I’ve had dogs for as long as I can remember. As of this writing, my wife and I have three dogs. In order of age, we have Lenny (male), Zoey (female), and Chase (male). Two of the three are rescues. Chase was the dog that made our engagement happen (story for another day). We love our fur babies, and, even after the birth of our real baby, we still love those little goons.
I’ve taken a particular interest in their nutrition over the past couple of years. More specifically, the merits of feeding my pups a store-bought diet. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Check out this search I did on Google. Before I even got past the word “dog,” look at the first two autocompletes…
Now, look at the first searches after I finish my query…
So, the top sponsored result leans towards commercial dog food being questionable, and then the top three results after that have a negative view of commercial dog food. Clearly I’m not the only one thinking about this or worried about this.
This next screen shot is sad, surprising, but also, not that surprising…
My gut tells me that, for the most part, animals won’t get obese in nature left to their own devices. A quick internet search supports that. Here was my first search hit. So, the very unscientific conclusion I’m drawing for me and my pets is that if they get fat, its a result of conditions I’m creating through the levers I can affect (diet and exercise). Since exercise for dogs is pretty easy (let them play outside, and take them for walks/runs), I need to focus more on the food thing.
You may agree or disagree with the following, but my opinion on commercial dog “kibble” is:
- Under even the best circumstances, the feed might be nutritionally deficient (since its super-heated to create those brown pellets).
- Under the worst (and most common) circumstances, it is not only nutritionally deficient, but also full of fillers and low grade meal that are not good for your dog’s overall health.
The biology of a dog (teeth/digestive system) seems better designed more so for high fat/protein, and not so much the carbs. In the wild, dogs would mostly seek out prey, but they also would eat some veggies, grass, rotting fruit, and the like. You probably won’t see a dog grazing in a wheat field.
Early on, I really did try to go the kibble route. Finding a very good kibble that checked all of the boxes (no grain, no cruddy corn meal filler, just good meats, organ meats, some veggies and some fruit) is time consuming. And, yes, it costs a few extra dollars per bag. But when it comes to our puppy’s health, it’s worth it. We tried a couple of brands that met these requirements, but we found after a short time that the dogs stopped eating the stuff. We don’t table feed our dogs, so it’s not like they were making a judgement call between what they got off the table and the burnt kibble bits in their bowl. They simply decided, “…nah, I’d rather just fast…” This became a recurrence. We tried switching the meat in the kibble, tried switching brands, but inevitably, it always defaulted back to feeding time being a “…will they or won’t they…” scenario. Our dogs weren’t fat – they were pretty athletic and slender, so extended periods of not eating had me worried (check that – Zoey had a little pudge which she has lost since I started cooking).
I remembered back to my parents dogs – they had been cooking food for them for years. But, they were fat as hell. However, one thing is for certain, those pups NEVER skipped a meal.
It was time to fall down a new rabbit hole…
I’ve looked at raw feeding, and I’m not convinced its a bad idea. It actually seems like a really good idea. There is a TON of information out there about the benefits of raw feeding. There are even commercial raw products out there now. The major downside is the price per meal may be cost prohibitive. I ran the numbers on it, and it was EXPENSIVE. I saw people that just put raw chicken pieces into their dog’s feed bowl (bone and all). Believe it or not, dogs can eat raw bones. It’s really good for them. I watched some YouTube videos from raw feeders, and there was one guy who bought whole frozen birds (feathers and all), and fed that to his pit bull. If you think about it, that is pretty darn natural. Nothing wrong there. That is how a dog would feed/behave in the wild.
Rather than jump right into raw feeding, I decided to see what other people do that cook for their dogs. I saw a quick pattern emerge – lots of meat, few veggies, and oil. I saw people make large batches that would last for several days (or weeks depending on the size of the dog and number of dogs). Since I’m cooking for three, I realized this will probably be a weekly thing. Early on, I cooked/stored the protein separate from the veggies/fruit. The veggies/fruit created what I called a “slurry.” When feeding time came, I was very scientific – I measured out the proper ratios of meat and slurry for each dog.
Guess what – THEY ATE THE HELL OUT OF IT. I mean record time. You’d think those little guys were going to choke. I couldn’t believe how quickly their bowls emptied. Next thing was to keep an eye on their bowel movements, and then just monitor their weight for the next week or two to see if they were being over or under fed.
As far as bowel movements, I treated Lenny like the “canary in the mine” since he has a fickle digestive system. Chase and Zoey could eat crayons and still poop solid. After a brief period, the weights were good, but Lenny’s bowel movements weren’t solid. After much trial and error (using Lenny’s poop as my customer comment card), we came up with a pretty narrow list of ingredients that we felt covered a lot of the nutrition bases. Here is the list of ingredients as it stands today…
- Turkey meat (we found chicken meat didn’t play nicely with his digestive system)
- Chicken organs (gizzards, heart) – oddly enough, after a poop or two, he adjusted and is solid now. This is good because we want that organ meat in there.
- Sweet potatoes
- Brussel sprouts or broccoli (we want some good fiber in there)
- Fish oil (added this as a supplement to get them some good omega 3’s)
- I’ll rotate between this and olive oil – again good source of fatty acids, and also good source of concentrated fat
- Sea vegetable supplement
- I’m not 100% convinced that this is necessary, but this is me wearing a belt AND suspenders just to be safe. During my research, I did find that a consideration when cooking your dog’s food is to make sure that they aren’t vitamin/mineral deficient. To cover that, you should consider a supplement. I can argue that it’s unnecessary (dogs find a way to stay healthy and well fed in the wild without popping a Centrum, so why should I worry about it?). In the end, it was a small investment to add to their food, so I did it. I don’t see adverse reactions to their bowels, so, its either doing nothing, or doing something positive. I’m pretty convinced it isn’t doing anything bad.
At some point, I may consider rotating eggs back in and see what happens to Lenny’s bowels. I think eggs are such a great food, and I know that dogs eat them in the wild. I’ve also been dabbling with mixing some 80/20 ground beef in. So far, nothing negative to report. On days where I’m running low on mutt loaf, and need to add something as a stop gap until I make another batch, I’ve had a lot of success mixing in sardines with the remaining mutt loaf. Those little fishes and their accompanying oil are a nutritional powerhouse for the pups. No ill effects their either.
Here is probably the biggest “evolution” in my cooking process for the dogs. Rather than have a “some assembly required” approach (which my wife hated by the way), I started making what I call “mutt loaf.” Basically, it’s a doggie meat loaf. That took many iterations to get right. The first iteration was putting the mixture into muffin tins. That took FOREVER. I quickly nixed that approach. The next was to use a brownie pan with the insert that can pre-cut the mixture for you. That was good; however, none of the pans were big enough for what I needed, and the largest ones I bought didn’t stand up to the constant use (the coating flaked off). I finally ended up buying a huge commercial sheet cake pan, and cooking one huge loaf. That is my current approach, and I love it. The dogs seem to love it too. Whenever I pull out the food processor to prep their veggies – they get crazy excited.
I’ve now reached a point where both the wife and I are happy with the time investment and what we think is good nutritional return on investment for the dogs. It takes me about 30 minutes to prep, and then it cooks for about 70 minutes at 350 degrees. I do that about once per week. Yes, we are spending more money on this than we would commercial kibble. But, as I stated earlier, I don’t have a lot of faith in the quality of commercial kibble, so this is very much worth it.
And, I can’t underscore this point enough – the dogs love the food. They eat once in the morning and once at night, and each time it happens, it’s like a party for them. They jump around, tails wagging, and totally excited. Their reaction alone makes it totally worth it.
If you are considering cooking your dog’s food, I’d recommend doing some research into the nutritional requirements for dogs (specifically their macronutrient needs). They closely mirror a keto-style macro breakdown. Also, be sure to find a list of foods that you can’t feed to dogs. You’d be surprised what can be poison to them. Finally – observe your dog’s behavior, weight, and bowel movements when you make the change. If anything is off after a couple of days, you need to make an adjustment. There are a ton of resources out there to provide the needed information to make proper decisions in this area.
Do you have dogs? How do you feed them? Have you ever considered (or do you already) make your own dog food? Any cool/fun recipes? If so, please comment below. If you liked this post, please be sure to “like” and “share.” Thank you.