Fresh Food for fido

Karl Wells
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Just like their human pals, pooches are partial to home cooking

I was watching CNN the other day and saw a story about a lady in Atlanta, Ga., who opened a food bank for pets.

Apparently, many pet owners in the area had become so desperate financially (because of home mortgage foreclosures) they had to give up their pets to animal shelters or foster care organizations. Within its first few weeks of operation, the Help Save Our Pets Food Bank had helped 1,500 needy pet owners.

Diego. - Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

I was watching CNN the other day and saw a story about a lady in Atlanta, Ga., who opened a food bank for pets.

Apparently, many pet owners in the area had become so desperate financially (because of home mortgage foreclosures) they had to give up their pets to animal shelters or foster care organizations. Within its first few weeks of operation, the Help Save Our Pets Food Bank had helped 1,500 needy pet owners.

Being a pet owner, I can only imagine how traumatic it would be to have to give away a much-loved pet. I saw the CNN story the same day I was preparing this article about people who cook for their pets. Coincidentally, there seems to be a general consensus that making your own food for your pet is not only better for the animal but can also be cheaper. That's if you use fresh, "bargain-priced" ingredients. It requires extra effort but can, apparently, save you a few bucks from what you'd spend on "well-known dog food brands."

Rick Barnes is a writer and devoted pet owner. He owns two lovable longhaired chihuahuas named Diego and Frida (after the Mexican painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.) Several months ago, after the most recent round of pet food recalls, he decided to abandon the packaged dog food and start cooking fresh food for Diego and Frida. Barnes researched the topic on the Internet and picked recipes he thought were healthy and that Diego and Frida would like.

Balance

According to Dr. Sanjay Ralhan, a veterinarian with Sunrise and Torbay Road Animal Hospitals, "balance" is important when choosing any pet food recipe.

"You shouldn't use excessive amounts of anything. For example, you shouldn't use excessive amounts of the vegetables or the meat or any one source. The food needs to be well-balanced. To do otherwise, it defeats the purpose."

Ralhan also believes it's a good idea to add a pre-mixed vitamin and mineral formula that's available in natural food stores or from vet clinics.

Barnes is confident his vegetable and protein combination already provides the necessary vitamins and minerals.

"I searched around the Internet and the recommendation that kept surfacing was a formula consisting of one-third protein, one-third vegetable and one-third starch. So, I experimented a bit and started them on three different recipes. I cut back on the starch a bit because I thought Frieda was putting on a bit of weight. I prepare Lady and the Tramp, which is spaghetti, boneless chicken thighs and fresh frozen vegetables, Macaroni Moo-Moo - macaroni, ground beef and veggies, and Uncle Ben's Cod - cod fillet with rice and veggies."

No raw

Both Ralhan and Barnes agree that while fresh-cooked pet food is OK, "raw" food (advocated by many dog experts and pet owners) is not the best alternative.

Ralhan's position was clear.

"Fresh-cooked food would be better because with fresh raw food, even when you wash it properly, you cannot guarantee there aren't any bugs there. Once it is cooked, you can be sure that you've killed any bugs or bacteria."

Barnes concurs with Ralhan's views regarding bacteria.

"I am not comfortable with having raw food around because of bacteria. I wouldn't worry about them eating the bacteria, I'd worry about having it around the kitchen and ingesting it myself. So, I cook everything, and if I'm in a jam, I can pop open a container and eat it myself."

I spent an hour with Barnes watching him prepare Macaroni Moo Moo for his diminutive companions. Frida was more interested in the kitchen proceedings and, to be frank, the company. Diego (perhaps like his famous namesake) seemed less interested in the actual cooking but plenty interested in the finished product.

Making the recipe was a snap. Once everything was cooked, Barnes let it cool down and then portioned it into individual plastic containers for freezing. Some was set aside for Diego and Frida to enjoy that day.

It was amusing to see them jealously guard their bowls as they dug into the freshly cooked meal. Diego seemed poised to take a piece out of my ankle when I moved toward his bowl to take a picture. No Moo Moo for me! It was obvious they relished the homemade food.

Barnes is happy he took on the role of canine cook.

Real treat

"Mealtime now is a real treat for them, they eat everything in their dishes and they seem to enjoy the variety and the texture of each type of food. Often they will run around the house with a carrot sticking out of the side of the mouth like a cigar butt, or a long green bean. Sometimes they will hide a bit of broccoli or carrot or whole bean in the chesterfield somewhere - like burying a bone - and pull it out later and eat it when we're watching a movie or something. I think they want food that is interesting, fun to eat and tasty, just like (we do)."

As older dogs, Diego and Frida seemed to be losing their taste for packaged food. With the new diet, their interest in mealtimes took a dramatic turn for the better. According to Ralhan, this is common.

"Yes. Sometimes the pets, especially the older pets, are picky. They're fussy about what kind of food they want to eat. In that scenario we do have the recipes for the homemade food, and prescriptions for homemade food. For example, if the dog has kidney disease, the food should be low in protein. There are various prescriptions for homemade food for dogs with kidney disease, liver disease and so on."

For Diego, Frida and Barnes, going back to the days of kibble in tin foil is not an option. I learned one thing during my visit with them: the aromas I enjoyed in their kitchen that day were a heck of a lot more appetizing than the smell of any dry dog food I've sniffed.

Ralhan told me that most vets have recipes for homemade food. I also found the following Internet site that has some good ones: http://www.i-love-dogs.com/dog-food-recipes.html.




Fido food

Diego and Frida's Favourites
Lady and the Tramp
Ingredients:
Handful of spaghetti broken into pieces
10 fresh boneless chicken thighs
1/3 package of mixed frozen vegetables
Method:
Cook spaghetti in water with some vegetable oil.
Chop chicken thighs into thumb-sized pieces and brown in a generous amount of vegetable oil.
Turn down the heat, add frozen vegetables, cover and let simmer. Stir occasionally until vegetables thaw.
Drain cooked spaghetti and stir into chicken/veggie medley.
Cool and serve, or package and freeze.
Serves a small dog for 20 days
Macaroni Moo-Moo
Ingredients:
3/4 cup of macaroni
2 lbs. lean or medium ground beef
1/3 package of mixed frozen vegetables
Method:
Cook macaroni in water with some vegetable oil.
Brown beef in generous amount of vegetable oil.
Turn down the heat, add frozen vegetables, cover and let simmer. Stir occasionally until vegetables thaw.
Drain cooked macaroni and stir into beef/veggie medley.
Cool and serve, or package
Serves one small dog for 20 days
Uncle Ben's Cod
Ingredients:
Three-quarters cup rice
2 large fresh cod fillets or equivalent
One-third package of mixed frozen vegetables
2 cups cooked rice
Vegetable oil
Method:
Cook cod in generous amount of oil until it flakes. Turn down the heat, add frozen vegetables, cover and let simmer. Stir occasionally until vegetables thaw.
Stir cooked rice into cod/veggie medley. Package and freeze.
Serves one small dog for 20 days

Organizations: CNN, Pets Food Bank, Uncle Ben's Torbay Road Animal Hospitals

Geographic location: Atlanta, Ga.

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Recent comments

  • Alyson
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    I have 2 cats and a valleybull dog, thanks for the great recipes ideas. Lots of great choices and new ideas.

  • Kelly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Karl, your articles are a real treat and I look forward to reading them. This one was terrific - I love it! Keep up the great work!

  • Alyson
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    I have 2 cats and a valleybull dog, thanks for the great recipes ideas. Lots of great choices and new ideas.

  • Kelly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Karl, your articles are a real treat and I look forward to reading them. This one was terrific - I love it! Keep up the great work!