By Sofia Wilt
Imagine that instead of the variety of foods that we have access to, humans were not only afforded meal replacement bars that touted being nutritionally complete. No more fresh, raw or interestingly prepared foods, just the same bar day after day.
We’d miss out on different tastes and textures, as well as various antioxidants, phytonutrients, enzymes, fats, vitamins and minerals that optimize health and ward off disease. In truth, that’s basically what we’ve done to the diet of our canine companions.
While most commercial dog food is “nutritionally complete,” it’s a far cry from an optimal diet and often contains questionable ingredients. In modern times, dogs are experiencing an increase in disease like their human counterparts — things like cancer, arthritis, and diabetes due to poor quality food and lack of exercise are increasingly common. Over the past few decades, there have been several pet food recalls because of tainted or poor quality ingredients that have injured or killed thousands of pets, including high-end brands sold at veterinary offices. Ingredients that make up the bulk of the food, things like corn and soy are both GMO, doused in pesticides, and have nothing to do with your dogs’ ancestral diet.
Whatever meat used is poor quality, unfit for human consumption, usually is some sort of “meal” or “by-product”, followed by synthetic supplemental vitamins and minerals, chemical food colorings, and is finished off with preservatives so it can be shelf stable for months on end. There’s actually permissible levels of rat and cockroach excrement allowed in pet food.
Our dogs’ ancestors were hunters and scavengers — they ate other animals nose to tail. They foraged for eggs and fresh plant foods and were given scraps from their human companions. Thankfully these days there are companies making foods that more closely mimic a dog’s ancestral and balanced diet. Thing is, with a little effort, you can make your own dog food superior in nutrition and taste to most options on the market while saving money at the same time.
For macronutrients, a dog’s diet should be about 60% protein, 25% fat and 15% carbohydrates, those are the basic ratios to work with. First, if you ‘re in any way considering giving your dog a mostly vegetarian diet, please review Biology 101 and understand dogs are in fact carnivores.
Dogs can eat a wide variety of foods, but animal protein should be the bulk of their diet. as humans we tend to focus on muscle meats like ground beef or chicken breasts. But organ meats are the most nutrient dense part of the animal. They’re cheap and dogs love them. If I’m unable to source local free range /grass fed organ or muscle meats, then I’ll buy conventionally raised meats — it’s still better than pet grade meat by-products.
For fat, hopefully everyone got the memo that fat is in fact good for you and your dog and it’s critical to differentiate between good and bad quality fats. Whether for you or your dog, skimping on fact is a bad idea, even if excess weight is an issue. A better option would be to cut down on carbs, portion control or exercise more. Fat nourishes the brain and gives vital energy. Best sources of fats are animal in origin, such as beef, chicken or pork. Most meat already contains fat, but you can always peruse your grocery store for trimmed fat in the meat section to add to your dog’s food. Coconut oil is fantastic for dogs — it fights off unwanted micro-organisms, boosts immune function and soothes irritated skin. While dogs can utilize carbohydrates, they do not require them. As previously mentioned, the bulk of most commercial dog foods are corn, soy as well as wheat. Dogs have never historically eaten grains, are often allergic to them, and do better without them as evidenced by many grain-free brands now available. A better choice for carbohydrates are sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, zucchini, beets, or green beans. Insofar as the micronutrients dogs require, aka vitamins and minerals, they are usually naturally occurring in animal fats and fresh vegetables. But to be sure you’re hitting all the right notes a simple supplement you make in bulk and store will round out their food:
2 cups nutritional yeast
1 cup lecithin
1/4 cup kelp powder
Dozen egg shells, dried and crushed
1,000 MG vitamin C powder
Basic Dog Food
1 pound poultry
4 ounces organ meat, chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh green vegetable (zucchini, green beans, or bok choy, chopped)
3 cups pumpkin or sweet potato, chopped
Few sprigs fresh parsley, including stems, chopped
1 tablespoon sea salt
2-4 tablespoon coconut oil
3 tablespoon ground flax
You only need to chop things coarsely; don’t bother making it look pretty. Place meats and pumpkin/potato in pot with enough water to barely cover, simmer until pumpkin/potato is soft (About 10-15 minutes). While everything is still hot, add remaining ingredients, stir, allow to cool. A 40-pound dog, depending on their activity level, should consume 1 1/2 to 2 cups plus 2 teaspoons of a Healthy Power. Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled. Portions can be frozen and thawed for convenience.
This is not a gourmet endeavor. And once you get the swing of it, you’ll see it’s minimal effort. Like the food bar metaphor, remember to mix it up, not just to keep your dog’s palate happy, but for nutritional variety. You can even opt to continue give theming Kibble and simply mix in a little homemade food. Thanks to the internet, there are endless resources to review if you want to get more ideas. While homemade food for your pet done correctly is better than just about any pre-packaged brands you’ll find, if done incorrectly, you could in fact jeopardize their health. But by making nutritionally balanced meals from whole food ingredients for your dog you are in fact investing in their health. Remember the adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Sofia Wilt is a chef based in Puna.