Saturday, July 25, 2009

Applied Nutrition: Homemade Dog Food

I think it’s time for an update on my development of a homemade dog food that satisfies both my inner nutritionist and my dog. Between my first post about dog food and now, I have tried a new recipe but it didn’t quite take with Maxie or with me. It was a little too labor intensive and I don’t think the raw veggies sat well in Maxie’s system. I returned to the diarrhea diet but continued to worry that she was getting too much carbohydrate from the sweet potato and russet potato in the recipe.

I finally consulted a holistic vet in the area who gave me a handout copied from The Whole Dog Journal called “Now We’re Cooking!” on preparing a cooked diet for pets. The vet also made some recommendations for altering my recipe to make it more suitable for everyday doggie dining.

The first thing I did was to add more protein, and cut back on the amount of sweet potato and potato. According to the handout at least half but preferably more of the diet should come from animal sources. I bumped up the amount of chicken in the recipe and added organ meats like chicken livers and hearts.

Then, to help bulk up the food a little without adding more starch or meat, I added chopped Swiss chard. I don’t want to use grains yet because I think Maxie is sensitive to grains, and because I’m seeing more and more recommendations to avoid or limit grains in pet food.

I am still putting a little bit of kibble (Spot’s Stew is my favorite) in the bottom of the bowl to provide some extra vitamins and minerals because I haven’t invested in a doggie multivitamin yet, or explored the different ways to supplement homemade food. I am convinced that there is a way to make homemade food without having to supplement, but I’m not sure that I’ve hit that perfect recipe yet.

However, I am supplementing with canned sardines that have no added salt, a large spoonful after each meal. She’s also getting about a tablespoon of homemade yogurt (made with whole raw milk) after every meal. The sardines are providing omega-3’s and calcium because they contain bones, and the yogurt is giving her more calcium and probiotics. I think she’s also getting calcium from the chicken because my recipe starts with chicken thighs on the bone and they stew for a good hour to an hour-and-a-half, long enough to leach some of the minerals from the bone. I also let it cool on the stovetop for a bit before pulling the thighs out for deboning and chopping, and this seems to pull more of the collagen out of the bones.

By the way, Maxie’s getting about 1 1/4 cups of this mixture over about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of kibble twice a day. She weighs about 33 pounds. As you can see from these photos of Maxie, she is maintaining her girlish figure and glossy coat while eating this food (her poops are looking good, too, but I'm not going to show you those).

Next steps: I’m planning to change up the chard for something else in the next batch, maybe some broccoli and squash, and would also like to try using beef or pork soon. I may also start breaking an egg over her dinner once or twice a week.

In the meantime, here’s my current recipe:

3 pounds chicken thighs (with bones)
3/4 pound russet potatoes, diced
1 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes, diced
4 cups water
1/2 pound chicken livers or hearts, or a mixture
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped

Put chicken, potatoes and sweet potatoes in a stockpot and add water.* Bring gently to a simmer (do not boil) and cook uncovered for about 1 hour and up to 1 1/2 hours. With 15 minutes left to cook, add organ meats and chard and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes, then pull out chicken thighs. Once chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones. Try to pull the cartilage off the ends of the bones, too, as this is a good source of collagen. Chop chicken into smaller pieces. Add chicken back to the stew and mix well.

Transfer stew to containers for storage. This stew will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, but I recommend packing it into containers that will hold about 3 days worth and putting the rest in the freezer.

* Resist adding more water, or you’ll end up with a very soupy dogfood. With this amount of water, not everything will be covered at first, but the veggies and chicken will start to break down after a little while and release some juices and as long as you stir it all up a couple of times within the first 15-20 minutes everything will eventually end up submerged and well-cooked.


  1. Hi,
    Just thought it might be important to note that when feeding organ meat (or any meat for that matter, but especially liver) its crucial to use hormone-free, anti-biotic free meats.
    I've been cooking and supplementing for over 14 years. It changed the heath and well being of my senior dog (Max!) and that gave me the motivation to feed my new puppy a holistic diet. He's now 10 years old and his energy level is still high and he has had no health problems. He's a 90 lb Lab and people are forever remarking on his vitality - I always use that as a launching point to talk nutrition. If more people would just make the connection between good food and good health. So good for you for talking about this and getting the word out.
    "Let Food be thy Medicine!"

    Great topic!

    One other thing - you may want to experiment with more veggies (dandelions, broccoli, string beans, mushrooms, zucchini...). Too many potatoes (sweet and white) add a lot of sugar. The canine nutritionist I consult with said once that even with a high quality, organic diet it is still important to supplement.
    Vetri-Science makes a good multi for dogs. I use a human grade Super green multi (Now Foods). So many to choose from it can be overwhelming.

  2. Very good-lookin' dog!!

    So I'm not sure if we have had this discussion before - but I have switched my pooch to a raw meat diet, it's been 12 months now, and he is happy, healthy, and dare I say - positively beautiful on this diet.

    He eats 90% chicken (raw, bones and all) alternating between wings, drums, necks, backs, and organ meats. I do not cut them up, just put it all in his bowl and he chomps away. The other 10% of his diet is table scraps, leftovers, and beef bones (raw).

    I am working toward finding sources of quail, rabbit, or other small animals to vary his meats, but have not found any to my liking yet.

    There are many ways to feed ourselves and our loved ones, I just wanted to let you know of my success with this method in case you wanted to try it.