5 Reasons You May Want to Consider a Limited Ingredient or a Homemade Diet for Your Dogs


Reading Time: 18 minutes

Clean eating…it is a phrase we see more and more often as the years pass. Its definition has not changed much, but it is now spilling over into the world of pet foods. Only there, it is called by a few alternate names, such as homemade, whole food and “LID” or Limited Ingredient Diet among them. Though I can hear the naysayers shaking their heads (okay, I can’t hear that bit) and saying “No, Ash…clean eating is NOT a limited diet…” just give me a moment to explain.

The famous Mayo Clinic has a pretty complex definition of clean eating, but it is very helpful for us to read it if we are to see why it is also a good model for your dog’s diet, and how it can tie so closely to a limited ingredient diet.

Clean Eating and Limited Ingredients Are Close Cousins

They say clean eating is “a way of living that lends itself to improving one’s health and well-being. Clean eating involves a few key principles that align with basic principles of healthy eating”, and then they go on to describe it as eating “more real foods” (i.e. no processed or refined foods), “for nourishment” by consuming regular and balanced meals, “more plant based foods” that include some high protein grains as well as veggies and legumes, and “getting plenty of physical activity during the day, getting enough sleep at night and managing stress in healthy ways. Connect with people you enjoy — talk, laugh, share a meal, go for a walk, or play a game.”

Now, I’m not sure about you, but that is exactly the lifestyle I want for myself and my dogs. Yet, there is more to the idea of clean eating than in that definition. It also involves eating the best options in each food group, eliminating things like additives, sugar and salt, and going both seasonal and organic where food choices are concerned.

So, it uses a “limited” number of ingredients and relies on only the finest ingredients in the right proportions.

Does it mean going vegetarian? Here’s the thing – as humans, we are omnivores and clean eating can mean going meatless or limiting meat. Dogs are often said to be omnivores, too, but they are never as healthy if they are without meat. They can survive, but they are not at peak health. So, I don’t advocate a vegetarian lifestyle for a dog (and just a note to my cat loving readers: You must never try to make a cat a vegetarian or vegan – their bodies demand compounds in animal proteins and they suffer greatly without meat in the diet).

Instead, in this article, I want to focus a few ways of feeding dogs – a limited ingredient diet and/or a homemade diet – as ways of ensuring they eat as cleanly as they can. After all, limited ingredient or homemade foods ensure your puppos get real food, more nourishing combinations, and lots of plant-based ingredients and whole grains. In other words, they are clean eaters!

The most authentic limited ingredient dog foods will usually have one protein, such as chicken and one fat source. It should also use one carbohydrate, though it can include more, and it should contain all 23 essential vitamins and minerals (or include a supplement in areas where it is lacking). The reason for this formula is simple – it is to help a dog owner prevent their dog from consuming foods that trigger allergies.

Yes, the limited ingredient diet is not about optimal nutrition but about allergens. As the experts at PetMD say of this matter, “Many pet parents turn to limited ingredient or limited antigen dog food to combat symptoms—like itchy or flaky skin, a lackluster coat, poor hair growth, ear infections, weight gain, weight loss, hot spots, vomiting, or diarrhea—that they believe are caused by food allergies.”

And, for the most part they are all correct in choosing to do so, but not for the reasons they think.

Not All About Allergies

Naturally, you have to figure out if your dog is sensitive to any specific food. I won’t lie – less than 10% of all dogs have authentic allergies and around 95% of those allergies are to protein rather than carbs (i.e. grains). As the experts note, “For the most part, when your dog suffers from skin or gastrointestinal tract issues, it’s probably due to inflammation or intolerance to a commercial diet, not an actual food allergy.”

This makes sense when you think about the preservatives, fats, chemicals and other processed ingredients and fillers in many types of commercial dog food.

The signs of dog allergies are easily recognized:

  • Licking the fur and feet
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Coughing
  • Inflamed skin and red skin
  • Chronic gassiness and bloating
  • Periodic vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Itching

Even small amounts of allergens or irritants can cue reactions like this, and some dogs can progress to hot spots and behavioral changes when allergies irritate them enough.

Related Content:

7 Great Homemade Dog Food Recipes (Video)
Your Dog is Not a Human, So Don’t Feed Him Like One!
4 Dog Food Recipes You Can Make in the Crockpot – and How to Create Your Own! (Video)
8 Dog Food Recipes to Try This Year (Video)

And so, pet parents try to cut out the foods that could trigger this. Yet, here is where I need to be sure you see where the idea of clean dieting and LID or homemade foods overlap. In both, you have control over the ingredients and use the most wholesome imaginable. You never put a dog at risk for adverse reactions or simple digestive upset.

Yet, the benefits of cleaner, limited ingredient and homemade diets for dogs go even farther than that. How? You can choose seasonal and locally grown foods at the peak of nutrient density, flavor and freshness. Dogs get tremendous benefits from this, and you are not wasting money on junky food that creates bigger vet bills!

And though I’ve hit on most of that definition of clean eating, there is one more element – the “connecting” with those we love as part of a healthier all-around lifestyle. As someone who makes several meals for their dogs each week, it really is a good way for us to connect and spend time together.

Janice and Leroy love the smells emanating from the kitchen and always pop in to see “what’s cooking”. I talk their ears off telling them about the meal to come (pretending I’m hosting a cooking show for dogs) and then we usually finish our days with a walk or bit of playtime in the yard.

So, that clean eating lifestyle does allow us to connect to the people we love the best…it actually gives us TIME that we spend making and eating food. I don’t pop open a can and walk away. I spend 20 minutes whipping up an aromatic delight, have fun doing it, and then sit down with the dogs for the few minutes it takes for them to inhale the tasty meal. It may not seem like a lot, but dogs really know when you give them your attention, and my dogs look forward to that 40 minutes together every day. They set their little clocks by it!

Clean Eating for the Dogs

So, to take that basic definition of clean eating and shift it to one that focuses on dogs, we can say it is a diet that uses:

  • Single source proteins that are humanely raised and grown (pasture raised, cage free, and so on)
  • Seasonal and organic fruits and vegetables
  • Organic whole grains
  • No fillers or potential allergens (like corn)
  • Nutrient supplements such as glucosamine and Omega-3 fatty acids (if needed)

Clearly, the average supermarket dog food is as far from clean as you can imagine. Packed with undecipherable ingredients, processed foods, and a lot of dubious materials, it may be something a dog likes, but the dog’s body may not benefit much from it. And if you are using dry food, you can be sure it is quite high in fillers, too. And though it could be marketed as balanced and complete, this sort of generalization doesn’t take individual dogs into account.

For example, what if your dog really is allergic to something? How will you ever know what it is that is causing the tummy, skin or other problems? The only way to accomplish this (apart from an allergy test at the vet) is to eliminate suspect ingredients from a dog’s daily diet. The easiest way to do this is to use a limited array of ingredients. Now, this is not to say that there aren’t pre-made, commercial dog foods marketed as LID that you cannot use. There are, and I’ve written about the Blue Buffalo brand among others.

The key to buying rather than making clean, LID food is to look for the terms “complete and balanced” on the label. A manufacturer cannot legally use those words if the food is without the proper balance of vitamins and minerals, carbs, protein and fat. The brands that list the ingredients can be trusted to support your dog’s health if they are free of the foods that trigger your dog’s allergic reactions.

Take time to read the labels and be sure that the ingredients are actually limited to that strict formula: single source protein, one or two carbs, one premium fat, and vitamins or minerals. If you don’t double check, you could be surprised.

As an example, my cousin’s dog has allergies to so many things it is shocking. He gets a lamb and rice diet at home and also enjoys a few commercially made lamb and rice wet, canned foods made and packaged as LID and complete and balanced. Sadly, though, she learned from experience that some pre-packaged (wet or dry) foods call themselves limited but use foods that can trigger an issue, such as a pea protein in addition to a meat protein, and so on.

However, if you want to be in control of your dog’s health, it is entirely possible to make them limited ingredient foods or meals that reduce the chances of trouble.

Making Food to Control Quality and Nutrition

And though a healthy dog with a well-functioning digestive system can eat just about anything they want, why not give some thought to the many benefits of clean or limited ingredient meals? After all, most experts will insist vehemently that seasonal and local eating is superior for you (and dogs).

In fact, the benefits go beyond the more obvious:

It is better for your wallet to eat seasonally because buying foods grown in the area and in season mean they are abundant, and therefore cheaper. For example, my dogs (for whatever reason) love butternut squash. That means from around late September and well into the winter months, they’ll get regular servings of it blended into their meals. Janice loves strawberries and gets them in the summer, and Leroy is a pear man who enjoys a nice wedge of a pear whenever I am nibbling on one in the late summer.

The flavor of these seasonal foods is always better and because it is local or nearly local, it is picked when ripe and at its nutritional peak. We also get a wider variety of foods because of this, with the dogs becoming huge fans of greens once I started to buy the seasonal varieties from the market.

And because I can buy organic foods, I am reducing our exposure to any sort of harmful chemicals, which is important for several reasons. The first is that it is just better to keep as many risky materials out of your body as possible.

Secondly, remember that it is not the foods so much as the additives that cause dogs to fare better when they start consuming limited diets. While some dogs are allergic to proteins and carbs of specific varieties, many are also made ill by the commercially processed ingredients and additives. Eating seasonal foods without any harmful compounds means lesser risk of inflammation-causing ingredients or additives.

As one homemade dog food advocate said of her decision to go to an LID and homemade diet for her dogs, “the best part about making homemade dog food – just like making anything at home – is that you know exactly what is going into the dog bowl, and not any of that questionable gelatinous gunk from the canned food.”

This is significant, and as one vet said, “the single biggest thing you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is to provide them with optimal nutrition”. What better way to do that than to provide meals constructed of unprocessed, whole foods that are densely packed with nutrients since they are fresh, organic and perfectly balanced. Going entirely natural, without the preservatives, additive and artificial stuff is what you get from clean, limited ingredient and homemade food.

And if you are still on the fence about  making at least a few meals each week from scratch, consider some of the cons of a commercial dog food lifestyle:

  • Processing methods often destroy nutrients in the ingredients. A food might be described as using the finest ingredients, but the industrial heating and canning often removes or destroys the nutrients, antioxidants and even the protein content. Folate and vitamin C are some of the first to go thanks to industrial processing, and exposure to metal, air, and light cause nutrients to diminish.
  • Non-human grade ingredients. The package says “chicken” or “fish meal”. Do you know just what that could mean? While the idea of feathers, hooves and brains is bad enough, consider that “the FDA actually allows animals that have died by other causes, such as ailments and diseases, to be included in dog foods.” And perhaps a bit more frightening is the fact that propylene glycol is used to keep wet foods wet, but this is a compound that is also in anti-freeze
  • Liver, kidney and heart failure have links to dog food additives and preservatives. Though a food may be enriched with antioxidants, commercial processing diminishes their effectiveness and that means they are not in substantial enough amounts to counteract the more harmful things added to prolong a dog food’s shelf life. Even the fake colors and flavors can be harmful and lead to a slow buildup in the organs that result in health issues later on.

Dogs Homemade Diet

A Summary of Our Findings

So, let’s take a few moments to look at the five reasons you may want to go to a limited ingredient or homemade diet for your dogs as noted in the title of this article:

  1. It is entirely without harmful ingredients or potential allergens
  2. It allows you to be assured that your dog is eating the very best, whole foods at their peak of flavor and ripeness
  3. It can end up being cheaper over the long run by preventing disease AND by being made with seasonal foods
  4. It gives you the opportunity to provide your dog with an authentically nutritionally balanced diet
  5. It is another way to bond with your dog, by allowing you to spend time focused on food prep and ensuring your dog enjoys a good meal or snack

And with all of this in mind, it is the perfect time to give you some recipes and methods for introducing your dog to a cleaner, homemade and/or limited ingredient diet.

The Basics of Limited Ingredient Eating

Any nutritionally balanced canine diet will look something like this:

60% – 80% Protein – mostly from meat

20% – 40% Carbohydrates – from grains, vegetables, and fruit

A minimum of 2% fat

Those are percentages that work for batches of food of any size, and it is the servings that have to be based on your dog’s individual needs. These vary widely and are determined by the dog’s body size, breed, age, activity level and any existing health issues. So, feel free to make double and triple batches, but figure out how much your dog needs based on those factors just itemized above.

How do you do this? An ideal way to keep dogs in top shape is to know how much to feed them. Too much and they are overweight and unhealthy, too little and they run into deficiencies. The good news is that there are some ways to get a rough idea of what it is your dog needs, but they are very rough and I give them to you only as a suggestion. What you must also do (and especially if you are switching your dog from commercial food to cleaner eating) is talk with your veterinarian about calories or amounts needed by your specific dog.

So, for a basic idea how much to feed a dog:

  • Toy dogs weighing up to three pounds get around 1/3 cup or 139 calories each day
  • Toy dogs up to six pounds can have ½ cup or 233 calories each day
  • Small dogs up to ten pounds can have ¾ cup and around 342 calories per day
  • Small dogs up to 15 pounds can have one cup and around 464 calories each day
  • Small dogs up to 20 pounds can have 1 1/3 cups and around 572 calories per day
  • Medium dogs up to 30 pounds can have 1 ¾ cup and around 781 calories each day
  • Medium dogs up to 40 pounds can have 2 ¼ cups and around 969 calories per day
  • Medium dogs up to 50 pounds can have 2 2/3 cups and around 1145 calories per day
  • Large dogs up to 60 pounds can have 3 cups and around 1313 calories per day
  • Large dogs up to 70 pounds can have 3 ½ cups and around 1474 calories per day
  • Large dogs up to 80 pounds can have 3 ¾ cups and around 1629 calories per day
  • Large dogs up to 90 pounds can have 4 ¼ cups and around 1170 calories per day
  • Large dogs up to 100 pounds can have 4 ½ cups and around 1926 calories per day

­­You can also use a more general measure that says to give 1/3 cup of food for every ten pounds of body weight over 100 pounds. Give pups two to three times adult dogs and free feed pregnant and nursing mamas. Fresh water is also crucial to a dog’s health.

However, if you have a very active dog or a breed that has a tendency to be overweight if inactive, you may need to figure out if a bit more or less is needed. As I tell readers, a dog should have a distinct hourglass figure when you look down on them from above, with a waist that goes in a bit above the hips. If looking at a dog in profile, it is best if they have a bit of a concave belly rather than a round little pot.

Remember, though, those figures are general and it is up to you to do the math and be sure your dog is getting that range of calories and/or quantity in the daily diet. If you are eager to figure out the nutrient counts in the meals you make, there are a lot of free recipe analysis tools for home cooks and recipe writers. Input the specific weights or amounts of ingredients and you’ll see the total number of calories, as well as the basic nutritional value of the dish you made. Some good options include the VeryWell tool and the MyFitness Pal tool.

Doing this can help you to know when you should add a canine multivitamin or other supplement, such as bone meal, Omega 3 fatty acids and so on. You’ll find you don’t often have to supplement if you use the right ingredients.

How to Make Limited Ingredient, Clean and Homemade Foods

You know that the formula includes protein, carbs, fats and supplements, but what are the best choices?

Proteins – I like to buy locally raised, grass-fed, pasture-raised, organic…you get the idea. I buy the healthiest and best possible meats. Dogs need a lot of protein and they can do well with eggs, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, venison, bison/buffalo, rabbit or wild game. I don’t give my guys any pork. I also use dairy foods such as cottage cheese to help ensure they get what they need in terms of protein and the essential amino acids.

  • Veggies – I put this separately because it is where you give your dogs the highest amounts of micronutrients. I’ve written extensively about foods you shouldn’t give to dogs, so I won’t reiterate that list here. Instead, I will recommend some of the best: alfalfa, amaranth, artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, dandelion leaf, lettuce, green beans, potato, spinach, summer and winter squash, swiss chard, all of the leafy greens, and sweet potato, pumpkin, and yam. While my dogs love to chew on raw carrots, when including them in dog food recipes, be sure they are soft enough for a dog to digest easily. You may even want to puree them for good measure. And be cautious about amounts – too many means a lot of oxalates in the kidneys. So use moderation and follow the formula.
  • Fruits – Dogs seem to really love banana, pear, strawberry, blueberries and apple, as well as watermelon and some fresh berries. Don’t go overboard here, either. A bit of seasonal fruit each day is healthy, but too much can lead to tummy troubles. And never let a dog have a fruit with seeds or pits that could contain toxins or lodge in the throat or digestive tract.
  • Whole grains and starches – This list is huge and can include everything from brown rice to wheat, tofu and peas. Again, the key is to go light and balance them against the other ingredients. Those percentages given above apply to the vegetable/fruit/grain options used to meet carbohydrate levels. So, if you are making something with 30% carbohydrate, you can use a fruit, veg and grain ingredient, but totally they can only measure to that 30% of the recipe.
  • Fats and oils – I usually look to the meats I choose for some fat and then choose an oil that helps to give my dogs a very glossy coat. So, I might add a bit of chicken fat along with a bit of fish oil for its omega fatty acids. You can also opt for cod liver oil, canola or olive oil. I steer away from nut oils in case of allergies or sensitivities.

Before moving into a basic template for making food, I want to give you a few words on supplements. You won’t always find these in the ingredients of other homemade, limited ingredient, and clean foods recipes. But, it is the only way to address the issue of nutritional balance. After all, many who oppose this way of feeding your dogs do so because these foods are thought to be unable to meet the dog’s nutritional needs.

First, I find that laughable when you look at what is put into so many consumer foods. Second, you’ll find that a whole food or clean diet for your dog means that many of the ingredients provide adequate amounts of key vitamins and minerals. To be sure you are on track though, use this simple table of vitamins and minerals all dogs need:

  • Vitamin A – Get this from eggs, fish oil and veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots or spinach
  • Vitamin B – Get this from brown rice or green veggies
  • Vitamin C – Get this from potatoes, most fruit, green beans and zucchini
  • Vitamin D – You can add this by stirring in some cottage cheese, an egg yolk, a bit of fish oil or from beef
  • Vitamin E – This comes from whole grains and leafy greens, particularly kale
  • Vitamin K – This is found in fish as well as leafy greens, including cabbage
  • Calcium and/or Phosphorus – You can ensure your dog has this by using eggs, meat, fish and tofu as well as veggies like cauliflower, broccoli and green beans.
  • Potassium, Sodium and/or Chloride – This comes from grains and fruits or veggies
  • Magnesium – Get this from leafy greens and grains
  • Sulfur – Add this to the diet with molasses (black strap is best), eggs, meat and fish
  • Iron – This comes from legumes, fish, red meat, eggs and poultry
  • Zinc – Get this from lamb, liver, eggs, and brewer’s yeast (a small amount of this ingredient can be regularly added to a dog’s diet to aid digestion)
  • Iodine – This is from kelp, dairy or seafood ingredients
  • Selenium – Get this from veggies, meats and brown rice
  • Copper – This is found in legumes, grains and seafood

Here’s a huge hint about minerals and vitamins – kelp and seaweed have every trace mineral a dog requires. They are often described as the spark plugs of metabolism, and so you may want to provide your dogs with a premium kelp or seaweed supplement (100% is best) stirred into their food a few times per week. Dogs also need the ten amino acids– Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophane, and Valine. These come specifically from meat, eggs and dairy. So, never skimp on such crucial ingredients as they are key to a dog’s health.

And now that you understand what you need to do in order to begin feeding your dog(s) in the cleanest ways possible, let’s look at a basic recipe for limited ingredient food and then a few more expansive homemade recipes.

The Recipes

If you are going to make a bulk recipe of homemade, limited ingredient food, a good basic recipe would look like this:


  • 3 cups water
  • 1 ½ cups brown rice
  • 1 tbsp oil of choice
  • 3 pounds ground turkey/chicken/beef
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 3 cups spinach, chopped
  • 1 summer squash, shredded
  • ½ cup frozen peas


  1. In a large pot add 3 cups water and the rice, cooking until done
  2. Brown the meat in the oil and then add the veggies and the rice, stirring until the spinach is wilted and the veggies are soft.
  3. Set aside to cool and then divide into servings, refrigerating or freezing leftovers
  4. If adding fish oil or supplements, do so after cooking

Dog Stew

No, you won’t be cooking a dog!


  • 1 potato, peeled
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 lb. beef, cubed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour


  1. Bake the potatoes and carrots in the oven until soft.
  2. Sauté the beef until it is fully cooked and remove from the pan
  3. Add the water and flour to the pan and stir to form a gravy
  4. Add the vegetables and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes until soft
  5. Cool before serving – there will never be leftovers…never
  6. If adding fish oil or supplements, do so after cooking

Thanksgiving Has Gone to the Dogs

Give your puppo something to enjoy while everyone else sits down to a Turkey Day feast


  1. 1 lb. turkey without bones or skin
  2. 2 tbsp oil
  3. ¼ cup water
  4. ½ cup each carrots and green beans
  5. 1 cup brown rice, cooked


  1. Fry the turkey until cooked fully
  2. Add the water and veggies and cook for 15 minutes over medium high heat
  3. Stir in the rice and cook to heat through
  4. Cool before serving
  5. If adding fish oil or supplements, do so after cooking

Meat Loaves for Meat Lovers

Why not give your dog a diner classic with this easy to make (and freeze) meal?


  • 3 cups of ground meat (your choice_
  • ½ cup each of cottage cheese, rolled oats, and grated vegetables
  • 2 eggs


  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Mix everything in a large bowl and form into meatballs or press into muffin cups or use a loaf pan.
  3. Bake for 40 minutes
  4. Remove and allow to cool before slicing into individual servings

Something’s Fishy

Omega fatty acids are so important, and this recipe is full of them!


  • 1 carrot shredded
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 stalk celery, cubed
  • 1 can salmon without bones
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp whole wheat flour


  1. Drain the salmon and stir it together with the egg and the flour
  2. Form this dough into patties and fry them in a small amount of oil until done
  3. Remove them from the pan and use that same pan to stir fry all of the veggies
  4. Top a patty with the veggies and serve

Just Your Basic Everyday Dish

  • 1 cup meat of choice, ground fine
  • ¼ cup of chicken livers
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice
  • ¼ cup veggies/fruits of choice
  • 1 egg, hard-boiled and peeled
  • 1 tbsp fish oil


  1. Cook the meat until done
  2. Add the liver and egg
  3. Stir in the vegetables and cook until the vegetables are soft
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the rice and fish oil

Dessert Has Gone to the Dogs

We can’t think of a good diet as complete without a dessert!

  • ¼ cup yogurt (unsweetened and unflavored)
  • ¼ cup each diced apple, strawberries and applesauce
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • 1 tbsp brewer’s yeast


Put everything into a blender and puree until smooth. Dogs like this “as is”, but if it is summer time, you can freeze small amounts in an ice cube tray and use this to chill water or as a crunchy treat.

Moving Forward

Clean eating, limited ingredient eating and homemade eating…they are closely linked. They shouldn’t be all about the strict rules or guidelines. Instead, doing this should mean you are focusing on the healthiest, tastiest and most appropriate foods for your dog and his or her specific needs. You’ll be cutting out all of the junk, toxins, and potential allergens and injecting their diet with a lot of creativity, new tastes and fun. Take it slowly to be sure that your dog does not get too much fiber or any upset from such a change. And as I always say, meet with your vet beforehand to be sure you will get it right.

My dogs love their homemade meals and even more they love the homemade mealtimes they spend with “mom”. They know what the clanging and banging and alluring scents mean, and so they come and hang out in the kitchen, listening to me tell them all about my technique, the quality ingredients, and all in a weird accent. I’m not sure if they think it is funny, but they sure appreciate my effort and have vibrant health, glossy coats and boundless energy because of it. I hope you can give your dogs the same! Bon Appetit!

Related Content:

7 Great Homemade Dog Food Recipes (Video)
Your Dog is Not a Human, So Don’t Feed Him Like One!
4 Dog Food Recipes You Can Make in the Crockpot – and How to Create Your Own! (Video)
8 Dog Food Recipes to Try This Year (Video)