In the past, I’ve written about cooking up real food in the kitchen for Cassie the Corgi. Making your own dog food is really very easy, especially for a small dog, and there’s no question in my mind that it’s better for the dog than kibble, which is made from some very suspect products.
The idea of making dog food came to my house during the late, great melamine scare, when unknown numbers of American dogs (possibly thousands) were poisoned by tainted ingredients from China used by almost every major American pet food manufacturer. At the time I had an aged German shepherd and a greyhound. With almost every brand tainted or suspect, about the only thing I could see to do was research what dogs need to sustain them and fix my pets’ food myself.
Well, the Ger-shep was very decrepit, indeed, by this time in her life. She could barely haul herself to her feet and hobble around the house; I didn’t think she had many more months left in her.
To my amazement, shortly after I started feeding her a mix of real food—meat, veggies, and starch—she began to pep up. After a couple of weeks on this regimen, one day she was able to chase her neglected ball around the back yard. It was as though she had bought back two or three years of doggy life.
Well, cooking dog food for a big animal, let alone for two of them, isn’t very practical. However, for a smaller one, it’s very easy and doesn’t cost any more than premium commercial food.
Dogs, having evolved with humans for the past 16,000 years, thrive on approximately the same foods that we thrive on, with a few exceptions.
• They need a slightly higher proportion of meat to vegetables and grains: about 1/2 meat, 1/4 vegetables, and 1/4 starch
• They can profit from cruciform veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower
• Other root vegetables are good for them
• Dogs are not nuts about leafy vegetables, although a little spinach now and then is OK
• Some berries such as blueberries are well tolerated
• Whole grains like oatmeal are healthy and provide roughage
• Brown or converted rice is pretty good for them; potato is also good
• Most dogs love sweet potatoes (yams)
• This stuff should be cooked, not fed raw. It is not true that dogs are magically immune to pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli that live in raw meats.
Certain foods must be avoided, because they’re toxic to dogs. These include
→ Onions: DO NOT FEED!
→ Garlic: DO NOT FEED!
→ Chocolate: POISONOUS TO DOGS; DO NOT FEED!
→ Grapes and raisins: DO NOT FEED!
→ Bones, raw or cooked: DO NOT FEED!
→ Corn: Indigestible and allergenic: AVOID!
→ Fish: One of the most common allergens for dogs: USE SPARINGLY OR AVOID
With those facts in mind, just about anything else goes.
I usually look for the most inexpensive meat available—right now, chicken thighs are cheap, and it’s easy to remove the bones from thighs. Pork also often comes on sale. If beef prices ever come down (right now beef is too high even for me to eat, much less to feed to the dog!), some stores put certain roasts on sale, and you can have the butcher grind the meat into hamburger. This, BTW, is much tastier than the pricier burger that comes preground in packages. Ethnic markets are good places to seek out low-price but wholesome meats suitable for your dog.
Oatmeal, converted rice, and brown rice can be had very cheaply in bulk. Look in markets like Sprouts or ethnic stores that sell bulk products.
A mix of frozen veggies that contains no corn or onion is perfect for dogs. Costco markets such a blend in large bags as “Normandy Style” vegetables. In the wild, a dog would get vegetable matter from the gut of its prey, partially digested. Thus cooking vegetables lightly and then chopping them fine approximates the form in which this food should be most digestible for a predator that is not an obligatory carnivore (as is the case with dogs). Microwave the frozen veggies until they’re just barely cooked through—they should not be soggy. Then run them through a blender or food processor to chop finely.
Sometimes I combine these ingredients as we go, creating a fresh meal for Cassie each time she eats. However, the other day I decided to fix an entire pot of ready-made dog food, containing all the ingredients in one product. It turned out surprisingly well—tastes like thick chicken stew and contains everything the dog needs.
Here’s how it went together:
1 large package of chicken thighs, preferably boned (about 5 pounds)
1 yam, cut in chunks
1 cup converted rice
2 or 3 cups mixed frozen vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots
Place the chicken in a large pot. Add the yam and rice. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and then immediately turn the heat down to a slow simmer. Cook until the yam is soft and the chicken is cooked through. Remove and discard bones.
Meanwhile, microwave the veggies until just slightly cooked and then chop them finely in a food processor or blender.
When the chicken, yam, and rice mixture is cooked (the rice will swell up and absorb most of the water), turn off the heat and mix in the chopped vegetables. Allow to cool before feeding to the dog, obviously.
Batches of home-made dog food can be stored in plastic containers or baggies and kept in the freezer for future use. The potful shown above will feed my 25-pound pooch for at least a couple of weeks, and probably more like three weeks.
The amount to feed depends on your dog, its age, its size, and its level of activity. Some sources advise feeding about 2.5% to 3% of the desired body weight. Determine what a normal weight for your dog should be (ask your vet). Then weigh the animal regularly to be sure it stays on that target. I feed the corgi about 6 ounces twice a day (morning and evening), or a little less than a pound a day. She’s neither sedentary nor overly active; her weight stays stable at 25 pounds.
The beauty of cooking your own dog food is that you know what’s in it and you know how it was prepared. If you feel any concern that your concoction may not supply all the animal’s needs, simply drop a dog vitamin pill in a bowl of food each day. Use veterinary vitamins, which are better proportioned for a dog’s needs than supplements made for humans. I rarely add them and have found the dogs thrive on real food with no added, expensive vitamins.