Making Food for Dogs
When I wrote about Dog Food, I acknowledged Homemade Meals, as an option, one I don’t pursue. I basically set the topic aside, and that was that. That’s not entirely true though. I’ve cooked for my dogs in the past, and I’m currently having to do so again, for one of my girls.
I felt it necessary to remove home cooked options from the larger Commercial Diet discussion, because in my opinion – which is all this ever is, it involves completely different concepts.
Thoughts on Nutrition. Kibble, Raw, or Canned, they all have one thing in common. They are 100% nutritionally complete. In order to be on the market as a ‘complete diet’ a food has to meet certain vitamin, mineral, protein, etc., standards. If they don’t meet these standards, they have to be labeled ‘for supplemental feeding’, which tends to freak out consumers. Most manufacturers want to avoid this label.
Let’s think about that for a minute. Every meal we feed our dogs is 100% nutritionally complete every time. Is everything you eat nutritionally complete? I know that’s not true for me. It depends on how you want to think about nutrition. Is nutrition a straight line? Providing the same level of nutrients day in and day out. Or is it more of a wavy line? Some days you get this, some days you get that, but overall it balances out.
Kibble or any commercial diet is that straight line. Homemade diets are curvy. Yes, there are vitamin packs you could buy to basically eliminate this difference. That would kind of defeat the purpose. With homemade diets and that squiggly line, we have the benefit of providing our pets nutrition from real sources, not from a synthetic powder made in China. By the way, almost all vitamin packs are made in China. A small percentage come from Europe.
There is some school of thought that we are actually doing our dogs a disservice by providing them this perfect nutrition on the daily. We are forcing their bodily systems to process too many vitamins and minerals without giving them the natural breaks they would get if they were eating a little of this one day and a little of that the next. The breaks that we get. The breaks they would get if they were the opportunistic scavengers they are supposed to be. Is that over working of the systems leading (or at least contributing to) an epidemic of kidney problems? Liver problems? Pancreatitis? Or any of the hundred other common ailments we find in our pet dogs?
The point here is one has to be cognizant and aware when feeding their dog a homemade diet, that they are bucking the system from a nutritional standpoint. Complete nutrition on a daily (or weekly or monthly) basis is your responsibility. Concerns about this can be augmented if you include some commercial food in their diet. Weekly or every few days. In my opinion (note the caveat) that should be sufficient.
What to feed. Nutritional diatribe aside, what are the nuts and bolts of a homemade diet? I am not going to provide a complete how-to. It’s not my expertise, and each individual needs to make their own calls. In broad brushstrokes though, first familiarize yourself with bad juju. Everyone pretty much knows about chocolate and grapes and raisins and onions. I’d also avoid excessive amounts of fatty meats or skin, cured meats, cooked bones, and too much salt. Obviously any thing your dog is allergic to in kibble format (chicken, grains, what have you) should be excluded from their home prepared meals as well. Beyond that though, the sky is the limit. Raw or cooked? Your call. Rice or Quinoa or sweet potatoes? You decide. What veggies do you have in your fridge tonight? I know people who prepare their dog’s meal right along side their own, with a few substitutions made.
In general, a home made diet should consist of 3 things: protein, carbs, fruits/veggies. With the fourth and fifth runner-ups being calcium and Essential Fatty Acids. On the protein front, I would never made their meal less that 50% meat (or eggs or a combination there of). Ideally, that meat source should be as close to the ‘whole animal’ as possible. Meaning it includes organ meat and connective tissue, and ground bone for that calcium. We aren’t talking boneless skinless chicken breast here. Divide up the other half between carbs and veggies. And always, always make sure your dog is getting some calcium from egg shells or bones (raw, not cooked).
What we do. The veggies and quinoa pictured above are being added to a purchased raw ground meat and bone product. The veggie mix is parsley, kale, fennel, carrots, burdock root, and a little leftover purple cabbage. We are moving one of our girls to this diet at the direction of our Holistic Vet (love them!). I expect we will be moving more of the pack to a similar formulation in the future. Currently we subscribe to a ‘never run out of dog food’ mentality. If the kibble is gone or the raw isn’t defrosted, I’ve been known to cook up eggs and oatmeal and veggies and yogurt. Viola! Dog Dinner! We also seek out those “scary”, ‘supplemental feeding-only’ nutritionally incomplete products. Because things don’t need to be be 100% all the time. ‘Perfect’ nutrition just shouldn’t exist in my opinion. We all need an imperfect meal now and again, dogs included. Sometimes it’s frozen sardine and cottage cheese (ewww!) or tripe and yams (even better!) or their weekly raw bones on Movie Night.
I have friends who make stew for their dogs with chicken carcasses, veggies and the whole she-bang. Others that add whole food ingredients to their dogs kibble. Whatever you do on the home cooking front, great! I think the important part here is to do something. Add whole foods. Vary their diets. Embrace nutrition as a journey, not something you get with each and every scoop.