THE BASICS OF HOME COOKING FOR DOGS
While I’m very educated on this topic and have mucho experience with my own dogs and my work on Fido & Wine, I’m not a vet, nor am I a dog nutritionist. It’s always advisable to seek veterinary advice before commencing any new diet programs for your dog. I also encourage you to do your research – there are lots of great resources out there on the web for those who wish to switch their dogs to a home cooked diet.
These are my own personal thoughts.
If you or your children ate processed, poor quality food laced with chemicals, additives, and artificial who knows what – you would struggle with obesity, feel sluggish, and your mind & body would not be operating at full capacity.
Benefits that I have observed when feeding home cooked vs processed:
-Overall improvement in terms of general health, more energy, happy demeanor
-excited to eat any and all meals
-easier, less smelly bowel movements
-less trips to the vet (save $$$)
-speedier recovery from injury/viruses/other incidents
-increases bond between you and your pet
-you can ensure that your pet is not eating food that has been deemed unfit for human consumption, e.g. possibly road kill, spoiled meat, cancerous tissue, rancid grease, etc.
-control over what your pet is eating
-control of the safety & cleanliness of food prep area
I would love to give you a step-by-step outline on what and how to feed your dog in terms of a home cooked diet. However, this is impossible for me to do as each dog is unique, and only you can decide what works best for your dog. I have, however, compiled some research for you to read through to help you create a menu that will work for your dog.
If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, you should consult with a vet about specific dietary needs. Be warned – not all vets are keen to have you feed your pet home cooked diets, and I have personally had vets try to sell me canned food or supplements from their shelves to add to our meals. In one incident, a vet tech actually warned me of the perils of home cooking! You may also have people you know tell you that it’s not good to feed your dog “from the table” – but at the end of the day, who can argue that bags or cans of artificially flavored, filler laden dog food made with ingredients that are often not fit for human consumption is better for your dog than wholesome, well balanced food made with human grade ingredients? They’re the crazy ones – not you. Remember that.
I like to say that it’s not that different from cooking for yourself or a child. You can tell what’s working for your dog by observing behavior, appearance, bowel movements (you have to pick them up anyway!) etc. They may not be able to talk to us, but they can most definitely communicate.
There may be some trial and error involved, but soon you’ll find out just how easy and truly rewarding cooking for your dog is.
Dogs should be eating mostly meat. That’s a fact that’s hard for anyone to argue with. They shouldn’t be having a lot of grains, although they can digest them, but because a meat based diet is expensive, it’s become standard to incorporate some into their meals. Dogs do need some vegetables, but they must be pureed if they are to be consumed raw as your dog won’t be able to digest them otherwise. The most generally accepted ratio we have found in our research is 40% meat, 30% carbohydrates, 30% vegetables. The creative team on the television show, Fido & Wine, Laura (host) and Jen (producer/director) both feed their dogs a much higher percentage of meat, and far less grains and vegetables. That is what works for their dogs – large, active breeds. This may not be what your dog thrives on: there are folks who swear that a vegetarian diet is all that works for their dogs. Who are we to disagree with them? There will be people who vehemently feel that dogs should all be fed a certain way – but try not to feel judged – we can’t emphasize enough that only you can know what works for your dog, they most certainly do not. Don’t let the bossy pants people scare you off of home feeding. It’s kind of like telling you what your (person!) child should be eating. There are lots of foods that give us and our dogs the necessary nutrition.
Dogs need organ meat in their diet. About 10% of their overall diet should be offal, and half of that (5%) should be liver. This is easy to incorporate, you can feed it to them a couple of times a week, just add it to their meal. I like to include some raw food in my dogs diet (personal choice) and this includes raw liver and offal. Hint: if it’s frozen, it not as smelly, and the dogs love it just the same. I also love the dehydrated liver; nutrients stay intact during the dehydration process, and it’s so convenient, easy and not stinky at all! Of course, you can cook the liver and offal, by roasting or boiling or even pan frying.
VARIETY: As with people, dogs should not eat the same thing for long periods of time. Switch up the meats, there are so many to choose from, and be sure to try to include some fish, as salmon and other species can have lots of omegas and other benefits. Learn which meats are lean and which ones are fattier. Younger, active dogs need more energy (this comes from fat not carbs) and older dogs require a leaner diet (turkey, chicken), just as people do! Getting the picture yet? Feeding your dog home cooked meals isn’t all that different from cooking for ourselves.
Meats: Beef, turkey, chicken, duck, lamb, goat, rabbit, quail, wild game & fish are just some of the meats you can cook with.
Carbs: Quinoa (actually seeds not a grain, very healthy, my top choice), brown rice, millet, barley, rolled oats, bulgar, rye, pasta.
Veggies: pumpkin puree, spinach, beans, broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, etc.
Again, like people, dogs need calcium. If you aren’t giving them raw bones which are a natural source of calcium, you need to supplement their diet. You can buy certified bone meal powder from your pet or health food store – never from the garden store, that kind of bone meal is not for consumption. The ideal calcium: phosphorus ratio in the canine diet is between 1:1 and 2:1. If the diet contains lots of phosphorus (a meat rich diet) , then you will need to give an amount of bone meal that will provide 1,000 to 1,200 mg calcium per pound of food to keep the ideal calcium: phosphorus ratio in the diet correct. Not everyone agrees on this amount, but the ratios are close to this. The amount of bone meal powder to add to their food depends on the size of your dog. There are charts available online to help guide you.
You can also save your eggshells and grind them up as a great & cost effective source of calcium. Ground eggshell can be used as a calcium supplement. Rinse eggshells and dry them on a counter overnight, or in the oven, then grind them in a clean coffee grinder. One large eggshell provides one teaspoon of ground eggshell, which contains 2,000 mg of calcium, so add ½ teaspoon ground eggshell per pound of food fed. Don’t use eggshells that haven’t been ground to powder, as they may not be absorbed as well.
Some people add yogurt on top of their dogs meal, which I think is a great idea and do occasionally. However, cow milk and other dairy products are not digested well by dogs, so I tend to stay away from other dairy.
You may feel more secure feeding supplements that include calcium designed for a home cooked meal. They are available in most pet supply stores. Do not use the calcium supplements for people, they are not meant for dogs.
Dogs produce their own vitamin C – wouldn’t that be convenient for us? What Fido needs in terms of vitamins and minerals can be found in a diet rich with a variety of meats & vegetables. However, some people do believe in adding supplements to the diet, such as fish oil. I personally feed fish that’s high in omegas (salmon for the most part) once or twice a week rather than add fish oil to a meal. I also try to eat fish myself once or twice a week. Why not consider cooking an extra portion for Fido at the same time? Easy peasy. This is up to you, if you aren’t sure that you are covering all of the bases, you may want to consult with someone or do your own research if you want to add supplements. Don’t guess when it comes to what supplements to add and the amounts, do your research.
HOW MUCH TO FEED FIDO:
This is very specific to your dog. It depends on the size, breed and level of activity of your dog. There are very specific calculators available online if you are the type of person who is very scientific about caloric needs that can help you calculate the daily calories you need for your dog. There are also online calculators that will help you break down the calories and other nutritional info when you put in the ingredients and amounts contained in a recipe.
Some sources insist that dogs will let you know how much they need to eat by “free feeding them” – with the intent that they will stop eating when full, thus defining how much you should give them going forward. Well, with our recipes, we can tell you that our opinion is that this may work with processed kibble and wet yuck from a can, but with home cooked meatloaf, we think our dogs would eat the whole pan if they could and then get sick later!!
I am much less scientific about the amounts I feed The Boys. I feed more when we’ve had them out running all day, I feed them leaner meals in the winter when they get less outdoor exercise time…if they start to get a bit of extra cushion, we reduce the portion sizes. If we did this for ourselves, our society would have struggle less with obesity and diet related diseases! How much to feed also depends on how many treats you give them per day, and what kind of treats you feed them. You can do more research and find guidelines as to how many cups per day of wet food (as in stews, meatloaf, etc.) or dry food (home baked kibble) but I’m not going to break this down for you as we I’m not an expert in that area. In my opinion, the simplest approach is to feed what seems like a reasonable amount for the dog and then watch their weight. You should be able to easily feel the dog’s ribs beneath your fingers when you run your hands over their sides.
HOW WILL I KNOW WHAT FOODS WORK FOR MY DOG?
I am of the mindset that you will work out what’s best for your loved one, much as you would for yourself & your human family. Use all of your observational skills to see what’s working and what’s not. Does Fido freak out when there’s chicken around? Does his breath stink after a beefy breakfast? They tell you in their own ways what is working for them. You should be watching their poops – not pleasant, we know – but poops will tell you a lot about the pet’s dietary health. You have to pick it up anyway!! Based on what you observe, you can amend your menus accordingly. You may notice that your dog might be more constipated on certain meats, or have soft runny poop from too much carb action. Take note of how your dog smells on a daily basis. You may notice that certain home cooked menus take away that oh-so-lovable-not doggy smell! Awesome!
The bond between you and your dog will significantly increase. I love cooking for my family, it’s a constant source of joy for me.