Once upon a time, there was no such thing as specialized dog food. Dogs would eat whatever their humans had left over, plus a bone and a few scraps of meat, if they were lucky. Times have certainly changed. These days, pet parents want the very best for their four-legged family members, including the foods they eat. Fortunately, they now have more commercial pre-made pet food options than ever before, from traditional bagged kibble found at every grocery store, to premium gourmet food brought straight to their door.
Increasingly, pet parents are setting dry kibble aside and opting for fresher options. In fact, 42 percent of pet parents expressed interest in fresh and/or human grade store-bought or subscription food for their pets. Of course, there’s nothing as fresh as food prepared at home – an option pet parents are increasingly favoring. In one recent study, one-fifth of pet parents said they cooked for their pets. Since 87 million American households have pets, millions of pups are having their meals home-cooked meals. And that number seems to be growing.
“In general, this is a quickly growing segment of the pet parent population,” says Julia Lauria, Chief Marketing Officer of Brutus Broth, a company that crafts homestyle beef broth specially formulated for pets. “We have definitely seen an increase in interest in home-cooked meals for pets among our customers. More and more people are realizing how important it is to feed their fur babies good, healthy, all-natural food.”
The cost of cooking at home
Cost is one of the biggest factors in choosing a pet diet. Cooking pet food at home can strike a nice balance for pet parents who want premium nutrition, but need to rein in pet food costs. “These pet parents want to feed their dogs the highest-nutrition, human-grade options, but might not have the means to subscribe to a fresh food delivery service, which can run hundreds of dollars per month depending on the quantity needed and the size of dogs,” says Julia.
With a bit of research and some wise choices, preparing food at home can be a cost-effective option for feeding your pet. At the lowest, home-cooked meals (for a 50-lb dog who takes in 1000 calories per day) cost about $2.50 per day, or $69.44 per month. At the highest, they cost $6.10, or $170.80 per month. The lowest-priced home-cooked meals are only slightly more costly than the highest-priced dry kibble, which costs about $2 per day. The cost difference between homemade food and pre-made fresh food options is much steeper–pre-made fresh foods can cost anywhere from $3.40 to $22 per day.
Reasons for home cooking
Pet parents choose to home-cook their furkids’ meals for a variety of individual and personal reasons, but there are few significant factors at play.
Many pet parents have become untrusting of commercial pet food. It’s true that mass-manufactured food is carefully formulated to provide necessary nutrients and a balanced diet, and pet food production is highly regulated by the FDA. However, concerns linger about the use of byproducts, chemicals, and starchy fillers, as well as the preservation of nutrients during processing and ingredient standards.
When pet food is cooked at home, the chef has the luxury of not only knowing what goes into each meal, but hand-picking every ingredient. Consequently, the food is wholesome, with natural, human-grade ingredients. There’s even the option of using nutritional powerhouses, such as bone broth, which is loaded with natural nutrients that detoxify, improve joint health, and contribute to a pet’s overall wellness. Many pet parents also dislike the idea of their dog eating the same dry food every day, and feel that home-cooked meals allow them to introduce added flavor and variety into his diet.
For some dogs, health issues create unique dietary needs that mass-produced dog foods cannot properly address. This can be a situation as basic as easing a stomach illness with bland, easy-to-digest home-cooked foods, or as complex as navigating nutritional deficiencies, malabsorption, food allergies, or food sensitivities.
Under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist’s supervision, with thoughtful preparation and planning, cooking meals at home allows pet parents to know exactly what’s in their pet’s food at any given time, and gives them the opportunity to monitor their pet’s reactions to any given food.
For many pet parents, home cooking is an extension of their loving care, and preparing meals is a satisfying and enjoyable way to further nurture their furry kids. Pet parents also find home cooking enhances the bond they share with their dog and makes them feel more in control of their pet’s well being. They also enjoy searching for tasty new recipes, reading through the latest pet nutrition research, crafting a pet menu, and learning about their pets’ preferences.
Nutrition should be a top priority
Dogs and humans have vastly different nutritional needs, and some commonly enjoyed human foods can even be dangerous for dogs. In addition, individual dogs have different weights, different preferences, different metabolisms, different appetites, and different energy requirements. It is very important to consult with either your vet or a veterinary dietician to determine the right balance of nutrients for your pet, and figure out which foods, at which quantities, will be optimal.
Plan and prepare
Solid preparation, such as a list of dietary needs and a weekly meal plan, can help ensure that you have the right ingredients when you need them, and plenty of time to prepare your pet’s food correctly. It will also help you keep up with your pet’s dietary needs and stay focused on your home cooking goals. Rather than trying to create your own recipes right off the bat, or scrolling endlessly for random recipes, try starting with a pet cookbook. Brutus Broth recently released Beyond the Bowl, a comprehensive and fun collection of nutritious homemade pet food recipes, that makes a great place to start a meal planning journey.
Make it fun!
Get your partner, your kids, or your friends involved in the action. Try new and creative food presentation ideas, and play around with different snack and treat options. Enjoy the process, and the unique opportunity cooking gives you to learn something new and bond with your pet and your people.
“We believe cooking pet food at home can and should be a fun family activity, and a goal that’s accessible to everyone.” notes Julia. “This is why we created Beyond the Bowl. It’s filled with fun options like Banana Broth Pupcakes, Doggo Game Day Chili, and “puptails,” fun, pet-tailored drinks like “brothiccinos,” to “barkaritas,” and “brothtinis.”
Cooking meals at home does require time, research, and planning, and a serious commitment to promoting your pet’s health and nutrition. But, as growing numbers of pet parents have found, home cooking is a reasonable, affordable, and fun alternative to traditional options that offers pet parents one more way to lavish their pets with loving care.
Photo credit: istock/humonia