Homemade Dog Food

What started this whole thing was my discovery of making chicken stock in a pressure cooker. I was really impressed with the quality of the stock — the deepness of color, the richest of taste — and the only ingredients used were chicken (some meat but mostly bones) and water. I still use this method for making stock for us (humans) or to start a big pot of chicken vegetable soup. It makes for a good hearty dinner when you’re pressed for time during the week. Especially during the winter time.

Could you do this with a regular cooking pot? Well, maybe for stock, yes. But here’s where it gets really interesting. It doesn’t matter whether you are cooking chicken or pork or beef — if it’s meat it will retain its shape and texture. In other words, even if you cook the meat for an hour, it still looks tastes feels smells like meat. It doesn’t disintegrate into an undistinguishable mush. However, the bones (while still retaining its shape), become so soft that they will crumble if crushed between your fingers. (Keep this in mind, when you read further down.)

Anyway, when I started reading up on nutrition for dogs, I realized just how many sources there are out there. Some were very useful, some were conflicting. Most of the disagreement seems to stem from whether or not you should feed your dog a raw or a cooked diet. All sources seem to agree that “homemade”, whether raw or cooked, would be much better than store-bought pre-processed food, no matter how good or popular the name brand. I opted for the cooked version because most raw sites keep referring to a “natural wild ” diet. My dogs are not wild. Well, in their minds, they may think they’re wild. But in my mind, they have been domesticated for thousands of years. If they were left in their “wild” state in an urban environment, most dogs would likely scavenge around garbage cans.

So, here are my somewhat-scientifically-backed-up opinions on canine cuisine:

Except for certain no-no items such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, most dog food requirements are identical to human food.They need FRESH food, just like humans do. They need VARIETY, just like humans do. They need BALANCE, just like humans do.

That said, the main differences between dogs and humans are that dogs need more of the protein and less of the vegetables and much much less of the carbohydrates. And, they need much much more calcium than we do.

In terms of proportion, meat and other animal products should constitute at least HALF the diet. I used this ratio: 1/2 meat, 1/3 veggies, 1/6 whole grain and/or rice. Here meat = chicken, pork, fish, beef, lamb, turkey. Although I must confess that I only cook the first four since I don’t like lamb or turkey much. (Remember, when you go shopping for yourself, just pick up extra for your dogs.)

For vegetables, dogs can and should eat most everything. Dark leafy greens are on the top of the list. But here are some others that your pups will like:  broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, celery, cucumber, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squashes, carrots, peas, beans. Spinach and swiss chard can be fed in limited amounts. Sweet potatoes are excellent as well.

Some other foods that you might want to incorporate into their diets are organ meat (liver, kidney, heart, green tripe), as well as some dairy products such as eggs and yogurt and cottage cheese. I freeze-dry chicken livers for the girls and add a little bit everyday. Some sources say that liver should constitute 5% or so of their daily diet.

In terms of balance, think of food as a two-week range rather than every meal. As long as you feed a wide variety of different foods, there is no need to make every meal “complete and balanced”. Feed your dog how you would feed yourself. Every now and then, indulge them a little. It’s ok to give them a burger and fries once in a blue moon.

Probably the most common mistake in home-cooking is that people often underestimate just how much calcium dogs need. Let’s put it this way: they need a lot. It is actually more complicated than I can explain, because you have to balance the calcium with the appropriate amount of phosphorus. Phosphorus is typically provided by the meat. Which means, the more meat, the more phosphorous, the more calcium required. And then it’s not just the calcium, but the also the type of calcium (“elemental” calcium is what you are after.) And, if you buy regular and not organic, there’s a whole host of other stuff you have to account for. (Who knew that they add arsenic to chicken to help them grow. This is why I buy only organic stuff now.)

Anyway, all this research was giving me a headache. I remember growing up and feeding our dogs whatever food we had left over (and yes, sometime with garlic in it!) and they always did fine. But now that I am THE human adult responsible for these furry four-legged things, I wanted to make sure that I am the best Mama L. in the world! So, I decided to make the dogs their own food by using the pressure cooker. It takes care of all of the above requirements. Even with buying only organic food, I am still saving a lot of money than buying store-bought. And, my girls tell me all the time that I am better than any Iron Chef they have ever met.

Your pressure cooker and the required cooking time per type of food will probably vary from mine, depending on brand, size, etc. I think I have an older version of this one: Fagor Splendid 10-Quart Pressure Cooker/Canner. Naturally, you would follow your manufacturer’s recommendations. Below is what I would do for a chicken meal. (You can do this for any meat, just keep the proportion in mind.) This is quite a bit of food, btw. When I make a batch this big, the dogs get about 2 weeks’ worth (one dinner per dog per  day). I usually put them in several containers and freeze what the girls can’t eat in a few days.

Steps:

1. Put whole or quartered (easier later) chicken in pressure cooker. Put enough water in cooker to just cover the chicken. Lock the lid, set it to the highest pressure (mine comes in three pressure setting), and cook over medium high heat for 15 minutes. For clarification, the 15-minute timer starts after the pop-up indicator pops up telling you that the internal pressure is where you want it to be.)

2. Meanwhile, chop up your veggies into small bite-size chunks. (My girls are about 1/2-inch chunks.) Set aside.

3. When the 15 minutes are up, quick cool your pressure cooker (again, follow your manufacturer’s instructions.) Take the chicken meat off the bones. Return only the bones to the pressure cooker (broth still in it), lock the lid, set to the highest pressure, and cook for an hour.

4. Quick cool, or let cool. Take all the bones out, but leave the liquid. Add your veggies, lock lid, set to medium pressure, and cook for 5 minutes.

5. When the bones are cool enough for you to handle, chop (or grind) until it turns into a fine meal. With chicken bones, this usually means both ends of the drumstick and a substantial amount of “middle”. I toss away bone pieces that don’t mush easily. If you cook the bones for an hour, though, almost all of it is mushable.

6. Combine everything together and stir well. At this point, I also add chopped blueberries or cranberries, a few dashes of Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids, a small scoop of flaxseed meal, and sometimes a small handful of kelp for essential minerals. If you had enough liquid for a broth, it will resemble a soup or a stew. I generally don’t cook the grains in the pressure cooker, as I haven’t quite figured out how NOT to turn it into mush. Instead, the ladies are served the meat/veggies stew over a bed of white rice.

Again, “meat” here means meat + bones. If you were cooking salmon, for example, you would include the entire chunk of fish, fins bones and all…

Here is a picture of Gingersnap! helping me clean the pressure cooker. On Ambergris Caye in Belize, the island dogs are called “pot lickers”.

Dear Journal,

Mama M. took me in last weekend to get my stitches removed. As usual, I was a good girl and was very well behaved. The staff at the Pets Referral Center were really nice and took really good care of me. I pranced about with my head held high and my tail up when I came out of the recovery room. Everyone applauded, and Mama M. laughed with delight when she saw me. It was a good day. And I don’t have to wear that stupid cone on my head anymore.

To celebrate, Mama M. bought me a brand new pink shirt with lots of shiny bling on it so that everyone could notice me.

The hair on my belly is finally growing back and it’s itching a little bit. Could be the fleas though…the Mamas bathed us over the weekend with some nice smelling shampoo. Beatrice the Cat is still mad at us because she got two fleas and the Mamas had to rub her down with some of Doctor Ben’s Paws and Claws Treatment. It’s mostly cedar oil and it smells good, so I don’t know why she’s complaining.

There are a couple of new editions on our block! The humans up the corner where Belle the dog lives now have a new human baby named Eli! Mama L. won’t let us near the baby because of our germs (whatever), but he sure looks cute from what I can see, peeking over the top of the basket. Humans are so weird. It is a well known fact that dogs have less germs than humans do.

Then there is a new kitty on our block. We haven’t met her/him yet, since s/he is mostly perching on a couch indoor. We have never met the humans there either. But they had Fast Eddy until he was gone a month ago. The new kitty is very cute, all white with little orange tips around the ears and nose. Mama L. said that s/he is a flame point Siamese cat and s/he is very handsome. I can’t wait to meet her/him.

All that gender stuff is so very tedious.

I almost forgot to mention that we met Keeper, Betty’s new puppy. (Betty also has a poodle named Sophie, and she is very very sweet.) Keeper was wandering around homeless until he met Betty and she decided to keep him, and that’s why she named him Keeper. Anyway, Betty is going on some vacation and the Mamas are going to watch Keeper for three weeks! Of course, because he is a boy and has no manners, Keeper peed and pooped in our house as soon as he arrived. I can see I’m going to have some hard work ahead.

While Betty was here, Uncle Nick from across the street came over for a visit and brought the Mamas a book called The Puppy Diaries. It’s about a dog named Scout. Mama L. has been reading to us from the book. The author writes very well, and there were some very funny parts and some very sad parts. We think it’s terrific when anybody writes anything about dogs.

This afternoon when we went on our usualy daily walk, Mama L. found an iPhone in a bush in front of the acupuncture clinic. I was about to pee on it when she said “Leave It”. When we got home, Mama L. plugged it in and found out who the owner was and emailed her. We haven’t heard back from the owner yet, but I think Mama L. should keep the phone because I like to chew on electronics.

Grandmaw and Grandpaw B. are coming out for a visit, and I can’t wait! I overheard Mama M. telling Mama L. all the fun and exciting things we are going to do over the Thanksgiving holiday. Even though Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year because of all the food, I am even more excited that I will get to see them really soon. I am going to get a lot of attention!

HAPPY (very belated) BIRTHDAY, AUNTIE PEGGY!!!

Mama L. hasn’t been right since she came back from Utah. There’s something wrong with her head. Which is why she completely forgot to send you great birthday wishes, Auntie Peggy, even though I reminded her several times that you’re still my No. 1 Fan!

Yesterday she told me that she has a sinus infection, not a head cold, so it’s not supposed to be contageous. But Big Sis Madeleine has been sick the whole week ever since the Mamas came home. And I’m positive it’s not coming out of her head. And why would they call it an “infection” if it’s not infectious, I ask you?

With Big Sis being sick means that Mama L. is not getting a whole lot of sleep coz she kept having to wake up in the middle of the night to take Madeleine outside. Which also might explain why Mama L. has been so crabby and snappy and irritable. She grumbled at the smallest thing! This morning I wanted to say hello to the hippies’ Mr. Attack Cat but apparently I was taking too long, and Mama L. grumbled at me! He usually hangs out in the yard just before the scary monster, Mr. Sprinkler’s yard. I haven’t seen Mr. Sprinkler in a while so maybe Mr. Attack Cat chased him away. Anyway, I was just trying to be friends with him, because if he did chase scary Mr. Sprinkler away then he is a friend of mine!

Well, I hope you had a terrific birthday anyway! Mama L. (when she was feeling a little  better) told me that this was supposed to be a terrific year for all Virginians or Virgonians or something like that, and that you are one, so this is gonna be a great year for you!

Love, Gingersnap!

 

 

 

Dear Journal,

The Mamas are finally home from some place they call “Utah”. It seemed like they had a nice time — they told us all kinds of stories about the diverse animal life and geology and hiking (without us) and good food (without us) and all the fun people they met…..but I just know that deep down, despite all the fun they had, they really miss us. When they finally came and got us from the Wag Hotel, they had huge smiles on their faces and they gave us kisses over and over again, and they told us how much they miss us! We already knew, of course, but it’s always nice to experience it first-paw.

Besides, we miss them a little too.

We especially miss Laser Light and Mr. Squeaky Lion, and snuggling in bed, and walks in the cemetery. Today, the Mamas took us for a really nice walk through Mountain View Cemetery — it’s our favorite place. Lots of uphill and downhill. Gingersnap! loves all the squirrels and birds, of course, because she still thinks they are trying to communicate with her. Silly girl.

I am just happy they are finally home. I really like the staff at the Wag Hotel; they take really good care of us, and they always make sure we have enough food to eat and a warm bed — but it’s just not the same thing as having the Mamas home. Afterall, they are our Mamas, and nobody loves us as much as they do!

Dear Bassa,

Mama L. reads your Daily Diary to us everyday. We think you are wonderful! And, so…big. Are you the typical size for your breed? Are Caucasian Shepherd Dogs only born in Georgia? What are your humans doing in Georgia? Were they traveling there and decided to stay, or were they born there? Do you really speak English or Georgian? Do you get a special meal for your birthday, like a steak or burger? What is it like to live with a crazy parrot? We live with two cats, but they’re not really crazy. Beatrice thinks she’s the boss though, and she tries to run the household! Annabelle could care less. We’re just regular mutts, you know, although the Mamas like to call us “Designer Hybrids”. They call Madeleine a Terhuahua (Terrier/Chihuahua mix) and Gingersnap! a Beashund (Beagle/Dachshund mix). Little G!’s real mama (the four-legged one) was half Italian Greyhound, so that’s why she has those legs. But, even if there’re ten of us, we probably wouldn’t weigh as much as you do! You sure look like a sweet girl, though, just like us!