Pet food marketing schemes are heavy on idyllic imagery these days: Red barns, happy cows, howling wolves, and clear, salmon-filled streams on bags of kibble paint a charming picture about what’s inside. But as Modern Farmer recently reported, the quality of pet food ingredients doesn’t always jibe with the “farm-fresh,” “all-natural,” or “holistic” marketing claims.
If you really want to know where your pet’s food comes from, you have to make your own. This way, you can source ingredients from the farmers, grocers, and butchers you trust. It’s time-consuming, but if you make big batches and freeze the food in serving-size containers, you only need to cook for your pet once a month or so.
Nutritional Balance is Important
Don’t wing it on the recipe, however. Eating nothing but chicken breast and steamed carrots every single night is not going to keep your pooch in good health. Variety is important, as is the ratio of different food groups. The goal is to simulate a “whole prey” diet, such as what Fido’s wild ancestors would have lived off of—think hearts, livers, bone, cartilage, and blood. The lean muscle meats we like to eat are not nutritionally balanced for a dog if they are not complemented with other nutrient sources.
The general rule of thumb is to use half to two-thirds animal protein—any combination of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy will do, as long as meat and fish are the primary ingredients—with the remainder of the recipe split between grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits (as measured by weight in their uncooked form). Rotating different ingredients throughout the year helps to ensure a balance of essential nutrients. Still, veterinary nutritionists recommend supplementing homemade pet food with a nutrient pack—here’s a list of suppliers. Also, do not change your dog’s diet without consulting your veterinarian first, especially if your dog has any medical issues.
Here is an example of a nutritionally-balanced recipe, courtesy of The Farmer’s Dog, a New York company that ships fresh, handmade dog food to your doorstep. The following recipe is intended for moderately active adult dogs (1 year and older). If your dog is used to a kibble diet, The Farmer’s Dog recommends a slow transition to fresh food to prevent gastrointestinal distress.
You may swap out other types of meat, organs, fruits, vegetables, and carbohydrates as you like. But avoid the following, which are inappropriate, or potentially toxic, for dogs: grapes, raisins, currants, avocados, onions, mushrooms, and macadamia nuts. And never feed cooked “bone-in” meats, such as chicken necks.
Most breeds should be fed 2 to 3 percent of their body weight daily, divided into two meals, with smaller breeds receiving the higher end of the spectrum. Toy breeds may eat up to four or five percent of their body weight each day.
1 lb. ground beef (15 percent fat recommended)
¼ lb. beef liver of other organ meat, chopped or ground
3 cups chickpeas (soak overnight before cooking)
2 sweet potatoes, medium-sized, diced
1 cup spinach, chopped
1 cup zucchini, diced
4 tsp flax oil
1 Farmer’s Dog nutrient pack
1 handful of blueberries, diced bananas, or diced apples (no seeds)
1 small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon of pure omega-3 fish oil (i.e. wild salmon oil)
Boil chickpeas until soft, and strain. Boil sweet potatoes until soft, and strain. Steam zucchini until soft, adding spinach for the final two minutes. Allow to cool. Then mix these ingredients in a large bowl with the flax oil (and the optional fruit, parsley, and fish oil). Optional: purée these ingredients in a food processor.
Cook the ground beef and organ meat in a non-stick skillet on medium heat, stirring frequently until done. Allow to cool. Then mix the meat with the nutrient pack in a large bowl.
Combine the meat and vegetable ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
Measure the amount of food needed for three days of feeding and refrigerate. Freeze the remaining food in portion-size containers and thaw as needed.
Tip: To save time, this recipe may be made as a one pot meal. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the ingredients in order of their cooking time: chickpeas, sweet potatoes, zucchini, meat, and spinach. To avoid pouring off the fat once everything is cooked, pour off any excess water from the pot before adding the meat. Allow to cool. Then mix in raw ingredients.