulations, serving sizes, digestion, health factors, and a myriad of other factors vary on an individual basis. A formulated complete and balanced food doesn’t necessarily mean it will give every individual dog a complete and balanced nutritional outcome. Where feasible, adding variety to the feeding plan may support better long term health. The overall feeding plan still needs to be complete and balanced, but mixing or rotating foods can help to balance out individual issues, whether with the food, the dog, or both. Plus it makes meal time a lot more interesting for the dogs than eating the same food every meal of every day, even if it’s a great food.
For dogs like Humphrey who are a little sensitive or have special health needs, mixed feeding can be a good way to adjust the overall bowl for better digestion, but still keep the total intake complete and balanced. Some foods seem to be a bit too rich for his tum (and then his bum) to be fed without mixing. Mixing lets us adjust the macros and fibre, as well as add extra nutritional variety and interest. Humphrey would never turn down a meal, but added interest is great for picky eaters who might need a little extra temptation. And if interest of a different variety is occupying your mind, mixing different ranges of food might help you keep both the diet and finances better balanced.
Blended Diets with Mixed and Rotational Dog Foods
What's in Humphrey's Bowl?
Humphrey’s Rotational Mixed Feeding Plan
As noted in the evolution above, Humphrey has recently transitioned to a new diet with a variety of different commercial primary foods. Depending on the meal and where we are in the rotation, his diet includes:
- Complete and balanced freeze dried raw dog foods
- Complete and balanced air dried raw dog foods
- Complete and balanced wet dog foods
- Cold pressed complete and balanced dog foods
- Dark turkey meat, raw or lightly seared to suit digestion
- Raw green tripe
Small Quantity Extras:
- Gently cooked meats
- Raw berries (fresh or thawed from frozen)
- Pureed raw fruits and vegetables
- Pumpkin, squash, and similar cooked vegetables
- Cooked (or cold soaked) wholegrain oats
- Cottage cheese, kefir, and similar
- Bone broth
Supplements and Toppers:
- Probiotics, digestive aids, sprinkles, and similar on a variety rotation
- Supplements on a maintenance level in consultation with vets
- Supplements on a therapeutic level in consultation with vets
- Prescription medications
At some point, I’ll update this post with a picture, but the times we currently feed main meals are dark for photoshoots in our short dreary winter days. And it feels like animal cruelty to make a meal outside of feeding time and pop it away for later. Humphrey would protest! But he endured the torture of a mini photoshoot of some of the elements we use, and was paid handsomely with a treat afterwards. We don’t feed everything you see in this post together or in quantity, of course! And on that subject, there are a few other things not in our bowls.
What's Not in Humphrey's Bowl?
Anything with Peas, Beans, Lentils…
I’ll preface this by saying that the science is still young and the jury is still out, but because of Humphrey’s health condition we are no longer willing to take the chance on any food that contains pulses. High consumption of pulses and some other foods may be linked to a heightened risk of canine dilated cardiomyopathy in some dogs, potentially related to taurine and/or carnitine metabolism.
Raw Meaty Bones
These are a common favourite for dogs, especially raw fed dogs, but unfortunately for Humphrey they’re not suitable due to past dental issues. Many complete and balanced foods, including those in Humphrey’s rotation, have bone in their formulations. Though its not a much fun as gnawing or as good at cleaning teeth. Bone-in minces or powdered products are also available for raw or homemade feeders.
Foods That Make Great Treats
Although some feeders like making beautiful variety bowls, some of the common add-ons are great on their own as treats. Humphrey loves eating, but we’re still conscious of maintaining his weight. We keep special extras, like rabbit ears, jerky, or dried fish, out of the bowl to enjoy as healthy treats. They’re still part of the overall daily intake and moderation, just stretched out a little for extra enjoyment.
Preparing Homemade Dog Foods in Bulk
The Early Days of the Breakfast of Champions
When we first started mixed feeding, we bulk prepped an all-in-one homemade dog food topper that was frozen in individual portions and combined with their kibble breakfasts for serving each morning. Prepping took a few hours (mostly hands-off cooking time, with a little labour chopping, processing, and packing) roughly once a month. All of the ingredients were human grade from supermarkets, butchers, produce shops, or our garden. Cost varied with season and specials. Our mixtures were prepped in bulk, packed into double-dog servings, and frozen. The next day’s mix was popped into the fridge each evening to defrost for a fresh and delicious dog breakfast start each day.
Our primary protein was usually chicken due to the purine profile. Beef was sometimes part of the mix and occasionally lamb. Gotta keep things interesting for the doggy food critics, plus variety is good for nutrients, resilience, and general health. Any cooking liquid was strained, skimmed, and included with food or treats to maintain water soluble nutrients. Raw or lightly seared would be better, but that didn’t suit due to other factors at that stage, for Oli in particular. The meats were mixed with seasonal shredded dog-friendly fruits and vegetables. I didn’t add any vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements to the mixtures. I preferred to give those fresh daily with their meals, and I also needed to keep things flexible for our two dogs’ very different ages, activity levels, and health.
Switching to a New Mixed Feeding Strategy
Bulk Preparing and Storing Meat for Dog Food
Unless there is a great sale, I no longer bulk prep meats, but you can check out our post on making dog-friendly stock for the tips on freezing meat for free-flow storage. If you’re bulk buying and freezing your own chopped raw, the same technique works well, too. We have a local raw dog food supplier and that’s my go-to for Humphrey’s raw green tripe, dark turkey, and other raw products as we continue to experiment and evolve. Turkey is hard to find here (and expensive), but I also buy human grade products online from a great grass-fed farm supplier. Large quantities (or extra packs) are stored in our main freezer, and there’s a dedicated drawer in our small kitchen fridge freezer for Humphrey’s meats. To keep things clean and convenient, I keep the raw foods in their packages and put those inside heavy duty ziplocs. They’re stored open end up for quick access, and I take small quantities out into glass jars to defrost in the fridge for use.
Bulk Preparing and Storing Fruits and Veggies for Dog Food
I like to bulk prep our fruits and veggies, then freeze them for small quantity ready use. This works well for consolidating the prep mess and keeping a wider variety of different options on hand for quick and convenient use. There’s a post in our pet chef help series on how to prepare fruits and vegetables for dog food. The same techniques work great for treat ingredients. Or smoothies if you’re keen to share! Other foods, like pumpkin, can be mashed after cooking and frozen this way, or cubed for free-flow. Small foods, like blueberries, are good to go with no extra prep. I store all of these different foods frozen in bags and transfer them to small jars for defrosting, like the meats.
Other Dog Food Preparation and Storage
Other foods are prepared and stored on a case-by case basis. Oats, for example, are sometimes cooked and cooled then frozen as cubes. I also like to cold soak oats in goat milk kefir. This works great as a prep shortcut since the freeze, thaw, fridge cycle gives a similar result to soaking overnight oats. I’ve started making my own kefir and will add a post here on the blog sometime in the future. Eggs are something that we raw feed as an occasional extra, but for small quantity use prepping and freezing them as little baked omelette bites works really well! See the note at the end of our post on dehydrating eggs for pictures. Other things like cottage cheese are usually a special case extra when I’m using it for other cooking, but it also freezes nicely if you have too much or there’s a great sale. Bone broth I make in bulk and freeze for treats and toppers. It’s really easy and inexpensive, and is a great option for getting started with add-ons.
Most other extras are ready-use foods or shareables. Humphrey gets occasional add-ons, like berries, either fresh from our garden, the fridge, or defrosted from frozen. No extra prep or storage planning for those. Easy as, and tasty healthy snacks for everyone.
Additional Dog Diet Reading and Resources
I hope the behind the scenes look at what we feed and why has been helpful, and wish you and your pup the best with your own feeding plan journey. We keep an active Pinterest board with content related to Dog Food + Nutrition. It’s full of links, ideas, and inspiration (and growing all the time). There’s a board for Purine Diets as well, if you’re diet planning for a Dalmatian. I also encourage you to chat with your trusted vet and/or a vet nutritionist to ensure that what you are feeding is suitable and balanced for your specific dog. You may need to make adjustments or include supplements, and you should reassess the feeding plan on a regular basis as age, activity, health, or other factors change with time. Woofs and best wishes, furfriends! We hope your meals are doggone delish, balanced, and keep you healthy.