When asked to find recipes for homemade pet foods, I wondered if I was the best person for the job. As the owner of an enthusiastic black lab with a penchant for "counter surfing," I have been known to inadvertently feed her some homemade meals of (among other things) freshly baked cookies, sticks of butter awaiting delivery to the Thanksgiving table and an entire basket of Halloween candy, wrappers and all.
Now, there are lots of ways to intentionally feed your dog meals prepared and cooked at home as owners, but for those considering a full switch away from the kibble, a commitment is necessary. "Raw and homemade diets are wonderful, but they can be very time consuming and expensive," says Thor Wendland of The Pet Pantry in Apex. (If you grow weary of cooking for your dog, The Pet Pantry delivers natural and holistic food to your door.)
Just like a human diet, dogs need proteins (in the form of meats or eggs), carbs (popular choices include rice or potatoes), fats (which can be added with oils) and vitamins and minerals. Wild canines get much of their vitamins and minerals through consuming whole bone, so pet owners either need to make sure that dogs are getting those, whole or ground and mixed with the meal, or via a prepackaged food supplement. Dr. Korinn Saker, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at N.C. State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, has even added human One-a-Day multi-vitamins to a menu when planning meals for small animals under her care.
Some pet owners cook all their furry companion's meals; others are fans of the bones and raw food diet (known hilariously as B.A.R.F.). If you go the raw route, just be prepared to handle some parts of animals not usually found on front row at the butcher shop that provide extra protein and bone, namely hearts, livers, necks and backs.
Before plunging into a full-blown homemade diet, Dr. Saker suggests trying a few meals for your pet—perhaps a birthday treat or a welcome home reward after returning from vacation. "I try and get my owners to try and see what they think of the process—because it is a process."
There are also small ways to add more natural foods into a diet, though be wary of feeding scraps on top of a dog's regular diet; like humans, extra snacking can lead to extra pounds. Wendland adds: "I have a 120-pound Mastiff, and I calculated that to cook for him every day would cost about $5. I can't do that, but I do give him baby carrots as treats. Our leftover salad often goes into his dinners. In the end it's all in the balance."
Here are a few recipes to try. Serving sizes depend on a dog's weight and nutritional needs.
(Recommended by Triangle residents; recipe from Heartland Great Dane Rescue in Oklahoma)
10 pounds hamburger meat
1 large box of Total cereal
1 large box of oatmeal
1 jar wheat germ
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups unsulfured molasses
10 raw eggs AND shells
10 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
pinch of salt
Mix ingredients and divide into 10 parts, approximately 1 lb. each. Divide each of these 10 parts into 3. Roll into fist-size balls, about 1/3 of a pound each. Drop into quart freezer bags. Thaw as needed and feed raw.
Homemade dog biscuits
3 1/2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
Oil for greasing cookie sheet
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup skim milk powder
1 tbsp. (or 1 package) dry yeast
3 1/2 cups lukewarm chicken or meat broth (about 2 15-oz. cans)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Mix all dry ingredients. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm chicken or meat broth. Let yeast broth mixture set 10 minutes. Stir in flour mixture until a soft dough is formed. If the dough is too sticky you can add more flour.
Chicken and rice
1 whole chicken
2 cups of peas
2 cups of broccoli
3 3/4 cups of brown rice
8 1/2 cups of water
Cut chicken in pieces and remove the skin, add to 7 1/2 cups boiling water. Boil for 20–25 minutes depending on size of the chicken. Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Add to chicken stock. If you don't have 8 1/2 cups, add more water. Add peas and broccoli, then stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes.
1 lb. ground turkey
1 16-oz. can mixed vegetables
1/2 tsp. garlic, crushed
1-1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup uncooked rice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain vegetables and put in food processor to puree. Mix ingredients in a bowl. Put in loaf pan and bake 1 1/2 hours.