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?

Raw, Cooked, or Kibble?

In the last years of Max’s life, the vet was more and more often recommending a cooked diet to help ease Max’s digestive upsets. I’d cook some chicken or hamburger and rice, feed this home-cooked stew to Max, and he’d quickly improve.

I’d say to the vet, “I think I’ll just keep Max on this diet because he’s doing so well.”

And the vet would reply, “Oh, no. He needs his kibble to ensure a balanced diet.”

Back and forth, round and round we’d go. Max would improve on the home-cooked diet and relapse on the kibble.

Not to mention that Max loved the home-cooked selections. I just couldn’t see how dried kibble that could sit out for months, if not years, and still be “edible” was better for Max than real food. Nervously I continued to feed Max his chicken and rice, and I hope my choice made his last years more comfortable and healthy.

Later, when I decided to adopt two beautiful Sheltie pups, I was determined to learn more about pet nutrition and provide my boys with the best possible diet I could. I’m not a certified pet nutritionist, but most of us aren’t. Whether we’re feeding pets or humans, we learn as we go and do the best we can.

My goal with this blog is to share some of what I’ve learned along the way about cooking for your pet. I’ve focused on cooking for my dogs. The guidelines for cats’ nutritional needs are a little different, but many of the basics apply to both.