It’s a simple question, but there is no simple answer: What is the best food to feed your Weim? Quality, cost, availability, and time are all factors that play into the decision, and of course the needs of your individual dog.
This topic comes up so often that I wrote a long article on how to read dog food labels to help people make educated decisions on choosing a good brand of dry dog food. There are some great commercial foods out there and the quality improves all the time as people get more educated.
However, as we see more dog food recalls, there is growing interest in making your own dog food. The beauty of cooking yourself is that you know exactly what your dog is eating and it is easy to make changes based on your dogs’ age, activity level and health status.
This article is for those that are considering switching to a home cooked or raw diet and want a general overview.
Basic Principles on Making Your Own Dog Food
One of the biggest hurdles people have when moving away from commercial dog food is overcoming the fear of introducing a nutritional imbalance in their dog’s diet. Over the years I’ve fed a lot of Weimaraners raw or home prepared diets, including a few litters. What I’ve done over the years and with different dogs have changed and evolved, but the basic principles really do not change.
What Should Be in Dog Food
- Animal Protein (Meat and Bones). This should be about 50-75% of your dog’s diet. Eggs, yogurt and cottage cheese also count. The most important thing to remember is that calcium to phosphorous (Ca:P) ratio must be correct.* This means that muscle meat (phosphorous) needs to be balanced with bone or calcium. The calcium:phosphorus ratio should be between 1:1 to 1.3:1; in other words, close to equal parts, or more calcium than phosphorous. Check your ratios here!
- Vegetables. Veggies should be about 25-40% of your dog’s diet. Dogs cannot digest cellulose so veggies need to be cooked or pulped into a mush.
- Grains. 0-10%. I don’t believe grains are necessary but I do personally have a dog that does well on grains.
An Important Note About Calcium
(From Crash Course on Calcium by Mary Strauss. Includes info on calcium sources.)
By and large making your own dog food is easy and there is room for “error,” but you must understand the importance of calcium. Feeding meat only without calcium will eventually cause the body to pull calcium from your dog’s bones.
- If you are combining kibble and fresh foods, supplement with calcium if more than 1/4 of the diet is fresh, and balance the fresh food’s phosphorous.
- Do not add calcium to complete-and-balanced commercial diets.
- Do not over supplement puppies under 6 months old.
- High calcium foods like yogurt only balance themselves out, they will not supplement your dog’s fresh food diet.
- Be wary of doggy multivitamins and supplements as many of them are designed for dogs that are already getting calcium in their diet.
- Ground eggshells are a great source of calcium. Add ½ teaspoon ground eggshell, per pound of fresh food.
What I Feed
…in narrative form, by measurement, and then by cost 🙂
When I first started, I appreciated seeing real recipes so am including them for those that might benefit from seeing an example diet. My way is just one way and I often throw in this, that, or whatever into my dogs meals. This is not science, and I am not a veterinarian or nutritionist. This is just what I personally do for my dogs. Please remember that every dog is different. The beauty of home cooking is that it can be tailored to your dog.
Personally, I feed a bit of grain. I used to feed the Honest Kitchen products instead of grain but most of their formulas are about 50% are grain or starch, dropping the Honest Kitchen simply made sense.
Before my two seniors passed (at over age 15), I started feeding them bone broth. In my experience it was a very soothing and healing food for them, so I will still occasionally make it for my younger dogs as well. In particular starting a dog on bone broth when you are transitioning them from kibble is a great way to start a better diet.
To make doggy bone broth, I just throw chicken backs or necks and water in a crock pot. Easy.
I then add vegetables to the broth and cook the veggies down. Dogs cannot digest the cellulose in vegetables so they should be ground to a pulp or cooked.
When pulping veggies, I use raw vegetables and pulverize them in a food processor. I use a variety of vegetables such as lettuce, celery, carrots, zucchini, etc. Produce markets or farmers markets will often give you the scraps that they throw away such as the bruised outer lettuce leaves or carrot tops.
Raw pulverized vegetables have more vitamin and nutrients than cooked vegetables do, so it’s generally better to use raw. If you are in a pinch you can buy a green vegetable drink (without fruit juice) and pour some in your dog’s food. (Yes I admit, I do this when I’m super lazy or I’ve let my own green juice expire!)
Next up is raw meaty bones. I feed chicken necks and backs generally. This is the bulk of their diet. Chicken necks and backs have the correct Ca:P ratio, so this is a no-brainer.
For dogs that might have teeth issues or if you are uncomfortable feeding whole bones, you can grind these up bone and all, or you can slow cook the meat and bones. If you are already making broth then you already have the meat and bones. The bones become mush. This stuff is like crack for dogs!! Unless it’s for a snack, feed the broth along with mushed up bones. All the good stuff is leached into the broth when you slow cook your meat and bones, so give both. If you are giving these mushy bones to your dog as a snack, your dog will love you for it, and you’ll probably like their firmer poop!
Supplements! It’s so easy to go crazy on supplements, and in general my thoughts on supplements is that if they are not getting something from their diet, I will try to get that something naturally in their food first. If that is not possible, then I will use supplements. Getting calcium from bones vs a bottle is a good example of this.
The only supplements I give my dogs on a regular basis is a high quality fish oil and a probiotic/digestive enzyme. Old dogs get a MSM and chondroitin supplement.
When my old dogs were active adults in their prime, my male ate about twice what my female did. I say “about” because I never measure so it’s just a guess. I’ve established a habit where I take a good look at the dogs while I am feeding them and I simply adjust up or down depending on how they look. You should be able to feel your Weim’s ribs when you lightly run your fingers down his side. Keeping your Weim lean is one of the best things you can do for his health!
That said, there is a rule of thumb for feeding raw meaty bones. For an adult, start with 2% of your dog’s body weight daily as a starting point. Growing puppies will need about 10% of their body weight.
Here is a sample of what I’m feeding my dogs:
Active adolescent Weimaraner and Weimaraner puppy (split into two meals)
2/3 cup cooked vegetables, or 1/2 cup pulped raw veggies
… or GREEN tripe instead of the three ingredients above
… or GREEN tripe and a little bit of kibble instead of the three ingredients above
4-8 chicken backs (about 1.5 – 2 pounds)
Supplements (no supplements if feeding green tripe)
Senior adult Weimaraner (split into two meals)
2/3 cup cooked vegetables
2/3 cup bone broth plus 8 chicken necks cooked until bones are mush (about 1 – 1.5 pounds)
Variety is important due to the different amino acids in different types of meat (and different vitamins in various vegetables), but I do use poultry as a staple due to cost. For variety, I add red meat, eggs, canned fish, or other types of meat like lamb or even exotic meats like emu. These additions are more expensive but they are not the bulk of the diet but rather supplementing my main protein source. If cost were not an issue, I would advocate as much variety as possible.
Here’s where it gets interesting! Without my chicken supplier, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. Quality chicken necks are $0.99 cents a pound and backs are $0.79 cents a pound. However because I remove fat and skin, my cost is actually $1.25 and $0.93 cents per pound respectively. I also have a supplier that serves the dog community with pre-ground products at about $2.50 a pound.
6 chicken necks = 1 pound of necks = $1.25; 4-6 chicken backs = 2 pounds of backs = $1.86. Total = $3.11 per day for just the meat portion of their diet. Average $1.55 per dog. That means $46.65 per month per dog. Not bad! A bag of kibble is more. However, I feed some grain, vegetables and quality supplements on top of that. To be completely honest, I haven’t tracked these expenses per meal, but my feeling is that it probably doubles my food cost even though the raw meat is the bulk of their diet. $100 bucks per month per dog. I’m totally okay with this. I know that all the extras are making it way more expensive, but the reality is that it can be done for the same price as a bag of kibble!
As far as books go, good places to start include, “New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats” by Richard Pitcairn, “Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats” by Kymythy Schultze, and “Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs: The Definitive Guide to Homemade Meals” by Lew Olson.
Recommended daily allowances can be found in the National Research Councils “Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs – A Science Based Guide” PDF. These guidelines are echoed in this article, as well as at other carefully researched and reputable sites (here, here and here).
There is also more information in our article, “Intro to Raw Feeding” by Debbie Browning. Follow the links in that article to learn more about raw feeding specifically.
I’ve done quite a bit of personal research on pet food and have been feeding raw for many, many years now and am very happy with the results. I understand that this way of feeding is not for everyone, and it can be cost and time prohibitive.
But for those that have asked, or are just plain curious, I hope this article helps explain what I feed and why. Questions? Please post them below!