Skip to main content

Homemade vs. store-bought: A dog food comparison

So, your usually ravenous dog isn’t interested in his kibble much lately, and you’re wondering if it’s time to change his diet. You’ve heard about the trend toward homemade dog food and are thinking you’ll give it a try. Should you make the switch?

If you do, you’ll be in good company. A recent study by the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College in Canada found that 87% of dog owners give their pets some real food (read: suitable for humans) as part of their diet. And yet, it’s hard to discount the value of commercial dog food, reliably produced by an industry that dates back to the mid-1800s.

Which option is best for your dog — homemade or store-bought? Here is a quick comparison to help you decide.

Fresh ingredients

Without question, homemade dog food wins in this category. When you commit to making your dog his meals, you can choose the freshest ingredients to feed him. Most commercially made dog food has a long shelf life. A bag of unopened dry dog food can last as long as 18 months; unopened canned food is good for two years. That’s why it’s important to check the expiration date on every bag or can of food you purchase.

Even with fresh-dog-food subscription services, such as The Farmer’s Dog, which says their meals arrive at your door within days of being prepared, there is a bit of a lag. If you’re concerned about feeding your dog the freshest ingredients, homemade wins the day.

Nutritional value

You might think that homemade dog food beats kibble here, too, but that’s not always the case. Dogs have distinctly different nutritional needs and digest food differently than humans, which means homemade meals might lack healthy ingredients that dogs need. In fact, when researchers at the University of California–Davis School of Veterinary Medicine evaluated 200 popular dog food recipes, they found 95% to be missing necessary levels of at least one essential nutrient.

In comparison, all dog food manufactured in the United States must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for balanced nutrition. Ingredients are regulated by the Center for Veterinary Medicine, which is a branch of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Association of American Feed Control Officials is responsible for the enforcement of state laws regarding the safe production and labeling of animal food.

What’s the verdict? When it comes to nutritional value, store-bought food is the best choice for an active, healthy dog. The recipes are formulated for each stage of your dog’s life as well as his special dietary needs, which is something that’s hard to get right in your own kitchen.

Safety

We’re calling this one a tie.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first. We’ve seen a lot of dog food recalls in the past 15 years, which is one of the reasons homemade dog food is now so popular. In a 2007 incident, nearly 180 pet food companies voluntarily recalled their products, which were reportedly responsible for causing kidney failure and death in thousands of dogs and cats in the United States and Canada.

What do you have to fear by making homemade dog food? Much the same risk. Foodborne illness isn’t exclusive to commercial dog food. A 2010 study determined that less than 2% of reported foodborne illness cases were related to pet food. That’s in comparison to 76 million foodborne illness cases worldwide that cause nearly 5,000 human fatalities every year.

And when you’re cooking for your dog, you need to know which common foods are potentially harmful — or even fatal — for canine consumption. A short list includes avocado, chocolate, grapes, and raisins.

Cost

Is it less expensive to make meals for your dog? Not necessarily. Here are some variables to consider:

  • Budget. Store-bought dog food prices range anywhere from slightly less than $1/pound for dry kibble to more than $20 for a 13-ounce can. Determine how much you currently pay per meal so you can have an accurate picture of how much it will cost to switch.
  • Ingredients. If you switch to homemade, what ingredients will you need? How much do they cost and are they readily available where you live? For example, duck is a common ingredient in homemade meals, but it’s typically more expensive than chicken and harder to find year-round.
  • Time and effort. How much is your time worth? Store-bought dog food is fairly straightforward: Simply open the bag and serve the correct portion. Homemade dog food, by contrast, takes more effort. Besides shopping for the right ingredients, you must put in the time and effort to cook and store the meals properly.

Final verdict

There’s a lot to consider when you’re trying to decide whether to feed your dog store-bought or homemade meals. His age, health, and lifestyle, along with your budget and availability, should all be part of the equation.

Before you decide, be sure to consult with your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. She is the expert on your dog’s health and can help you make educated decisions about how to achieve optimal health. Working together, you can rest assured that your dog is receiving the best nutrition for his health, happiness, and longevity.

Editors' Recommendations

Debbie Clason
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Debbie Clason's work has appeared in Family Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated, The Lutheran Witness, Massage Magazine…
Best guard dogs: These 7 breeds will protect you with their life
These dog breeds are some of the best personal guards you'll find
An Akita sitting on the bed

Most dogs are loyal and loving animals. That’s why we know them as humans’ best friends. They’d do anything for us. For some dogs, “anything” means protecting us with their lives. And these breeds make the best guard dogs. For many of them, it’s instinctual. They’ve evolved to protect the family they love. You’ll notice these pups keeping a watchful eye on your property. They may bark to alert you when your company arrives or the mail gets delivered.
Remember, guard animals mean well. They aren’t trying to be vicious, but instead, they want to keep you and your home safe and sound. Some prospective pet parents want this quality in a dog. If that’s you, consider these breeds that make the best guard dogs.

What is the easiest guard dog to train?
There's a whole group of beasties that are often referred to as the guardian breeds — many of them make this list. Those animals with a predisposition toward defending and alerting will likely also learn their duties quickly. However, you'll also need a pup who has been properly socialized. Remember, you only want your guard to go into protection mode when there's a serious threat, not every time the mailman stops by.

Read more
Why does my dog follow me to the bathroom? (It’s not as weird as you think)
Your dog has a reason for this behavior
A Yorkshire terrier sits in the bathroom and is seen reflected in the hallway mirror

If you're wondering, "Why does my dog follow me to the bathroom?" -- you're certainly not alone. Most pet parents are used to having a four-legged shadow no matter what room in the house they're in, but making eye contact with your dog while you're on the pot can feel a little bit strange. So what's behind this canine behavior, and is it a bad thing?

We've looked into this funny phenomenon and what it means to your dog, and it turns out that it's not as strange as you think. Remember -- your pup has a very different way of viewing the world, so while having company in the restroom may seem odd to you, your dog doesn't think twice about it.

Read more
Why does my dog smell like Fritos? It’s weird, but there could be an underlying health issue
Why your dog's feet smell like corn chips and what to do
Two dog paws

A dog's nose knows. Dogs' noses have more than 300,000 olfactory receptors, making them a powerful tool for canines as they explore their world. The nose is also an indicator of health. Yet, what if your nose picks up a smell that seems suspicious? Specifically, you may be wondering, "Why does my dog smell like Fritos?"

If you had some corn chips recently and shared them with your dog (or they helped themselves), there's your answer. However, perhaps you're more of a Cheetos kind of person or prefer to get your crunchy fix with something sweet, like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. The answer is less obvious. You may smell a trip to the vet coming. Are your instincts on track? Maybe. Here's why your dog's paws might smell like Fritos and what to do about it.

Read more