I really wish I were independently wealthy – of course pretty much everybody wishes that, I suppose. If I won the Power ball tomorrow, I’d buy myself a huge house on acres and acres of land, and have it all fenced in so my dogs could have the world’s biggest back yard to play in! And I’d donate buckets full of money to dog charities. Realistically, though, I suppose that’s never going to happen – I’ll never have a chance to find out how rich people live.
So, what got me thinking along these lines? Well, as is so often the case, my train of thought was inspired by someone I met at the dog park. I’ll change the name and a few of the details to protect the guilty, but this story is going to be true in every way that matters. Joanne wasn’t one of the regulars, and I’m not sure why she even felt the need to visit our little park, since her spoiled dog never even left her purse the whole time they were there. But there she was, wearing fur (My God, does anyone wear fur anymore? Besides Joanne, I mean?) and sporting a diamond ring with a stone about the size of my thumbnail, and probably worth enough to support several dog charities for many years.
Anyway, there was Joanne with her little bat-eared dog. We’re a friendly lot at the park, and Debbie, Al and I felt bad for her, standing there all alone, so we wandered over to chat. Somehow, the talk turned to what we feed our dogs, and Joanne informed us that she makes all her dog’s meals, and even his treats, from scratch. Well, she didn’t exactly have the look of a working woman, so I suppose she’d have all sorts of time on her hands to do just that. After she left, the rest of us got talking about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of preparing meals for our dogs.
Back in the Day
We always had a dog when I was growing up, usually just a mutt. As I pointed out to Debbie and Al, it wasn’t until I struck out on my own that I was able to indulge my dogsnobbery with purebred Boxers. I remember my grandmother giving my mom a hard time for buying dog food at the store. “Can’t he just eat table scraps?” she’d ask.
See, Gran grew up poor. So in a way, she was very different from Joanne, but also kind of the same. You could say that she cooked for her dogs, because they always ended up eating whatever the rest of the family ate – at the end of the meal, Gran, Gramps, my mom and her two brothers would all scrape off whatever was left on their plates into the dog’s dish. It probably didn’t make the most sense nutritionally, but it probably also didn’t do a whole lot of harm, either. After all, dogs are omnivores, meant to eat a variety of protein and vegetable material.
Of course the table scrap thing also meant that back in the days before commercial dog food, our canine friends probably also consumed a lot of things that were not good for them. I’ve talked about these foods in Your Dog is Not a Human, So Don’t Feed Him Like One. A better diet today may be one of the main reasons why dogs typically tend to live longer, and enjoy better health, than our grandparents’ dogs. Nobody I know feeds their dog table scraps as the sole source of nutrition, but of course scraps can supplement your dog’s diet as long as you’re careful about the type of scraps on offer. Most veggies are fine, with the exception of onions and tomatoes, and I’ve never yet met a dog who didn’t love cooked carrots. But as the only diet, table scraps aren’t going to cut it.
Homemade, or Commercial?
The upshot of the discussion was that none of us feed table scraps to any great extent. We care too much about our dogs to play games with their diet. By the same token, though, neither I, nor any of my immediate circle of dog park friends cook for our dogs. Most of us simply don’t have the time. I could be a little bit flexible, since I’m not in a relationship right now, and I don’t have kids, but I still go with commercial dog food. I usually cook for myself, since saving money on takeout leaves more money for me to buy toys for Janice and Leroy, or to spend on books about dogs. Also, I worry about nutritional balance, and Stephen, my vet, is of the firm belief that a regular diet of dry dog food is best for virtually all dogs.
Still, I kind of wonder sometimes if Janice and Leroy would like a little more variety. I do switch things up from time to time, but it’s always by going to a differently-flavored dry food that has the same nutritional value. I figure that if you’re making your own dog food, you practically have to be a canine nutritionist, and I most definitely am no such thing. So, if you’re going to cook for your dog, you’re going to have to learn the basics.
Although a good commercial dog food is almost always the best option, homemade food can have certain advantages. For instance, if your dog has allergies, skin problems, or an easily upset stomach, you should probably treat him the same way you would with a human family member with similar issues. In other words, you will want to make food from ingredients that you know and trust, while also paying attention to his nutritional needs.
Serving sizes are going to depend on how much your dog weighs, and his activity level. Generally speaking, though, your dog’s diet should consist of:
- Approximately 40% protein, from meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or dairy products – go on the low side with the dairy, though, as it can cause diarrhea
- About 10% carbohydrates, from grains and legumes
- 50% green, yellow or orange vegetables
In addition, your dog will benefit from small amounts of fat, and also needs a source of calcium. If he does not tolerate dairy products well, you can offer calcium in the form of a supplement.
Now, having pointed out that I do not, and do not intend to, cook for my dog, I fully understand if it’s something that you want to try. So, with that in mind, I did some looking around online, and I found some dog food and treat recipes that you might like to try if you want to make your dog a special meal, like on his birthday, or the anniversary of the day you brought him home, or for another special occasion. I might even try some of them myself one of these days. So, without further ado, here are 7 great recipes you can make for your dog. You’ll also find that many of these recipes are equally pleasing to humans.
1. Beef Stew
If you give your best buddy canned beef stew for dogs, as an occasional treat, try this less expensive, healthier alternative.
- A pound of beef stewing meat
- Half a cup of diced carrots
- Half a cup of diced green beans
- One small yam
- Half a cup of flour
- Half a cup of water
- A tablespoon of oil (for frying)
- Microwave the yam for about 6 minutes, until it is just tender, but still a bit firm, and set it aside.
- Stewing meat usually comes in large chunks, so cut it up a bit smaller. Cook it in the oil until it is well-done. Then take it out of the pan, leaving the drippings.
- Cut up the yam into small chunks, and add the chunks to the pan.
- Cook over medium-low heat, and then mix the flour and the water together until there are no lumps, and add the mixture slowly to the pan. This is how you make the gravy that your dog is going to love!
- Now, put the meat, the yam chunks, the green beans and the carrots in the pan, and cook until the carrots become tender but not mushy.
- Allow the mixture to cool, and serve.
You can keep leftover beef stew in your refrigerator for up to a week.
2. Slow Cooker Beef, Rice and Beans
Who doesn’t love their slow cooker? For sure I do, since it makes meal prep possible in virtually no time. And if you’re also cooking for your dog, you’ll reap the same benefits in terms of ease of preparation and time saved. This is a great meal that you can cook ahead of time for your dog, and freeze portions for later.
- 2-2.5 pounds of ground beef – you can use regular or medium, but if you go with lean you will need to add a bit of fat to the skillet before frying
- One and a half cups of brown rice
- 15 ounce can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- One and one half cups of butternut squash, or other firm-fleshed orange squash
- One and one half cups chopped carrots
- Half a cup of frozen peas
- Brown the ground beef over medium-high heat in skillet until well done, and pour off excess fat.
- Put a quart of water in your slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients. Stir in all ingredients with 4 cups of water in a crockpot.
- Add remaining ingredients, and cook on low for about 6 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can use high heat for about 3 hours.
- Cover and cook on low heat for 5 to 6 hours or high heat for 2 to 3 hours.
Couldn’t be easier! Now, if you’re going to be partaking of this delicious meal, you can chow down. Let your dog’s portion cool to room temperature before feeding him, though.
This recipe makes about 12 cups, so you can freeze it for later use.
3. Low-Cal Turkey, Rice and Veggies
This recipe is ideal for dogs (and humans too, for that matter), who need to take off a few pounds. It contains plenty of lean protein, and healthy fiber in the form of brown rice, and heaps of veggies, and it tastes great too. I’m going to recommend it to Debbie, since she and her beagle, Chuck, are both battling the bulge.
- Six cups of water
- Two cups of brown rice
- A pound of ground turkey
- 8 ounces of frozen cauliflower, carrots and broccoli (this is often sold in the frozen food section of your grocery store as “Winter Blend”)
- A teaspoon of dried rosemary
- Place the turkey, rice, rosemary and water in a large Dutch oven, and stir until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to low.
- Let simmer for about 20 minutes, and then add the veggies.
- Cook for an additional five minutes.
- You are good to go, but your dog will still have to wait until the mixture cools.
You can refrigerate leftovers for up to five days. You can also freeze it if you like, although the vegetables may go a bit mushy. If this doesn’t bother you or your dog, though, it’s all good!
4. Chicken Jerky
When buying rawhide strips for your dog, make sure to read the ingredient list carefully. There have been a lot of reports of dogs becoming ill from this type of treat, especially the flavored varieties, so go with just pure rawhide, or better yet, make your own chewy treats. It’s fast and easy.
All you need is chicken breast or thighs, and your oven. If you have a food dehydrator, it’s even easier. Remove the bones from the chicken, trim off the fat, and cut it into strips about 1/8 inch wide. Place the strips in a 200 degree oven, and bake for a couple of hours – until the strips are hard and all the moisture has been removed. Or, pop them in the food dehydrator and monitor the progress from time to time. Let cool, and then call your best buddy for a fabulous homemade treat!
You can store these treats in a container in the fridge for up to two weeks.
5. Banana Pops
You love a delicious frozen treat on a hot day, don’t you? So will your dog, and these banana pops couldn’t be easier to make. Just take a quart of plain yogurt, and add two tablespoons of peanut butter and three ripe, peeled, mashed bananas. Blend the ingredients together, and pour into an ice cube tray or small plastic cups. Freeze the banana pops until they are firm.
You can keep the banana pops in the freezer for up to two weeks.
6. Pumpkin Yummies
If your dog has a sensitive stomach, you may already know about the natural benefits of pumpkin. To make these treats, you can use whatever’s left over from your Halloween Jack-o-Lantern (assuming the pulp is still in good condition and free of mold), or go with canned pumpkin – not pumpkin pie filling, though, as it also contains sugar and spices.
- One third cup of very cold water
- Two thirds of a cup of pureed pumpkin
- Two cups of brown rice flour or whole wheat flour
- Two eggs (omit if your dog has an egg allergy)
- Two and one half tablespoons olive oil or flax seed oil
You will need two cookie sheets, and baking paper to make sure that the treats don’t stick when you’re rolling them out.
- Beat the eggs, and mix with the pumpkin.
- In another bowl, combine the oil and flour. Save some of the flour to use as topping during baking.
- Then, stirring constantly, add the pumpkin mix. Slowly add the water, and then thoroughly mix the ingredients with your hand.
- Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking paper. Then, remove the paper and cut the treats to the desired size. Place them on the cookie sheet, and top with the remaining flour.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the tops of the treats are completely dry.
These treats will keep for a long time if you store them in a tightly sealed container.
7. Creamy peanut butter
This is the easiest recipe of all, and again, it’s one that both you and your dog can enjoy. All you need is a bag of plain, ordinary, unsalted peanuts. Throw them in a blender or food processor and whirl until smooth.
This is how peanut butter is supposed to be. Nothing but pure peanuts, no added salt, sugar or preservatives. Your dog will love it! If you’re used to commercial peanut butter, you might find that it takes some getting used to, but once you’re free of all those undesirable additives, your palate will adjust and you’ll wonder why you ever wanted it any other way.
Now, having given you the 411 on how to make meals and treats for your dog, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a few caveats.
1. No Substitutions
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can substitute other ingredients in the above recipes. They have all been formulated with ingredients that are safe for your dog. So, for instance, if a recipe calls for water, don’t use that leftover tomato juice you have, thinking that it just enhances the vegetable content of the meal – tomato products can have terrible effects on your dog’s kidneys and liver.
Don’t use ingredients that have additives. The whole idea behind cooking for your dog is to use only pure ingredients – many prepared products that are perfectly safe for humans contain things that can be harmful to dogs.
In short, stick to the recipe. Also, make sure to cook everything thoroughly so that it is digestible and free of harmful bacteria.
2. No BARF
This does not mean that your dog might throw up on the floor because you’re a terrible cook! BARF is actually an acronym for a trendy diet for dogs. It stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, and it is basically the equivalent of the human Paleo diet (which, by the way, if you’re on it, you’re an idiot, so please go read someone else’s blog – I don’t tolerate idiots overly well).
On the BARF diet, a dog eats only raw meats along with uncooked vegetables and grains – supposedly what their canine ancestors existed on. You can find BARF recipes online, but most veterinarians do not recommend the BARF diet. In fact, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has come down strongly against it, stating that studies show that eating raw (or even undercooked) meats can make your dog sick. This is because they carry harmful pathogens, and in fact, those pathogens can even be transmitted to humans. So, simply stated, BARF is a really barfy idea. Don’t do it.
. Foods You Must Never Feed Your Dog
You have probably come across lists of foods that you shouldn’t feed your dog, and as I mentioned before, I devoted a blog to the topic. So, you likely know about chocolate, grapes, raisins, garlic, onions, macadamia nuts, and of course alcohol and caffeine. But while researching this article, I came across another food that I didn’t know was bad for dogs, so I’ll share it with you now.
Why? Well, when you think about it, it becomes pretty obvious. Because unbaked bread dough contains yeast, it will continue to rise until you actually bake it. This can cause bloat in your dog’s stomach, which can lead to a rapid heart rate, vomiting, weakness, and even death. Also, as yeast ferments, it creates alcohol, which is absorbed into your dog’s bloodstream. It takes very little alcohol to poison a dog, causing him to develop seizures and go into respiratory failure.
The Final Word
I’m not crazy about cooking, but as I said, I do it because it saves me money. If I really thought that home cooked meals were better for Janice and Leroy than commercial dog food, though, I’d make the effort. Given how easy the above recipes are, though, and how so many of them are also great for human consumption, I might give it a try from time to time. As my normal course of action, though, I’m going to follow Dr. Stephen’s advice, and stick with a good commercial dry dog food.