Friday, February 17, 2017

Food Friday: Home Cooking?

I am looking into the possibility of cooking fresh food for my dogs, in addition to their regular dog food. It's not impossible to make your own dog food, but being a DIY dog chef is all about balance. You need the right balance of fresh food to pre-made food. The right balance of calcium and phosphorus. The right balance of protein and fat and carbohydrates. The right amount of fiber. Here's what I've learned so far.

It's Not That Hard
Not a balanced diet!

The dietary needs of dogs are not ridiculously complex. You don't have to be a veterinary nutritionist with a research lab in order to make nutritious healthy food for you pet. Every meal does not need to be "complete an balanced". Variety is the most important thing to consider, you don't want to make just one recipe and feed that to your dog every single day forever. Different proteins, different vegetables, different carbohydrate sources, the more variety the better!

I've learned that you can replace 10% of your dog's food with fresh stuff and the nutrition in their commercial dog food will provide all the balance they need. With that in mind, I cheerfully add yogurt, canned pumpkin, sardines, and leftover meats to my dogs' food on a regular basis.

It's Not That Easy, Either

When you start replacing more than 10% of your dog's meal with homemade food, it's time to start worrying about balance. I cringe when I "easy dog food recipes" that basically consist of a small amount of chicken, a lot of rice, some veggies, and nothing else. Where's the calcium?! Too many good intentions and not enough science can result in a dog with nutritional deficiencies. Many, many dog food recipes found online have major deficits. A lot of them aren't even specific enough! I already know a recipe is bad news if it calls for "1 pound of ground beef" without ever specifying whether that weight is for raw or cooked meat.

To this end, I've joined a homemade dog food Facebook group that focuses on analyzing recipes with tools like the Nutrition Data site. Outside scrutiny is really your best insurance against making mistakes, and having crowd-sourced data certainly beats doing all the research on your own. I haven't finished my research or started developing my own recipes yet, but I can share the principles I'm working by.

Homemade Dog Food Guidelines

  • As much variety in ingredients as possible. Different meats, different veggies, different grains.
  • Consider your budget. Don't let anyone tell you that everything needs to be organic, that's mostly a marketing term and there's no difference in nutritional quality. Organic produce is still grown with pesticides, sometimes with a lot more and stronger chemicals than conventional produce, as long as the pesticide is on the list of approved organic pesticides. Buy the cheap stuff and don't feel guilty about it.
  • Get help. Find a large and contentious group of people that cook for their dogs, observe them arguing with one another, and learn everything you can. Some dietary supplements come in different forms that are better or worse for certain health conditions. 

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