Helpful tips and starter recipe for making homemade dog food.
If you’re nervous about feeding your dog home-cooked food, you’re not alone. Many dog owners have concerns about the time involved, the cost and the consequences of failing to include the right ingredients to keep their furry friends healthy. On top of that, most vets frown on home cooking for dogs.
Eight years ago, I started cooking for my dogs as a way to introduce quality ingredients into their diets and to help clients who had dogs with health problems. Since then, many clients have raved about the effects of a home-cooked diet on their dog’s health; seeing flaky fur turn glossy and the pleasure dogs seem to get from eating better is definitely inspirational.
In the process, I found the slow cooker to be the perfect (and easiest) tool for homemade dog food meals. Combining the ingredients in the cooker and setting the time takes only minutes, which makes it appealing to those who shy away from home cooking because they think it’s too time-consuming.
I started by using ingredients listed on the label of a high-quality canned food. I’ve also cooked chicken thighs and even whole young chickens with most of the skin removed. After 14 to 16 hours in the slow cooker, chicken bones become soft and crumbly and are a great source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins and healthful fats. (However, this isn’t true for cooked beef bones, which should never be given to dogs.)
If your dog doesn’t have major medical problems and has tolerated food changes in the past, start the transition to home-cooked meals by preparing a small batch of low-fat food and gradually adding increasing amounts to his normal diet (25, 50, 75, then 100 percent over a four- to seven-day period). I recommend using low-fat meat or fish combined with white or brown rice.
Because slow-cooked dog food may have more fat and vegetables than some commercial foods, dogs have been known to experience stomach or bowel upsets. Vomiting, indigestion or gas are signs that a dog’s digestive tract needs more time to adjust to the new ingredients, which can take days, or even weeks.
Dogs who have had pancreas issues need to eat a low-fat, limited-ingredient diet and be transitioned very carefully for a longer period of time. Remember, too, that dogs can be allergic to wheat, beef and/or chicken. Signs that your dog may be sensitive to the food include hives; excessive scratching; or red, itchy ears.
On the other hand, if your dog seems happy and has normal stools with the new home-cooked food, increase the amount over a week’s time, as noted previously. Once you know he can tolerate the new diet, cook a larger batch and portion it into daily servings. Keep one week’s supply in the refrigerator and freeze the rest in resealable freezer bags or another suitable container. Thaw before feeding, but after that, to avoid spoilage, do not leave the food out longer than mealtime or allow it to sit at room temperature for hours (if your dog likes his food warm, it’s fine to heat it up before serving).
In the starter recipe provided here, the protein is higher (about 50% dry matter) and the fat is lower (about 10% dry matter) than in most recipes. This mixture yields about 70% moisture, 10 to 15% protein, 5 to 7% fat, and 5 to 7% carbohydrates, depending on how much fat is in the meat and the quantity of green beans and rice used (or, 40 to 50% protein, 20 to 25% fat, and 25 to 30% carbohydrate by dry matter).Starter Recipe: Chicken and Vegetable Stew for Dogs
*Not needed for the trial period or if the home-cooked food is less than 10% to 20% of the dog’s daily diet.
In a slow cooker, combine the chicken breasts, chicken liver, chicken hearts, gizzards and eggs. Add the bone meal, rice and green beans. Add water, then stir. (The longer the meat and veggies are cooked, the more water is needed. For this basic starter recipe, you don’t need to completely cover the ingredients. If you are slow-cooking chicken and bones for 14 hours, then more water is needed.) Cover and cook on low for 4 to 8 hours, until the breasts fall apart. Stir and add or drain water as needed to make a drier or moister stew. Let the mixture cool before feeding and refrigerating.
Yield: 7 to 8 cups (60 oz.)
Supplements (given separately or added to each meal)
• Vitamin E: 2 IU per pound of dog daily.
• Sardines in water: one-quarter to one tin twice weekly, or one to three 1,200 mg fish oil capsules daily. (Dose is based on 10 to 30 mg/pound of DHA and EPA).
Note: Because it’s high in protein, this combination isn’t suitable for dogs with failing kidneys. To decrease the protein, double the amount of rice and green beans and/or use less meat (1/2 to 3/4 pound).
Depending on the level of fat and moisture in the food, most home-cooked diets prepared with lean meat have about 20 to 35 calories per ounce. To increase the calories, strain off some of the liquid from the stew or add some healthy fat, such as olive or non-GMO canola oil. An 8-ounce serving of this chicken-and-vegetable stew has about 200 calories. After the transition period, I recommend that you start out feeding your dog about the same amount of home-cooked food as you would canned food.
So, to summarize, by cooking for your dog, you’re able to use the best ingredients available to you and mix them in the way that best suits your dog’s needs. If you follow a basic formula of muscle meat, organ meat, bone or bone meal, and a variety of vegetables, your dog will thrive. Home-cooked dog food can also be used to add quality ingredients to a kibble or canned-food diet. Your dog will love the variety!
DIY: How To Make Yogurt at Home
Crock Pot Yogurt Method
This is a very easy method to make yogurt. All you need is a slow cooker, milk, a live-active yogurt starter (either from a previous batch, or a store bought plain yogurt), and, a cooking thermometer (that is optional).
1. Pour one to two quarts of milk (low fat or whole) into a slow cooker, cover the pot. Turn the heat on medium or high. Heat the milk slowly, it needs to get to reach at least 180 degrees (30 mins. to an hour or longer). Stir a few times while it is heating, make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and that it doesn’t boil.
2. Turn the slow cooker off, uncover and unplug it and let the milk cool down to 110 degrees, this too can take 30 mins. to an hour or even longer.
3. While the heated milk is cooling off, take the starter out of the refrigerator. If you are using a quart of milk use a tablespoon of the starter, if you are using two quarts, use 2 tablespoons.
4. Once the milk has cooled to 110 degrees, ladle a small amount (1/3 of a cup or so) into a small bowl or measuring cup with the starter, then stir or whisk. Make sure you incorporate all of it, and then slowly add that mixture back into the crock pot, stirring thoroughly.
5. With the crock pot turned off, replace the lid, and wrap the pot with two or more towels. Make sure you do NOT disturb the pot; yogurt prefers a very still environment to go through the fermentation process. The low heat that was generated in Step 1, is sufficient for this process. This process can take 6 to 8 hours.
6. If you are making Greek style yogurt, carefully transfer or pour the yogurt into the EuroCuisine strainer (or use cheesecloth) and refrigerate at least 4 hours. If you are making regular style yogurt, you can put the yogurt in mason/glass jars, and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. If you are making Greek style yogurt, you will place the “finished” yogurt in glass jars, preserving the whey.Dehydrator Yogurt Method
Yet another sure fire way to make yogurt is using a dehydrator. Following the same cooking steps in the “heating pad” method of heating the milk, cooling it, and inoculating it with a yogurt starter, the next step is to pour the milk into glass jars, cover each with a lid (the plastic mason jar lids work well) and place them on the bottom shelf of a dehydrator, first removing the other shelves. Many dehydrators have a temperature setting for yogurt. Place the cover back on the dehydrator and incubate for 8 to 10 hours at 115 degrees (or following the setting on your dehydrator). Similar to the other methods, after the yogurt has set, refrigerate at least 4 hours. You will be amazed at how different (thicker) the yogurt becomes after it has been refrigerated.
If you are making Greek style yogurt, strained it either using cheese cloth in a strainer or the Euro Cuisine GY50 Greek Yogurt Maker method, first in the refrigerator, and then putting it into jars. Yogurt keeps for about a week.What is Whey?
Whey is the by-product of the yogurt making process, especially when you strain yogurt to produce a thicker, i.e. Greek style product. Whey protein is considered a complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids and is low in lactose content, so do not throw this precious liquid away! If you do not use it within a week or so, you can freeze it for later use.
Here are some of the endless ideas for using whey protein:
• For making smoothies (2 g of protein in one cup)
• In baking muffins, pancakes, breads, dog treats.
• Soaking beans or lentils (great to add to your dog’s meals)
• Use as a “topping” for your dog’s food. *
• As a substitute for buttermilk in recipes.
• Use in salad dressings (it is as acidic as a citric juice).
• Protein Shake
Making A Super Protein Shake For Dogs
One of my favorite uses for whey is to make a super protein “shake” for the dogs, that I mix into their meals or as a mid afternoon “slurp” snack. I was recently introduced to “nutrient extraction” super-blender appliances, such Nutribullet and Ninja. They make blending delicious and nutritious drinks and sauces so easy. For the dogs’ nutri-blasts, I use a handful of whatever leafy green vegetable, kale, spinach or chard, we have on hand, a few blueberries, a mix of goji berries, hemp and chia seeds, whey, and, for extra thickness, a tablespoon or so of yogurt—you can also add pulverized egg shells for more calcium. The Nutribullet grinds and mixes all these ingredients up in less than a couple of minutes. The dogs simply love it. If I have some cooked sweet potato, I add that too. The ingredient mixes are endless, plus it makes digesting vegetables easier for a dog’s digestive tract too.
For more information about the other possible health benefits of whey protein, see dogcancer.net.au
Yogurt is a wonder food, packed with probiotics, protein, calcium, B-12, and other nutrients, and oh so easy to make yourself. Being an ardent yogurt consumer (I like mine plain, thick and very sour), I had recently become dissatisfied with the batches I made using a standard yogurt maker that incubates the yogurt in little individual jars. So I went back to the drawing board (aka the Internet), and much to my amazement, there are at least three other methods (slow-cooker, dehydrator and heating pad) that produce perfect yogurt easily, each and every time. The one that I use is the heating pad method. So for that method you’ll need a heating pad, a large two-quart size glass vessel (with lid), a digital kitchen thermometer, a wooden spoon, whisk, spatula—a couple of large bathroom towels—and then the secret to making flawless Greek-style yogurt, a Greek-yogurt strainer from Euro-Cuisine (see below). That inexpensive utensil has become indispensable in my kitchen, so it’s hard not gush about it—also excellent for making homemade ricotta and other soft cheeses like quark.
Just follow these simple steps:
1. Heat ½ gallon of pasteurized milk (I typically use 2% but you can use whole milk as well) in a heavy pot slowly until it reaches around 185 ˚ on low to med-low heat. Be careful that you do not burn the bottom of the pot, stir occasionally but when it gets close to 165˚, stir more often. (Cooking time depends on the type of pot but can take at least 30 mins.)
2. Remove the pot from the stove and then cool the milk to 110˚. It is extremely important that it is cooled down, any higher temperature can kill the yogurt starter. This also can take at least 30 mins.
3. As the milk is cooling, remove 2 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt from the fridge (either from your previous batch, or store bought, but be sure to use plain yogurt with active bacteria, with no fillers) to get it to room temperature.
4. Using a ladle, pour about a cup of milk into a bowl or measuring cup and stir in the yogurt you’ll be using for your “starter”. Whisk to totally get it blended, add the rest of the milk and whisk again.
5. Place the container(s) on top of a pre-heated heating pad set to Medium. If you are using a pad that has a 2-hour automatic shut off (as many do), you will need to shut it back on at least 3 times during this incubation period. Or purchase a pad that does not have that shut-off feature (that type is actually less expensive). Put a top on the container, and then cover it with two thick bathroom towels, tucking the towels around the whole thing so it keeps to a reliable temperature.
Now sit back and relax, yogurt making should take 7 hours, do NOT disturb it during this time. But at the end of 7 hours, give a peak (but not before) and see if it looks like it has thickened, if it hasn’t just cover it back up and wait another hour or so.
6. For Greek style yogurt, carefully pour the thickened milk into the strainer (as explained above) or use cheese cloth placed inside of a colander or strainer and refrigerate for at least three hours. If you like a thinner style yogurt you can also just transfer it directly into pint Mason jars (with lids), but you will also need to refrigerate that for at least 3 hours to let it set.
The longer you keep the yogurt in the strainer, the more whey is produced and the thicker the yogurt will be. I typically let it strain overnight, or 8 hours or longer, but that also produces a more “sour” yogurt. You can always add some of the whey back into the yogurt if you want to thin in down. Depending on the length of straining time, it will produce at least 4 cups of thick yogurt (right) and an equal portion of whey (left). Do not throw out the nutritious whey! There are numerous uses for whey, including baking with it (substituting any recipe that calls for buttermilk, such as muffins, pancakes and waffles). Good to pour a little on your dog’s food too.
* You can halve this recipe using only a quart of milk, but use the same amount of starter, 2 to 3 tbsps.
See here for more recipes and directions on different preparation methods including using a slow cooker or dehydrator.
(In just an hour!)
This great kibble recipe is from the new cookbook, Dinner for Dogs by Henrietta Morrison. She is the founder of Lily’s Kitchen, a popular pet food company in the UK. She believes in proper food for dogs, and Lily, her Border Terrier, is her chief taster. See an interview with Henrietta as well.
Turkey is great as it’s very low in fat and very digestible, which makes it useful for dogs who are allergic to the usual protein sources—lamb, beef and chicken. Turkey is also handy as it’s readily available ground.
This is also a good hypoallergenic recipe that is free of wheat. You’ll notice I haven’t included peas, which always seem to be part of a dog’s menu these days. Peas can be hard to digest for some dogs and therefore can make them gassy.
Put the rice and lentils into a saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 20 minutes.
Once the rice and lentils are cooked, add the chopped carrots, sweet potato and apple to the saucepan. Stir in the oats and chopped herbs and gently simmer for 20 minutes more. Add an extra cup of water if the mixture is too dry. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
Meanwhile, brown the ground turkey in a separate frying pan. You will need to keep stirring it while it is cooking to prevent it from sticking to the pan as it is very low in fat. It will take about 10 minutes to cook through.
Put half the cooked vegetable and grain mixture into a food processor with half the cooked turkey, add half the oil and pulse until the mixture resembles a thick purée.
Grease 2 cookie sheets and spread the mixture onto one of the sheets so that it is about ¼ inch (5 mm) thick. The mixture will spread slightly so leave a bit of room for this. It is important that the mixture is not too thick because it will prohibit the kibble from cooking through.
Repeat as above using the second cookie sheet and the remaining ingredients.
Place both cookie sheets into the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes. Turn the kibble over so that it dries through, and cook for another 30 to 45 minutes. You should have what looks like two very large cookies. Make sure the kibble is completely cooked through, as any moist bits will get moldy after a couple of days. If it is not fully dried out, leave it in the oven for 20 minutes more.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F/160°C. Remove the “kibble cookies” from the oven, cool slightly and cut them into small pieces. Place the pieces back onto the cookie sheets and bake for an additional hour, or until the kibble is completely dried (but not burnt).
Remove the kibble from the oven and let cool completely. It should resemble pieces of broken pita bread.
It will keep in the fridge for 10 days.
These delectable cookies are simple to make, and can be broken into smaller pieces perfect for training bits.
Mix the flour, oats, whole grains, parsley, dried milk and salt.
Add the eggs, peanut butter and honey and stir into dry ingredients to combine; the mixture will be crumbly.
Add enough water to bring the dough together. Mix with a spoon, or if using a stand mixer, use a dough hook.
Drop (or form by hand) the dough into walnutsized balls onto the prepared baking sheets. Flatten them to about 1/4".
Bake for about 45 minutes. When finished, the cookies will be dark golden brown, and will be dry and crisp all the way through.
Cool right on the pans.
Yield: 60 small (round) cookies.
Healthy home-cooked meals for your dogs
In the April/May 2011 issue of The Bark, we interview Barbara Laino about the nutritional benefits of feeding your dog home-cooked meals in addition to, or in lieu of, commercial dog food (see “Home Cooking with Barbara Laino” April/May ’11). Here are two more recipes cooked up at Laino’s Midsummer Farm in Warwick, N.Y., that are sure to please your pup’s taste buds and keep her healthy:
Homemade Dinner Recipe for Dogs
This recipe feeds 2-3 large dogs for 7-10 days.
Grind the following ingredients in a meat grinder. Alternate ingredients so the grinder does the mixing for you. For instance, grind six necks, one carrot, a handful of pumpkin seeds, then six more necks and so on. Mix with a large spoon as you grind.
Add a couple of the following items. Have these ready on hand as you are grinding and add a sprinkle here and there of each so you can thoroughly mix the batch of food.
After grinding and mixing all ingredients thoroughly, keep the food in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Midsummer Farm Homemade Fish-Based Dog Dinner
(The below recipe is for 1 medium dog for 3 days, about 10 1-cup-size meatballs) This recipe can be made in larger batches for efficiency sake. This raw food can easily be frozen in meatball shapes appropriate for the size animals you are feeding.
Serving Sizes of Raw Meatballs:
Keep in a well-sealed container in fridge. Scoop out appropriate amounts for your pet, or if you made a very large batch that is more than can be consumed in about 5 days, roll into meal-sized meatballs and freeze. Then you can just take out whatever number meatballs you need and defrost them a couple days before you need to feed them. Meatballs will last at least 3 months in the freezer.
To learn more about homemade dog food and its many benefits, see our interview with Barbara Laino.
Note: We've omitted the garlic originally in this recipe.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
• 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.
More Recipes from "Dog Cookies"
Every dog deserves the occasional cookie, but some treats can trigger allergies or tummy trouble. Dog Cookies comes to the rescue with 30 easy-to-follow recipes for healthy, allergen-free treats—including vegetarian and gluten-free treats—so you can find the perfect cookie no matter your dog’s diet.
For the gluten-free Amaranth Waffles recipe, see the Summer 2011 issue of The Bark.
Baking time: 30 minutes in a pre-heated oven
Any type of fish can be used for this recipe, so use whichever your dog likes best.
Caution: Ensure all of the bones are removed from the fish.
Regardless of which fish you use, these biscuits should not be stored for too long. Salmon, for example is quite high in fat, so there is a risk it may go rancid. Store the biscuits in an airtight container, and do not keep them for any longer than two weeks.
Baking time: 30 minutes in a pre-heated oven
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Q&A with the founder of Lily’s Kitchen
Henrietta Morrison is the founder of Lily’s Kitchen, voted the UK #1 pet food company for the last four years. Now she has a great new recipe book, Dinner for Dogs, written to inspire dog-loving home cooks everywhere. The book has 50 easy to make, delicious and nutritious recipes for your dog. We had a chance to chat with Henrietta recently.
Why do you think that people are reluctant to cook for their dogs?
Pet owners can be quite nervous about cooking for their dogs—I had lots of concerns when I started to cook for Lily. Initially, I was worried that what I was cooking for her might not be nutritionally complete, I was also concerned that she may love my home cooked food too much and never eat shop bought pet food again!
You started cooking for Lily because of skin allergies, but what inspired you to expand this into your very successful pet food business (in the UK)?
When I first started to cook for Lily it was really out of desperation. I had tried almost all pet foods on the market and she would either refuse to eat them or they just exacerbated her itchy skin. Cooking for her was a real eye opener—the first recipes were very much based on the kinds of food I love. I would say I’m a pretty healthy eater and have always been on the look out for interesting ingredients and alternatives—e.g. oat flour instead of wheat flour etc. I would use really healthy ingredients such as blueberries and squash as well as grind down herbs like rosehips. Lily just loved it! Not only that, but her skin finally made a radical improvement and the itchiness disappeared within a couple of weeks. I was delighted but also furious! I could not believe that I had been feeding her ready made pet food that was actually making her itchiness worse rather than providing her with the nutrition she needed. I was determined to do something about this and produce a pet food that would be perfect for Lily and help other dogs with similar issues.
What are the 5 common misconceptions people have about canine nutrition?
What is Lily’s all time favorite recipe?
Tricky question! Lily used to be a very fussy dog and turn up her nose at most things. Now she adores everything I make. I guess one of her favorites is the Wonderful One Pot from my recipe book—it has lentils, chicken, salmon and lots of other yummy ingredients.
Were you involved in food/cooking before you started cooking for Lily?
Yes, I have always been a very keen cook and I am a very keen gardener so I always have a glut of fruits and vegetables that need to be turned into recipes.
Did you work with veterinarian nutritionists to formulate your recipes?
Yes, I spent a long time collaborating with a number of veterinarians from different fields—holistic, herbalist and conventional. My brother is a veterinarian so he has also been very helpful as an adviser.
How important is it to use locally sourced ingredients? (I couldn’t find info on where your pet food ingredients are sourced.) I ask this because one of the pet food recalls that happened in the US happened because of organic basil from Egypt.
In an ideal situation you would always use locally grown ingredients. However it is not always possible to do this as it can depend on the crop outcome in a given year —for example for us last year it was very hard to source apples locally as the crop yield was extremely low in the UK, so we had to bring them in from other parts of Europe. What is critical is to have stringent food safety procedures in place wherever the ingredients come from and always ensure you are sourcing the best quality you can.
Who oversees pet food and the regulations and recalls in the UK or in Europe? Have there been many large-scale recalls like there have been here? I am thinking of the recent one that impacted most Natura brands.
In the UK we have the Pet Food Manufacturers Association as well as a variety of government bodies that put together regulations as well as carry out testing. At Lily’s Kitchen we carry out very regular testing on all our foods which get sent off to the government lab for testing—although there is not the onus on companies to do this. But I like to be extra vigilant as my dog’s name is on the label!
Yummy Picnic Recipes
Summertime means picnics and cookouts … and burgers and watermelon for everybody, even our dogs! Next time you gather around the picnic table plan on packing something special for the pups. Bark contributor Natalya Zahn shares her recipe for a dog-delicious burger/bun combo, sweet potato chips and watermelon pops …
BIG DOG BURGER
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl (mix with hands). Form into “burgers” and space 1" apart in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350˚ for 30 minutes. Cool before serving and store in refrigerator.
PB & JAM THUMBPRINTS
Combine all dry ingredients, then mix in peanut butter, bananas and water. Mix until dough forms. Shape dough into 1" rounds, place on baking sheet and press thumb into centers. Bake at 350˚ for about 15 minutes. Let cool. Heat jam in a saucepan or microwave until liquid in consistency. With a spoon, drip the jam into the center of each cookie. Let stand 1 hour for jam to set. Store in an airtight container.
LIVER CRACKER “BUN”
In a bowl, combine flour, wheat germ and parsley — set aside. Briefly blend liver in a food processor. Add liver to dry ingredients, then mix in oil and water until a sticky dough forms. On a greased cookie sheet, shape bun rounds — about 3" in diameter and 1/2" thick. Brush with egg white and sprinkle sesame seeds over the top. Bake at 400˚ for 15-20 minutes. Buns should be slightly soft in the center when pressed. Cool before assembling burger and serving.
WATERMELON FREEZE CUBES
Cut melon into roughly 3/8" slices. Using cookie cutters, cut shapes out of the flesh of the melon and place on a freezer-safe plate. Chill for 4 hours. Remove from freezer, transfer treats from plate to Ziploc freezer bag and store frozen until ready to eat.
SWEET POTATO CHIPS
Slice whole potatoes into rounds: a 1/4" slice will create a crispier chip, a 1/2" slice will create a chewier chip. Place on a foil-lined sheet. Bake at 250˚ for 2 hours, turning over once. Allow to cool on sheet. Chips should be stored in an airtight container.
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