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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: Food & Nutrition
Cooking For You and Your Dog
Q&A with Judith Jones
Love Me, Feed Me: Sharing with Your Dog the Everyday Good Food You Cook and Enjoy

Recently, we chatted with Judith Jones, a renowned cookbook editor who worked with the greats—Julia Child, Jacques Pépin and Marion Cunningham, among others. Now in her 90s, she has written a delightful book, Love Me, Feed Me (Knopf), about cooking for herself and her little dog Mabon.

This sensible book reminded us of food writers like Elizabeth David and MFK Fisher: recipes plus a pinch of life itself.

After I got my compliments on the book out of the way, I asked her why cooking for her dog was important to her.

Judith Jones: There are insecure people who are a little nervous about cooking; they think, “Oh, I don’t have the precise enough measurements,” or something like that. I want people to relax and have fun, like when I’m having a steak dinner and put aside a third of it for my little friend. For me, it’s part the camaraderie I share with him. Mabon loves his meals, and he’s having what I’m having. I follow the basic one-third meat protein, one-third vegetables and one-third grain [ratio] for his meals.

CK: How about the little spot of wine you add to some of the dishes?

JJ: The wine usually boils away and is there for the flavor. Sometimes, if it is easy [to do], I hold back and don’t give him any, but if it is a big braise or a stew, I add the wine and it just burns off. Mabon has never objected. Nor does he get boozy.

He’s really incredibly healthy, and he definitely makes choices. The world is now made up of kale lovers and kale haters—I’m so sick of kale … I don’t think it’s one of the most graceful and delicate of our vegetable offerings. The first time I gave it to Mabon, I put little clumps [of it] in his dish; he pulled them out one by one, put them on the kitchen floor and walked away. So eloquent—he didn’t need words.

CK: Has Mabon turned tail on other things besides kale?

JJ: He hasn’t given up on kale, but I haven’t forced it. He loves broccoli, so it isn’t just a big prejudice that covers everything green.

CK: I loved your roasted-vegetable recipe; it seems so simple to prepare.

JJ: Mabon loves the roasted vegetables. It is easy, and roasting changes the flavor slightly because it sweetens the vegetables. The natural sweetness comes to the surface—that’s what causes them to brown.

CK: What are your hopes for the book?

JJ: I don’t want to force people to do things, because then they wouldn’t have any pleasure it in. But I think we have become a little bit rigid about our own diet. They want us to do cookbooks called “food is medicine.” It’s not medicine—it’s so much more, almost transforming. It’s sensually delicious, and you love to taste it. If it needs tweaking, maybe you add a drop of lemon juice or bit more salt. I think that I really want to bring pleasure to cooking for your dog, whether you’re alone or with a family.

CK: I think the book is also perfect for children, a great way to get them involved in that level of dog care.

JJ: Exactly. Dogs are part of your family and you should know what you’re feeding everyone in your family. It shouldn’t come from China; treats from China have killed dogs. My vet agrees that I couldn’t be doing anything better for Mabon. She risks something by saying that, as some vets would disagree with her.

And don’t you love that quote by MFK Fisher? “I wouldn’t feed my dog or cat anything I wouldn’t feed myself.” That’s all there is to it.

Judith Jones is the author of The Book of New New England Cookery and The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. In 2006, she was awarded the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
GMO: Are genetically modified crops safe in your dog food?
A vet speaks out on genetically modified pet food.

Most dogs now dine on some type of genetically modified (GM) food, often in the form of corn and soy in their kibble. As these ingredients increasingly enter the food supply, we have one more reason to wonder if our shopping choices might be harming our pets.

More animal feeding studies are needed, experts say, and a recent long-term, peer-reviewed report points out why. It found that a diet of GM corn and soy led to higher rates of severe stomach inflammation in pigs, which are physiologically similar to dogs.

Robert Silver, DVM, a Boulder, Colo., holistic vet, tackled the issue earlier this year when he presented his paper, “Genetically Modified Food and Its Impact on Pet Health” at the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association conference in Kansas City, Mo. Why did he choose this controversial topic, one that few vets even acknowledge?

Silver—a pioneer in the field of holistic veterinary medical practice—says he was inspired by a seminar he attended in Boulder on GM foods and human health. The speakers included Don Huber, a Purdue University professor, and activist Jeffrey Smith, who discussed problems, including reproductive difficulties, that have occurred in livestock fed GM crops.

“I found this seminar mind-opening,” says Silver, the lone vet in attendance. “I had always believed the PR about GM foods—that they are going to feed the world and are a good outcome of our genetic technology.”

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the safety of GM crops consumed by humans and animals, considers most GM plants “substantially equivalent” to traditional plants and “generally recognized as safe.” Their regulation involves a voluntary consultation process with the developer before products are brought to market.

Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology, disagrees. On its website (responsibletechnology.org), he warns that “nearly all GM crops are described as ‘pesticide plants.’ They either tolerate doses of weed killer, such as Roundup, or produce an insecticide called Bt-toxin. In both cases, the added toxin—weed killer or bug killer—is found inside the corn or soybeans we consume.”

Silver says that while “allergies, GI problems, increased risk of cancer, neurodegenerative conditions” and other ills could all be, in part, related to GM foods, “there is no objective evidence of this yet” in dogs. “However, all vets will agree that there has been an uptick in [these diseases] in the past 10 to 20 years.” The advent of GM foods in the 1990s “fits into this timing of disease increases,” he says.

His presentation referred to studies that raise doubt about the safety of biotech crops, such as one reported in 1996 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that genes inserted into crops can carry with them allergenic properties.

Silver says that genetic modification introduces foreign proteins that may encourage allergies, and the widely planted Bt corn, which makes its own insecticide, “could possibly cause leaky gut, the gateway to chronic disease.” Corn is a major component of most commercial pet foods. “The big problem with commercial foods is that they are manufactured at high temperatures and pressures,” which alters them and makes them “potentially more allergenic.” And commercial foods contain industrial ingredients that are “more likely to contain GM and herbicide contaminants.”

A study published last year found that GM crops engineered to withstand the toxic herbicide Roundup must now be doused with even more herbicide, since weeds have also developed resistance to it. Residues of these chemicals on crops can find their way into pet food.

A 2013 study published in the science journal Entropy reports that the heavy use of Roundup could be linked to Parkinson’s, autism, infertility and cancers. It goes on to report that residues of Roundup in food can interact with, and enhance, the damaging effects of other environmental toxins. “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study’s researchers say.

According to Silver, heightened sensitivity to dietary ingredients “is probably what we are seeing with GM foods. It is of concern that this may be driving the increase in GI problems in pets.” Although gluten probably does account for some problems with grain consumption, “I think that grain-free diets, if they are also soy free and contain protein from animals not fed GM crops, can help many dogs, due to being GM free—and not due to some allergy or gluten issue.”

To a holistic doctor, food is medicine, and Silver strongly recommends home meal preparation from individually sourced ingredients to avoid feeding GM ingredients, especially to pets who have other health problems. “I am truly a holistic practitioner in that I believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

References
Carman, J., et al. 2013. A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet. Journal of Organic Systems 8 (1): 38–54.

Benbrook, C.M. 2012. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S.—the first 16 years. Environmental Sciences Europe 24: 24.

Ordlee, J., et al. 1996. Identification of a Brazil-nut allergen in transgenic soybeans. The New England Journal of Medicine 334: 688–692.

Samsel, A., and S. Seneff. 2013. Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: Pathways to modern diseases. Entropy 15 (4): 1416–1463.

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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