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.
Treat them right
Lots of fun in the summer sun makes for hot and hungry dogs. Here are two treat recipes that are sure to be pup-pleasers. Look for organic and/or free-range ingredients and you’ll double the benefit.
An icy treat to be enjoyed from sunrise to sunset.
Total calories: 540; divide by the number of servings for individual calorie count.
A gentle-on-the-tummy treat—grain-free and low in fat.
Bake two hours with the oven door slightly ajar to allow the moisture to escape. Remove from oven and, using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into small, individual-sized portions. Place pieces back in the oven, flipped over, and bake an additional one to two hours, or until the treats are dry and leathery. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Total calories: 794; divide by the number of treats for individual calorie count.
Gobbling Up Turkey
Turkey is becoming more and more available to consumers. It is naturally low in fat without the skin, containing only one gram of fat per ounce of flesh. It is also a good source of B vitamins, potassium and zinc. Cooked with the skin on, the flavor is sealed in without adding additional fat.
From The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook by Jessica Disbrow Talley and Eric Talley © 2008 by Cider Mill Press Book Publishers, LLC.
A family favorite, served to three generations of dogs
Substitutions are allowed! For vegetables, try broccoli florets, zucchini, spinach or any of several types of squash. For the protein source, beef cubes, turkey or lamb also work. Use organic ingredients if possible.
For additional recipes for homemade dog food, check out these that feature meat and fish by Barbara Laino.
P.S. A reader let us know that she put the recipe into a nutritional analysis site and using 1 lb boneless skinless thighs, it comes out at 200 calories per 1 cup. Hope this helps in determining how much your dog needs.
Rick Woodford, the man behind dogfooddude.com, is back with another highly informative, yet easy-to-use cookbook. His new, aptly titled Chow will enable even absolute beginners to try their hand at whipping up whole meals, or simple nutritious and delectable “toppers” (like the one here), for their dogs. Nothing says loving better.
Greyhound are known to reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour, making them one of the fastest breeds around. They’re perfect for running in a straight line or chasing prey, but as soon as the race is over, the greyhound is ready to take a nap. The Alaskan husky can achieve speeds about half that of the greyhound but can sustain the speed for much longer—all while pulling a sled. Both breeds are remarkable for their achievements, but are hardly interchangeable for the unique requirements needed in each racing environment.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be sourced from either plants or animals, and like the greyhound and husky, the different sources have different purposes and benefits. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can contribute to the fight against cancer and enhance brain function; but what your dog’s body really runs on is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Although your dog can convert some of the ALA into EPA and DHA, it’s not enough to support the body’s entire requirement. Supplying EPA and DHA as part of the diet, by including fish or meat from grass-fed animals, is far better in reducing inflammation and furthering cognitive development. Such foods as mackerel can provide a healthy dose of EPA and DHA when fed as part of your dog’s diet two or three times a week.
Whenever possible, purchase mackerel without such additives as sugar and monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that overstimulates neurotransmitters in the brain. Mackerel packed in water or tomato sauce is preferable over mackerel packed in oil, because your dog will already be receiving enough fats in his diet.
1 cup of canned mackerel has about 300 calories; equivalent to about ¾ cup of commercial dry food
Replace 10 percent of your dog’s regular meal with the following amounts:10-lb. dog: 2 tablespoons
20-lb. dog: 3 tablespoons
40-lb. dog: ¼ cup
60-lb. dog: ⅓ cup
80-lb. dog: ½ cup
100-lb. dog: ½ cup
KEY NUTRIENTS Calories 6% • Protein 30% • Total fats 15% • Omega-3 (DHA) 225% • Omega-3 (EPA) 123% • B3 (niacin) 46% • B12 (cyanocobalamin) 26% • D3 69% Mackerel Mix-In — Meal Topper Recipe
Mackerel can be used in place of salmon in salmon cakes for your plate, but it’s also beneficial for your dog and easy to prepare. With a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, this meal topper is a must for any dog. Using canned mackerel and chopping the vegetables in a food processor enhances digestibility without your having to cook anything. Don’t worry about those tiny mackerel bones; they’re really soft and will break down even further in the food processor.
1. Drain and rinse the mackerel.
Yield: 5½ cups
Serve the following amount once per day, replacing one-fifth of your dog’s normal meal.KEY NUTRIENTS 133 calories per cup • Protein 42% • Carbohydrate-to-protein ratio 0.4 to 1 • Total fats 40% • Antioxidants 38%
(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.
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.
What to Do
Note: We've omitted the garlic originally in this recipe.
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.
A simple home-prepared meal that incorporates healthy ingredients that not only improves our animals’ health but is also easier on our budgets.
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.
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