Don’t Get Trapped In “All Or Nothing” Approach
It helps to think of cooking for dogs as similar to exercising. It is a healthy choice and it does not have to mean dedication of hours and hours of your time. If you do not have time for a gym, skipping an elevator for a staircase, or taking a longer walk (with a dog of course) is better than nothing.
With a full time career, other hobbies and a family, there are just days when I don’t have time to cook for dogs. However, I do see a difference in how my dogs look and what their energy is on a home-cooked diet, not to mention their enthusiasm for it, so I try my best to cook as much as I can. When my time is limited, before opening a bag of kibble, I use fresh-meal-shortcuts first.
Easy Substitutions for Fresh Veggies in the “Master Recipe”
Here are some substitutions for fresh vegetables and fruit in my “master recipe” (for the recipe see my blog post Food Matters Part 2 here):
- Use dried vegetables formulated for dogs (e.g. Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl Dog Food) in the proportion of 1/4 cup dried substituted for 1 cup fresh vegetables
- Use frozen vegetables in place of fresh “yellow” or “green” in the “master recipe”
- Use “mixed frozen vegetables” for both but make sure there is no onion
- Use canned vegetables in place of fresh ( 1/3 cup of canned vegetable is a substitute for a cup of fresh vegetable in the “master recipe”)
- Use quick oats for “grains and fruit”
Meats should always be meat or fish, with a good portion of organ meat to avoid phosphorus imbalance associated with feeding exclusively muscle meat. Buying in bulk and freezing is helpful. When getting organ meats try to use very little liver, as it has a high fat content.
Easy Fresh Meals
It’s good to have a backup plan and a supply of a couple of useful items in your pantry for those times when boiling an egg or opening a can is the best you can do for your furry friend.
Examples of simple, fresh meals
- lightly scrambled or soft boiled eggs
- cottage cheese (you can add some fruit like blueberries or cored, diced apple, if your dog likes raw fruit)
- skinned raw chicken necks
- canned fish, like mackerel, tuna or salmon (low sodium and packed in water)
- skinned and deboned plain rotisserie chicken (cartilage is OK) with some canned pumpkin mixed in (a sprinkling of seaweed calcium for dogs makes it perfect)
- yogurt (goat’s yogurt especially)
You can use any of the above suggestions of fresh stand-alone meals as additions to be sprinkled on top of kibble. Please remember to reduce the amount of kibble when adding fresh topping. All benefits of fresh food will be trumped by dangers of overfeeding.
Slow Cooker Meals
Slow cooker is a good option when you are OK with prep work but would rather not spend any time cooking. An advantage of a slow cooker is that you can cook chicken and fish with bones on very low heat for a long time and the bones will be completely soft and become a part of the meal. Remember to remove skin and fat when cooking a whole chicken. I use the low setting for 10 hours overnight and then restart my slow cooker in the morning for another 8 hours.
Dog treats do not have to be unhealthy and full of empty calories. Many dogs are happy with carrot or apple slices, or even raw string beans.
For high value healthy treats I use dried fish (e.g. dried anchovies). I find them in a local Korean market. My dogs go bonkers for them.
They also love plain cheerios. I consider them to be vitamin pills, with all the vitamins and minerals added to them.
When you are feeling ambitious, you can make irresistible home-made chicken strips either in the oven or dehydrator. Slice thinly chicken breast or thigh meat, lightly brush with oil, arrange on a cookie sheet and dry in the oven at 150° F for 3 1/2 hours, or in a dehydrator at 140° for 4 hours.
Human Foods That Are Dangerous To Dogs
Please make sure that you never feed your dog any of the following foods:
- macadamia nuts
- tea and coffee
For a complete list of foods toxic to dogs please visit ASPCA webpage here.
And lastly, please remember that switching to home-cooked diet from kibble should be a gradual process because you need to allow time for digestive flora to build new colonies involved in digesting new foods. For the earlier post on the subject click here.
Dogs do not process fat well. Just ask any emergency veterinarian about the busiest time of the year and you will hear how animal emergency hospitals are packed a day after Thanksgiving and Christmas with dogs suffering from pancreatitis. Fatty turkey skin, cheesy and buttery potatoes given to dogs by their well meaning owners result in a lot of pain at best and a life threatening condition in the worst case scenario.
When preparing home-cooked meals for dogs always trim off all the fat and remove skin from poultry because of its high fat content.