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?

Natural Sources of Calcium

Here’s a list of calcium rich foods. Some dogs (like people) don’t tolerate dairy well. But if they can handle dairy, it’s packed with calcium. Two of my favorites are plain yogurt and cottage cheese. With any new food, introduce a small amount, one new food at a time, and watch for reactions. Also, canned foods may have ingredients added (like onions) that are not good for dogs, so read the label.

Personally, I don’t give my dogs ¼ cup of any of the foods below in a single meal, except sardines, salmon, and sometimes yogurt or cottage cheese. Try low-fat yogurt if calories or weight are a concern.

  Quantity Calcium
Eggshells, finely ground ¼ t. 200 mg
Sardines, with bones, canned 1.75 oz. 200 mg
Yogurt ¼ cup 112 mg
Salmon, with bones, canned 1.75 oz. 90 mg
Collard greens ¼ cup 72 mg
Dried figs* ¼ cup 60 mg
Cottage cheese ¼ cup 47 mg
White beans** ¼ cup 31 mg
Kale ¼ cup 25 mg
Edamame ¼ cup 25 mg
Parsley ¼ cup 20 mg
Okra ¼ cup 20 mg
Bok choy ¼ cup 18 mg
Quinoa ¼ cup 15 – 25 mg
Spinach ¼ cup 14 mg
Celery ¼ cup 12 mg
Carrots ¼ cup 9 mg

*Figs may cause stomach discomfort

** Beans may cause gas and should only be feed in small amounts

The Calcium Quandary

As I’ve been reading more about supplements—just like with people—there seems to be a lot of debate around the value and necessity of supplements. The one I’ve most often been told needs to be supplemented is calcium. Reading some of my books on the topic, I came across this quote by Wendell Belfield, D.V.M: It’s too much, not too little that bothers me most in regard to calcium.

Hypercalcemia  can cause increased thirst and urination, lack of appetite, vomiting, constipation, lethargy, and other symptoms. There is a blood test to check blood calcium levels, if you’re concerned.

Definitely, our pets need calcium. According to the National Research Council (NRC), dogs need about 50 mg per kilogram of body weight daily, that puts my 30-pound Shelties at needing 650 mg daily. Another guideline cited about half that amount, or less, depending on the author’s definition of size:[1]

  • Toy dogs, 100 mg.
  • Small dogs, 200 mg.
  • Medium dogs, 300 mg.
  • Large dogs, 500 mg.

Not that it’s anything new, but that’s a big difference in requirements. Intuition tells me our bodies must be a little adaptable because normal eating isn’t that balanced. But I’m not a scientist. I just do the best I can.

I do supplement, using what I consider a natural source of calcium—eggshells, finely ground into a powder. One whole medium-sized eggshell makes about one teaspoon of powder and has about 800 mgs of calcium. I give them ¼ teaspoon of ground eggshell daily

Some sources say that human bodies are more forgiving of imbalances in natural sources of nutrition, and I hope that’s true of dogs and cats too.

[1] Martin, Ann. Food Pets Die For. New Sage Press. 2008. p. 140.

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.