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Do you ever wish you could use the crock pot in the summer? I know that’s a weird thought considering it usually makes stews and roasts, but the easy one-pot cooking style is right up my alley. Even though I feel like the time for stews and roasts isn’t till I pull out my winter coat, I decided for myself that the slow cooker can still get plenty of action in the summer. Janice and Leroy like it because right around this time of year, I start to want to try weird things in the kitchen. Like the year I decided I was going to cook their dog food myself. Longtime readers will remember the homemade dog food recipes I was sharing left and right for a while, and if you haven’t seen those posts, go check them out! There are some cool treats on those lists that don’t take long at all to make.
A few years ago, I started looking for ways to cook dog food in the crockpot to save time and mess, and of course, the Internet never lets me down. I went through a ton of crockpot recipes for dogs, looking for ones that met certain criteria:
They had to be recipes that included real meat ingredients as the most prevalent ingredient.
They had to be recipes that didn’t include ingredients that dogs cannot eat.
They had to be recipes that I didn’t have to go hunt down weird ingredients for.
They couldn’t be too high in calories per serving.
And finally, they had to be things that didn’t require me to futz with during the cooking process.
I know, I’m a picky person. But really, what’s the point of making a slow cooker recipe if you have to mess with it, or if it won’t work for the intended eater’s needs? Now, normally I feed Janice and Leroy a high-quality store brand dog food, recommended by my vet. So this kind of thing is just a treat for them. Here are the four recipes that I tried out, and what they thought. Then I’m going to tell you an easy way to make up your own crockpot dog food recipe out of whatever you happen to have in your pantry. I’ll also give you a few tips on serving sizes.
Chicken, Rice, and Sweet Potato Stew
The first recipe I tried was a very basic stew with just a few ingredients:
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
1/2 pound green beans
1 medium raw sweet potato, skin still on, cut into chunks
3 carrots, sliced into discs
2 boneless chicken breasts or 4 boneless chicken thighs
The directions are pretty simple. Starting at the top of this list and following it in order (that’s important!) layer everything into your slow cooker. Cook on low for eight hours, or high for five hours. Then break up all the soft mushy parts, using a wooden spoon to break the chicken into smaller parts, and let it cool. You can serve some right away, and refrigerate the rest. It will keep for about three days. You can also freeze this; just thaw and heat up for your dog when you want to feed them. Janice and Leroy aren’t super interested in this one, compared to some of the others I tried, but I guarantee you if there was a gravy element involved, they’d eat it up.
This one gets rave reviews from Leroy, though I’m not quite as fond of what beans do to him later! The ingredients are once again very simple,but this is an even easier recipe to make.
2 1/2 pounds ground beef (Be sure to use very lean ground beef. Too much fat is bad for dogs!)
1 1/2 cups brown rice
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups chopped butternut squash
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1/2 cup peas, frozen or canned
4 cups water
Just dump it all into your slow cooker and let it cook on low for about six hours, or on high for three hours. Let it cool down and serve, refrigerate, or freeze as desired. This one comes out a bit drier than the chicken recipe, so you can easily fill up a Kong with it if you prefer.
Of all the dog stews I tried, this was the one that Janice and Leroy loved the most. Naturally, it was also the smelliest, but I’ve never been a fan of chicken livers myself. If you like liver, you may not mind the smell. This one had the most work involved to my mind, but that was mostly because you have to core and seed the apple in the stew. Be sure not to skip this step! Apple cores and apple seeds can be toxic to dogs.
3 pounds boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup chicken livers
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup frozen green beans
1 apple, core and seeds removed and discarded, quartered
2 to 3 cups water
1 cup frozen peas
Just dump everything except the peas into a slow cooker and let it cook for eight hours or low or five hours on high. About 15 minutes before it’s done, add in the peas. Then let it cool and serve, refrigerate, or freeze as desired. This one made Janice especially happy, and she actually ate it so fast that I got a bit worried I would highly recommend a bowl that slows dogs down a bit if your dog does the same – eating too fast can cause bloat, a serious medical condition in a dog.
This one was like Thanksgiving dinner for dogs! The verdict was only so-so though. I could tell they would both rather have the liver or the beef – both fattier types of meat that are better as occasional treats. This is another dump and go recipe, so I liked it a lot better.
3 poundsboneless chicken thighs
3 pounds ground turkey
2 small potatoes, diced
2 small sweet potatoes, diced
8 ounces frozen peas
8 ounces carrots, chopped
1 cup frozen blueberries
Put the meat in the crockpot first and cover with water. Then add everything else and cook on low for about 12 hours. When you’re done, use a wooden spoon to break up the chicken and then serve, freeze, or refrigerate. It’s that easy!
Alright, so now that you know the four recipes I liked testing out, let’s talk about how to go about making up your own. I found a really neat resource that explains the things that go into dog food, and how to translate that into what we think of as human food. More importantly, it explains it in a way related to the slow cooker. So here’s the list of it:
Always start with a protein. This is the number one thing that dogs need in their diets. You have lots of options here, from organ meats to fish and eggs. You can try chicken, turkey, pork, beef, lamb, bison, salmon, whatever you want. Just be sure you aren’t giving them any bones.
Depending on your philosophy on dog food, the next step may be to choose a grain. Not all dogs can handle grains, so you may want to choose a bean instead to create a filling ingredient. Kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans are safe for dogs. If you go with a grain, I would highly recommend sticking with either brown rice or oatmeal, as they are the least likely to cause an allergic reaction if your dog is grain-sensitive.
The next step is to throw in some veggies! You can add almost any veggie you want, provided it is raw. Unless you cooked some veggies totally plain with no butter or seasonings at all, do not add leftovers that you cooked for yourself. Dogs especially need things like carrots and sweet potatoes, but you can also try out peas, green beans, or even spinach or asparagus.
Finally, add a flavor booster in the form of fruit or nut butter. Blueberries, peanut butter, or even some pumpkin puree are all good choices. If your dog has skin issues or their coat’s been a little dull, you can toss on a tablespoon of olive oil too.
Always be sure that you are layering any starchy vegetables and meats near the bottom of the crock pot where they’ll get the most heat. This ensures they cook all the way through and that they get soft enough to eat. Keep the delicate greens and fruit ingredients near the top.
How Many Calories Does My Dog Need?
As you cook, you’ll have to sort out how many calories you are giving your dog. I can’t do it for you because your ingredients could be different from mine – a small sweet potato has way fewer calories than a large sweet potato, for example. Use an app or the Internet to figure out how many calories there are in your entire recipe. Next, measure your recipe out to find out how many cups of food you made. Now divide the calorie count by the cup count, and you know how many calories there are per cup. Got that number? Good. We’re ready to go.
The absolute best way to know how many calories your dog needs is to ask your vet. Activity level definitely matters when it comes to your dog’s needs. Some dogs that weigh 50 pounds need way less food than other dogs that weigh 50 pounds – it all depends on how active they are. But as a general guideline, you can usually go by these numbers:
A five-pound dog will need between 120 and 180 calories per day.
A 10-pound dog will need between 420 and 630 calories per day.
A 20-pound dog? Between 700 and 1050
A 30-pound dog? Between 930 and 1400
A 50-pound dog? Between 1350 and 2000
A 70-pound dog? Between 1680 and 2500
A 100-pound dog? Between 2400 and 3600
Puppies tend to need more than adults:
Five-pound puppy: 200 calories per day
10-pound puppy: 700 calories per day
20-pound puppy: 1200 calories per day
For puppies larger than 20 pounds, you will usually stick to the highest caloric needs of an adult dog of their size. So a 50-pound puppy would get 2000 calories, and so on. If your dog is on a diet, of course, they’ll need far, far less. For example, a 100-pound dog on a diet might only need around 1380 calories a day. I would really recommend seeing a vet before you decide how much to feed your dog long term.
Now that I’ve gotten the cooking bug out of the way, Janice and Leroy have a few weeks’ worth of homemade food in the freezer. I don’t feed it to them all the time. I might give them a homemade meal once a week, and regular dog food every other day. But it’s a fun way to treat them without giving them anything too high in calories or mystery ingredients, and without having to do much work in the kitchen.
Speaking of ingredients, PLEASE see my blog post about foods that your dog should never eat before cooking for your dog! There are many human foods that can be toxic to dogs, and I would not be a good host if I didn’t remind you of that fact. You can safely cook for your dog if you like, but not all human foods are created equal. Pay attention to the salt levels of your ingredients as well, especially if you ever add any broth to the mix.
And with that, I think it’s about time to go cook myself something for a change. Enjoy making your dog a special treat with the ultimate lazy chef’s tool!