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If you’ve recently read my post on New Year’s resolutions for dog lovers, you’ll know that I’m working on trying new things with Janice and Leroy every month this year. Cooking our own dog food is not new. In fact, we’ve done several of these recipe round up posts on the blog. But I recently found a few new recipes that I wanted to try, and since it’s a bit too cold out to do much more than hang out in the warm kitchen, this is our monthly adventure.
Janice and Leroy, like most dogs, really love human food. Unfortunately, human food is not all that great for dogs – at least, not the way that we cook and eat it. But, that isn’t to say that the basic building blocks of food – animal protein, vegetables, simple grains – aren’t good for dogs. That is what goes into their kibble, after all. Making a meal for a dog isn’t so hard, once you realize that the big problem with “human food” is more in the way it is cooked and seasoned, rather than the things that go in it.
A Few Facts About Dog Nutrition
Before you just ditch store-bought food and start feeding your dog chicken and rice for the rest of their life, it’s a good idea to understand what your dog needs from their food. Dogs typically get fed once or twice per day, so they need all their nutrients to be present at each meal. They can’t graze like humans can (or they shouldn’t, at least), getting some vegetables here, some protein there. Every meal needs to be balanced.
There are two schools of thought on what dogs typically need in terms of nutrient ratio. The first school says that dogs need a ratio of 50% protein, 25% vegetables, and 25% simple grains and starches. (For a dog’s sake, fruit is considered a starch.) The second school says that dogs need 50% vegetables, 10% starches, and 40% animal protein. Talk to your vet about which ratio is right for your dog if you want a definitive answer. For me, I usually stick to the 50/25/25 ratio just because the math is easier, and because I know that Janice and Leroy aren’t getting all their nutrients from this homemade dog food alone.
While you often see grain-free dog foods for dogs that have allergies or sensitive stomachs, don’t think that dogs just don’t need starches at all. Starches are essential for energy and insulin production. If your dog suffers from allergies, skip out on the flour and rice and try things like sweet potatoes instead, to give them a balanced meal.
Additionally, most dog kibble has added nutrients in the food. If you plan to give your dog nothing but homemade food forever, it’s a good idea to add a multivitamin supplement to their diet, just to be sure they are getting everything they need.
You’ll want to consider your dog’s specific needs when it comes to making their food. Diabetic dogs need fewer grains and starches, and more protein to make up the difference. Dogs that are overweight need lighter calorie ingredients, such as turkey instead of beef. You may find that certain ingredients cause your dog to have skin issues or stomach upset more than others, so pay attention to what you are changing over time and see if you can pinpoint the culprit.
One more thing to know about making your own dog food is what is and isn’t good for dogs. Typically, you can easily feed your dog:
Animal protein that has been cooked without seasonings and in a natural oil, such as olive oil. This includes organ meat, fish, beef, chicken, eggs, lamb, turkey, venison, pork, and so on. Be sure to watch the fat content.
Vegetables that are lightly cooked to make them easier to eat – again, without seasonings and in a natural oil if necessary. There are only a handful of veggies that a dog can’t eat.
Grains, that are again cooked completely plain. Good grains for dogs include oatmeal and brown rice.
Fruit that is raw or lightly cooked without seasoning or sugar. There are several types of fruit that dogs cannot have, so please be careful.
Things that dogs shouldn’t eat include:
Grapes or raisins
Now that we’ve gotten that quick overview out of the way, let’s move on to some recipes that I’m trying this month with Janice and Leroy. I don’t cook their food all the time. What I usually do is make up a batch of homemade dog food, freeze it in serving sizes, and give them each some homemade food once or twice a week till it’s gone. On all other days, they get kibble. It’s a fun way for me to treat them that also saves me some money, and I like experimenting with recipes to share with you guys.
(1) Turkey, Rice, and Veggies
This recipe is low calorie and simple enough for any chef to try.
6 cups water
1 pound ground turkey
2 cups uncooked brown rice
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 (16 ounce) package frozen broccoli, carrots and cauliflower
Place the water, ground turkey, rice and rosemary into a large Dutch oven.
Stir until the ground turkey is broken up and evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low.
Simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the frozen vegetables, and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and cool.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
(2) Chicken Jerky
This is a quick snack but can also be used in addition to other dog foods to add a boost of protein for hardworking dogs.
2 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Trim all excess fat off the chicken breasts.
Cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips using a paring knife.
Bake for 2 hours on a baking sheet until strips are dry and hard.
Cool completely before giving to your dog.
(3) Bad Breath Smoothies
Does your dog have bad breath? This smoothie recipe – especially great for young puppies still working their way up to dry kibble – can help banish the bad breath.
⅔ cup almond milk (unsweetened!)
1 cup chopped carrots
½ cupGreek yogurt (plain)
¼ cup fresh parsley
Combine all ingredients in a blender.
Blend until smooth.
(4) Doggie Meatloaf
I know that when I make human meatloaf, Janice and Leroy act like I’m wounding them deeply when I don’t share. So, this dog-friendly version of meatloaf is a serious treat.
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 ½ cups grated mixed vegetables and safe fruits (like broccoli, carrots and apple)
½ cup cottage cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Hand-mix all ingredients in a bowl until combined thoroughly. Press evenly into a loaf pan.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Refrigerate in slices for easy serving.
(5) Organic Dog Food
If you want your pup to go organic, it’s pretty easy to do so. This recipe uses some healthier, low-calorie ingredients that you can typically find in organic form in any grocery chain.
lean ground chicken
2 cups cooked white rice
3-4 peeled & steamed carrots, diced
2 whole eggs
ground flax seed
1/4 cup canned butternut squash
1/3 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
Cook ground chicken in sauté pan. Do not add any additional oils. Once cooked, drain fat and set aside.
Crack eggs open and place in blender (shells included!); blend until liquefied.
Incorporate eggs with chicken and cook over medium heat until eggs are thoroughly cooked.
Make a “paste” to bind all the ingredients together: Combine 2/3 cup chicken/egg mixture, 1/3 cup rice, 2 tbsp. carrots, and 1/3 cup chicken broth in the blender. Puree until creamy.
In a large bowl, combine chicken/egg mixture with the remaining rice, and carrots.
Add in pureed mixture, flax seed, and butternut squash, and incorporate until all ingredients are combined.
From here, you just need to scoop out a serving and feed it to your pup!
(6) Frozen Banana Treats
Yet another snack, this is something that Leroy especially goes nuts for. They are great in the summer time after a long, hot day at the dog park.
4 cups plain yogurt
2 tablespoons peanut butter
3 bananas, ripe, peeled & mashed
Blend all ingredients together into a puree.
Pour into ice trays.
Freeze until firm.
(7) Beef and Rice Stew
This is a crock pot meal for those colder days, and it’s one that I’ll be offering up to the dogs this coming week.
2 ½ lbs. ground beef
1 ½ cups uncooked brown rice
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 ½ cups chopped butternut squash
1 ½ cups chopped carrots
½ cup frozen peas
4 cups of water
Stir in all ingredients with 4 cups of water in a crockpot.
Cover and cook on low heat for 5 to 6 hours or high heat for 2 to 3 hours.
Stir as needed and cool to room temperature before serving.
(8) Instant Pot Dog Food
Do you have an instant pot? If you do, you’re probably just as obsessed with it as I am with mine. And yes, you can make dog food in it. Here’s a basic rice and protein meal using this kitchen miracle.
3 cups white rice
3 cups water
About 3 tablespoons whey or raw apple cider vinegar
3 pounds ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, venison, or bison)
1 pound pastured beef or chicken livers (optional, but preferred)
36 ounces various fresh or frozen veggies
1-1/2 cups bananas or blueberries (optional)
6 tablespoons coconut oil
6 tablespoons ground flax seed
Press the sauté button on the instant pot.
Add the ground meat and break it up and the liver, if using.
Cook the meat and liver until they are about half-way browned. You don’t want them to brown completely because you still have to cook the rice and veggies in the instant pot, and the meat will burn if fully cooked.
Once the meat and liver are half-way browned, add the rice and as much water as is called for according to the directions of your instant pot.
Add the veggies on top, but do not mix in.
Place the lid on the instant pot, making sure it is locked and the vent is sealed.
Change the setting to manual and adjust the time to 12 minutes.
When the instant pot beeps, carefully turn the vent to release the pressure.
Open the instant pot and add the fruit (if using) and the coconut oil.
As you can see, some of these recipes take no more than a minute or two to throw together, while others take a bit more time and attention. I’m not saying you have to cook elaborate meals for your dog – just that some of us like to experiment in the kitchen from time to time, and the dogs may as well enjoy the results.
Remember that homemade dog food does not cover all your dog’s dietary needs. They will need you to fill in the gaps with supplements. Be sure that your vet knows that you are feeding your dog homemade food if you choose to cut out store-bought kibble altogether, so that they can watch for any changes in your dog’s health that could be due to the food.
These eight recipes are just unique enough for me to give them a go for my resolution to try some new things with the dogs this year. Let me know in the comments if you are doing anything new with your dogs for the start of the year, or if you have ever tried a dog food recipe that your pup loved.