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One night I was stuck at home alone, without a car, and with two very hungry 70 pound boxers looking at me with those mournful “we haven’t eaten allll day” eyes. I hurried to the pantry only to find we were completely out of dry dog food and canned food!
This got me thinking. In times of desperation, what are the right kinds of foods to feed pups in a pinch? Let’s say you’re out of food and unable to get to the store, out of money, on the road, or worse, impacted by a natural disaster. Dogs still have to eat, right? So what do you do when there’s no dog food to be found?
We talked to Korinn Saker, DVM, PhD., DACVN*, and Associate Professor, Nutrition, with the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. If anyone knows what to whip up for a hungry pup, it’s Dr. Saker.
Packaged Dog Food Is Nutritionally Complete
Before you get cooking for your canine companions, an important note:
Good-quality commercial dog foods are nutritionally complete and balanced to provide the right amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals your dog requires.
The tips and recipes here will help you provide a healthy, dog-friendly meal “in a pinch”. These suggestions and meals, while all perfectly safe and healthy for your dog, are not 100% nutritionally complete and should not be fed for longer than 5-7 days – which should be enough time to get your dog back to their regularly scheduled feeding program.
How To Make Homemade Dog Food From Vet Korinn Saker
Life happens. And if you have a pup, chances are you’ll be stuck without dog food at least once in their lifetime. On those (hopefully rare) occasions, you can hit the pantry and freezer for kitchen staples to make healthy, temporary meals (and avoid starving-puppy eyes).
Essential Dog Food Prep Tips
- Offer a balance of lean protein and complex carbohydrates. A day without dog food isn’t an excuse to pig out on people food.
- Avoid giving dogs too much fat or sodium, which can trigger vomiting, diarrhea or constipation.
- Consider your pet’s food allergies or chronic conditions such as renal, liver and heart disease, or pancreatitis which demand special low-fat diets
Dog Food Basics
- Poultry – cooked, skinless and boneless
- Beef (such as chop meat or beef cubes) – at least 80% lean and cooked
- Canned meats and veggies – well-rinsed and drained to remove excess sodium
- Keep it simple and lay off the salt and spices. Bland is better. You’re preparing food for a dog, not Gordon Ramsay. Your four-legged friend will not fling a frying pan at your head.
Raid Your Pantry For Added Nutrition
- Canned vegetables like corn, beans, peas and carrots – well-rinsed and drained
- Plain pasta – cooked
- Plain, cooked rice, couscous or quinoa – avoid the flavored varieties which are loaded with sodium and spices that may upset your dog’s tummy
- Plain, cooked oatmeal – not the sugary-flavored packets but the plain boring stuff we should all be eating
- Canned chicken and fish packed in water – well-rinsed and drained
- Cooked farina
- High-fiber or multi-grain healthy cereals – avoid cereals with raisins or magically delicious kids cereals
- Low-sodium vegetable, beef or chicken broth for flavor or to tempt a picky eater
- Low-sodium, plain tomato sauce (no garlic or onions)
- Honey – just a bit to tempt a picky eater
Fridge And Freezer Items
- Cooked eggs (egg whites only for dogs with renal disease, please)
- Boiled, baked or simply prepared poultry – skinless and boneless. Rotisserie chicken is fine, just remove skin and bones.
- Cooked beef, at least 80% lean or trimmed of excess fat
- Mild cheeses such as American or Colby
Fruits And Vegetables Are Great Too
- Apples and pears – sliced
- Bananas, peeled
- Blueberries and strawberries
- Cooked potatoes (any kind)
- Cooked or raw carrots,
- Cooked beans, peas, broccoli, corn
Foods To Avoid
Definitely avoid these foods and ingredients (check labels and packaging):
- Breaded, fried, greasy, high-fat, salty and processed foods
- Grapes and raisins
- Bacon, cold cuts/deli meats which are high in sodium
- Anything spicy or prepared in a spicy sauce
What About Just Using Another Dog’s Food?
Is it safe to borrow a cup or two of dog food from your neighbor? For a generally healthy adult dog, a temporary food substitution is fine but…
- Consider your dog’s allergies or any chronic health conditions being managed by diet.
- If the other dog is on a higher-fat food, cut the amount you’d normally feed in half and fill up the rest of the bowl with a carbohydrate such as cooked pasta or rice for bulk.
Signs To Watch For
Sudden changes in any pet’s diet can cause gastrointestinal distress.
If they’re not feeling well, switch to a very basic diet of boiled chicken and rice or oatmeal. Learn more about how to switch your dog’s food safely.
Ready To Get Cooking?
Here are a few tasty recipes from Dr. Saker’s canine kitchen. All recipes below will yield enough food for one day and are based on the daily nutritional requirements of a healthy, 40 pound adult dog. Adjust portions for smaller or larger dogs.
Always consult with your vet if you have any questions. Just don’t feed these substitute meals for longer than 1 week.
Chicken & Rice Bowl Recipe
- 65 grams of cooked, white meat chicken
- 1 large cooked egg
- 2 cups of white rice
- 1 cup high fiber cereal
- 2-3 teaspoons canola oil which provides essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Serving size: Approx 6 cups (or 48 oz)
Beef & Rice Bowl Recipe
- 94 grams of ground beef or cubed beef – at least 80% lean or more
- 2-2.5 cups cooked rice
- ½ cup of high fiber cereal
- 2-3 teaspoons canola oil which provides omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
Serving size: Approx 6 cups (or 48 oz)
Sausage Breakfast Recipe
- 7 ounces sausage – not spicy – sweet sausage
- 2 large cooked eggs
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 4 slices bread (white, wheat, grain, etc.)
- 2 cups of chopped cooked potatoes
Serving size: Approx 6 cups (or 56 oz)
Peanut Butter Breakfast Scramble Recipe
- ¾ large egg cooked
- 4 cooked egg whites
- 2.5 ounces peanut butter
- 6 slices bread
- 3 cups vegetables
Serving size: Approx 6 cups (or 56 oz)
Get Back To Normal Eating Habits
Remember, no matter how much your dog may dig this culinary adventure, don’t let them get used to it. (No matter how much they compliment your new recipes with kisses and wiggles!) Switch back to their nutritionally complete dog food as soon as you’re able for a happy, healthy pup with a full tummy!
We recommend signing up for a dog food delivery subscription so you’ll have food auto-shipped to your home on a regular basis and never have to worry about adding it to your grocery list. Many of our team members are big fans of the fresh, human-grade food (that is is delicious and balanced).
Special thanks to Dr. Korinn Saker, DVM, PhD., DACVN, for her contributions to this article. Dr. Saker can be contacted at kesaker at ncsu.edu.
*Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition
What have you fed your pup when you’ve run out of dog food?
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