I know that face well on my dogs. They tell me when they are hungry. Lula especially. I’ll bend down and ask her nose to nose: “Are you hungry?” If the answer is yes, I get two licks. Always two. If she’s not hungry, she looks away. I’m fortunate. They’re not beggars. They signal to me when they are hungry and will completely ignore prime rib if they’re not.
A dog’s ability to communicate with us is miraculous. But that’s the story of another blog post.
This one is on the heated debate: to cook or not to cook for your dog.
My father in law remembers the first obedience class he went to with his new puppy, Penny. The instructor, said “People. People! Listen to me! Do not feed people food to your dog.”
I can see the instructor’s point. When my first pup, Gracie, was 4 months old my husband and I travelled to Prague. We left Gracie with my parents with only one cardinal rule: do not feed her people food. I thought exposure to people food would turn her into a beggar.
Jump to three years later and practically all I do is cook for my dogs (and countless, precious others). My parents chuckle at my transformation. And I’m thankful that we can feed our dogs healthy meals while not enabling any unwelcomed behaviors from them.
Some canine nutritionists are big proponents of raw diets with a fever for omitting all grains. I’m not here to debate raw. I just know logistically raw won’t work for our family. Raw needs to be consumed on the spot and has a very short refrigerator life, and our family of three dogs won’t eat just because I say it’s feeding time. Prepared raw from my local pet supply store’s freezer section also is expensive when you have three big tummies to fill.
So what do I feed them? And how can I make sure it’s complete and balanced?
First, I always make sure there’s a premium-quality dry kibble or dehydrated food to munch on if the urge strikes. It’s in a bowl right next to a large bowl of fresh water that’s changed throughout the day. If dogs are going to consume dry foods they need a lot of water as it can prevent organ stress over time.
Their main meals are those I cook for them and I feed them once or twice a day depending on when they tell me they’re hungry. In the book Feed Your Pet Right, you may be surprised to learn that it’s really pretty easy to feed a complete and balanced diet right from your home kitchen.
Below is an excerpt from Feed Your Pet Right (with a few of my modifications or additions on the food examples listed). This excerpt outlines “Generic Dietary Formulas for Healthy Adult Dogs.” The amounts listed are daily amounts based on a 40 pound dog.
Taken from the book: Feed Your Pet Right
|INGREDIENT||DOG (40 lbs)|
|Meats, cooked||4 ounces|
|Examples: beef, lamb, venison, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, organ meats (e.g. heart, liver)|
|Whole Grains, cooked (can be substituted for more meat)||8 ounces|
|Examples: oats (preferably steel cut over rolled), rice, potato, quinoa, millet|
|Examples: Chicken fat, beef fat, olive oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil|
|Examples: a variety of raw or cooked vegetables (excluding onions and garlic).|
|Bone Meal (can be purchased at your local pet supply store)||1 teaspoon|
|Potassium chloride supplement (salt substitute)||¼ teaspoon|
|[Note: I believe there are good whole food choices for getting potassium in a diet other than using a supplement. Good sources of potassium are meats, poultry, fish, bananas, sweet potato, whole grains (oats in particular), squash, beans and dried apricots.]|
|Human adult daily multi-vitamin, multi-mineral tablet.||1 tablet|
|[Note: See my recommendation for this supplement below.]|
Below are a few notes and comments on the Feed Your Pet Right guidelines above based on what I do for my dogs….
First, make sure you adjust food amounts for age and activity levels. All three of our girls are young and get at least two hours of strenuous exercise every day. So their fuel requirements are significantly higher than less active or older dogs. They eat more than the proportional amounts noted above for their weight and are very healthy and lean. If your dog is overweight then you should work with your veterinarian to feed you dog at a level appropriate for his or her goal weight, not for your dog’s current weight.
Secondly, the authors of Feed Your Pet Right say that you can substitute meat for the grains suggested in the guidelines, and I do this. My girls prefer meat over grains and I like to give them a diet that’s high in usable protein (meat is better than grains for bioavailability), moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates and fiber. This is a good diet for a healthy dog. Substituting meat for the whole grains probably will result in your dog’s diet incorporating a little more fat, but I don’t worry about this with our girls. It’s important to remember that dogs typically do not have the problems we humans have with metabolizing fat.
I’m not religious about omitting all grains. I think moderation is fine with certain grains and one of my girls does better on a little more fiber than her sisters. For her I like steel cut oats (not highly processed rolled oats) and rye. Rye is one of the highest-fiber grains, and steel cut oats is an excellent source of calcium and potassium. And at 34 and 42 respectively both rye and steel cut oats have lower glycemic indexes (“GI”) than pumpkin’s GI of 72. Steel cut oats is the main grain that we put in Goodness Gracious cookies. We also use a little rye flour. In our recipes, both of these grains, however, are second to our buckwheat flour – which is actually a berry not a grain (GI = 54). And the meat to grain ratio in our cookies is more than six to one.
I omit all wheat, corn and soy from our dogs’ diets because I believe dogs really can’t digest these things. I also know wheat to be highly, systemically inflammatory and inflammation breeds sickness.
Whatever you choose for vegetables, fruits or whole grains, it’s good to mix things up. This is where I have the most difficulty in cooking for my pack. My girls are carnivorous. They turn their noses up at all the fruits, vegetables and grains they detect in their food bowl. You may think I just need to be persistent; that a hungry dog will eventually eat what’s in her bowl. I thought that too. Then after four days of Gracie not eating, I gave in. Once in a great while I can slip a carrot or sweet potato that’s been cooked alongside a roast beef into her meal, but that doesn’t make for a balanced diet. To compensate for this I make sure they get their nutrients from fruits and veggies in their multi-vitamin and this is where Juice Plus comes in.
I like Juice Plus garden and orchard blends for their multi-vitamins. (I don’t give them the ‘vineyard blend’ because it contains grapes which dogs can’t have.) I like Juice Plus because the nutrients come from whole fruits and vegetables in a way that makes the nutrients highly bio-available. Generic multi-vitamins in my opinion are only good for making expensive urine.
The last ingredient I typically add to their diet is a bit of yogurt; just a tablespoon or two of plain yogurt a day. Probiotics are good things for dogs and humans; they improve digestion, immune function and resistance to allergies. And yogurt (regular not frozen) is a richer, more viable source of probiotics than any other. (Note: cottage cheese is a decent source too but even the low sodium brands contain too much salt for us.) In recent years, pet food manufacturers have been adding probiotics to their food too. There are some concerns, however, that the probiotics included in dry kibble do not last in the bag. Whether or not that’s true, the amount of probiotics in yogurt is about 20 times greater than that in dry kibble.