Yes, I cook for my dog. How can I do it better?
November 1, 2008 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I'd like nutritional advice for homemade dog food and maybe treats, using easy-to-find ingredients. I haven't been able to find high quality commercial dog food where I live, so I make most of her food myself, but I would like to make her homemade food as healthy as I possibly can with the resources I have, which are somewhat limited. Current routine, and many(!) more details inside.

Our dog is a rescue that we've had for five months, and she's a completely different animal than we got - in the best way, so I know we are doing pretty good now, but I'd like to know more and do better.

We don't have access to most fancy health food ingredients, so I want to use ordinary ingredients as much as possible.

I currently feed her one of: turkey, chicken, fish, or liver, + brown rice or crumbled whole wheat bread, + vegetables (shredded carrot and zucchini with a bit of cooked spinach, or cooked and lightly mashed frozen veggie combo - peas, green beans, carrots, potato, lima beans). I portion these (protein, carb, veg) as roughly 1/3 each. At one point I upped the protein, but she began straining to poo and her poop was very hard. Normally her poop is very good/solid - never soft or runny, but not too hard, either. That may have just been an adjustment thing, so I'm not averse to increasing the meat to veggie/carb ratio if it's a better diet. I once tried cooked oatmeal instead of rice, and she seemed to really dislike it, but it was probably just because it wasn't what she expected, and we can give that another shot - if it's better for her. (She's really not picky or spoiled - she'll eat what we give her to eat, though I might have to feed her from my hand a bit at first to get her going...)

To this I add a spoonful of nutritional yeast, a small bit of chopped or dried garlic, a half a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, a small splash of olive oil. About once a week I give her a scrambled egg or two instead of meat/fish, and a couple of times a week I give her a few spoonfuls of low(er)-fat yogurt as a treat.

Her regular treats are slices of banana, frozen peas (which she is inexplicably crazy for), or a small bit of feta cheese. She'll eat a couple of bites of pear and apple as well, though not her favorite stuff. She's not crazy about fruit, generally. We don't feed her our leftovers (we eat 'em ourselves!)

I worry, expecially, that she's not getting enough calcium. I don't really find the proper sorts of raw bones for her here (we once asked our butcher for a dog bone, and he gave us something that looked like it came from a dinosaur... really, there was no way that was happening). And she could probably benefit from other additives, but I can't find a lot of health food ingredients here. The nutritional yeast, which should be available as a powder, I have to buy from the one place I can find it in pill form (and expensive), which I then grind up. There just isn't a lot of health food stuff available here yet.

I got the very nice book Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, but I can't find most of the holistic ingredients in the diet section. I ordered a book of dog food recipes that are supposed to be "Veterinarian approved" and the recipes were totally silly, plus even from my little knowledge, not really that healthy. So I'm up for a good book on this, but it has to be something that relies on regular ordinary ingredients that you could find anywhere, and of course it should actually have some canine nutrition science or background. I'm really, really not looking for something like "Bow-wow Brownies" with "Bow-wow Brownie Frosting" (actual, real recipes from the second stupid book I got).
posted by taz to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
She can have yoghurt, taz, and if you're worried about the fat, she could have low- or no-fat yoghurt. You could also add powdered milk to her food, or bonemeal, if you can get hold of it to increase her calcium intake.

Also, check your Gmail.
posted by essexjan at 10:40 AM on November 1, 2008

Garlic is somewhat controversial, in that it can be toxic in large quantities, but it is included in plenty of natural foods. You might consider something like Sojos, which is a powdered mix you add to meat & veggies. It contains calcium carbonate, which may help address your concerns about that.

As far as bones, if you search for raw food diets, you'll find lots of people feed raw chicken/turkey wings or necks. It's important that these be raw, in that cooked bones can splinter and injure the dog. You can also get beef marrow bones from the butcher, which she can't eat, but can gnaw on for healthy teeth and get a tiny bit of bone meal that way.
posted by judith at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2008

Referencing the dinosaur bone your butcher gave you....I don't know what breed or how big your dog is, but I used to have a retired racing greyhound who was very "spooky" (afraid of everything) and also couldn't handle any commercial dog food that had large pieces (he was more of a Kitten Chow kinda guy). One time when I was shopping at the local mom and pop grocery store, there was a sign up in the deli: "Free dog bones." So I asked for one, and it wasn't until I got home and unwrapped it that I found out it was like one quarter of an Easter ham. I set it out on the counter while I browsed through the drawers for a knife to cut all that excess meat off the bone. Suddenly Trai appeared out of nowhere and grabbed that hunk o'ham (he had never been a "counter surfer" and had never nabbed food not put into his dish prior to this time). That bone was so heavy that Tari staggered in a comical fashion with his chin bowed against his chest as he carried it to his "bankie" (his dog bed and personal space). He then gnawed on that thing methodically for over an hour until he was down to the actual thumb-sized bone in the center.

Sorry for the long story, but I'm just wondering if your own dog wouldn't mind whiling away an afternoon chewing on a dinosaur bone.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:47 PM on November 1, 2008

My parents' Boston terrier often gets bones about as big as he is. He is happier than a pig in shit and practically hugs the thing like it's his best friend.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:30 PM on November 1, 2008

I cook for my dog too!

My local butcher puts ox hearts aside for me, so I end up paying something like $1.50 a kilo for lean meat (once I cut the heart of). I mince it, add all sorts of vegetables - cabbage, potatoes, broccoli, anything that's going soft in the fridge. Pearl barley, maybe a bit of pasta. Cook it all up in a huge pot, and I made enough for about 2 months at the beginning of October.

For treats - chicken necks! They're small, easily manageable and provide plenty of bone.

My dog is healthy, a great weight and she doesn't have that doggy smell.
posted by tomble at 4:18 PM on November 1, 2008

I've cooked for my dog (a rescued Manchester Terrier) for almost 8 years now. I cook vegan food for him based on the recipes provided by Vegepet. Most of the recipes consist of easily-found ingredients but all require yeast powder, which can be nutritional yeast or brewers yeast (there is more information on yeast within the document). You can order nutritional yeast as well as TVP (another of the ingredients found in one of the recipes) from if you're unable to find it locally. I haven't used the Vegepet supplement in years (it smells bad and the dogs that I had at the time wouldn't touch the food if I used it). My vet, which is an old-school large animal vet with huge hands who is used to pulling calves out of cows shakes his head over my dog's diet but says that my dog is in perfect health and to "keep doing what [I'm] doing."

My dog has tons of energy (as the breed should), healthy eliminations, and an absolutely silky coat. I take him everywhere with me and strangers always comment on how soft his fur is. (When I rescued him his coat was very dull and wiry). Good for you for cooking for your dog! So few people do and I think that the benefits are outstanding. Feel free to email me directly (address is in my profile) if you have any questions that I might help you with.
posted by mezzanayne at 6:09 PM on November 1, 2008

Here's a basic recipe I got from a vet a few years back:

1 head broccoli
1 yam or sweet potato
2 large carrots
2 cups diced (or ground) lean meat
1 cup rice

zucchini is optional – instead of broccoli
you can mix some canned salmon in, instead of some of the meat.

To actually make it, boil all the veggies together until they turn to mush.
Boil the meat and then mix it with the veggies. Add the rice and voila. Tail's a wagging.
posted by philip-random at 8:15 PM on November 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is absolutely the best site I've found for making homemade dog food.

Two important things are missing from your current regimen: calcium and organ meats.

Calcium is one of the most important things to get right. Dogs absolutely have to have the right calcium:phosphorus ratio. The easiest way is to add 1/2 teaspoon of ground eggshells per pound of food. Just save your eggshells, dry them in a low oven, the grind them in the food processor. Please read about this in the link above--it's really important.

Your dog also needs organ meats, especially liver, because they provide nutrients that aren't present in the other foods you're feeding. The standard recommendation is 5-10% liver by weight.
posted by HotToddy at 9:03 PM on November 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: HotToddy, thanks so much for that fantastic link! Exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for because it gives very specific info about ingredients and combinations. Fantastic.

For instance, the liver: I do give her liver, but on rotation... so she has chicken or turkey for a few days, then fish, then liver for a few days. But the article says this:

Liver and kidney should make up 5 to 10 percent of the total diet. It’s best to feed small amounts daily or every other day, rather than large amounts at one time.

I'm definitely going to do the crushed/powdered eggshells. I wish Whole Dog Journal would offer an electronic edition!
posted by taz at 12:25 AM on November 2, 2008

Response by poster: Tomble, do you feed your dog the chicken necks raw?
posted by taz at 12:27 AM on November 2, 2008

I'm not Tomble, but yes, absolutely, the chicken necks and any other bones you feed MUST be raw. Cooking hardens bones and makes them liable to splinter. You should never, ever feed cooked bones.
posted by HotToddy at 9:16 PM on November 8, 2008

Response by poster: I'd just like to add one note for other non-US dog owners... I mentioned that I wished The Whole Dog Journal had an electronic edition, and basically, they do. If you subscribe to the magazine, you get access to their online edition as well. I thought an overseas rate would be too expensive, but it's $42, so $3.50 per month - so I subscribed. (U.S. prices are much cheaper, of course.)

Apparently, you also get access to back articles online, but you need to activate a web access login, with an account number you get from your mailing label (all a bit weird... what's the point of all that?) and I just subscribed, so I don't have a paper edition with a mailing label yet.
posted by taz at 4:55 AM on December 2, 2008

« Older Help me Rock-afire my living room   |   Pro Sound Effects? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.