Friday, September 11, 2009

Feeding without Fear

Our pets are an important part of our families. The following is an article I wrote that was first published in Pinpoint Publications magazines. It's about natural alternatives to processed dog food. After all, our pup's health matters too!

Feeding without Fear
Homemade Food for Fido

by Hana Haatainen Caye

February 2007 was a frightening time for dog and cat owners across the country. Every day the news seemed to report new products that were being pulled from the shelves, from dog food to cat treats, both canned and dry. Pets were dying from commercial food and treats and the list of affected pet food companies just kept growing. Premium foods, as well as grocery store brands, were recalled and pet owners were afraid to feed their dogs and cats. Imported wheat gluten, which is found in most commercial pet foods, was contaminated and nearly one hundred dogs and cats perished.

Consumer awareness about the actual ingredients of pet food grew and many pet owners turned to holistic and natural alternatives. Kitchen stoves were not simply used to prepare family meals any longer, as concerned dog and cat lovers started stirring up their own pet food concoctions. Problem solved! Or was it?

Homemade – the Right Way!

Veterinarians saw new issues arise as the pet food recall died down. Dogs were being brought into their offices with gastric disturbances, skin disorders and other problems associated with nutritional imbalances. The reason? Homemade dog food.

Homemade dog food is actually quite good for your dog, but it needs to be nutritionally balanced or the results can be catastrophic for your canine. Always check with your veterinarian before switching to home prepared foods. Most holistic vets believe that homemade dog food is best for dogs, but your dog’s unique nutritional needs must be met. The American Veterinary Medical Association warns that it can be difficult to make a healthy meal for your dog.

Omnivorous, dogs need a balanced diet of meat and carbohydrates. Most experts agree that this means a 50/50 mix, although some promote 75% carbs to 25% meat and others a 40% meat, 30% vegetable, and 30% starch combination. Again, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian about what’s right for your dog. If your vet continues to promote commercial dog foods, consult a specialist who is certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. More information can be found on their website at

Say No to Table Scraps

Do not assume that your dog’s needs are the same as your family’s needs. A well balanced doggy diet includes four parts:

• Proteins – eggs and meat, including organ meat* (liver, kidneys, heart, etc.), cottage cheese, peanut butter
• Starches/Grains – oatmeal, pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, finely ground seeds
Vegetables – beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cucumber, parsnips, pumpkin, squash, yams, zucchini
• Supplements – see sidebar
*Limit organ meat to once per week with a mixture of less than twenty percent organ meat with other meat.

A good sample meal would be ground turkey, rice and carrots or ground beef, brown rice, brewer’s yeast and carrots. This initial combination of foods will be a good introduction for your dog. It is advisable, however, to start off slowly when switching to homemade foods. Start by mixing the meal with the commercial food that your dog is accustomed to. Any sudden change in diet can result in digestive upsets with diarrhea or vomiting.

Cooked or Raw? Which is Best?

Of course, “fad” diets have started cropping up everywhere. There is a strong push for serving raw meats to dogs – taking them back to their primitive roots, but most experts do not advocate this practice and stress that meat should always be cooked. Vegetables should be put through a food processor to help with digestion. Cooked dog food can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days, but should always be served at room temperature. Try adding some hot water to the meal to help “warm” it up.

Garlic can be beneficial to dogs, as it helps to rid them of tapeworms and fleas, but caution has to be used. Garlic must be cooked. Raw or spoiled garlic can actually be poisonous to pups.

Knick Knack Paddy Whack

Another issue of debate is whether or not to give your dog a bone. While proponents state that dogs’ nutritional needs include the calcium and phosphorous that they’ll get by eating raw meaty bones, the opponents offer caution because of the danger of splintering. Fragments can become lodged in the digestive tract with disastrous results. Both sides will agree that cooked bones should never be given. Those opposed to giving dogs bones suggest grinding them and sprinkling them on top of the food for the nutritional value. Eggshells, which are rich in nutrients, can also be ground and added to the meal.

Foods to Avoid

As important as it is to serve your dog balanced meals, it is equally important to avoid feeding him certain foods. Vegetables to steer clear of include: beans, beet greens, bell peppers, chard, leek, onions, peas, potatoes, tomatoes. Other foods to beware of are:

• Any food containing the sweetener Xylitol
• Chocolate, nutmeg, coffee and tea -- can cause seizures
• Raisins and grapes – kidney failure
• Raw eggs – chance of salmonella
• Macadamia nuts – tremors, can lead to paralysis

Also avoid giving your dog moldy foods, yeast dough and fruit pits. While dogs need a certain amount of fat, too much fat can create problems ranging from nausea to pancreatitis, which can be life-threatening.

Why Bother with Homemade Dog Food?

Aside from no longer feeding your dog commercial foods that have ingredients that are questionable at best, there are numerous advantages to giving your dog a balanced diet of “people food.” The benefits include:

• Natural, unprocessed foods
• Quality meat (not fillers)
• Strong teeth
• Fresher breath, odorless stools, reduction in body odor
• Healthy, shiny coat
• Less illness and disease
• Higher energy level
• Happier, healthier dog

If you’re concerned about getting the perfect blend for your dog, there are other options. Sojourner Farms offers natural dog food mixes that contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes and no preservatives. You simply add water and the meat of your choice to this all natural mix and can feel confident that your dog’s nutritional needs are met without the animal by-products, artificial colorings and chemical preservatives that are present in most commercial foods. Visit their website at for more information.

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