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Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Advice: Counting Your Dog's Calories
How many calories does a dog need?
Homemade Dog Food - Slow Cooker - Counting Calories

Keeping dogs healthy is important to us so we’ve created new calorie requirement estimator and food counter apps. We are hoping that these web-apps will come in handy for you to try your hand in cooking for your dogs. You can make all the meals for your dogs, or simply add home cooked meals as a supplement to the manufactured food.

The first thing to do is to confirm or calculate how many kilocalories your dog requires to be fed on a daily basis (Daily Energy Requirement or DER). The total calorie requirement should be divided by the number of meals (usually 2) fed to your dog daily. All treats and snacks also need to be accounted for and their calories should be subtracted from the total that will be provided in their meals. It is always recommended that before making changes to a dog’s current diet you discuss this plan with your veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there are a number of different approaches that are used to calculate a dog’s caloric needs so while our app calculates your dog’s DER, there are other formulas with slightly different results (we have included a chart that uses another popular measurement, the Maintenance Energy Requirement, that you can also follow.)

Screenshot of Bark's DER Calculator

Do keep in mind that these calculations are really only estimates. Also, it is important to note that every dog is truly an individual, and their current weight, activity level, age, intact or neuter, physiological condition and other factors must also be considered. No matter what formula you use, the best way to judge a feeding plan’s efficacy is by simply keeping track of any weight loss or gain, and adjusting accordingly. And again, it is good to consult with your vet before making any changes to a dog’s diet.

Ingredient Calculations:

When calculating the calories for ingredients, there are a variety of sources that can be used. I decided to do compute calculations in ounces to make it simpler for myself, and others to use. The ingredients we have included in our chart are the most common ones found in home cooked meals. If there are ingredients missing you can use any of the online calorie sources that we have noted under the chart to add those to your list.

A digital kitchen scale is definitely the easiest when to know how much any ingredient weighs—you need to measure the actual weight, not the volume (such standard measuring cups measure).

When using the slow cooker approach to making dog meals, you will also need to factor in the weight of the water you use in cooking the meals. So if you use 6 cups of water, or 48 ounces, that weight will need to be added to the total weight of the ingredients, to get an accurate calculation how many calories there are in one ounce of the food. Most slow cooker meals are around 20 to 35 calories per ounce.

Supplementation:

As Dr. Greg Martinez has noted in his slow cooker recipe, you will need to provide supplementation to most diets (especially those that do not incorporate any manufactured food). Common supplements include calcium (or bone meal) about 1 tsp per pound of food, Vitamin E (2 IU per pound of dog daily), and either 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).

In my investigations into home cooking for your pet I have used a variety of excellent sources that you might also like to consult. Here is a sampling of the books, websites, and services:

Starting with Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s classic Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. His was one of the first guides to home cooking and the ingredient charts are extremely helpful, especially detailing the amount of water to use per dry ingredient, and the cooked yields.

Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck, DVM, PhD contains many different diet plans, and the special medical conditions that they cover.

Monica Segal offers nutritional consultations and menu planning, that can also include supplementing a kibble based diet. She is the author of 9Kitchen and Your Dog’s Diet. monicasegal.com

Rebecca Remillard, DVM, Veterinary Nutritional Consultations. She as been providing consultations for 20 years. She provides customized recipes for healthy pets, and nutritional consultations for pets with medical conditions. She works directly with pet guardians and with their vets. petdiets.com

Sean Delaney’s Balance It is also a veterinarian nutritional consulting service. His site offers many interesting recipes and diet plans. Balanceit.com, go to the “free balanceit ez tab” to build your own recipes and to understand their nutrient composition. balanceit.com

Mary Straus’ website dogaware.com is a good resource for sample diets (both raw and cooked) and supplements for home prepared meals, as well as general health related topics. dogaware.com

For recipes books:

Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM has an emphasis on ancestral diets, but a lot of valuable information. drkarenbecker.com

Dinner Pawsible by Cathy Alinovi, DVM and Susan Thixton. Has over 60 recipes that will inspire you and entice your pets. drcathyvet.com

Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet by Greg Martinez, DVM will get you started on the slow cooking approach to cooking for your pets. Be sure to watch his youtube channel too, so you can get some great cooking pointers.

Rick Woodford has provided an invaluable service with both his Feed Your Best Friend Better and his new Chow recipe books. His recipes can be used to supplement a kibble or canned food diet or provide healthy menu choices on their own. dogfooddude.com

Other Sources and Textbooks:

Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices (Dogwise) by Linda Case

Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Edited by Andrea J. Fascetti and Sean J. Delaney

Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition by Michael Hand, DVM, Craig Thatcher, DVM, Rebecca Remillard, DVM and Philip Roudebush, DVM.

Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats National Research Council.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Tips to Stop Your Dog from Eating Too Fast
Helping Fido slow down at mealtimes.
Northmate Green Slow Interactive Feeder

Some dogs eat so fast that a reasonable person would bet good money that they either think their speediness will make a steak appear or they believe that all of their kibble will self-destruct in 60 seconds. Many dogs do this throughout their lives without a serious problem, but they are flirting with disaster.

Eating so quickly doesn’t allow them to chew or even really taste their food. More worrisome is that speed eating can cause choking, gagging, vomiting and an even more serious condition called Gastric Dilation (colloquially known as canine bloat). Canine bloat can result from eating too much or too fast. The stomach expands because gasses build up to the point that it can twist within the dog’s abdomen, preventing the gasses from leaving the stomach. The result is that circulation can be cut off to that organ as well as to others including the heart. Dogs can die within hours of the onset of bloat, so it is a serious condition that requires immediate emergency medical attention if you even suspect it is a possibility. So, eating fast is more than unsightly—it’s potentially dangerous.

I am regularly asked how to train a dog to eat more slowly, and my answer is that it’s easier to make it physically impossible for them to eat that fast than it is to train them to eat slowly. There are a lot of ways to do this, but they all use the same principle, which is to set up a system that doesn’t allow them to eat more than a little bit of food at a time.

Pictured: Slow Feed Dog Bowl

You can place one small bowl upside down inside a big bowl and then pour the food over the small bowl and into the bigger one. That creates a narrow “moat” of food and the dog can’t gulp the entire meal down. He has to work his way around the entire circle of food. Another option is to place toys that are too big to swallow (and that are clean!) in a food bowl so the dog has to move them out of the way or work around them to reach the food. It’s also common for people whose dogs tend to eat a bowl of food in a matter of seconds to scatter the food over a broad area so the dog has to move around for each piece of food. This works very well in houses with a single dog. If more than one dog is around, this option is a poor choice because it promotes competition, stress and can lead to aggression over the food.

Pictured: Wisspet Happy Hunting Bowl

My favorite way to keep dogs from scarfing down their food too quickly is to buy and use a food bowl or food puzzle that is specific to this purpose. I am comfortable with any slow feeder that is easy to clean and sturdy, and there are many options out there. Food puzzles are often loud, but many dogs will work for a long time to roll or push a Buster Cube or a Kong Wobbler around to get the food to fall out. Not only does this slow down their eating, it also provides mental exercise and gives dogs valuable experience being persistent and handling a bit of frustration.

If your dog is a speed eater, have you found a way to slow down mealtimes?

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Commercial Dog Foods Affect Fertility and Sexual Development

Researchers Richard G. Lea and associates published on Aug 9th, 2016, a report entitled Environmental chemicals impact dog semen quality in vitro and may be associated with a temporal decline in sperm motility and increased cryptorchidism. (In Nature, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 31281 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep31281). Against the background of declining semen quality and rising incidence of undescended testes (Cryptorchidism) in humans associated with exposure to environmental chemicals (ECs) during development they report that “a population of breeding dogs exhibit a 26 year (1988–2014) decline in sperm quality and a concurrent increased incidence of cryptorchidism in male offspring (1995–2014). A decline in the number of males born relative to the number of females was also observed. ECs, including diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and polychlorinated bisphenol 153 (PCB153), were detected in adult dog testes and commercial dog foods at concentrations reported to perturb reproductive function in other species”.

Estrogen-mimicking, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have become virtually ubiquitous in many of the foods we consume, some of which, along with their byproducts, are included in most manufactured pet foods; in the can-linings of moist, and in plastic bagging and wrapping of dry and semi-moist foods. Plastic may also be processed into the manufactured food along with discarded meats, packaging and all.

Food wrappers and other industrial and commercial products from firefighting foam to water-repellant clothing contain poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, detected in drinking water and having endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic properties.

Dioxins, predominantly released as byproducts of human activities such as incineration and fuel combustion, are a most potent class of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They are ubiquitous in the environment, and from the soil and vegetation undergo bioaccumulation in the fat (tallow) of cattle, and sea foods, especially farmed salmon, which are common pet food ingredients. Their adverse impact on wildlife reproduction and sexual development in several aquatic and terrestrial species has been well documented.

Other estrogen-mimicking and endocrine disrupting contaminants of pet (and human) foods include glyphosate and other herbicide residues in corn and other cereals along with phytoestrogens in soy products especially in GMO soy, a widely used pet food ingredient.

Aflatoxin B1—yet another endocrine disruptor-from the mold on corn and other cereals, is often found in dry dog foods which are recalled too late to save many dogs from acute toxicity and death. Aflatoxins, dioxins and other endocrine disruptors, estrogen mimics, carcinogens and obesogens have  harmful consequences in extremely low concentrations in the diet over an extended time period with possible synergism operating where one contaminant increases the toxicity of one or more others; and prenatal, epigenetic, developmental effects on the offspring of exposed parents.

For additional details visit www.drffoxvet.net and see review: CHEMICAL-RELATED HUMAN DISEASES IN COMPANION ANIMALS

Statement to appear in Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column by Dr. Michael W. Fox.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Study Finds Declining Fertility in Male Dogs
Toxic chemicals also found in dog food

A long-term study conducted in Britain has found that male dogs are losing fertility, and that exposure to environmental chemicals (ECs) that have leached into the environment may be to blame.

The dogs—Labradors, Border Collies, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers bred to aid the disabled—made an ideal group to explore the larger question of a decline in human semen quality that has been occurring since long before this study.

This twenty-six year long study, 1998-2014, was conducted by Richard Lea and colleagues at Nottingham University’s school of veterinary medicine. They collected annual samples of semen from dozens of dogs, all from the same breeding program, all healthy and well cared for. Each year, the same problem recurred; a 2.4 percent dip in sperm motility, that is the ability to swim in a straight line. In addition to monitoring semen quality, they analyzed health records, finding an increase in cryptorchidism, a condition in which the testicles fail to extend normally to the scrotum. Over the same years, fewer male pups were born than females, also there was an increase in fetal and prenatal female mortality.

And, lurking in the samples of semen and testicles of dogs obtained from neutering, it found ECs—chemicals that tamper with hormones. The chemicals include polychlorinated bisphenol (PCB), a compound banned in 1977, and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). PCBs don’t readily break down while phthalates are common in a wide number of products, from cosmetics to detergent. Both chemicals are associated with fertility issues and birth defects.

In human babies, exposure to chemicals has been linked to faulty development of semen quality and cryptorchidism. According to the study, such reproductive problems often cluster in geographical areas, and so are suspected of having a common cause; exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is “thought to be the initiator.” To explore the same possibility in dogs, chemicals were measured in canine testes and semen taken from the same geographical area where the study took place.

Both chemicals “perturbed sperm viability, motility and DNA integrity in vitro.” The researchers concluded that the direct effects of chemicals on sperm “may contribute to the decline in canine semen quality” that parallels that in humans.

“Why the dog?” said Dr. Lea. “Apart from the fact that it is a great population of animals to work with, dogs live in our homes, they sometimes eat the same food, they are exposed to the same environmental contaminants that we are, so the underlying hypothesis is that the dog is really a type of sentinel for human exposure.”

The same ECs were found in a range of commercially available dog foods. DEHP and PCB153, “were detected in adult dog testes and commercial dog foods at concentrations reported to perturb reproductive function in other species.”

While the brands were not named, they are reported to be both wet and dry forms sold worldwide. The scientists don’t know how the chemicals made it into the food, but since they are not deliberate additives, they may have leached from the packaging or processing sources.

These overall findings are troubling, but they also noted that: “Amongst the dry dog food samples, one sample designed for puppies (1 to 24 months of age) had higher concentrations … relative to the other samples tested.”

Plus, while the researchers cannot say the dog food is a direct source of the ECs, the New York Times reports that "Dr. Lea said it was probably a major one." 

What is known is that the chemicals wound up in dog’s testicles, where they messed with sperm motility and viability. “This may be a way by which environmental chemicals directly affect male fertility.”

While the dogs in the study were still able to reproduce, it’s hardly reassuring that, once more, the dogs who share our homes also share our diseases, unwittingly, acting as the “canary in the mine” for us.

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Calories Count

Winter not only keeps us inside, it’s also a time of food-centric holiday celebrations. How can we share the fun with our dogs without packing pounds on them? When you want to get the facts, you go to the pros, and for an answer to this question, we checked in with Julie Churchill, DVM, PhD, ACVN and associate professor of nutrition at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. Her general advice is that we be mindful of our dogs’ daily caloric needs and their total intake. (More on this in a future issue.) Dr. Churchill also shared a few tips.

> Go for frequency, not volume, and choose either very small treats (pinkie fingernail-size) or ones that can be broken into small pieces.

> Look for tasty low-cal alternatives; if your dog likes likes raw fruit and veg —carrots, celery, green beans, cucumbers, apples, blueberries—keep a ready-to-eat supply on hand.

> Unsalted, unbuttered popcorn provides lots of bang for its caloric buck; there are only 20 calories in a popped cup, and a cup goes a long way, especially when scattered around for the dog to find.

We saved the really big question for last. How do we resist those soulful eyes as we eat our turkey sandwiches and our special holiday cookies? Dr. Churchill advises that if we’re going to cave, we should do it with the lowest-calorie treat. It’s also important to avoid reinforcing begging (do your best!) and to preserve our dog’s routine. Dr. Churchill’s final takeaway: Dogs choose joy, and the time we spend with our dogs means more to them than food. Carve out time to make some joyful memories.

Wellness: Recipes
Dog Food Recipes: Valentine Liver Treats
Valentine Liver Nibbles

This delicious recipe is nutritious and tasty, and the loaf can be sliced up into any size. What better way to make your pup feel truly special this Valentine’s Day than with homemade treats richly infused with love. The added bonus is that Valentine Liver Nibbles are completely wheat-free, making them ideal for sensitive pets.

Ingredients
1 lb. fresh raw organic beef or chicken liver
3 free-range eggs
1⁄4 cup canola or other vegetable oil
2 cups instant oats
1 Tbsp. applesauce (optional)
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)
3 Tbsp. powdered kelp
Filtered water sufficient to make a batter

What to Do
Process the liver in a blender or food processor until completely puréed. Beat the eggs in a bowl and pour in oil. Add liver. Mix in dry ingredients slowly, stirring continuously so they are thoroughly combined. Add water gradually until you have a “batter” consistency. Pour this batter into a loaf tin. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes. Cool in the tin until able to be handled, then gently turn the loaf out onto a rack and refrigerate to cool completely. Slice with a sharp knife, then dice into bite-sized pieces appropriate for your pup. 

Note: We've omitted the garlic originally in this recipe.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
10 Super Foods For You and Your Dog

What makes a “super” food? Edibles that deliver the maximum amount of nutrients with minimum calories. Humans and dogs can share several common foods that are nutritionally dense, and pack a lot of healthful benefits into a serving. These super foods help people and their pets fight disease, boost energy and maintain good health in general. They make great additions to your dog’s diet—whether you feed packaged dog food or home cook meals—consider adding the nutritionally-packed components to compliment your dog’s eating regime. Be sure to introduce these foods gradually and with the proper proportions, and check with your veterinarian if your dog has any dietary or health concerns.

Kale

Kale is a supercharged leafy vegetable that contains an abundant amount of vitamins, including A, E, and C. It is a good source of antioxidants and helps the liver detoxify the body. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. Avoid in pets with certain types of bladder stones or kidney disease.

Carrots
A great dog snack crunchy, naturally sweet and most dogs really like them. They are loaded with carotenoids, fiber, vitamin C and 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.

Pumpkin
Low in calories and high in soluble fiber, pumpkin helps maintain a healthy digestive tract. It is low in sodium and exceptionally high in carotenoids, potassium and vitamin C, and has some calcium and B vitamins. Canned organic pureed pumpkin can be found at food stores but be sure that it is pure and not a pie filling, so with no sugar or spices added.

Sweet Potatoes
These tuberous roots are rich in beta-carotene and boast 150% more antioxidants than blueberries. Sweet potatoes are also super high in heart-healthy vitamin A and packed with vitamin C to keep immunes system strong.

Fish
Oily fishes such as herring, salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies are 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 too.) Fish are an excellent protein source, with many essential vitamins and minerals.

Seaweed/Nori

Dried edible seaweed is a Japanese staple. Often associated with sushi, nori is available in some supermarkets, especially those stocking 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. Make sure the nori/seaweed is low in sodium, amounts vary greatly in these products.


Chia
The seeds of this traditional grain from Mesoamerica have several of the same benefits as the more well-known “super seed” flax, but unlike flax seed, you don’t need to grind them to reap the health benefits. The nutritional benefits of chia include fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants and even protein. (Highly absorbent, they can help hydrate the body.) Chia seeds can be simply sprinkled on their meals.


Quinoa
Commonly considered a grain, quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is actually a seed related to spinach. Quinoa is a complete protein supplying all eight of the essential amino acids and is a good source of fiber, folate, magnesium, iron, phosphorous and many phytochemicals.  One of the few vegetables sources of complete proteins, quinoa is a potent antioxidant and reducing the risk of diabetes.

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).

Blueberries

Available year round either fresh or frozen, blueberries, loaded with phytochemicals, are a great treat for your dog. The deep blue color comes from anthocyanidins, which are potent antioxidants, and the berries also supply vitamins C and E, manganese and fiber. Slow introduction in small quantities is particularly essential; gorging on this tasty fruit can adversely affect canine and human bowel movements.

Besides these, there are also many simple, fresh and wholesome food items that dogs and humans can thrive on, including apples, green beans, papaya, leafy greens, liver and hearts, eggs, oats, bananas, wheat grass, cranberries, nuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, parsley, wheat germ and apple cider vinegar. For dogs, animal protein such as, chicken, turkey, duck, lamb, goat, rabbit, pork, beef, fish and venison, should be an integral part of their meals.

Wellness: Recipes
Recipe: Chicken, Squash and Greens

A simple home-prepared meal that incorporates healthy ingredients that not only improves our animals’ health but is also easier on our budgets.

  • ½ cup [125 mL] chicken breast, cooked, skin and fat removed, ground or shredded
  • 1 tablespoon [15 mL] chicken liver, cooked, finely chopped
  • ½ cup [125 mL] squash, acorn, cubed, boiled, drained
  • ½ cup [125 mL] asparagus, boiled, drained, chopped
  • ½ cup [125 mL] collard greens, cooked, drained, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon [5 mL] sesame seeds, dried, whole, no salt
  • 1 teaspoon [5 mL] cod liver oil
  • 1 tablespoon [15 mL] coconut oil
  • 500 mg calcium from a supplement or slightly more than ¼ teaspoon finely ground eggshell
  • ½ cup [125 mL] broth, if desired

Combine all ingredients, mix well. Serve. 

Hint: Powdered calcium sticks to wet ingredients, sprinkle evenly over wet food.

Protein: 36 grams Fat: 28 grams Calories: 436

Daily serving for a 30 lb dog, can be divided into 2 feedings.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Cooking for Your Dog's Health
Q&A with Susan Thixton, authors of Dinner PAWsible.

Whole food, real food, clean eating: however it’s described, many of us are turning—or returning—to minimally processed, additive-free food made by nature rather than machines. In their newly revised cookbook, Dinner PAWsible, holistic veterinarian Cathy Alinovi and pet food safety advocate Susan Thixton apply that concept to the world of companion animals. They suggest that home-prepared meals incorporating healthy ingredients are eminently do-able alternatives that not only improve our animals’ health but also, are easier on our budgets. Bark recently spoke with the authors.

For years, we’ve been told that variety in a dog’s diet is a bad thing, yet in your cookbook, you encourage it. Why?

We promote variety for pets for the same reason it’s recommended for humans: to provide a balance of vitamins and minerals. Eating different foods from meal to meal helps achieve this.

How should we go about switching our dogs from commercial foods to a diet that incorporates the recipes from your book?

Changing brands of commercial pet food quickly (from one meal to the next) can cause some dogs to have “tummy issues,” aka diarrhea. So, to be safe when making the transition, we recommend switching slowly: for example, one-quarter new (home-prepared) food to three-quarters old (commercial) food for two or three days, half-and-half for another two or three days, and so on. Dogs who’ve been eating real food all along can be switched right over to the recipes we provide.

When preparing meals for our dogs, how can we be sure that the nutrients are bio-available? And, related to this, why is “lightly cooked” better than “thoroughly cooked”?

Remember when commercial cat food was introduced and researchers discovered that taurine had to be added, even though it was made with meat? Taurine, an amino acid [protein’s building blocks] cats require, occurs naturally in meat; however, in the manufacturing process, the meat was overcooked to the point that the taurine broke down and was no longer available as a nutrient.

It’s the same thing with cooking for dogs—if you cook the ever-living daylights out of meat, the nutrients will be degraded, while cooking it lightly leaves more nutrients accessible to the body. Feeding raw meat is also acceptable, but we recommend that people avoid feeding their dogs raw ground meat from the grocery store, as it is often contaminated with bacteria that can be harmful. Vegetables are a bit harder for a dog to digest, which is why we recommend lightly cooking them; if you feel you need to boil veggies, add the cooking water to your dog’s food, as boiling tends to leach the vitamins into the water.

You advise boiling a whole chicken and then using the bones to make a broth that incorporates apple cider vinegar. What’s the advantage of adding vinegar?

Chicken can really be prepared by any method; broiling or baking works great too, and still leaves you with bones you can use to make broth. (Regardless of how you prep your chicken, don’t overcook it. We recommend using a meat thermometer to make certain the meat is cooked to the proper temperature of 165 degrees.) Apple cider vinegar helps leach the minerals from the bones, which gives you bone broth, a powerhouse food source.

Most of your recipes have around 10 to 15 percent fat. Why is fat important for dogs, and do highly active dogs need more?

For dogs—for all mammals, actually—fat is an energy source and provides nutrients necessary for an efficiently functioning nervous system. Some, like working sled dogs, need an amazing number of calories, on the order of 10,000 kcal a day when they’re running at top speed (10 times the amount comparably sized pet dogs require), and fat helps them meet these requirements. While our recipes are designed for pet dogs who are moderately active, they can be modified for higher energetic needs, which also come into play during pregnancy, puppyhood and agility work. We discuss these modifications at the beginning of the book, and we’re available to help individuals with specialized requirements.

Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to some ingredients, for example, nuts and seeds? I use a NutriBullet to make drinks for myself and my dogs that include ground hemp, goji, flax and other seeds and nuts. It seems our dogs would also benefit from high-value “smoothies” made with raw leafy veggies, fruits and seeds, moistened with broth or whey. What do you think?

Just like humans, dogs can get too much of a good thing, although it takes repeated daily overeating of one item to cause a problem. Fresh grinding makes rich foods like seeds and nuts—wonderful sources of protein and trace nutrients—more digestible, as well as helps the body access their wonderful omega fatty-acid oils. You can make great pet food add-ins by using a NutriBullet, Vitamix or even a coffee grinder.

Why don’t you advocate a raw diet?

We promote minimally processed food, raw or cooked. Our original concept was to help pet owners new to real food get started, and some are grossed out by the idea of raw meat. We’ve found that as people become more experienced, many do switch to raw foods. On the other hand, some dogs—those who are older or who have particular health problems—cannot comfortably digest raw meat, so cooking it lightly makes sense for them.

You point out that not every meal needs to be complete and balanced. In the overall scheme of things, how important is balance, and how can we be assured that our dogs get all the nutrients they require?

Consider human diets: every meal, every bite, is not 100 percent balanced and complete. But over the course of a few meals with a variety of ingredients, balance is achieved. The same thing works for our dogs: variety fills in any “holes” that may exist in individual recipes. We like the concept of providing balanced nutrition through whole-food ingredients instead of via synthetic supplements (which is what most commercial pet foods use). 

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.

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