Time to Make the Doughnuts Dog Food

It Doesn't Take a Genius

The late, great Rex gobbled up the home-cooked goodness.
The late, great Rex gobbled up the home-cooked goodness. (Photo By Kate Thornberry)

A few years ago, my rugged and dauntless cocker spaniel, Rex, began to suffer from extreme old age, and our vet suggested we put him on a special, homemade diet. It was easy enough to do and undoubtedly extended his life. I continued to make homemade food for our other dog, Traveller, after Rex died; but one day Traveller turned up his nose at it, and continuing to make it seemed pointless.

What I didn't know then was that dogs like (and need) variety as much as we do (I had one recipe, and I made the same recipe week after week after week). Switching back to dry food seemed easier, especially as the homemade food wasn't going over well anymore. I reasoned that as long as I bought "the good stuff," I would be doing right by my dogs.

Oops. Wrong. The "good stuff" I bought for years was on the very first recall list, right up there with Hill Country Fare and Ol' Roy. (Have I mentioned how furious I am that my "premium" brand shared ingredients with the Wal-Mart house brand? I feel like such a sucker.) As brand after brand of pet food has been recalled (including "select" brands I would have thought miles above suspicion), it has been amply demonstrated that you cannot trust giant multinational corporations with the life and health of your dog. (Now I have Skip-Bo, a little black-and-white cocker, with big, confiding brown eyes. The horror of killing your own best friend by unknowingly feeding him tainted food, is a nightmare I never, ever want to experience!)

So, on March 17, the day after the Menu Foods recall, I broke out my big frying pan and started making dog food at home again. This time, I did a little more research and learned to vary the menu. In the weeks since then, I have seen my dog's health noticeably improve: The spring is back in his step, he runs crazily around the yard after his bath like a puppy, his breath is sweeter, his skin clearer, and he can swim for hours. Also, the enthusiasm is back; when the dog-food bowls are broken out, both dogs come running with lit-up faces.

Although manufacturers would like you to believe that your pet's nutritional needs are so difficult to balance that a regular person could never hope to figure it out, making dog food really isn't magical alchemy. Until the advent of commercial pet food around 1900, all dogs on Earth primarily ate table scraps, with the occasional hunted bird or rodent thrown in. Dogs are opportunistic omnivores, just like Homo sapiens; they evolved alongside us, lolling beside our campfires, and their needs are quite similar to our own. There are a few foods you should never use (which I will list at the end); other than that, making dog food is an easy, unremarkable process.

Ideally, dog food should be 40% protein, 30% vegetable, and 30% starch. For your protein, you can use ground beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, duck, cottage cheese, peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs … you get the idea. Dogs tend to prefer gamey-tasting meats like lamb, and they adore organ meats like kidneys and hearts and liver. Due to their unpopularity with your average American, organ meats are cheap! (See if your meat-department person will grind them up for you.)

As far as vegetables go, other than onions (which you should never use) they are all fine, although your dog will prefer some to others. Frozen peas, spinach, and green beans are convenient to use, and carrots are cheap and easy, too. I chop the vegetables up in the food processor to make them easier to digest, but you don't have to.

It is a good idea to rotate your starch ingredient because dogs can develop food allergies to starches they eat too often. Brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, and sweet potatoes are all great choices.

Basic Dog Food Recipe

3 lbs. ground meat (85% lean is best if you are using beef. If you use a lean ground meat, such as ground turkey, add a stick of butter. Dogs need fat to keep their skin and coats healthy.)

4½ cups uncooked brown rice (2-lb. bag)

8 cups water

1 lb. carrots

1-lb. bag frozen green peas

Put the water on to boil in a big pot. Add the rice, and when it comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Cook until done, as the rice package instructs, and set aside. Grind up the carrots in the food processor (or chop with a knife into carrot "pennies"). Get out a really big frying pan or heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, melt the butter, and then put in the ground meat. As it begins to cook, add the carrots and peas, and let them cook in the meat juices. When it looks like it is nice and done, dump the meat and vegetables into the cooked rice. Stir. Allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator. This amount usually lasts us five or six days, feeding two dogs. Alternate between different meats and starches from time to time, and your dog will never tire of it.

Popular flavors of dog food at my house have been ground pork, peanut butter, carrots, and macaroni; ground turkey, hard-boiled eggs, spinach, and brown rice; and the wildly popular "autopsy" flavor – hearts, kidneys, tongues, and livers from Peach Creek Farm, fried in butter with oatmeal and green peas.

Things dogs should never eat: chocolate, onions, grapes, raisins, hops, macadamia nuts, or rhubarb. Broccoli is okay but should not make up more than 10% of diet. All liver all the time is a bad idea (too much vitamin A); it's best to feed liver with other meats and not too often. Because the experts I've read are evenly divided on the subject of giving human multivitamins to dogs, I supplement with a canine multivitamin, just to cover all the bases; most pet stores carry them.

(If you are interested in how virtually all the pet food in North America became tainted at once, here's an informative link: www.api4animals.org/facts.php?p=359&more=1.)

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