Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Home Cooking for Your Dog: Easier than You Think!

I still remember the day I started cooking for my dog Blazer, around 12 years ago, before it was a thing that a lot of people did.  And yes, folks thought  I was crazy and that I was “spoiling” my dog because I wanted to feed him real food that would make his life better.

It all started when a tall, slender man came up to me in the dog park near my apartment in the Beach area of Toronto and started chatting with me about my dog’s diet.  He told me that he home cooked all of his dog’s food, and urged me to do the same.  He came to the park the next day with 2 books on home cooking for your dog, and insisted that I keep them as long I wanted, then pass them on to someone else. 

I don’t remember that man’s name, or the book titles, but I remember the feeling of excitement once I realized that I could do better for my dog, and that it wasn’t that difficult.                                                                              

It’s amazing how unquestioningly we do the same things for generations, just because it’s what our parents did, and it’s what everyone else did, too.  It’s embarrassing, how uneducated I used to be when it came to my dog’s health and nutrition, but it’s no wonder, when I see commercial pet food ads like the one I’ve included above….that one came out the year I was born, and that’s the kind of message and information I grew up with.  I won’t bore you with the gross details of the commercial pet food industry, or why most of it is complete garbage.  If you’re savvy enough to be considering a home cooked or raw diet for your dog, you already know.  The Documentary ‘A Dog’s Breakfast’ is worth a look if you want to hear more:

For many years I diligently cooked Blazer’s food, with long periods when I fell off the wagon and fed him commercial food instead.  But I don’t beat myself up for that, because at least I tried to do right by him.

And now I have CeCe, that spirited ginger puppy of mine, and I’m far more prepared to do this right, and for the long term.

Cooking for Blazer was definitely the right thing to do in theory, but I wasn’t necessarily doing the right things.  I made him stews made of various meats, vegetables, and grains, but I didn’t know that he also needed a whole bunch of supplements added to that, or what balance of ingredients would work best for him.  I basically just ‘winged it’, and it all worked out ok as far as I could tell.  But now I’m armed with more knowledge on the subject of canine nutrition, and more importantly, my secret weapon, Christine the Canine Nutritionist:  Christine has a legit certification in the field, but even more important to me as a dog owner, she also has over a decade’s worth of cooking for her own dogs and self-educating on the subject of canine nutrition.  To me, that sort of dedication and passion is even more valuable than her formal education, which is why I trust her, and her alone, with my dog’s diet.  Thanks to Christine, I now know that my puppy needs bone meal added to her food for calcium, plus vitamin E, vitamin B, selenium, zinc….well, you get the idea.  I was missing a ton of stuff.  Who knew?!  I do worry about the well-meaning owners feeding their dogs a home-cooked diet that isn’t properly balanced….just like people, dogs need all of those disease and deterioration-fighting vitamins and antioxidants that come from a variety of sources.  If you’re feeding your dog chicken and rice every day, you’re not doing him any favours, and are in fact putting him at risk.

Having a personalized recipe developed for CeCe has quite literally changed her life.  As you may have read in previous blog posts, CeCe arrived from Ohio full of stink, mange, allergies and ear infections.  Her coat was brittle, sparse, and smelly, and she had bald patches from the mange.   Even her breath had a strange, sickly smell to it.  Oh, and she was itchy all the time.  She was not a healthy dog, to put it mildly.

Taking into account CeCe’s age, size, weight, activity level, health concerns, and who knows what else, Christine  painstakingly developed a recipe (she even used math and stuff)  that would eventually transform that  mangy puppy into the picture of ginger health; shiny coat, pink ears, sweet puppy breath,  and a neverending supply of energy.  That last part is both a blessing and a curse.  Ah well.  ;)
Worried that it’s too much work?  Actually, it couldn’t be simpler.   One evening a week I throw a bunch of roughly chopped ingredients into my slow cooker (well, I weigh them first, to respect the math of it all), turn it on, and wake up to a giant batch of healthy, balanced, home cooked dog food.  To save time, I often chop 2 weeks ‘ worth  of veggies while I’m watching Hoarders; both activities make me feel good about myself.  Then, the following week, I take a large ziplock bag layered with the pre-cut, pre-weighed ingredients out of my freezer, pop it in the slow cooker, and 7 hours later I have a fresh batch of CeCe food!  BAM!

When I went to the store to get supplements, Christine provided phone support to help me get what I needed…sometimes I get overwhelmed, so that was a huge help.  I also called her during my first grocery trip, when I had a hard time estimating how much veg I needed to get.  Oh, and I emailed her at least a dozen times; “I forgot to add the water – what should I do?” or “They only have yams – are those the same as sweet potato?”   It was comforting to know that I had help and support at my fingertips.

 It’s so simple and easy to do, and I believe that my dog will live a longer, healthier, happier life because of it.  For those of you who are thinking about trying a home cooked diet but are daunted by all of the ‘work’ involved; do your dogs a favour and just TRY IT!  It’s soooo easy, and once you get into it, your only regret will be waiting so long.  And Christine will do the real work for you….you just have to follow her instructions and head to the grocery store.  Easy-peasy, right?  Follow this link to get started:

With the seemingly non-stop bulletins of pet food (and human food) recalls, it brings me great peace of mind to know exactly what goes into my dog’s meals, and know that it is made from fresh, healthy, unprocessed real food that is safe for any pet or human to eat.  As a vegetarian, the subject of feeding my dog meat via commercial dog food has always been an uncomfortable one, so home cooking for her allows me total control over the source of the meat I give her.  Buying your pet’s meat from local, free range farms is definitely the way to go, both in terms of health and ethics.  I get CeCe’s beef from my mom’s friend’s farm, where the cows roam free, and no hormones or antibiotics are used.  I will post the info for the farm soon….it’s a great family business; you can buy beautiful vegetables from the kid’s garden while you’re there!  If you live in the Toronto area, The Healthy Butcher on Queen St is a good source for organic meat.

The most basic thing we can do for our dogs is to make sure that they are given a healthy, balanced diet, and no amount of print or commercial ads from slick commercial dog food companies can fool a savvy dog owner into thinking that their dried, processed kibble is real food.

Whoever that man in the Beach was all those years ago, I wish I could thank him, and I wish he knew what a difference he has made in my life, and in the lives of every dog I will ever be privileged enough to care and to cook for.

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