Treat Tips

In addition to cooking main meals for my dogs, I like to bake treats too. Because I cook for my dogs, their food is soft so I like to give them crunchy treats. I finally found a great way to crisp up the treats without blackening the edges, and so simple! After you turn off the oven, let the treats cool in the oven. I bake my treats for 2 to 2 ½ hours (sometimes more if the batter is very moist) at 250o. If you bake at a higher temperature, when you turn off the oven leave the treats inside and crack the oven door slightly while they cool.

Tasty Treats

What I like best about baking my own treats is knowing what’s really in them. My dogs don’t have gluten sensitivities so I use wheat flour sometimes, rice flour, or teff. Here’s a favorite recipe.

Crunchy Peanut Butter and Banana Bites

1 cup peanut butter 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 or 2 very ripe bananas 1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, whipped 1 to 1 ½ cups flour

Mash the bananas and mix with peanut butter. Mix in the whipped eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon. Fold in the flour. Grease the bottom of a baking sheet with butter and press the batter flat on the pan. I don’t worry about making it look pretty. I go for about ¼-inch thickness, but press to your preferred thickness. Score the dough by running the blunt edge of the knife across the dough to create square shapes.

Bake at 250o for 2 to 2 ½ hours. Longer baking = crispier treats. When the dough is hardened (but not burned on the edges) turn off the oven and let the treats cool in the oven. When the treats are cooled, break them into pieces along the scored edges. Enjoy!

Doggie Breath

Bad breath! Bah humbug! While my boyos don’t usually have nasty doggie breath, when I was treating them for tummy troubles, I found a side benefit to parsley water—fresh breath. Now I know why restaurants put that sprig of parsley on the plate.

Cooking up a batch of breath-freshening parsley water couldn’t be easier.

Recipe for parsley water

Boil a quart of water. When the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat. Drop a bunch of parsley (amount the amount you get at the store) into the water and let it soak for 3 minutes.

Pour a teaspoon of the parsley water on your dog’s food to help with upset tummies and to freshen breath.

A quart of water makes a lot of parsley water so you can freeze ½ cup or 1 cup portions for later use. Or make less and boil it up as needed.

There are lots of causes of bad breath in dogs, so—just as with humans—good dental practices like regular checkups and regular brushing are important. Parsley water won’t clean teeth or substitute for professional care.

Tummy upset

Maybe I should have saved this entry for a holiday because that’s when my puppy medical emergencies always seem to happen—when the cost of care doubles. Well, it’s almost the weekend, and that’s the boyos other favorite time to develop lumps, bumps, or tummy grumps and grumbles.

While I prefer natural and homeopathic remedies whenever possible, I’m not against vaccines or pharmaceuticals. And while antibiotics have their place and do clear up a plethora of tummy ills, I feel that antibiotics are like taking one step forward and two steps back. The offending bacteria, germ, or parasite gets killed but so do all the good guys. The immediate problem is solved, and that’s good. But the boyos’ ability to naturally fight off those microscopic intruders is compromised. In the end, I can’t help feeling we’re solving one problem but creating a bigger one.

Each of my boys have different susceptibilities, and Sammie suffers more often from tummy upset. We go to the vet, we get XXX, we pay a few hundred dollars, we go home and follow the regimen, and the vomiting and bloody diarrhea go away. Sounds like the perfect solution. Until the symptoms come back.

The last time Sammie suffered from this recurring illness, one which has attacked him once or twice a year since he was almost a year old, I decided to try a different protocol.  I did my research, and some of the options sounded scarier than the vet’s go to pharmaceuticals. In the end I landed on some that were natural, food-based, and sounded safe. And they worked!

I’m not a vet, but I did share what I tried with my new homeopathic (but traditionally trained) vet, and she explained to me why they helped. I can’t—and wouldn’t want to—say this will work for every situation, but I do think these natural remedies are worth considering. Here’s what I added to Sammie’s food at each meal.

  • Parsley water, 1 tsp.
  • Ground pumpkin seed, ½ tsp.
  • Cooked canned pumpkin, 1 heaping tablespoon

My boys weigh between 25 and 30 pounds, so the amounts should probably be adjusted based on size and weight. And I always watch them closely when I introduce any new food. It’s only been about six months, so I can’t say anything about long-term effects. But I am happy that Sammie’s tummy troubles cleared up without antibiotics. And I feel like I’m helping his system get stronger and fight those bugs better without drugs. Two steps forward, right?

Going Against the Grain…It’s been a scary journey

Opinions vary on what’s best for dogs—kibble, canned, cooked, or raw?  Most vets I’ve encountered advocate in favor of packaged foods like kibble and canned. The main argument being that those foods are “balanced.” The main reason I bring this up is because I chose to feed my dogs a cooked diet believing I could cook healthier foods than I could buy in packages. Packages that can sit on a shelf for months or even years and still be “fresh.”  The logic escapes me.

However, fresh food doesn’t automatically provide all the nutrients needed in a healthy diet. So where do we find support, encouragement, and direction?

Before I started cooking for my dogs, I read several books on the topic. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Food Pets Die For, Shocking Facts About Pet Food by Ann N. Martin
  • Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats by Beth Taylor & Karen Shaw Becker, DVM
  • The Whole Pet Diet by Andi Brown

I’ve also found helpful information on these forums:

But books don’t provide encouragement or answer questions that come up along the way. Most of my support comes from a couple of friends who also cook for their dogs, but there are also online discussion groups and some vets who are interested and informed. In some cases you might be able to find a nutritionist who has specialized in raw or cooked diets for dogs and cats. Any of these could be good resources.

The reason I’m writing this post, though, is because it’s been a lonely and kind of scary journey. Judging the right path is a combination of intuition, observation, and doggy biometrics. My boyos are four years old; they’re happy, maintaining a healthy weight, and full of energy. They eliminate well and sleep well. Overall, they have good temperaments, though they are Shelties and tend toward the vocal and excitable. Blood tests done by their vet come back within normal range.

All the above leads me to believe I’m on a good path with their nutrition, but there are no guarantees. Many adverse effects of poor nutrition might not show up for years. I guess the same can be said of eating highly processed, preservative filled dry food. What are your thoughts on taking a road less traveled? Easy peasy or lonely and scary? How do you handle going against the grain?

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.

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.