Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dog Food: Home Cooking

The second installment in my series about the three things our dogs consume: stuffed kongs, homemade food, and homemade biscuits. This time I describe our nine-year journey from Iams® ProActive Health™ MiniChunks (which used to be named something less marketingish) to home cooking.


For many moons we fed Augie and Izzy Iams® ProActive Health™ MiniChunks. I don't know how we started with Iams, but I know how we ended.

First, Augie was a super picky eater. If I told you all the crazy stuff we used to do to get Augie to eat you would think I'm even more insane. When our dog walker in Maryland boarded Augie and Izzy for the first time and received the two page handout describing how to feed Augie and the required Special Plate, she intervened. When we got home she said, "You know, if you mix in a couple of tablespoons of wet food into the kibble, Augie eats like a champ and out of any darned container you have handy." So we bought canned wet food from Trader Joe's and mixed it into Augie's kibble. And he indeed started eating without any cajoling or special plate. And he licked his bowl clean, which was a first.

Then the big wet dog food recall happened. I asked our dog walker what we should do since we couldn't find any wet food to mix in with Augie's kibble. She said, "Just mash up some carrots." We said, "Dogs can eat carrots?" She said, "Yes, and peas." So we started making a mash of canned carrots and peas to mix into Augie's food. This worked just as well as the wet dog food, smelled less gross, cost less, and cut Augie's calorie intake - which was becoming an issue (see previous post re: fat little spheres of fur with chubby little appendages). As both Augie and Izzy were in need of an incredible weight loss program, we reduced the amount of kibble in each meal and made up the volume with a carrot, peas, and oats mixture (two cans of carrots and two cans of peas to one cup of oats plus a bullion cube dissolved in a half cup of water). The volume kept them full, but the reduced calories kept them lean. Both dogs seemed to like their food even more than before and they got down to their ideal weights and stayed there.

Then the big dry dog food recall happened. We started reading up on alternatives to the usual dog food. At that moment there seemed to be one of those Malcolm Gladwell tipping points and all my usual green news sources started talking about organic dog food. In my weekly Organic Consumers Association email I found this

One of OCA's Web Forum users posted the following topic: "I don't know if this is the right place to post, but my husband and I ATTEMPT to eat an organic diet... I want our husky to eat just as healthily. Before coming to the States, it was as easy to order online and lo and behold CERTIFIED organic dog food appeared on the door step. I've had no end of bother obtaining good certified organic feed for my dog... any ideas or help out there?"

OCA Response: Buying certified "USDA Organic" pet food is definitely a smart consumer choice. Conventional pet food contains everything from animals put down at animal shelters to slaughterhouse waste (including spinal columns and potentially diseased tissue). Conventional pet food can also legally contain fillers like newspaper and feathers. Organic pet foods have much higher quality. Because of a successful lawsuit filed against the USDA by the OCA and Dr. Bronner's relating to body care and other non-food agricultural products, pet food manufacturers cannot display the "USDA Organic" seal unless their products meet the same strict standards as organic food for humans. If you do not see the "USDA Organic" seal, you need to read the product ingredient label carefully to determine which of the ingredients are actually organic.

Apartment Therapy's green cousin, a.k.a. Re-Nest, or "Stop Consuming: Buy Green" as it is known around my condo, had a good question post "Looking for Pet Treat Recipes" (warning: corgi pictures!), which also conveniently links to two other AT articles on the insanity that is homemade pet food.

Lou Bendrick in his Checkout Line column for Gristmill, which scoffs at the greenwashedness of Re-Nest, had an excellent answer to a reader's question about whether their dog should eat organic.

So we tried an organic dog food, Merrick's Grammy's Pot Pie. It did not go well. If you saw The Exorcist, you get the idea of projectile vomiting. Now try projectile diarrhea. It was awful. And we tried soaking it and microwaving it and all sorts of other things to try to make it work for our dogs (we had invested a good $50 in a 30 lb bag). It wasn't happening.

At about the same time Augie and Izzy had a full dental checkup at our new vet, Founder Veterinary Clinic. The previously mentioned missing and chipped teeth the vet in Indiana had noted were just the tip of the iceberg. So while we saved up for some intensive canine dental work, the vet recommended we switch to soft food for both dogs.

Regardless of dental issues, Dr. Terifaj is a huge advocate for home cooking for dogs. Since we were already making the carrots/peas/oats mixture to mix into the kibble, it was just a small step to add chicken and rice. The big difference is that we also give them a multivitamin (which we get at PetSmart), a calcium supplement (which we get from Dr. Terifaj - at a very reasonable price), and an oil supplement. The multivitamin and the calcium supplement make up for the (probably spurious and insufficient) nutritional supplements the dry dog food manufacturer included in the kibble.

We had been giving Augie oil pills for his dry skin and fur for years. Otherwise he gets itchy and dready. Originally we gave him one Lipiderm with every meal. When we started home cooking we added a tablespoon of FURminator deShedding Dog Food Supplement to every meal for both Augie and Izzy. This proved REALLY expensive, though it did make Izzy sleek like an otter. So we looked at Dr. Terifaj's home cooking instructions again and saw that she recommended Udo’s Oil 3-6-9 Blend by Flora. That's pretty expensive too, so I found a supplement at Henry's that contained the same ingredients but was less expensive: Now Foods' Omega 3-6-9 (in fact, I take it too - it isn't sourced from fish so there's no mercury poisoning worries). We supplement that with a tablespoon of canola oil from the grocery store that is fortified with Omega-3 and -6.

We boil chicken thighs and strip the chicken off the bones. We use the water from boiling the chicken to cook the rice. We combine one pound of chicken, two drained cans of carrots, and two drained cans of peas in a large bowl. We use a hand blender to mash it up, but not to full puree stage. Then we stir in four cups of cooked rice and a cup of oats. We probably could mix in the vegetable oil at this stage, especially since we store the food in a tupperware in the fridge (with extra in the freezer). Working in bulk, we've gotten our dog food cooking down to one day every two weeks. Considering Augie eats a cup of food a day and Izzy eats one and a half cups a day, our freezer isn't overflowing with dog food. I imagine if you had a larger dog or more dogs, you would either have to cook more often or have a larger freezer.

As you can see from the picture at the top (which is the product of The World's Most Hurried Photo Shoot), Augie and Izzy LOVE their home cooked food. Now if only I could ramp up my gardening to include peas and carrots . . . and chicken?

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