Should you run out of dog food, there’s a good chance you have the ingredients for an “in a pinch” meal or two for your dog. Know which foods are healthy for dogs and which ones to avoid before you assemble a meal.

Consider your dog’s allergies and health conditions. Canine food allergies are commonly caused by meat-based proteins, like chicken and beef. Chronic health conditions like kidney or liver disease require a low-fat diet. As you think about what to prepare for your dog, consider a meal that won’t aggravate a food allergy or worsen a chronic disease.

Remember that dogs aren’t picky eaters. Just make sure that the meal has a good nutritional balance of protein and carbohydrates. For example, a quick and easy meal is plain chicken served over plain brown rice in about a 50:50 mix. If your dog isn’t impressed, add a small amount of low-sodium broth to make the meal more appealing. Human meals for dogs are not long-term solutions because they are not as nutritionally balanced or complete as commercial dog foods.

Meal Considerations

Before starting to rummage through your pantry or fridge, keep a few things in mind:

Avoid salty, spicy, sugary, or fatty foods. A dog’s palate is not exactly refined (remember that they eat poop!), so the meal that you prepare does not have to be a well-seasoned, culinary delight. In fact, anything other than plain foods could cause digestive upset, like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.

Avoid toxic and processed foods. Certain human foods are toxic to dogs, including grapes, raisins, onions, and garlic. Processed foods like bacon and deli meats are off-limits because of their high sodium and fat content.

Meat should be lean (at least 80% lean), cooked, skinless, and boneless. White meat chicken is ideal, but ground turkey or beef are also suitable. Boiling the meat is preferable to frying or grilling.

This meal is only temporary. “In a pinch” human meals for dogs are not long-term solutions because they are not as nutritionally balanced or complete as commercial dog foods. The absolute longest that you want to feed these meals to your dog is a week—that should be more than enough time for you to buy more dog food.

The meal that you prepare should be a good balance of lean protein and complex carbohydrates. Fortunately, you have a lot of foods in your pantry and fridge from which you can choose.

Pantry

Peanut butter (xylitol-free)

Plain, complex grains, like brown rice, couscous, and farina

Low-sodium broth (vegetable, chicken, beef) for extra flavor

Plain, unprocessed oatmeal (oatmeal packets are processed and sugary)

Canned vegetables, such as corn, peas, and carrots: Rinse well and drain to remove sodium.

Canned chicken in water: Rinse well and drain to remove sodium.

Refrigerator

Plain, low-fat Greek yogurt

Mild cheeses, such as American

Cooked white or sweet potatoes

Cooked eggs, such as scrambled eggs

Rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed

Cooked lean meat, such as chicken, beef, or turkey

Cooked or raw fresh vegetables, such as carrots, corn, and broccoli

Fruits, such as blueberries, strawberries, and sliced bananas and pears

Another quick meal, particularly for breakfast, is 2-3 scrambled eggs over vegetables and a cooked grain. Add some fruit to give your dog something sweet to munch on.

You can also cook some ground beef and add that in with some cooked or raw vegetables and plain brown rice.

If you really want to have some fun, check out these recipes for more ideas on what to feed your dog in a pinch.

Homemade Dog Food Basics

Before you start raiding the fridge, you should know what components make for a nutritionally-sound dog meal.

Three Rules for What to Feed Your Dog When You’re Out of Dog Food

Avoid excess sodium and fat, which can cause excessive thirst and tummy trouble

Aim for a balance of lean protein and complex carbohydrates

Consider any allergies or special dietary needs your dog may have

One of the quickest, easiest dog meals you can prepare according to the rules is plain, cooked chicken with rice. In fact, vets often recommend chicken and rice meals for dogs with sensitive tummies. But that’s just a starting point! If you’re vegetarian like me, you may not have any chicken on hand; that doesn’t mean you can’t provide your pooch with a quality pantry meal.

From the Fridge

Leftovers aren’t just for people. If you have any recently-cooked grains, plain meats, and veggies in the fridge, it’s as easy as throwing a handful of each in your dog’s bowl.

If you don’t have any leftovers handy, here are a few fridge staples you can mix and match for your dog:

Plain cooked chicken or lean beef, or rotisserie chicken with the skin and bones removed

Low-sodium cold cuts (sliced turkey from the deli is okay; processed, preserved bologna is not)

Mild cheese like Colby or cheddar

Plain, low-fat yogurt

Fresh spinach or carrots

Steamed or boiled peas, broccoli, or corn

Cooked potatoes or sweet potatoes

There’s one other fridge staple that makes a perfect emergency meal for your dog: eggs! Scramble two or three eggs in a small amount of olive oil and serve over plain, cooked grains with a side of vegetables. It’s a balanced homemade meal your dog will love.

Freezer Picks

If you’re a meat-eating home, then chances are you have some frozen protein on hand. Dogs don’t have particularly refined palates, so you can use the microwave to defrost and cook a quick dog meal in one go. Frozen beef or chicken stock is another nice addition!

Here are some other common frozen foods you can defrost and cook for your dog:

Pre-cooked frozen rice

Frozen whole grain bread (one or two slices only, please)

Frozen vegetables like green beans, broccoli, peas, corn, and spinach

Blueberries and strawberries (in warmer months, your dog may enjoy frozen fruit as a naturally sweet treat!)

In general, you should avoid feeding your dog processed, packaged frozen meals (i.e., no TV dinners).

Raid the Pantry

Canned and dry goods are the true sweet spot for homemade dog meals. In a pinch, you can just make your dog a plain bowl of oatmeal. But keeping in mind the ideal protein to carbohydrate mix, here’s a list of common pantry items you can mix and match for a dog meal:

Canned vegetables like peas, carrots, and corn (rinsed to remove extra sodium)

Canned chicken and fish packed in water (thoroughly rinsed and drained)

Low-sodium beef, chicken, or vegetable broth

Plain, cooked oatmeal

Peanut butter (low sodium and no sugar added is best—also be sure to avoid xylitol-sweetened PB)

Plain, cooked grains like brown rice, farina, or couscous

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