Dog Diets: Mixed Feeding, Rotation, and Homemade Dog Foods

Making homemade dog foods for mixed feeding diet

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. Dogs are usually fed quite differently. 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 after a long well-loved life. Due to special health factors, we’ve made significant changes in our feeding plan for Humphrey. He’s currently on a rotation of full and complete commercial foods as his primaries, with a small amount of other ready-made, fresh, and home cooked foods. We also include a variety of add-ins, toppers, and supplements. He still enjoys lots of tasty treats, both bought and homemade, with a few tweaks to suit his diet and digestion. 

Two Dalmatians playing on the beach at low tide during winter sunrise

Our Food Journey

Oli’s Middle Aged Spread

Dalmatians love their food, but Oli was always an extra voracious eater. Exercise helped keep things in balance, until he was bitten by a snake while we were living in Australia. Yikes! We were lucky, but his recovery from the venom and anti-venom required avoiding exercise or elevated body temperatures. No exercise and many guilty treats later, he needed a doggy diet. Efforts to trim down with exercise and controlled intake weren’t working. 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 did the trick, 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 a more standard and nutrient-rich diet 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. With support from his vets, we slowly transitioned his diet to a different type of kibble. Why kibble? Options weren’t as broad at the time, with a choice of kibble, wet, or homemade. Kibble suited Oli and our circumstances best. Ready-made raw, freeze-dried, air-dried, and other ready-to-serve alternatives weren’t yet common. And I know it’s perhaps a contentious topic, but there is nothing wrong with feeding a well-formulated kibble from a reputable brand. 

Not sure about your dog’s food? Looking at options and alternatives? Be mindful of qualifications and any potential biases for websites and nutritional advisors. Talk with your vet and get advice from a qualified nutritionist if you need specialist advice. Our vets have been great. Checking content is useful for managing preferences or sensitivities, but ingredients lists aren’t much help in judging quality, quantity, processing, or nutritional bioavailabily. Learning more about dog food ingredients and nutrition, how to interpret information on labels, and looking closer at manufacturer and product information has helped a lot in changing our food choices. 

The Dalmatian Dilemma

Dalmatians have a genetic issue with processing purines, which poses a problem for healthy dog diet planning. High quality dog foods typically include purine-rich ingredients, which are great for most dogs, but potentially risky for Dalmatians. Oli had other health factors to consider, and young Humphrey was still in the early years of heightened risk for monitoring purine-related stone formation. With the support of our vets, for interest and variety, we included a small amount of lower-purine extras as toppers. This was a very low-level mixed feeding approach, with kibble still forming the main diet. 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 first shared because breakfast time was when we included homemade dog food toppers in their feeding plan.   

Adapting and Adjusting

Over the years since this post was first written and shared, diets continued to evolve with our boys ages, activity levels, and individual needs. Many of the fundamentals remained the same. The brands and formulations of kibble changed, but still formed their main diets. Preparation of homemade toppers was always 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 some of the new air-dried complete dog foods as toppers with their kibble. 

Solo Dog Life and Quarantine Weight Gain

Senior Oli passed away during New Zealands extended COVID restrictions. Humphrey adjusted 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 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 usual kibble 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 with his heart that upturned everything in our world. After discussing options with his specialist and vet, we changed his diet completely.

Humphrey’s Current Mixed Feeding Plan

Humphrey’s current feeding plan is primarily a rotation of freeze-dried raw and air-dried complete and balanced dog foods. This is not because I’m anti-kibble (more on that below and his diet does include kibble), but they were the right fit for his nutrient needs, digestion, and purine-moderation at the time. We also include other ready-to-serve dry foods 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 pet foods is still shaky at this stage, as I’m sure you can imagine, so rotating is good for spreading out that risk factor too. As extras in his bowl, 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 diets 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

People tend to eat a lot of different foods. Individual meals or days may not be complete or balanced, but we trust that things will balance out nutritionally over time. We tend to be much more static with dog’s foods. It’s a rut that we’ve fallen into ourselves, especially during recent restrictive years and Humphrey’s weight loss diet. Unfortunately, this type of static feeding amplifies the risks of dietary 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. If there are no experts in your local area, you can still do a remote consult with a qualified nutritionist to build a customised diet plan and/or use a food calculator from a reputable source 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. As time carries on, Humphrey is now the dog stepping towards senior status and his needs are very different that puppihood, but also different from Oli as a senior.

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 be particularly useful for managing allergies, dietary issues, and other health concerns. If you’re keen and committed, please don’t be intimidated by my words of caution. There are plenty of professionals and resources available to help you find the right food combinations and build a balanced plan for your pet. 

Feeding ready-to-serve raw dog foods. Unless your raw food comes prepared as a full and complete balanced diet, this still requires the same careful balance as preparing your own raw or homemade foods, but may be more convenient than starting from scratch. Additionally, products might include ingredients that you’d otherwise have difficulty sourcing, like processed organs or ground bone for dogs that can’t chew or digest full ones. Raw food suppliers may also offer assistance with balancing custom diets using their products. As always, check to ensure that you are comfortable with the qualifications of anyone giving nutritional advice.

Feeding ready-to-serve complete commercial dog foods. There are some excellent foods on the market, especially if you don’t have to consider special issues, like the Dalmatian purine factor. These can be used for standalone 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. I’ve been really excited about some of the new foods we’ve been integrating with Humphrey’s diet and rotation. Ready-to-serve dog foods used to be synonymous with kibble or canned, but now there are cold-pressed, air-dried, freeze-dried, and fresh options, too. Of course, with variety comes the challenge of selection. Select suppliers and products with care and consideration.

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.  The common dietary recommendation is to make sure that at least 90% of the days calories are coming from complete and balanced dog foods (95% for puppies), with the remainder as a small allowance for any toppers or treats.

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 better 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 dog treats, being a dog chef is not for everyone. Nor right for every dog. Quality commercial has its place. We buy lots of different dog foods and treats.

Dalmatian dog looking at homemade dehydrated fish jerky dog treat

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. It can also help to reduce the risk of developing sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies over time.

Different Ways to Add Variety to a Dog's Diet

Mixed Feeding

Mixed feeding usually refers to mixing different foods for mealtime. Commonly, this is done with ready-to-serve wet and dry foods, but it can be done with any combination of foods as long as they’re compatible and suited to your dog’s digestion. Some dogs do better with combined food bowls, others with switching between meals, and some can eat just about anything anytime without issues. To reduce the chances of digestive issues with sensitive pups, make changes slowly, trial new foods in small amounts, and try to keep the digestibility similar within meal groups. When calculating serving sizes, split the dog’s total daily needs into percentages to then calculate amounts for each individual food. Different foods can have very different nutritional densities, so you’ll need to calculate the different servings by product as a percentage of total calories per day. 

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. Especially when you’re mixing complete and balanced foods. Easy as! For Humphrey, mixing foods 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 dog foods might help you to keep both the diet and finances better balanced. 

Rotational Feeding

Rotational feeding cycles through different foods. Commonly, this is done on a bag-by-bag basis with a period of overlap between switching, if needed, for the dog’s digestive system to adjust. But depending on your dog and digestion, you can rotate on any food or frequency that suits. It might be meals, days, weeks, months, bags, or just an every now and then change. Whatever approach you choose, make sure that your schedule suits the size of any dog food bags or containers so that foods stay fresh during use. Switching formulations on an ongoing basis can help reduce the risk of individual issues with nutrient profiles, bioavailability, or developing ingredient sensitivities over time.  

Blended Diets with Mixed and Rotational Dog Foods

If it suits you and your pup, you can combine both. This is what we’ve chosen to do with Humphrey. His main meals currently rotate between breakfast and dinner, each with different primary protein groups. These primaries can also rotate on a slower basis as we cycle through packages. Mixing his bowls helps us adjust his primary foods for better digestion, specific nutrients, variety, and interest. It’s also part of how we continue to moderate purines. Rotating between different primary foods, supplementary foods, and extras adds even more variation. Because of his medications, he has extra snack times on the schedule, adjusted from his mains as part of his total daily intake calculation. Wet foods work great for giving pills and supplements, and (you guessed it) adding even more variety into his diet. Easy-to handle dry foods, like kibble, can work great as training treats, too. It’s extra appealing when its not just their every meal “normal food”. Shhhh. Don’t tell the dogs. Dental kibble in Humphrey’s snuffles is currently a secret treat time fav, and snuffling gives each piece a well-chomped solo crunch.

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:

Primary Foods:
  • Complete and balanced freeze-dried raw dog foods
  • Complete and balanced air-dried raw dog foods
Supplementary Foods:
  • Complete and balanced wet dog foods
  • Other complete and balanced dry dog foods (kibble and/or cold-pressed)
  • Dark turkey meat, usually lightly seared to suit digestion
  • Raw green tripe
Small Quantity Extras/Toppers:
These extras and toppers are always small quantities or special additions, and not all together at once, of course. Since some of these foods need prep, to keep mealtime easy, we do individual bulk prep for frozen free-flow. I’ll talk more below about how we prep and store different foods for easy use. It’s been a learning and adapting experience over time, but it’s all pretty smooth sailing now.
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 howl in protest! Haha! Blog dog revolt! But he endured the brief 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. On to the next section for some exclusions and words of caution.

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 or some other digestive factor. See the FDA link above for implicated brands and check your dog food labels carefully.

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, include bone in their formulations. Though that is not nearly a much fun as gnawing or as good at cleaning teeth for the raw meaty bone loving pups out there. Bone-in minces or powdered products are also available for raw or homemade feeders who can’t or prefer not to feed bones.

Foods That Make Great Treats

Although some feeders like making doggone droolworthy beautiful variety bowls, many 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 easily handled 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 for balance, just stretched out a little for extra enjoyment throughout his day. 

Mixed feeding raw, fresh, and ready-to-serve dog foods

Methods for Preparing Homemade Dog Foods in Bulk

Making Homemade Dog Foods and Meal Toppers

There’s no right or wrong way to prepare and store your foods, as long as you’re following sound food safety practices. But in our experience, some methods are definitely much more convenient than others. Preparing in bulk, whether small batches for short-term  refrigeration or in large batches for frozen storage is much easier than prepping foods fresh at every meal, especially if they require some form of cooking, cutting, or processing. Consolidating ingredient purchase cuts costs, consolidating prep cuts energy consumption and clean-up time, and having ready-use foods makes mealtime quick and convenient. 

If you’re making homemade dog food based on a balanced and complete recipe from a vet nutritionist, it’s probably already going to be a bulk recipe with instructions for frozen storage. For other types of foods, like extra meal toppers, you can customise the process to best suit your type of topper, how you feed, and how much room you have for storage. Most of us are constrained on freezer space.  My preferred method has evolved over the years from prepping everything at once and freezing ready-to-serve mixtures to prepping on an ad hoc basis and freezing seperately for more flexibility. Let’s take a look through our methods.

Spooning pureed vegetables into an ice cube tray for freezing

Preparation and Storage Options

The Early Days of the Breakfast of Champions

When we first started our low-level mixed feeding, we bulk prepped an all-in-one homemade dog food topper. It was frozen in daily 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. The next day’s double-doggy bag was popped into the fridge each evening to defrost for a fresh and delicious topped breakfast of champions.

Our primary protein was usually chicken due to the purine profile, but sometimes also beef or 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. The meat was combined with seasonal shredded dog-friendly fruits and vegetables. I didn’t add vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements to the topper 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

Things stagnated a little during the weight-loss program. But when we changed Humphrey’s diet, we revisited our approach. Variety, rotation, and nutrient content were key considerations. Purine management will always be a factor, and trying to get the rest of his body fighting fit and healthy requires a careful balancing act. His specialist recommended a change in primary commercial food, but not a specific alternative. Keen to feed him as much goodness as possible, we were eager to look towards raw. His vet was hesitant, which I understand. Balancing a raw diet (or any home prepared diet) can be tricky, as noted above. Switching to a rich alternative, like air-dried, also had downsides for Humphrey’s sensitive tummy and keen appetite. And for purine management. What to do?  Slowly, navigating into a new rotational mixed feeding plan became the compromise. That’s where we are and evolving from today.

Bulk Preparing and Storing Meat for Dog Food

I don’t usually bulk prep meat anymore, but you can check out our post on making dog-friendly stock for the tips on freezing 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 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 for keeping a wider variety of different options on hand for quick and convenient small-quantity 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 prepping dog treat ingredients, too. 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. For example, oats are our preferred alternative to rice for tummy troubles, fortunately they’re not often needed. They’re cooked, cooled, and then frozen as cubes. Alternatively, mixing with liquid and then freezing is a shortcut where the prep, freeze, and thaw gives a similar result to soaking overnight oats. It’s not bland, but I like doing this with kefir or goat milk. Eggs are something that we occasionally raw feed, but prepping and freezing eggs as little omelette bites also works great for small quantity use. See the note at the end of our post on dehydrating eggs. Other things, like cottage cheese, are usually one-of special case extras from cooking, but it also freezes nicely if you have too much or there’s a great sale. I make bone broth in bulk and freeze it 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, fresh from our garden, the fridge, or defrosted from frozen. No extra prep needed. 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 qualified 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.

Behind the scenes of making fresh and cooked foods for our dogs mixed feeding plan
Behind the scenes of our dog's rotational mixed feeding plan

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