Herbs and spices that are good for your dog

Spice up your dog’s homemade meals by adding some healthy herbs and spices. Here is a list of herbs and spices that are generally good for your dog.

  • Basil (antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral)
  • Ceylon cinnamon (freshens breath, keeps teeth clean, reduces stomach gas, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic)
  • Ginger (anti-coagulant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, helps keep teeth clean, reduces nausea as in car sickness, digestive aid)
  • Oregano (antioxidant, antimicrobial, soothes stomach upset)
  • Parsley (breath freshener, soothes stomach; note that spring parsley, a member of the carrot family that resembles parsley is toxic to dogs)
  • Peppermint for stomach upset (high doses can be toxic!)
  • Rosemary (provides iron, calcium, and vitamin B6, antioxidant)

Check for cautions when introducing any new food into your pet’s diet. For instance, ginger has many wonderful benefits but isn’t recommended for pregnant or lactating dogs or cats, or if they have bleeding disorders, take anticoagulants, or have a heart condition.

Try to introduce only one new food at a time so you’ll be able to more easily identify the cause of any problems that arise.

Arsenic in Rice

In the last few years, information has been published about the dangers of arsenic in rice. The dangers are especially significant for children because of their smaller bodies. While I haven’t seen any research related to feeding rice to pets, I’m going to guess that the risk to our dogs is also higher because of their smaller bodies.

Amounts of arsenic in rice

Consumer Reports assigned “rice points” to different foods made with rice, and the new rules recommend no more than 7 rice points per week.  Half a cup of uncooked white basmati or sushi rice from California, India, or Pakistan equals 5 rice points. All other types of rice (uncooked) get 10 points per ½ cup. So, rinse your rice before cooking!

You’ll also get the added benefit of kicking off the sprouting process by soaking the grain, which makes the rice even easier to digest and provides additional benefits.

Rinse away the arsenic

Rinsing and soaking the rice before cooking can reduce the arsenic content by about 30% according to Consumer Reports. Use about 6 cups of water to one cup of rice, and rinse the rice after soaking.

Vary the grains you feed your dog

By varying the grains you feed your dog, you’ll also help reduce the risks associated with arsenic in rice. My favorite alternate grains include:

  • Pearl barley
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Buckwheat

 

Soaking Grains to Assist Digestion

Soaking and sprouting seeds and grains before consuming them is good for people and dogs. When you soak the rice, barley, quinoa, beans, or flax seeds you feed your dog a transformation takes place. These foods are typically hard to digest, but soaking grains and seeds activates enzymes, minerals, and other nutrients in these foods.

To soak grains before cooking, put them in a bowl and cover them with water. Leave the bowl at room temperature overnight. If you’re like me, and forget to soak these foods overnight, there is still benefit from a short soak. Try for at least 4 hours, but even 30 minutes helps to activate the beneficial enzymes and other nutrients.

You can also add 1 or 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to the water for even better digestibility.

Foods Not to Feed Your Dog

Cooking for my dogs made me more nervous when I first started down this road than cooking for my son when he was an infant. Based on everything I know now that I didn’t know back then about what foods are good—and what foods aren’t good—maybe I should have been more nervous. With my son, though, I felt pretty familiar with foods people could eat. I knew the basic signs of allergy. And when he spit something out, I took that to mean he didn’t like a particular food.

My dogs like a wide variety of foods, but just like babies, they spit out foods they don’t like. I guess that’s the first category of foods not to feed your dog. Skip the foods they tell you they won’t eat. Sometimes those aversions are caused by allergies.

Allergies can show up at any age. Signs of allergies would be an indicator of the second category of foods not to feed your dogs. According to WebMD, signs of allergies in dogs include:

  • Red, moist, scabbed skin
  • Itching or scratching
  • Red, runny eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gassy, grumbly stomach

The third category of foods not to feed your dog are the ones that have been determined to be dangerous or toxic for dogs. These foods include:

  • Alcohol
  • Apple seeds
  • Artificial sweeteners, especially xylitol
  • Avocados
  • Baking powder and baking soda
  • Bones (cooked bones can cause choking and slivers can lacerate the digestive tract)
  • Candy, gum, and other sugary foods
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee, tea, and other products containing caffeine
  • Fat trimmings
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Milk and other dairy products, including cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Nutmeg, paprika, and pepper
  • Nuts in general aren’t recommended, but especially macadamia nuts
  • Onions and chives (most broth contains onion so don’t make dog stew using broth from a store unless these ingredients aren’t listed. I’ve not yet found a broth without them.
  • Peaches and plums (the problem is the pits)
  • Raw eggs
  • Salt and salty foods like chips and salted popcorn (dogs do need some salt in their diet but not the amounts found in most snack foods)
  • Yeast dough

Although many sources recommend against garlic, there are others saying garlic is safe and beneficial.

This list isn’t exhaustive, so if you’re feeding a new food to your pet, it’s best to do some research beforehand. Just like people, your pet might have a food sensitivity or allergy even to foods that are generally considered safe for pets. Pay close attention to how your pet reacts to any new food and try to introduce new foods one at a time.

Let’s face it, some of these foods aren’t particularly good for people either, but most dogs are smaller than a full-grown adult and what seems like a small amount to us has a much greater impact on the dogs’ smaller bodies. Even small amounts of many of the foods listed above can cause organ damage, seizures, anemia, and a host of other problems. Whether feeding a home-cooked diet to your pets or supplementing kibble, the foods above should be avoided.

 

Detailed Costs of Cooking Homemade Dog Stew

Is cooking for dogs expensive?

When I tell people that I’ve been cooking homemade dog food for my Shelties for the past 4 years, the first question I get is: Isn’t cooking for your dogs expensive?

The short answer: It’s only a little more expensive than the high-end kibble on the market.

The long answer: Yes, it’s more expensive and takes more time, but it’s worth it because of several reasons.

  • My dogs and I enjoy cooking day. Tino lays down in front of the oven and guards his dinner while it simmers (proof is in the picture for today’s post).
  • I know what ingredients are in their food, and I’ve chosen high-quality meats and vegetables. I can’t afford all organic, but I do use mostly organic fruits and vegetables. I look for meats that are hormone and anti-biotic free.
  • Just as with people, healthy living starts with healthy eating. Healthcare companies for people are promoting healthy living as a way to reduce overall healthcare costs and reduce the risks of obesity and diabetes. If that works for people, might it not work for our pets also?

Are you wondering if cooking for your pet is right for your lifestyle? Check out these factors that I’ve found important to consider in the post Is Cooking for Your Dogs Right for Your Lifestyle?

If you shop for specials on meat, it’s possible to reduce the costs of cooking homemade dog food to less that what I’ve estimated my costs to be. When I shop for the ingredients I buy to make my home-cooked dog food, I buy in bulk so I’m pretty confident about the costs I’m sharing, but there are factors that will impact your per-pet costs. Four that come to mind are

  • the size of the dog,
  • supplements given,
  • inflation (as food costs go up, so will the cost of these recipes), and
  • the cost of the ingredients. Choosing organic ingredients definitely raises the cost.

To be sure that you have a good idea of how accurate these costs are, this information is based on prices I paid at a Costco store on January 21, 2016. I’ve also figured the weekly cost assuming only one type of meat is used, but more often than not I combine meats.

For example, I use half chicken thighs and half chicken breasts. To reduce the fat content of the stew cooked with red meat, I usually mix about ½ ground turkey with ¼ bison and ¼ ground beef. A stew made with all bison would cost a fortune!

I occasionally feed my boyos fish as well, but I haven’t made fish stew. If anyone has, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Keep in mind, there are a lot of variables. My numbers are based on my choice of ingredients, and I’m sure you can cook for less and still produce a tasty, healthy stew.

Chart of ingredients and costs per week based on the ingredients I use

Ingredient Quantity Cost per/[quantity] Total cost/week
Chicken thighs 5 pounds $1.99/lb. $9.95
Chicken breasts 5 pounds $2.99/lb. $14.95
Ground turkey 5 pounds 2.79/lb. $13.95
Organic ground beef (85% lean) 5 pounds 5.59/lb. $27.95
Lean ground bison 5 pounds 7.60/lb. $38.00
Veggies, frozen mix 2 cups 1.80/lb. $1.80
Grains (averaged because I use a variety of different grains including rice, quinoa, and pearl barley) 1 cup .10/oz. $0.80
Optional supplementation      
Yogurt 28 oz. .15/oz $4.20
Cottage Cheese 28 oz. .18/oz. $5.04
Canned pumpkin 32 oz. .19/oz. $6.08
Sardines 7.5 oz. .34/oz. $2.55
Calcium I grind up egg shells from eggs I consumed so consider this free
Vitamin 3.5 teaspoons .73/serving $2.55

You can take a look at one of the recipes I use with chicken thighs and breasts as the meat ingredients.

Summary of costs to cook homemade stew for dogs

Based on the above estimates, the total cost of the stew ranges from $15.05  to $33.06 per week. At most, I use an all red meat mix once a month. On average, the cost per month for two 25-lb. or one 50-lb. dog should be about $60 – $80.

Comparison to kibble based on one friend’s experience

A friend who feeds her 40-lb. Aussie mix a high quality kibble told me it costs her about $45/month for the kibble. She also gives Misty cottage cheese with each meal because Misty enjoys it. She supplements with a multi-vitamin on the advice of her daughter-in-law who is a vet.

Additional costs

Overall costs to feed your dogs will vary depending on the additional foods you give them and the type and quality of supplements. I’ll go into more detail about the extras I give my boyos in future posts. Not all are required, but from my research, it’s very important to supplement calcium when feeding a home-cooked diet. Calcium along with a good multi-vitamin should put to rest most concerns voiced by veterinarians concerned about a balanced diet.

A note for cat owners

I hesitate to write too much about home-cooked stew for cats, but I would venture to say that costs will be similar (adjusting for weight) because the main difference I’ve uncovered in my research is the protein requirement, which is higher for cats. The books I’ve read describe some heartwarming results for cats that weren’t doing well on commercial cat food. If you are a reader or visitor who has personal experience cooking for cats, I’d welcome your insights so please leave comments and share resources you’ve found valuable.

Is Cooking for Your Dog Right for Your Lifestyle?

First of all, the incredible photo of Sammie and Tino featured in this post was taken by Chip, the creator of BoonCompanions. He’s both an amazing photographer and storyteller. Check out his website!

In the four years since I started cooking for my dogs, I’ve realized that making a commitment to cooking for the boyos involved more than just a willingness to cook. A few considerations I’ve faced are time, travel, pet sitters and emergency situations, nutritional balance, and cost.

Time

  • It takes more time to cook for my dogs than it would to buy commercial dog food. I enjoy cooking a pot of stew for the boyos on Sunday afternoons—the aromas fill the house with warmth and comfort. I especially enjoy Sammie and Tino’s anticipation. They both help to keep the floor clean by snatching up any diced veggies that fall to the floor. Tino curls up on the rug in front of the stove and guards his dinner while it simmers. To help save time, I cook once a week and freeze the stew in portions that last 1 ½ or 2 days. The boys love the stew on any day of the week, but they seem especially eager for dinner on cooking day. Maybe the stew is just fresher or maybe anticipation adds a little spice to Sunday dinner.
  • There are weekends when finding time to cook can be a challenge, and it’s important to find a system—or dinner substitutes—for times when the stew doesn’t get on the stove or (if you’re like me) the stew doesn’t get from the freezer to the fridge in time to thaw. I’ve come up with a few workarounds, which I’ll share in a future post.

Travel

  • Dedicated dog chef that I’ve become, I take the boyos food with us when we travel. We’ve gone to Kansas, Illinois, and Oregon with our coolers packed with sandwiches for me and stew for Sammie and Tino. The space required for the coolers does take up about the same space as one passenger so it means one less person fits in the car. This hasn’t been a problem for us, but potential passengers might not be as understanding.

Pet sitters and emergency situations

  • Not all pet sitters have been enthusiastic about the extra work involved in feeding home-cooked stew to the dogs. Putting the stew in the bowl isn’t much more difficult than pouring in a scoop of kibble, but it does mean dishes and dog bowls have to be washed. And I give my dogs supplements to ensure balanced nutrition. I add pumpkin, yogurt or cottage cheese, calcium, and a vitamin to one or both meals every day. But the biggest challenge has been in emergency situations or extended time away where I’ve asked the pet sitter to cook up a pot of stew. Some are more willing than others to go that extra mile. Because of those situations, I’ve come up with some alternative feeding plans for emergency situations.

Nutritional balance

  • One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced has been to make sure the food I’m preparing for my dogs meets their nutritional needs. Just like humans, even if our pets are getting meals based on healthy ingredients, there are vitamins and trace minerals that might not be included in the basic stew. So I’ve added a multi-vitamin supplement.
  • If dogs aren’t eating raw bones, they probably aren’t getting enough calcium in a home-cooked stew. So I also add calcium to their meal. Finally, I add cottage cheese or yogurt, but neither of these have enough calcium—at least in portions appropriate to the size of my dogs—to meet their daily requirements.

Cost

  • Both my Shelties weigh about 25 pounds. The ingredients for the stew cost about $45/month per dog. They eat about one pint of yogurt a week between them and about one pint of cottage cheese a week. The cost of those foods will vary depending on the brand. I give my boyos the Whole Body Support formula made by Standard Process, and again costs will vary depending on the supplement chosen.
  • I’m planning a future post with more detail on food costs. There are certainly ways to reduce the overall cost because I include ground beef and buffalo in some of my recipes. Chicken and ground turkey are lower cost options.
  • A friend who feeds her dog a high-quality kibble estimates she spends about $45/month to feed her Aussie mix (who weighs about 35 or 40 pounds). She also gives Misty a multi-vitamin and mixes some cottage cheese into her food. By my estimate, cooking for Sammie and Tino costs only a little more than a high-quality kibble, but there is more effort involved.

 

Favorite Chicken Recipe for Home-Cooked Dog Food

Chicken, Rice, and Veggie Stew

Ingredients

2 ½ lbs. chicken breast ½ cup celery, diced
2 ½ lbs. chicken thighs ½  cup zucchini
1 cup rice, pearl barley, or quinoa ½ cup carrots
2 – 3 cups water 1 ½ cups greens (spinach or kale work well)
  1 teaspoon sea salt

Preparation

Combine chicken, rice (or barley or quinoa), and celery in large pot with water and bring to boil, lower heat and simmer for 2 hours. Finely chop or grind in blender veggies and salt and add to pot during last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking.

 

Servings

Approximately 32, ½ cup servings

Calories per serving   112 Calories from fat    44
Protein per serving      11g  

 

My Sheltie boys weigh about 25 pounds, and I serve them about ½ c. of stew twice a day.

I serve this with 1 – 2 tablespoons of pumpkin for fiber and overall digestive support and  ¼ cup of yogurt or cottage cheese.

I also add a multivitamin to each meal and ¼ teaspoon of ground eggshell once a day because dogs eating a home-cooked meal need a calcium supplement. Neither yogurt nor cottage cheese can provide enough of this mineral. A multivitamin is often recommended by pet nutritionists to ensure a balanced diet.

I like this recipe because chicken is the lowest cost meat to use of the common choices. The next most economical is ground turkey (both under $3/lb.). I also vary the boyos diet by substituting ground beef and ground buffalo or pork roast. To reduce the fat content of the red meat, I’ll use ½ red meat (beef or buffalo) and half ground turkey.

Choosing Between Cooked or Raw Food Diets for Dogs

When I was first researching feeding options for my pups, I was introduced to a wonderful woman who was feeding her dogs raw food. After all, it’s nature’s way. I did try feeding raw meat to my boyos but decided to go with home cooked food for three reasons:

  • Raw foods carry potentially dangerous parasites and bacteria like eColi
  • My guys tried to swallow such large chunks of meat that they nearly choked on more than one occasion
  • Cooked vegetables are easier for my guys to digest

Supporters of feeding raw say that dogs have natural protections against bacteria and parasites that humans don’t have. Some of the vets I know and respect say that’s not necessarily true. I prefer to err on the side of caution so I decided to go with cooked meals. I’ve also found that cooked veggies are easier for my dogs to digest. In other words, there’s a lot less waste!

Eat Your Own Dog Food

When I first started cooking for my boyos (Tino on the left and Sammie on the right) I’d eat the food I prepared for them. I figured I should be willing to eat the food I was going to feed to them. An unexpected benefit came out of that “taste testing” exercise–I lost 5 pounds in 2 weeks, eating their high protein, low carb diet.

I sometimes still do share their stew, but I also enjoy foods that aren’t recommended for dogs. Even though some foods don’t set well with our pets, a wide variety of healthy foods suit both species. Some of our favorites include:

Protein

  • Ground turkey
  • Chicken
  • Ground beef
  • Buffalo
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Sardines (great source of calcium too)
  • Cottage cheese

Grains

  • White, brown, wild rice
  • Pearl barley
  • Quinoa
  • Oats

Not all pets—or people—handle grains well, and dogs don’t have a dietary requirement for simple carbs so grains don’t necessarily have to be included in homemade pet food. Pumpkin makes a great substitute to ensure you’re getting fiber into your pet’s diet.

Research is also cautioning against high levels of arsenic in rice. This is a risk for people as well as pets. I’ll be posting more on this topic, but soaking the rice for a few hours or overnight can help lower arsenic levels.

Vegetables

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Green beans (high in omega-3 fatty acids and calcium)
  • Peas
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet potato (another great source of calcium)
  • Beets
  • Squash (acorn, butternut)
  • Pumpkin (vitamin A, antioxidants, and fiber)
  • Spinach and kale (high in iron)
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley, cilantro

Dogs like veggies but you may notice these foods coming out the other end undigested. Cooking can help, but using a blender or food processor to “pre-digest” these foods will make it even easier for your dog to digest. As far as cats go, they have almost no need for fruits or veggies in their diet according to what I’ve read.

Some of the research I’ve found suggests staying away from cruciferous veggies (broccoli and cauliflower, for example) because these kinds of veggies have been linked to impeding thyroid function. I’ve fed them to my dogs without problem, and I’ve seen them recommended on reputable sites. Moderation and careful observation of how your pet does on these foods would be wise.

Fruits

  • Cantaloupe (great for eyesight and cancer prevention)
  • Apples (seeds and core aren’t recommended)
  • Blueberries (anti-cancer and cardiovascular support)
  • Watermelon (cancer prevention and support for good eyesight)
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries

These foods are some of our pack’s favorites, but every canine is different. I watch my dogs for signs that a particular food isn’t sitting well with their system—loose stools, gas, and a grumbly tummy all clue me in that a food might not be the best choice.

If you’re cooking for your pets, what fruits and vegetables do you cook with? Which are your pets favorites? Do you have any cautions to share?