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Roschelle Heuberger

Roschelle Heuberger, PhD, is a Registered Dietitian, an Associate Professor of Nutrition and director of the Clinical Nutrition graduate program at Central Michigan University.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Save Money with Homemade Dog Food
Home cooking helps you feed ’em well for less.

When suppertime rolls around, there’s nothing like a healthy home-cooked meal. This is true not only for the human members of your family, but for your dog as well. Cooking for your canine companion has many benefits, including fewer preservatives and additives, more varied and potentially better ingredients and, of course, more interest for the canine palate.

Homemade meals may even make it possible to feed your dog well for less. A 15- pound bag of high-end dry dog food costs approximately $42, and a 5.5 oz. can of high-end wet food runs approximately $2. Feeding a medium-sized dog two cans of wet mixed with two cups of dry food costs about $5 per day. That doesn’t include the treats, bones and tidbits that inevitably make their way into her tummy! Compare that with four cups of Puppy Stew (recipe here) at $2.25 per day. Add the cost of a vitamin/ mineral supplement and calcium, and it is still less than the cost of feeding high-end commercial food.* (You can also combine homemade meals with commercially available dry dog food. This will, of course, change the nutritional calculations as well as the price, but your pup will still be pleased.)

As both able hunters and scavengers, dogs ate from a diverse menu when they began accompanying humans. An omnivorous diet of protein, carbohydrate and fat sources suits them; dogs in good health can also handle the fat in their diet more effectively than you can— their bodies use it for energy and then efficiently clear it from the bloodstream.

The caveats? Dogs have different nutrient requirements than people. For example, they need high-quality protein, more calcium and more minerals for their proportional body size. Calcium is particularly critical. In The Complete Holistic Dog Book, co-author Katy Sommers, DVM, notes that “calcium is perhaps the single most important supplement for a successful home-cooked diet. Even if you’re feeding a variety of foods, you’ll need to supply an extra source of calcium.” She recommends giving one 600 mg calcium carbonate tablet (or 1⁄2 teaspoon of the powder form) for each 10 to 15 pounds of body weight daily for most adult dogs. (She also points out that, if you’re mixing homemade and commercial foods, you don’t need to supplement as heavily, as commercial foods contain adequate or possibly even excessive amounts of calcium and phosphorus.) More good advice on this subject can be found in Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn.

There are some human foods that dogs should never be given, including macadamia nuts, chocolate, tea, coffee, raisins, grapes, onions or excessive amounts of garlic. And, of course, check with your veterinarian before making big changes to your dog’s diet, particularly if she has any preexisting health conditions. Once you get the green light, make the changes gradually to avoid digestive upsets; introduce new foods slowly, substituting a small proportion of the new food for the old over time. Finally, be careful not to provide too many overall calories (energy), as obesity is just as unhealthy for dogs as it is for humans; your vet can help you determine how much your dog should be eating.

Food safety is also an issue. While dogs have many defenses against bacteria, parasites and other food-borne pathogens, they are not immune to them. Be sure to keep utensils clean, perishables refrigerated and ingredients cooked to appropriate internal temperatures to kill off any unwanted bugs. This is particularly important for puppies, old dogs or those with a health condition that makes them vulnerable.

In general, your homemade recipes should contain a high-value protein source (muscle meat, eggs, fish, liver), a fat source (safflower, olive, canola or fish oil; the best and most easily available fish oils are salmon and cod), a fiber-containing carbohydrate (brown rice, sweet potato, oats, barley), and a phytochemical source (fruits, vegetables, herbs). Substitutions can be made; for example, if you know your dog likes whole-grain pasta, substitute pasta for barley as a carbohydrate source. Some dogs, like some kids, hate veggies but will eat fruit, so use fruit instead; fruit can complement meats just as readily as vegetables can. Yogurt, cottage cheese, beans and tofu can occasionally be used as protein sources, but keep in mind that not all dogs can tolerate dairy products, beans or soy and may become flatulent or experience other gastrointestinal “issues”; test tolerance with small quantities.

When you cook a batch of homemade food, let it cool, and—if you make more than your dog can eat within a couple of days—portion it into reusable, washable containers, then freeze and defrost as needed. You can safely keep cooked food in the refrigerator for three days; after that, spoilage becomes a concern.

By adhering to the basic guidelines, you can be creative, provide great homemade meals and know that the ingredients are wholesome. You might even try serving some of these recipes to your human family so they can feel special too.

These recipes are calculated for a healthy adult medium-sized dog (approximately 35 to 40 pounds) who’s moderately active. The ingredients listed are standard (not organic) and can be purchased at any supermarket. Dogs of this general description require approximately 1,800 mg of calcium daily, according to Sommers, et al. If your dog is smaller or larger, her total calcium requirements can be calculated using 600 mg for every 12.5 pounds. (If your dog is a senior, still growing or has health issues, please consult your veterinarian— we really can’t say this often enough!) For a veterinary nutritionist– developed canine vitamin/mineral (calcium- inclusive) supplement, check out BalanceIT® powder.

Important: Many veterinarians, while acknowledging that pet food recalls and the poor quality of some pet foods are causes for concern, still feel that homemade diets, when fed exclusively, may result in nutritional imbalances and vitamin/mineral deficiencies that may pose threats to canine health. Therefore, if you choose to feed your dog a homemade diet, it is important that you understand and provide what your dog needs to stay healthy; veterinary nutritionists can assist in developing suitable homemade diets. While caution was taken to give safe recommendations and accurate instructions in this article, it is impossible to predict an individual dog’s reaction to any food or ingredient. Readers should consult their vets and use personal judgment when applying this information to their own dogs’ diets.

*The cost of feeding homemade will vary according to the size, activity level and health of your dog. Dogs who are pregnant or lactating, growing pups and those who perform endurance activities require much more nutrition (calories, protein, fatty acids) and have other special nutritional needs.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Nutritional Analysis of Turkey Burgers
• Download a PDF of the analysis.   This recipe was analyzed using Nutritionist Pro, Axxya Systems™ (2013). Because there is no way to tell, without doing a guaranteed analysis of 100% dry matter in the finished turkey burger, what happened during the cooking process, a number of assumptions were applied, including moisture content and moisture losses. Destruction of vitamins during the cooking process was not factored in (AAFCO values are obtained from the finished product). The software calculated the nutrient composition of the recipe without taking into account the unique parameters of preparation by a home cook. (Home cooking is not standardized in the way a food manufacturer’s is, where plant processes are maintained at a very narrow range for quality assurance.)   An important caveat: Quantity of food fed varies according to the manufacturers’ processing and analysis values. So, if a 25 kg (55 pound) dog requires 5 cups of food per day according a specific commercial brand’s instructions, and vitamin and mineral supplements are added to the kibble post-processing, the comparison between feeding 100g of turkey burger that you make yourself and 100g of dry, extruded kibble that has been fortified post-processing with vitamins and minerals is an apples-to-oranges exercise.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
10 (More) Easy Pieces to Liven Up Your Dog’s Meals
Surprises from the grocery shelf

In part one of this article, we asked the rhetorical question: “If you’re going to feed your dogs ‘people’ food, shouldn’t you feed them something that’s actually good for them?” and answered it with a list of 10 healthy, easily obtainable options straight from the shelves of your local market. As promised, here are 10 more “easy pieces” for your consideration. (Part One can be found here.)
 
As before, we urge you to keep a few cautions in mind: None of these items by itself constitutes a “complete and balanced” meal. If your dog has health or weight issues, check with your vet before adding any of them to your dog’s food dish. And, as always, start with a small portion and introduce gradually.

1. Carrots
Great dog snack—crunchy, sweet and most dogs really like them. They are loaded with carotenoids, fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K (needed for blood clotting) as well as potassium. They have magnesium, manganese, most of the B vitamins and phosphorus, which is required for energy production, among other things. Pup Prep: Start out slowly, as too much fiber may produce flatulence. If your pup sticks her nose up at them, try soaking lightly steamed carrots in chicken broth to increase their appeal.
 
2. Green Beans
A perfect addition to any doggie dinner. Some dogs love them raw, but most prefer them blanched, which makes for easier digestion. An excellent source of Vitamin K and fiber, these veggies also contain Vitamin C, carotenoids, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron and manganese. Pup Prep: Blanch, don’t boil them to death and lose all those nutrients!

3. Parsley
Not your grandmother’s garnish. Parsley freshens dog breath in addition to providing phytochemicals. It also has Vitamin C, Vitamin K, carotenoids, B vitamins, iron and limonene (an oil that kills bad mouth bacteria). Italian flat leaf parsley has a stronger odor and flavor than the curly leaf variety, but a similar nutritional profile. Pup Prep: Fresh is best; chop it and mix a small amount with food (too much parsley can act as a diuretic).

4. Papaya
Readily available in most markets. This tropical fruit contains papain, an enzyme often used as a meat tenderizer. It assists in the breakdown of proteins and thus is considered a “digestive aid.” Ripe papaya is an excellent source of carotenoids and potent antioxidants, and is also high in Vitamin C, most of the B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and fiber. These nutrients benefit eye health, blood vessel integrity and joint function. Pup Prep: Scoop out a ripe papaya and serve as a snack (remove the seeds; they’re edible, but have a peppery flavor that may be too much for your dog).

5. Pumpkin
Low in calories and high in soluble fiber. Pumpkin makes a nice treat for the pooch with an upset tummy and also helps resolve bouts of diarrhea. It is low in sodium and exceptionally high in carotenoids, potassium and Vitamin C, and has some calcium and B vitamins. It can be used as a fat substitute when making dog treats. Pup Prep: Steam and mash fresh pumpkin, or take the easy way out and used canned pumpkin (organic, if possible). If using canned, read the label carefully to be sure you’re getting 100 percent pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which has added salts and sugars.

6. Cranberries
An excellent source of Vitamin C, fiber and manganese. Cranberries also contain Vitamin K and phytochemicals thought to inhibit the ability of bad bacteria to stick to and infect the urinary tract. In addition, there may be benefits for blood vessel health and antioxidant protection. Pup Prep: Cranberries are very sour. To offset their tartness, combine them with a sweeter fruit, such as a banana or ripe papaya, for a healthful treat.

7. Sardines
A terrific protein source. Sardines contain appreciable amounts of the amino acid tryptophan as well as Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B-12 (a hard-to-come-by B vitamin that is essential for cell function). A good source of selenium, calcium and phosphorus as well as Vitamin D, Vitamin B-3 (niacin) and Vitamin A in its preformed state, sardines are a great addition to any doggie diet. Pup Prep: Choose a low-sodium, water-packed variety and mash well, checking for and removing obvious bones, which can lodge in the esophagus or splinter and cause dangerous tears in the gut.

8. Wheat Grass
Also known as pet grass or cat grass. The young grass of the wheat plant (though it doesn’t have the same composition as wheat), it has chlorophyll, fiber, Vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and potassium as well as some protein and carotenoids. Wheat grass is also purported to decrease constipation and help with upset stomachs. Pup Prep: Buy or grow a pot of wheat grass and make it available to your dog. Many dogs eat grass, and wheat grass is an improvement over the potentially herbicide-laden, contaminated grass growing along the curb.

9. Turnip Greens
Unfamiliar to many humans and dogs alike. Turnip greens are an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, carotenoids, most B vitamins, fiber and manganese. They are also a good source of calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, and provide a complement of antioxidants. A caveat: Turnip greens are bitter and contain appreciable amounts of oxalates that can bind minerals as well as goitrogens, which may interfere with thyroid function in susceptible individuals. Pup Prep: To minimize these effects and maximize palatability, sauté or blanch. Most recipes call for sautéing, which maintains the greens’ nutritional density and increases the odds that your dog (and you) will eat these healthful veggies.

10. Nutritional Yeast
Grown on mineral-enriched molasses and used as a food supplement. This inactive yeast is high in protein, B vitamins and chromium and several minerals as well. Protein is needed for muscle and cell growth, B vitamins are essential for energy metabolism and enzyme function, and chromium is important for insulin release and action, which allows carbohydrates and other fuels to be taken up by the cells and used or stored. Pup Prep: Don’t overdo it, as too much chromium can be detrimental. Use 1 teaspoon for a small dog, 2 tsp. for a medium dog and 1 tbsp. for a large dog. Mix it with food and introduce it slowly.
 

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
10 Easy Pieces to Liven Up Your Dog’s Dinner
Mealtime surprises from the grocery shelf

If you’re going to feed your dogs “people” food, shouldn’t you feed them something that’s actually good for them? Here are some healthy, easily obtainable options straight from market shelves that can be added to spice up your pup’s regular fare. There are, of course, a few cautions to keep in mind. First, none of these items by themselves constitutes a “complete and balanced” meal, and if your dog has health or weight issues, check with your vet before introducing them. Next, considering that many dogs are willing to eat almost anything they find, they can be surprisingly fussy about new things in their food bowls; start with a small portion to see if it’s a go … or no. And finally, always introduce new foods gradually. Look for 10 more “easy pieces” in the next issue.

1. Banana
High in potassium (great for muscle and blood vessel function as well as for regulating the acidity of body fluids), fiber (a handy home remedy for the occasional bout of doggy diarrhea or constipation) and magnesium (important for energy transport and protein building in the body). Bananas have lots of pyridoxine (Vitamin B6), which helps metabolize proteins and regulates blood cell function so the blood can bring more oxygen to the brain and muscle. They also contain Vitamin C, an antioxidant that protects cells from damage and helps build cartilage. Pup Prep: Mash a banana and mix it in with your dog’s food. Be forewarned that the compounds in bananas that make them smell banana-y are offensive to some canines.

2. Rutabaga
A sorely ignored veggie, similar to a turnip. Rutabagas are very good boiled and mashed. They’re available year-round in most grocery stores and keep well. Their high levels of Vitamin C, potassium and carotenoids (precursors to Vitamin A) aid eye health and maintenance of DNA activation in cells. They are also important in immune system function and have a number of lesser-known phytochemicals, which are shown to reduce the risk of several chronic diseases associated with aging. Pup Prep: Peel, boil and mash the rutabaga, then add a little bit of safflower or olive oil; these oils are not harmful to dogs, who need fats and handle them far better than do humans.

3. Sweet Potato
Loaded with nutrients, such as the carotenoids and Vitamin C, in addition to some lesser known antioxidants and phytochemicals. They are high in pyridoxine, potassium, fiber and magnesium. They also are good sources of copper, iron and manganese—all essential minerals that perform myriad functions in cells, from transporting oxygen to assisting in the assembly of proteins. Pup Prep: As with rutabaga, boil, mash and add a bit of good oil.

4. Flaxseeds
Small seeds—known for their alpha linolenic acid (ALA) content and benefits to coat, skin, bone and brain function—that pack a big nutritional punch. These seeds are also high in fiber and lignans (a fiber type), which may be beneficial for insulin action. They are a great source of manganese, pyridoxine, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. They also contain the B vitamin folate, which is important for cell regulation. Pup Prep: Grind fresh flaxseeds, which are nutty and crunchy; flaxseed oil is also available in most health food stores and contains a more concentrated amount of ALA. Add the ground seeds or a teaspoon of oil to your dog’s food and increase the nutrient density of any meal. (Note: Store in refrigerator to maintain freshness.)

5. Yogurt
Active cultures known as probiotics (necessary, friendly bacteria) help keep the bad bacteria away. Yogurt, which may improve gut function, contains a number of nutrients, including protein, calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin B12, potassium, zinc and iodine. It is also a fair source of other B vitamins such as riboflavin and pantothenic acid (required for enzyme action and energy production, as well as other cellular functions). Pup Prep: A dollop of non-fat yogurt is a great way to disguise some yucky medicines.

6. Salmon
Bursting with Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s do wonders for skin, coat and brain as well as limit inflammatory processes that cause arthritic pain and other chronic canine conditions. (If your dog has any of these conditions, ask your vet if fish oil in capsule form might help.) Salmon is also an excellent protein source, with many essential vitamins and minerals.* Pup Prep: When you’re cooking salmon steaks for yourself, toss a few extra on the barbie for your dog. Refrigerate or dehydrate the grilled chunks and serve them cold.

7. Nori
Dried edible seaweed (red algae species), a Japanese staple. Often associated with sushi, nori is available in some supermarkets, and certainly in those with Asian food items. It has protein, galactans (a soluble fiber), Vitamins C, E and all the Bs, and minerals such as zinc and copper. It also contains some lesser-known sterols and chlorophyll, which have been investigated for their effects on regulating metabolism. Nori may have beneficial effects on fat metabolism, immune function and anti-tumor response. Pup Prep: Nori does not have a strong odor or flavor, and the paper-thin sheets can be torn and soaked in broth, then added to food, or just added dry. Puppy sushi, anyone?

8. Blueberries
Member of the Heath family and loaded with phytochemicals. Available year round either fresh or frozen, blueberries are a great treat for your dog. The deep blue color comes from anthocyanidins, which are potent antioxidants, and the berries also supply Vitamin C, Vitamin E, manganese and fiber. Slow introduction in small quantities is particularly essential here; as anyone who has ever gorged on this tasty fruit knows, the blueberry “trots” are most unpleasant (and you’re the one who will be cleaning up!). Be judicious. Pup Prep: Rinse and serve whole, or mash lightly.

9. Rosemary
Aromatic mint relative. Rosemary provides some fiber, iron and calcium in addition to several phytochemicals thought to improve immune function and act as anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants. Pup Prep: Wash a sprig of fresh rosemary and add the minced needles (leaves) to foods.

10. Swiss Chard
A pretty veggie known as a “green.” Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and has tons of nutrients, which are best maintained by blanching and not boiling the leaves and stalks to mush. (Some feel that, in order to lap up any leeched nutrients, the water in which chard is blanched should be consumed too.) Blanching sweetens the leaves and frees up some of the oxalates, which can bind minerals. Chard’s nutrients have the potential to maintain bone health, blood vessel integrity, eye health and immune function and benefit optimal muscle function and energy production. Pup Prep: Offer your dog some blanched, chopped chard enhanced with a bit of olive oil; if you’re lucky, your best friend will want the blanching water too!

*The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors the levels of mercury and industrial chemicals that end up in fish, both fresh- and saltwater; updates regarding contamination are readily available.