A homemade vinaigrette on the salad, fresh herbs over a perfect al dente pasta — these are the flourishes that elevate our experience of eating. Everyone who has watched their dogs dig into a flavorful meal knows that they too are gastronomes to the core.
Like us, our dogs occasionally enjoy a little something different, and it’s easy to provide those quick hits of tastiness that make a meal just that much better. This is especially true for dogs with diminished interest in eating, whether due to illness, age or simple boredom. By adding toppings, you have a real opportunity not only to brighten your dog’s day with fragrant, fresh tastes, but also to slip in some supplemental nutrition in the process.
The good news is that you need go no further than your own pantry or the aisles of your local pet-supply or grocery store to discover simple, healthy ways to liven up an otherwise humdrum dinner for your dog.
Some of you may be saying, Wait! We know dogs have only about one-sixth the number of taste buds we do. Why bother dishing up anything out of the ordinary? Ah-ha. You’ve forgotten another widely known fact: When it comes to smell, dogs have 125 million sensory cells to our 5 to 10 million; they can smell each and every ingredient. Imagine that! And research has shown that they are able to distinguish at least four flavor profiles: sweet, sour and salty, which they tend to like, and bitter, which they do not. (Put down that saltshaker; according to Psychology Today, because dogs’ wild ancestors ate primarily meat, they did not develop salt receptors like those of humans, so what we consider perfectly seasoned is likely to be too salty for them.)
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In this round-up, The Bark shares three different kinds of toppings: On the Go, or easy toppings that will bring a little surprise and variety to their meals. For the Home Cook, which includes ingredients and recipes that take a bit of preparation and Off the Shelf, commercial additions that often include nutritional enrichments. With a few key harmful foods excepted (see box on left), the only real limits to topping your dog’s food with delicious add-ons are her particular needs and tastes, and your imagination. Of course, each dog is different and it’s best to clear dietary changes with your veterinarian.
On the Go
Before the pet food industry asserted itself as the mainstay of canine dining, our dogs ate table scraps. On the one hand, this meant a bit more bone and a bit less meat than a dog might need. But it also meant that their diets, in many instances, may have been richer in variety and flavor. Much of your leftover “people food” is perfectly fine to share with your dog (our trainers chime in: but preferably not from the table!). We take the rainbow approach, adding good-for-dogs fruits and veggies in all of nature’s colors.
Even easier? Drizzle some oil. Few supplements are as popular as salmon or fish oil for the canine mealtime — and for good reason. Fish oil is among the most beneficial additives to the canine diet: it is excellent for the treatment of canine allergies, but is now recommended for everything from arthritis to high cholesterol as well. One convention for calculating the amount of fish oil to include in your dog’s diet is to multiply your dog’s weight (in pounds) by 20. For a 60-pound dog, for example, the daily target dose is 1,200 mg. Another top product is flax seed oil, which is credited with healing, strengthening bones and maintaining dog’s energy. Flax seed and olive oil are both great sources of antioxidants, and key for maintaining canine cardiovascular health.
For the Home Cook
Lucy Postins, pet nutritionist and founder of The Honest Kitchen, has come up with a series of dog-jaw-dropping toppers for all occasions, including this super healthy innovation.
Postins selected these ingredients with a dog’s health in mind. Both cherries and fennel are packed with powerful antioxidants, and fava beans tonify, or maintain the healthy function of, the spleen, liver, kidneys and pancreas. But you don’t need a PhD in animal nutrition to boost your dog’s meals. One more home cooking approach: simply buy a medley of vegetables in bulk (see low-prep list) and oven-roast as many as your dog might eat in four to five days, then store in refrigerator and add at mealtime. A healthy “fast food” your dog will love. You can even just stock up on frozen vegetables — defrost and serve!
Recipe by Lucy Postins/The Honest Kitchen
1/4 cup fresh fennel, finely diced, raw or steamed
1/4 cup fava beans, lightly cooked
1 Tbsp. cherries, pitted and diced
1/2 cup live-culture plain yogurt
1 cup cooked ground meat such as turkey (optional)
1. Combine all the ingredients gently with a spoon in a large bowl.
2. Add a couple of tablespoons of the mix to each of your pet’s usual meals.
3. Refrigerate any leftovers for two to three days in a covered container.