Here’s a behind the scenes look at our dogs’ mixed feeding combination of homemade and commercial dog foods. Breakfast is not a treat, but it is something homemade that our dogs enjoy every day. If you’ve ever thought about switching to homemade dog food or mixed feeding (this is what we currently do), 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 breakfast. Their general health has also improved with our changes in diet – both bought and homemade. Here’s the scoop on our reasons, process, economics, and more.
Our Food Journey
Oli’s Middle Aged Spread
Dalmatians love their food, but Oli has always been a particularly voracious eater. Exercise helped keep things in balance. Then, he was bitten by a snake (we were living in Australia at the time). Yikes! We were very lucky, but after the venom and anti-venom, his directed recovery required keeping him from exercise or elevated body temperatures for a month. Not easy in the Australian summer! No physical exercise and too many guilty treats later, he needed a doggy diet.
Efforts to help him lose weight with exercise and controlled intake weren’t going as planned. We turned to our vets for help. Oli was put on a prescription diet to support weight loss management, which means less quality and more filler to feel fuller with less (read between the lines: more poop). It helped, but I was very uncomfortable about the longer term prospects of the diet.
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 new vets, to slowly transition his diet to quality rich kibble. Humphrey, a puppy at the time, was already on a high quality diet but we’ve also tweaked that along the way. Not sure about your food? Dog Food Advisor is a very handy resource to check kibble options. Learning to read and understand dog food and treat labels changed a lot for us as well!
The Dalmatian Dilemma
Dalmatians have a genetic issue with processing purines, which poses a problem for healthy dog diet planning. We try to moderate their purine intake and this severely limits our locally available commercial food options. High quality foods typically include purine rich ingredients. These ingredients are great for most dogs, but potentially dangerous for Dalmatians.
Transitioning to a Mixed Feeding Plan
We decided to transition further and started mixed feeding. It took us a long time to find the right balance, but we’ve finally settled into a feeding routine that works well. Oli’s weight remains stable even as he continues to further slow down with age. His skin and coat have never been better.
Adapting Over Time
As an update since this post was first shared, over the years our feeding plan has evolved along with our boys age, activity levels, and individual needs. Many of the fundamentals remain the same. Brands and formulas for our commercial food are still carefully selected after reading ingredients and double-checking quality. Our mixed-feeding is much the same, with the exception of the rice as noted below. I’m still searching for a solution to zero-waste storage. Bulk breakfast preparation is always an exciting time for the boys, sniffing good smells while meat poaches in the slow cooker (also my source for free dog-friendly broth for treat making) and drooling while supervising shredding and packing.
Oli is now a geriatric old lad. He’s still as voracious an eater as ever, but now we’re trying to maintain muscle and weight through this final stage of his life. His skin and coat are still spectacular. Everyone who pats him (and people pat the old boy very often) remarks about how soft and silky his coat feels. Extra remarkable given his advanced age. Humphrey is now middle aged (I almost cried writing that – where does the time go?) and also doing great. No regrets, other than not making the switch sooner.
Is Homemade Food Right for You and Your Dog?
That’s a decision that you’ll need to make individually after you investigate the options that might work for you and your dog’s needs. Remember that dogs may 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.
Our personal experience has been fantastic, but being a dog chef is not for everyone. Nor right for every dog. There are some excellent commercial food options on the market, especially if you don’t have to consider the purine factor. 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. Homemade is certainly not your only path to a high quality doggy diet.
You might also enjoy our special post on why I started making dog treats, and the accompanying mini-series on different styles of dog treat making. Although treats are a much smaller part of the doggy diet than main meals, the same opportunity for healthy informed choices still applies.
Preparing Homemade Dog Food in Bulk
Prepping their food takes us a few hours (mostly hands-off cooking time, with a little labour chopping, processing, and packing) roughly once a month. The next day’s meals are popped into the fridge the preceding evening for a fresh and delicious doggy breakfast start every day. All of the ingredients that we use are human grade from the local supermarkets, butcher, produce shops, or our own garden. Cost varies depending on season and specials – it’s particularly worthwhile taking advantage of meat specials – but it’s very economical and I know its great quality.
Bulk Breakfast Preparation
Breakfasts are prepped in bulk, packed into double-doggy servings, and frozen. We usually make around a month’s worth of the breakfast base at a time, which is perfect as its pretty much the maximum that I can reasonably accommodate in the limited space of our family fridge freezer.
My only quibble is that I hate using so plastic bags to pack up the food for the freezer, but I’m too space constrained for alternatives (suggestions?). Buying in bulk (or in some cases growing our own) and prepping their food this way is still much lower waste than the pre-packaged equivalents.
Ingredients and Add-Ins
When we started mixed feeding, I used to prepare small quantities of wholegrain brown rice to accompany their breakfasts separately, as it would take up too much valuable freezer space to combine it with the base mixture. We no longer include rice at all. Their breakfasts are protein based with fruits and veggies. Other than the natural carbs in these ingredients, their carbs come from the content of their commercial foods in our mixed feeding and moderated treats. Brown rice flour is my go-to flour for baked dog treats, and it’s much more digestible than the actual rice in its ground form.
Our primary protein in the breakfast of champions is usually chicken (due to the purine profile), although not exclusively. Beef is often part of the mix and occasionally lamb. Gotta keep things interesting for the doggy food critics, plus variety is good for their resilience and general health. I’m not a fan of raw meat – especially chicken – so we don’t do raw. The proteins are mixed with a combination of cooked and shredded raw fruits and vegetables, which varies depending on what’s in-season or readily available. We also grow a lot of our own when the seasons align.
I don’t add any vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements directly to this breakfast base. Partially so I can add those things fresh daily and partially so that I can keep things flexible for variety and individual customisation to our two dogs’ very different ages, activity levels, and health. In addition to being mixed fed, the dogs receive supplements, whole food snacks, and other healthy goodies throughout the day. Plus the occasional treat or two, of course.
Individual Dog Dietary Planning
There’s a reason why you won’t find homemade dog food recipe(s) here on the blog. 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. Balanced nutrition is essential.
Treats are extras, not the main elements of balanced nutrition, but those too require case-by-case consideration and moderation as per the notes we include at the end of our treat posts.
Our boys have different feeding programs with some overlapping elements, but the needs of young active Humphrey and slower senior Oli are very different, even though they’re both big male Dalmatians. Our feeding plans and schedules have also evolved with the boys over time based upon their age, activity level, health, and other factors. Individual planning is important.
Additional Dog Diet Reading and Resources
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). A few additional links which may be of interest for further reading on dog nutrition and homemade dog foods include:
- Dog Nutrition Tips (ASPCA)
- Canine Nutrition Basics (The Bark)
- Easy Home-Prepared Dog Food (Whole Dog Journal)
- 10 Myths and Misperceptions About Homemade Dog Food (The Bark)
- Make Homemade Dog Food (Pet MD)