I went to a fundraiser for a local animal shelter, Adopt-A-Dog, and met a woman, Christine Filardi, who was doing cooking demonstrations. Okay, so no big deal you must be thinking. Ordinarily, yes, but this was for dogs. She showed us a Friday Playdate Pizza and Easy As Potpie recipes that looked totally like people food. She had written a cookbook called, Home Cooking for Your Dog: 75 Holistic Recipes for a Healthier Dog. While Dana and I cook most meals for our pups,we’ve never gotten quite this adventurous.
Anyway, it got me thinking about how I ended up cooking food for my pets, so I thought I’d share the journey. I probably would have been called “one of those” people just a few years ago, but not anymore. After everything we read about the poor quality of ingredients in so much commercial pet food and the myriad of health problems they can cause, not to mention all the food recalls, we now know we can do better.
Many pets are treated like one of the family these days – and if yours isn’t, it should be – so we should want to make the right decisions for them to ensure they have the best life possible. Feeding them well is one of those decisions and optimal health should be one of the goals for our companion animals.
Until recently, I had two, 60-pound “I haven’t a clue” shepherd-mix dogs, Kayla and Casey, that had been fed homemade meals with a bit of organic kibble for about 7 years. In the beginning, however, I was feeding a combination of canned and kibble.
I guess the real impetus for the switch was my very picky male pup, who I’m convinced, only eats for sustinence, although he does love English biscuits and ice cream and just knows if my husband is getting either one out for himself. Seriously, he’ll be upstairs and if my husband gets a biscuit, we hear the shuffle of his feet (he moves very slowly) coming around the corner.
But, back to the story…I never knew from one day to the next if he would choose to eat his meal. Then, one day I gave him some roasted chicken with roasted root vegetables that I had made for my husband and he scarfed the food. The same thing happened the next day and we never looked back…
I continued to fix their food, after doing my research, and he continued to eat. Then, I began to notice that my “only have eyes for food” female was losing her love handles. Yes, she had these paunches on her side that we called her “love handles” and she couldn’t seem to drop those last 5 pounds.
I always knew it was time to cut back on her food whenever I saw those. But with this real food diet, she stayed the same weight no matter how much she ate. Kayla lived to be 14 and died in March of cancer. Casey is 13 and until a few months ago, had never taken a sick day.
I now have a new puppy, Georgia, who I am feeding a high-quality commercial diet for now, but will be transitioning to a homemade diet very soon. I was actually very surprised to find very few puppy diets out there; almost all are now labeled for “all stages”.
I decided to start experimenting with different meats and vegetables and to make it easier, I used a slow cooker. The pups were in heaven or at least licking their bowls. I varied the meats between chicken, lamb, and a little beef and then added whatever veggies were in season or I’d even use frozen in a pinch and some broth. I use a lot of the recipes in the Home Cooking book and follow many of her guidelines, as it was written with a veterinarian. It’s a great reference, especially if you are just starting out.
Now, I often roast the meat and veggies; the general ones I use are squashes, sweet potatoes, green beans, peas, turnips, and parsnips. Then, I’ll add some chopped spinach or kale and some sort of grain, like quinoa, millet, or brown rice. On a special occasion, I’ll use pasta, because they LOVE pasta. I try to vary the meals a bit for each cooking, which will last several days.
It couldn’t be easier, they love it, and I know exactly what they were getting. I add a canine supplement and fish oil capsules and discussed the diet with my vet to ensure they were getting the necessary nutrients AND that they are avoiding the foods they should never eat. One thing I don’t pay a lot of attention to is serving size, but I usually give them about 2 cups for each feeding, which I do twice a day. I haven’t made it to the raw food diet yet, but may look into it one day.
I honestly have not figured out the costs of doing home cooking versus buying commercial. I do go to the extreme and buy organic and free range meats whenever I can, so my meals are going to be much more expensive. In general, the costs will vary depending on the quality of ingredients and the size of your pet, but chances are it will be more expensive and you’ll have to weigh the costs vs the benefits. You could certainly grow your own vegetables to really cut down on the costs and even use things like more organ meats or buy in bulk, cook, and freeze.
Now, I certainly can’t say for sure if how well my pups do is due to their real food diet or good genes, but this has been my observation:
- They are energetic and bright-eyed.
- They never smell like a dog.
- They never have bad breath.
- They never get fleas or ticks and I’ve never used any control.
- They seem to really love their food.
- Kayla was very healthy until she turned 13 and developed cancer. But, she healed quickly from surgery and had a great quality of life until she died at 14.
I just feel good cooking for them as much as I do for my husband. I like to think they are healthy in part at least because of their diet and of course, the love that goes into it…If diet has such an impact on humans, how could it not on my furry friends. Right?
Have you ever made homemade meals for your pets? We’d love to hear about your experience and what you fix?