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Natural Diet - Not Just for Humans

Posted by Naomi Schoenfeld on

 

Homemade Dog Food: Or, Natural Diets - Not Just For Humans

 

Somewhere in our own natural-food journey, we realized we'd left out some important members of the family.

Sure, our dogs were eating high-end kibbles, no meat byproducts or dubious additives -- but it was still kibble. Dry, processed pebbles that may have started as wonderful all-natural ingredients, but had since been pulverized, cooked, extruded, dried, bagged, and left to sit in a warehouse for an indeterminate length of time.

In our own eating, we were emphasizing fresh, local ingredients. Could we really expect our dogs to thrive on a processed food diet, no matter how awesome the original ingredients?

Veterinarians repeatedly warn that feeding your dog anything other than a specially formulated, purchased product puts the dog's health at risk. But the first commercial dog food - a dog biscuit - wasn't invented until around 1860. The first 'nutritionally complete' dry dog food was introduced in 1907, followed by canned food in the 1920. This means that from the dawn of human-canine interactions (oh, say, 15,000 years ago) and until 1907, somehow, people managed to provide their dogs with nutritious food -- and all without the help of industrial pet foods.

We've been feeding our dogs the following recipe for several years, and they're thriving. Great general health, glossy fur, and so much energy that we talk wistfully about the good old kibble-days when senior dogs didn't run obstacle-course laps over the living room furniture before breakfast. The recipe draws heavily on the great information in Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, with tweaks, additions, and modifications based on our own experience and that of others.

(Caveat time! I am neither a vet nor a pet nutritionist. I make no health claims, nutritional claims, or heck, any claims at all. This stuff is probably completely worthless, and you should stick to exclusively feeding your dog the most processed vet-approved supermarket kibble you can find. Ahem. Right. Where was I?)

How much time does making dog food take? More than scooping out a bowlful of kibble, definitely -- but really, not all that much more. Read on, and decide for yourself.

HOMEMADE DOG FOOD

Our homemade dog food consists of three parts...

  • Basic food groups
  • High-nutrient powder
  • High-nutrient oils

... that are mixed together before serving. To keep your pups from picking out their favorite ingredients and leaving the rest, especially at first, blend in a food processor.

Basic Food Groups

The bulk of homemade food is made up of a combination of raw or cooked meat, vegetables, and/or grain. Don't settle on one combination (e.g., beef, rice, carrot), but rather, just as you would for yourself, vary the types of meat, grains, and vegetables to provide a more diverse nutritional profile.

  • 4 parts cooked whole grain
  • 1 part raw meat or high-quality protein
  • 1/4 part raw or cooked non-starchy vegetables, such as parsley, carrot, squash, green beans, or sprouts.

NOTE: There are advocates of excluding grain completely, or limiting it to no more than 50% of the diet. Frankly, I can't afford that much good-quality meat, and our dogs seem to thrive and prosper on rice, oats, amaranth, and mixed whole grains. Before assuming your dog is grain intolerant, I'd suggest seeing how they do with the full recipe. It might well be that it's just the dehydrated, rancid version in typical dog food that doesn't agree with them.

For the meat, we use ground beef, turkey, fish, or chicken, with occasional egg or whole dairy instead of meat. This means we're leaving out all sorts of things -- such as organs, bone, and cartilage -- that predators would usually get in their diets, so my recipes include 1/4 tsp each additional eggshell powder and gelatin per cup of food -- see below -- to compensate for lack of organs and bones.

The actual choice of grain, meat, and vegetable cycles naturally with whatever the humans in our house are eating. If we're having steamed carrots with dinner, I'll stick in a bit extra for the dogs' morning food; if I have oats and amaranth for my morning porridge, they do as well.

This means that there's pretty much no special cooking going on for dog food. Rather, it all just needs to be mixed together. This works because we're pretty much already a whole-grain, natural foods household that does weird things like grow our own sprouts and grind our eggshells into calcium supplement. Trying this with low-quality or refined human ingredients (e.g., quick oats) would be a recipe for poor nutrition all around -- and of course you'll want to avoid foods, like chocolate, that are toxic to dogs.

If you don't consistently prepare whole grains or vegetables for yourself, then... hmm. You'd have to prepare it specially. Maybe improve your own diet along with the pooches? :D

High-Nutrient Powder

This consists of the 'dry' additions. It won't spoil, so feel free to mix it together in bulk. You'll be using 1/2 to 1 teaspoons of powder per cup of basic food groups mix.

    • 2 cups nutritional yeast (B vitamins)
    • 1 cup lecithin granules (fatty acids)
    • 1/4 cup kelp powder (trace minerals)
    • 1000 mg sodium ascorbate powder or similar source of vitamin C (theoretically covered by veggies in basic food groups, but it doesn't hurt to be sure)
    • 5 tbsp eggshell powder for calcium, and to balance phosphorus and lecithin; don't forget to add more when you mix up the food, depending on the meat (see above). No eggshell powder? Use 1/4 cup bonemeal, which can be purchased.

It's very important to include the calcium, no matter how you may otherwise tweak the recipe over time. Dogs need a lot of calcium to stay healthy, and simply don't get it from the muscle meats we humans favor. There are more whole-diet ways to do this by feeding meaty bones, but that's another post. In the meantime, just make sure the calcium is in there.

High-Nutrient Oils:

Like the bonemeal/eggshell, these oils predominantly compensate for lack of the 'whole prey' - bone marrow, gristle, skin, fat, organs. For convenience, mix together in bulk. You'll be using 2 teaspoons per cup of basic food groups mix.

  • 1 part cod liver oil (vitamin A, vitamin D, Omega-3)
  • 2 parts sunflower oil or other vegetable oil (unsaturated fats, Omega-6, naturally occurring lecithin)
  • 2 parts wheat germ oil (vitamin E)

Putting it All Together:

And now, It's time to make all those healthy ingredients come together into dog food. Ready? Here goes.

  1. Assemble your choices for the basic food groups, enough for 2 or 3 days food for your pups. Stick 'em in a food processor or big bowl.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of high-nutrient powder per cup of combined basic foods.
  3. Add 2 teaspoons high-nutrient oils per cup of combined basic foods.
  4. Mix or process to combine.
  5. Glop one meal's worth out into the bowls and serve. Refrigerate the rest for later.

The amount to feed will vary enormously, depending on the age, fitness level, and breed. A small, very active dog can have the same caloric requirements as a sedentary mid-sized one. But roughly speaking, start with 2/3 to 1 cup per day for a small dog, and 3-4 cups for a medium to large dog. Adjust as needed to maintain a healthy weight.

What are your experiences with homemade dog food? Share your thoughts by leaving a reply to this post.

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