Homemade Dog Food With a Special Ingredient
Why You Should Consider Cooking Your Dog's Food at Home
Feeding your dog home-cooked meals prepared “from scratch” requires time and effort, but the advantages make it worthwhile. Preparing dog food in your own kitchen with ingredients you select lets you know what your pet is consuming and the conditions under which the food was prepared. Homemade dog food puts the safety and nutrition of your pet’s diet within your control, where it should be. After all, who loves your dog more than you do?
Your reason for preparing dog food will not be profit, which is the prime incentive of the commercial pet food industry. Instead, your desire to keep your furry friend healthy and happy is ample motivation for giving DIY dog food a try. Feeding your beloved pet a home-prepared diet from safe, nutritious ingredients may even prolong her or his life. For me, that possibility makes the time and effort I spend making dog food worthwhile.
Many commercial dog foods (even expensive “premium” brands) have been recalled because they were contaminated with deadly toxins. Unfortunately, pet food recalls usually occur after contamination has already caused the serious illness or death of beloved pets. The possibility that a commercial product may be tainted makes feeding it to your dog seem more like a risk than a health decision.
Food Recall Updates
There were 1162 pet food recalls listed by the FDA from 2007 to October, 2012, and 1100 more from 2013 through 2015 for numerous types of contamination, often salmonella. These recalled pet foods included some of the so-called “premium” brands that most pet owners trust. Still feel safe feeding your dog "premium" commercially sold food? For recalls after May 1, 2013, you can visit the FDA's website for animal and veterinary recalls.
Sure, it’s more convenient to buy a bag of dry kibble and simply pour some into a bowl for your dog to eat. That convenience, in my opinion, comes at too steep a price. I am no longer confident that any commercial dog food, whatever its cost, marketing hype or “rating,” will always be safe, and I’m not willing to take a chance with my dog's life.
My miniature schnauzer girl's health and potential longevity are very important to me. Since entering my life in March 2005, she's given me incalculable joy. How can I give her less than the best? With her well-being in mind, I decided after a spate of pet food recalls to begin making her food. I continue to be happy with that decision. Watching her eat every meal with gusto assures me she enjoys her homemade food.
At first, I was hesitant about my ability to provide an appropriate canine diet, but I did a lot of research about home-cooked dog food on Websites maintained by veterinarians and canine nutrition experts. I also discussed the issue with my dog’s vet, who offered specific advice and encouragement about supplements. Once I gave the process a try and realized how easy it was, I began preparing her food on a weekly basis. Cooking for my dog soon became second nature, and now I do it as automatically as I prepare my own meals. The entire process—start to finish--takes less than an hour.
Most vets and animal nutrition experts agree that dogs need an adequate diet consisting of meat or another digestible protein plus vegetables and a small amount of healthy fat. What these experts can't agree on is the appropriate ratio of the recommended dietary components. Varying with the "expert" making the recommendation, suggested percentages go all over the board.
In recent years, there's been a great deal of controversy about whether or not dogs should eat grains. Unlike wolves, domestic dogs evolved to digest carbohydrates, and grains add fiber to their diet. Most healthy dogs do fine when a small amount of one grain is included in homemade food. However, some dogs may be sensitive to one or more grains. Wheat or corn may be the culprit if your dog has itchy skin. If you know your dog has a grain intolerance, just avoid using that ingredient. You can get a Nutriscan testing kit at www.hemopet.org (Dr. Jean Dodds' lab) that uses your dog's saliva to determine food sensitivities or intolerance.
Since there's so much leeway among the pros about how much of each food type to include, I experimented and found a "middle ground." Except for the protein, which never varies by weight, the amounts I use of other ingredients don't fit neatly into a scientific formula. I'm flexible about the types and amounts of vegetables from batch to batch, though I limit grain to one type and approximately the same small amount. Her dietary plan seems to be working. My dog thrives on her food, lost those extra pounds she didn't need, and maintains her weight.
How to Make Your Own Dog Food
I start with two pounds of dense, very lean, organic, grass-fed meat and add enough other ingredients for the final amount to equal two 8-ounce cups per day and last an entire week. I don’t measure the remaining ingredients, and I vary them, but I’ve learned to look at the cooked, mixed food in the large stainless steel bowl I use and know if the amount is adequate for seven days. If not, I add a bit more veggies.
There is no need to add sodium chloride or salt since most meats and vegetables contain a small to moderate amount of sodium without adding any. Your dog doesn’t want or need “flavor enhancers” the way humans do. While there are two schools of thought about very small amounts of garlic being okay for dogs under the supervision of a veterinarian, I prefer to be cautious and avoid it. My dog doesn’t care. She eats every morsel in her stainless steel food bowl and licks the sides and bottom of the bowl so clean it looks washed, so it’s evident she enjoys her food with its natural flavors. She never ate kibble so enthusiastically as she does her home-cooked meals.
Feed your dog human-quality meat, preferably not that which originates on factory farms (the politically correct term these days is Industrial Farm Production Operations or IFPOs). Factory-farmed meat is no healthier for dogs than it is for humans, and buying it only perpetuates the numerous severe problems these so-called farms create.
If you live in the U.S. and buy traditionally produced (read: factory farmed) meat at the supermarket, it is more likely than not you’re eating toxic residues, such as veterinary drugs, heavy metals, and pesticides that are contained in the meat. A report by the USDA confirmed these toxins are common in the nation's meat supply because the national Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is “woefully inadequate” to monitor its safety.
In short, the meat under that plastic wrap may look and smell “okay” to you, but the only way to really know what you’re eating if you bought it at the supermarket is to have it lab tested! A much better option is to purchase your meat from a source you can trust: a small local farmer or rancher, or a reputable online producer with verifiably safe and ecologically sound practices.
When I first began preparing pet food at home, I chose lean grass-fed bison for my dog's protein for a specific health reason. Puppy Girl requires a low-fat diet due to an unfortunate propensity for developing pancreatitis if she has a higher fat intake. Schnauzers and some other dog breeds, such as poodles, tend to develop increased lipase levels if they ingest too much fat, so their diet should not include the 10% to 15% fat other breeds may be able to handle. A maximum of 5% is adequate for a low-fat diet, and most of that should not be derived from the meat source as it will be saturated fat.
However, if it isn’t necessary to restrict your dog’s fat consumption that much, you may wish to use grass-fed beef instead of bison and add a bit more fat to the cooking pan. Organic coconut oil appears to be a healthy oil for dogs, but don't use a lot. In fact, you can just put a "dab" on a paper towel and wipe it around the inner surface of the cooking pan.
Another good protein choice for homemade dog food is organic (natural, pasture-raised, no antibiotics or hormones added) chicken breast, boneless and skinless, with fat removed. Dark meat, which is more economical, is okay if your pet doesn't need the lower-fat white meat. Again, I’ll emphasize: Poultry from factory farms is not healthy for humans or animals for many reasons too numerous to describe in this article. I'll save that topic (and rant) for a separate article.
I now alternate between feeding my dog cooked organic chicken breasts and organic ground turkey breast, which I can buy locally at Whole Foods Market. I trim all visible fat from the chicken, and the ground turkey contains a very small percentage of fat. I cook the chicken covered in water, let it cool in the refrigerator until it's easy to cut, and then dice it in small pieces. I cook the crumbled ground turkey in a skillet on low until the pink disappears.
When bison was the choice, I ordered it already ground in one-pound packs online from Northstar Bison, and it was shipped to me frozen and packed with dry ice. I usually bought at least 15 one-pound packs at a time, sometimes more. The meat is frozen solid when it arrives and can be placed in the freezer immediately, and the amount needed should be thawed in the refrigerator before cooking. Pasture-raised bison is a very lean meat:
Northstar Bison is a family owned and operated business and a reputable source for grass-fed, hormone-and-antibiotic-free bison, beef, and lamb. They also sell and ship organic pastured chicken and turkey, as well as locally farm-raised elk and ostrich. All animals are raised humanely and holistically, harvested with minimal stress and processed in Northstar's own facility. The company's shipping plan is fast, safe, and cost-effective. By the way, I'm not plugging Northstar strictly as a source of protein for homemade dog food! Their product line is much healthier/safer for humans who eat meat than anything you'll find in your local supermarket. Members of my family who are omnivores enthusiastically praise Northstar bison steaks and roasts. (This is a non-paid endorsement.)
Veggies and Fruits
Excellent vegetables for dogs include carrots, green beans, peas, yellow squash, butternut squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, pumpkin without seeds (canned will do, but don’t use pumpkin pie filling, which includes sugar), small amounts of white potatoes (cut away the peel, sprouts and any green beneath the peel), and occasional leafy greens, such as cooked spinach. Spinach can be very beneficial for dogs, but should not be a routine ingredient, as it may thin the blood if given too frequently. Occasionally I add a few steamed pieces of broccoli to the bowl and mash it into the food.
My dog likes veggies, so the volume of vegetable ingredients I include is greater than that of the meat or grain. Puppy Girl loves green beans and carrots! She never seems to tire of them, so I add one or both of these nutrient-rich veggies to every batch of food.
I also add a can of organic pumpkin, which is great for her digestion. I make a habit of never buying anything in a can unless the label reads, "BPA-free." Fortunately, there are several brands of organic pumpkin puree that are packed in either cans without BPA linings or in Tetra packs. There is one sold just for pets (and it costs a bit less than pumpkin in the baking aisle, but looks and smells the same and has no additives). The brand is Nummy Tum-Tum. Farmers Market brand is also good.
My girl also loves slices of organic cucumbers, so, whenever I peel and slice a cucumber for my own lunch, I save her a few slices of cuke and hand-feed them to her as a treat. I don't add them to her food because she seems to like them crunchy.
Adding a bit of fruit to her diet provide variety and be especially tasty, as most dogs like fruits. Puppy Girl adores chopped apple, unsweetened applesauce, banana slices, pears, and blueberries. She prefers a half banana as a hand-fed treat, and organic fruit is better for her than processed treats.
I can pick up a banana from the fruit bowl while she is asleep in another part of the house, and she's suddenly standing beside me waiting for the fruit before I can peel it! Our routine is that I get one-half of the banana, and she gets the other half. Yummy! By the way, I only buy organic fruits, both for myself, my guests, and Puppy Girl. Traditionally-raised fruits have some of the highest levels of pesticides of any produce.
Even dogs like variety, so I alternate a small peeled, cored (no seeds!) and chopped apple with banana, and she loves it. Just be very careful to steer clear of fruit seeds (which contain a type of arsenic), stems, and pits. Also, avoid those fruits known to be highly toxic to dogs, such as grapes, raisins, and prunes. (Ingestion of only seven grapes can be fatal to a moderately sized or smaller dog, something you don't want to chance.) Avocados and macadamia nuts are also very dangerous for dogs. This is so crucial I will repeat it further in this article, along with an expanded list of foods known to harm dogs.
As mentioned previously, carbs provide good fiber for a healthy and active dog, and whole grains are the best carb choices, preferably organic to avoid both pesticide residue and GMOs. Dogs don’t need a lot of grain, so keep the amount a small percentage of the total food. Note: When I first began making home-cooked dog food, I used brown rice, the preferred whole-grain type (which I also ate at the time); however, after reading a news report that brown rice grown in the U.S. actually harbors more arsenic than white rice, I switched to organic white basmati rice.
The source of the rice crop is also important. It seems that much rice is not safe because of toxins it picks up from the earth in which the crops are grown. Asian rice is frequently grown near industrial sites with heavy runoff. Rice brands that are grown in some U.S. states are also high in arsenic.
Fortunately, I read an article from a reliable source stating that Lundgren's organic basmati white rice (grown in California) tests lower for arsenic than any other rices, significantly below the 'allowable' level, and I've since seen charts showing arsenic levels in rice products that substantiate that claim.
Although I've switched almost exclusively to certified gluten-free oats for Puppy Girl's grain, I occasionally use the Lundren's organic basmati rice for variety. Sometimes I add either cooked sweet potato or white potato to the mixture instead of oats. Why wouldn't dogs like some variety in their diet? Humans do, and dogs have evolved to be very like humans in many ways!
I purchase organic, gluten-free oats, usually buying them online because there are only a few brands that are both organic and GF. Oats give the food a good texture, and the pumpkin holds the blended food together.
I vary at least a couple of the veggies and fruits in the mixture from week to week to give my dog some variety. Again—I wouldn't want to eat the same veggies and fruits day in, day out. Variety is, as the old saw goes, the spice of life.
Foods That Are Toxic to Dogs
This is where I become redundant, but I gave you advance warning and hope you'll read all of the following caution. Repetition aids memory, and I'll add to the list of foods that are toxic for dogs. It’s vitally important to never feed your dog any of these items:
Some common foods may be dangerous to dogs even in small amounts. Avoid onion, grapes, raisins, prunes, raw eggs, dairy products, avocado, more than a very small amount of garlic, wild mushrooms, nutmeg, nuts, green potatoes, non-ripened tomatoes and foliage, excess salt, fruit seeds/ pits/stems, raw salmon, liver, chocolate, rhubarb, yeast and cassava root. Xylitol, which is an ingredient used in sugarless gums and toothpaste for humans should be kept away from dogs, as even a small amount of xylitol can be fatal to a dog. Read labels to avoid this poison. The smaller the dog, the more likely one of these foods will severely sicken or even kill him or her.
Small amounts of garlic may not harm your pet and may, indeed, have some health benefits—some people swear it repels fleas—but garlic should be used with caution, preferably with the supervision of your vet, because a lot of it can cause organ damage. Since my dog has a compromised immune system because of a very serious reaction to a vaccination, I choose to be cautious about any ingredient with the slightest potential for harm. (I haven't been diagnosed with OCD, but there are family members who would swear I have it—especially where my Puppy Girl is concerned!)
Now that you've selected what goes in the dog food, here's how to prepare it:
Assemble all the ingredients, cooking pans and utensils. I cook the meat separately until tender. When using ground meat, I sauté it in a large stainless steel skillet on medium heat with a tiny bit of organic virgin coconut or olive oil just wiped over the surface of the pan so this very lean meat won’t stick. These are the healthiest oils, for dogs as well as humans, and are beneficial to their coats. If you'd prefer to forego the oil and steam the meat in a very small amount of purified water, that will work just as well.
After breaking the meat apart into small bits with a heavy-duty steel spoon, I stir and brown it, and then cover the pan with a lid to let it finish cooking on a low heat setting. As soon as there’s no pink showing, I turn off the burner and leave the lid on the pan. At that stage, it remains moist until I'm ready to mix it with other ingredients.
When I use chicken breasts, they are simmered in water until done. I remove them from the broth and transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate while I cook the veggies and (if used) grain so the meat will be easier to dice before adding it.
Chopped veggies are boiled or steamed together in a separate large cooking pot while the meat is cooking. I drain them in a colander and use a potato masher so they'll be in small bits before adding vegs to the meat.
When using instant organic/gluten-free oatmeal, I use two packets for one batch and stir it into the moist still-hot ground meat mixture before the cooked veggies are added. This mixture contains enough moisture and heat to "cook" the instant oats. Just be sure to stir all the way through the meat and again when veggies are added so oats are evenly distributed throughout the food mixture.
I also add organic pumpkin to the ground meat/oat mixture and stir thoroughly. The heat helps the pumpkin get mixed very well. The only difference in method when using chicken breasts is that after I drain the veggies (catching about 1/4 of the vegetable broth in a cup), they go back in the pot while still very hot, and then I add oats and pumpkin. The diced chicken goes in last.
By the way, I eat only organic vegetables and fruits, and I feed my dog the same quality organic produce that I consume. She doesn’t need to eat pesticide residue any more than I do! Dogs are as vulnerable to cancer as humans. You may say, “That’s too expensive for a dog," and, of course, that's your prerogative. We all must establish our own priorities; however, I can't resist asking this question. Do you want your dog to be healthy and have a lifespan within the range (hopefully, on the far side) that is normal for her or his breed?
If you do, you may decide it's worthwhile to shop organic for your buddy, too. You can do without all those pricey drinks from Starbucks if the sacrifice will make you feel better about buying organic produce, especially since commercial coffee drinks are loaded with sugar you don't need. I consider the cost of organic foods a preventive that's much cheaper than medications or other medical treatments for disease. Viewed in that perspective, you may find organics less expensive in the long term, both for the human members of your family and your much-loved pet.
If your dog, like mine, tends to eat fast and keeps the chewing to a minimum, her prepared food should have a “mashed, but lumpy” consistency. The nutrient-enriched water in which the veggies and grain were cooked makes her food moist. Dogs that eat moist food may not drink a lot of water, but the vet says that’s okay as long as water is always available. A good bit of a dog's water requirement is provided in the food.
I mix the meat with all the other ingredients in a very large bowl that has enough room to thoroughly stir it until well mixed. I've had people walk through my kitchen while I'm doing making dog food and say, "Mmmm...that smells good. Will dinner be ready soon?"
You can imagine the reaction when I reply, "It's for the dog."
I put enough food to last three days (feeding twice per day) into a glass bowl with cover and refrigerate it. The remainder is frozen in daily amounts that can be easily defrosted overnight in the refrigerator.
Calling Puppy Girl to Dinner
Just before serving her meal, I add 2 tablespoons of chopped organic parsley and fold this into the food. I also add the recommended amount of plant enzymes and probiotics for dogs, as well as a natural seaweed calcium supplement (you can use bonemeal if you prefer) and stir. This supplement is a natural digestive aid, and she rarely has a tummy upset.
One of the enzymes, amylase, helps dogs properly digest starchy carbs such as starchy veggies and grains. I encourage anyone making dog food at home to add enzymes and probiotics. The very good brand I use (Animal Essentials) is shown in a photo below and is available online in two bottle sizes from Amazon. Give your dog a daily canine vitamin and mineral supplement, and ask your vet to recommend any other supplement necessary for your dog's breed, size, or any specific health issues.
Puppy Girl has good “table” manners. While I put her filled food bowl in place beside her water bowl, she sits quietly on a nearby rug until I tell her, “Okay, you may eat now.” Only then does she go to her food and “dig in.” Isn’t she a good girl?
Since she tends to eat too quickly, I only spoon 1/3 of her food into the bowl at a time. Once she's slurped it down (that's the sound she makes), I tell her to "back up to your rug," and she does. She's so cute backing up and sitting until I give her the "okay" to eat another portion that I often laugh when I see her do it. This happens again until she's eaten the third portion. Then I use a baby wipe to clean her whiskers and give her a chewable vitamin/mineral supplement (the latter with her first meal of the day only). She rarely drinks water just after eating, but usually returns a bit later to the water bowl.
Miscellaneous Tips for Your Dog's Mealtimes
Healthy crunchy treats, including those formulated for doggy dental care, will give your dog something to chew that will help keep her teeth clean. Cruncherz dog biscuits (formerly known as Barkwheats), actually contain no wheat, a grain to which some dogs—including my furry friend—are sensitive. These treats, which come in several flavors, contain antioxidants and have minimal calories. Unfortunately, they also contain canola oil, which I've learned is not healthy--despite the hype.
That's why I began making Puppy Girl's buckwheat treats myself, using organic buckwheat flour, organic ground ginger sprinkled into the dry flour and mixed, adding organic pumpkin puree and organic unsweetened applesauce. With the applesauce, there is no need to use any oil. I roll them out, use a small cookie cutter (about the size of a quarter) and twice-bake them slowly, like biscotti, so they will be hard and crunchy. This makes them keep well in the "cookie" jar, and I give Puppy Girl a couple to crunch on as a treat.
A regime of daily tooth-brushing with toothpaste formulated for canines—never human toothpaste, which may contain ingredients harmful to dogs—is recommended for thorough doggy dental care—especially important when feeding your dog moist home-cooked food. Moist food will stick to the teeth and form tartar that hardens into plaque and causes gingivitis if not removed. Prevention is better than cure, since professional cleaning of a dog's teeth requires anesthesia that can cause complications, and the procedure is costly.
The amount to feed depends on the size, age, activity level, and breed of the dog. Ask your vet to recommend the appropriate amount of food intake per day. Don’t forget to factor in treats to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity isn’t any healthier for dogs than it is for humans.
Puppy Girl’s weight at age ten stays at 20 pounds, and two cups of food daily (half in the morning, half in the late afternoon) plus fruit and homemade treats are just right to keep her trim and not overweight. She's a miniature schnauzer, and this breed tends to chow down fast and empty the bowl almost as soon as it’s available. This is even easier for a dog to do with softer home-cooked meals than when eating commercial kibble. Now you see it, now you don't! Dividing her day's food into two meals keeps her from eating too much at one time, helped by three separately spooned "servings" at each meal. This is a good procedure to use when feeding dogs that customarily eat too fast.
Don’t forget to thoroughly wash and rinse the food bowl after every feeding and the water bowl daily to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. You wouldn't want to eat dinner off that dirty plate smeared with dried food you used at lunch, would you? You'd be surprised (then again, maybe you wouldn't) how many people never wash their dog's food and water dishes!
That "Special" Ingredient Called Love
Sometimes I think Puppy Girl has an internal clock, for she just reminded me it’s time for her supper. She’s right, so I’ll go feed my girl after leaving you with this final tip.
When you prepare your dog’s food at home, you will add one other very special ingredient—the same one my grandmother mixed into the batter of her soft-as-air biscuits. It’s an ingredient not available in any store or online site. You can't put a price tag on this addition. It’s called LOVE.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Is it okay to add ground flax and chia seeds with vet-approved fish oil to my dog's food?
You don't say what amounts of these seeds you're adding, your dog's age/size/breed, or if your vet knows about these additions. Both flaxseeds and chia seeds are high in valuable nutrients, including omega oils and fiber; however, they are higher in omega-3s than omega-6s. You should get input from your vet about the proper ratio of these two omegas, especially since you're also adding fish oil. As long as you're adding the appropriate amount of each to your dog's diet, they can provide energy as well as healthy skin and coat. Your vet can tell you the right amount for your dog.Helpful 5
© 2012 Jaye Denman