Toppings for Your Dog's Food

Add an extra dose of delicious with these homemade dog food toppers
By Elizabeth Kennedy, April 2012, Updated April 2020
Dog Food Topper

A homemade vinaigrette on the salad, fresh herbs over a perfect al dente pasta — these are the flourishes that elevate a human 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, because they picky eaters or simple boredom. By adding dog food toppers, 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 dog food toppers round-up, The Bark shares one recipe and two different kinds of dog food toppings: On the Go, or easy toppings that will bring a little surprise and variety to their meals and for the Home Cook, which includes ingredients and recipes that take a bit of preparation. With a few key harmful foods excepted*,  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 Dog Food Toppers

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.

Instant Topping Ideas: Blue-green algae, blueberries canned pure pumpkin, canned sardines or mackerel, crumbled bacon or turkey bacon, hard-boiled eggs (a little eggshell is good for dogs), ground beef, chicken, turkey or lamb, ground-up liver treats, nori, spirulina, yogurt.

Looking for an even easier dog food topper? 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 great dog food topper 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.

Dog Food Toppers For the Home Cook 

Dogs love organ meat, and they don’t need a whole meal of it to enjoy it (in fact, they probably shouldn’t have a whole meal of it!). Ask your local butcher or farmers’ market vendors if they offer pre-packaged organ meat, such as heart, liver and kidney. Cut the meat into tiny bites and scatter a few on top of your dog’s meal; the meat can be either raw or lightly braised. 

Low-prep Topping Ideas: Grated carrots, sautéed zucchini, steamed and diced (frozen) veggies, grated low-sodium cheeses, veggie, chicken or turkey stock (low sodium).
Tip: Freeze your stock in an ice-cube tray and defrost a cube daily.

You’ll find a common method in many a canine cookbook, one you can freely adapt based on what you have at home. 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 above) 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!

Quick Note about Calories

Remember that the addition of toppers to your dogs’ food requires that you reduce the amount of kibble or other food you offer him along with it. General guidelines may not result in the best regimen for your particular dog, so check the appropriate caloric intake by consulting with your veterinarian before making significant dietary changes.

homemade dog food topper recipe

Springtime Dog Food Topper Recipe

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 recipe. 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.

Ingredients
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)

Easy Preparation
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.

When it comes to the kinds of homemade dog food toppers you can offer your dog, the world is your oyster (which dogs especially love, smoked, preferably!). Use these ideas as inspiration to free your inner top chef. Remember that each dog is different, so if one recipe doesn’t pique your dog’s interest, try a new one. Experiment, and don’t forget to share word of your well-received delights with us. And we’ll return the favor — get more healthy homemade dog food recipes that your dogs will go wild for. 

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 69: Mar/Apr/May 2012

Elizabeth Kennedy is a freelance writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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