Sometimes when we start the “what does he eat” discussion people reply with a defensive and panicky “Just dog food! No people food!” I’m not opposed to dogs eating people food as long as it is healthy food. Potato chips aren’t great for anyone.
(In my defense this was taken in the last few weeks of her life when getting her to eat anything was a victory. Spaghetti would not be high on my list of approved foods normally.)
We recommend carrots and green beans all the time as substitutes for biscuits for snacks. For overweight dogs we discuss adding vegetables to bulk up meals as you are decreasing the amount of high calorie dog food.
A lot of people are concerned that feeding real food will cause dogs to beg. Freckles is a horrible beggar – from my husband. She doesn’t beg from me. Guess which one of us hand always feeds her during meals and which one of us might put a bowl down by her food bowl for her to lick clean?
Home cooked diets can be great for dogs and cats. There are all kinds of resources for people interested in recipes. The main thing I tell people is to make sure that they feed a balanced diet. I have people tell me that they’ve only fed cooked chicken breast for years. That’s not going to give a dog enough vitamins and minerals to maintain their best health. I point people to websites like balanceit.com. You can put in a protein source and a vegetable you want to use and they will generate a balanced recipe for you to make. They will even take any health concerns your dog has into consideration. Their goal is to sell their vitamin mixes so you can get a free recipe that contains their mix or you can pay for a recipe that has supplements that you can buy from the store. It is a good place to start.
There are all kinds of schools of thought on homemade diets. All raw or cooked or bones and raw, etc. You need to find out what works for you and your dog. I think that a high quality homemade diet with quality ingredients will result in much better health than using commercial diets.
So why don’t I feed homemade? There are a few reasons.
- I’m lazy. It is a lot easier to scoop food out of a bag than to plan ahead and cook. Sad but true.
- I’m a vegetarian living with carnivores. I don’t like buying meat or cooking it. When I cook for Freckles the smell makes me gag. The husband will comment about how great the house smells.
- I can’t make up my mind on bones. I talked before about my Golden doing wonderfully on bones. I fed Snowball some raw chicken necks and she loved them. I know in my brain that they are fine. But, I’ve also seen the cracked teeth and obstructions and one death from eating bones. Most of these were from eating bones that had been cooked but still I have that sliver of apprehension.
If you aren’t ready to make homemade food there are some intermediate steps you can take. There are several commercial raw food sources. At the end of her life Snowball was eating Innova’s raw meat patties. She was small so they didn’t cost a fortune to feed her those exclusively. For bigger dogs they can be a supplement.
For Freckles I make soup. This is based on the bone broth recipe I got in my food therapy class. I make the husband buy a beef soup bone. I put in the crockpot with about 1/8 cup of vinegar (to leach the minerals from the bone into the broth) and enough water to cover the bone. I also throw in some carrots. I cook it on low for about 12 hours. I take out the bones and leave the meat and carrots. I keep it in the frig and skim off the fat that forms on top. She gets a ladle full at a time as a treat. She loves it. (The cats won’t touch it. It must be the vinegar.)
Varying the types of meat and vegetables you use gives lots of different nutrients to the pet. A lot of people think that they have to stay on the exact same diet all the time. If a dog has a healthy GI tract they can change the food they eat without getting sick. Think about a wolf. Do they pass up the opportunity to eat a rabbit because they only eat deer? No. Now, a lot of dogs (especially those who have been on a poor diet) don’t have a healthy GI tract. With those dogs I’d start with some soup or some cooked meat added to their diet and slowly transition them onto more and more healthy food as they adapt and heal.
Coming up… What about cats?