This could be any dog bowl in the world. Some kibble comes with colorful pieces, some are small, some are big. No matter the look or smell, there’s something lurking in your dog’s dry food that you should know about.
I was an average dog owner once, much like you or someone you know. I fed Science Diet because I thought scientists must have invented it! I learned everything the hard way, tripped over every dog-related illness and issue there was to stumble onto. Unfortunately, it took to far too long to stumble onto proper nutrition for my dogs. Which is why I feel the need to share what I’ve learned with other concerned, or curious, owners like yourself.
The beginning of my journey started when I bought a book for my overweight Boston terrier, for me to read not him, who is my first born. I needed to trim him up but nothing I was doing seemed to be working (changing his kibble to weight management, going for walks). The book that I bought was “The Whole Pet Diet” by Andi Brown. A truly great book that I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about pet nutrition, it is an easy read that rounds the entire scope of caring for a pet holistically, she even talks about cats! After I read it, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a bag of commercial dog food, and I haven’t bought one ever since!
Unfortunately not every dog owner has the time to read a stack of dog nutrition books. Even the most dedicated dog lover likely doesn’t have time to do the research it takes to learn how to properly home cook for their dog. I have found that people are eager for me to tell them what I have learned instead of delving into a book themselves. So that’s what I’ve been doing for 7 years now! As a proud home cook I have created my own recipes that have my dog’s health as the number one priority and their taste buds as a close second. I’ve tried every recipe I’ve come across and used my experiences as a home cook for human dishes, to make my recipes and products as great as they can be for my dogs. When my friends and family asked me to share my recipes and products with them, I gladly did. Now it’s my mission to help every dog that I can help, through helping their owners! So I hope you will open your mind to the the wonderful world of proper nutrition, because I promise you will love having a happy and healthy dog. They give us so much, it’s the least we can do to feed them the best we can!
First, let’s debunk some of those popular myths that we’ve always been taught by our parents and old school vets.
Myth #1 – NO TABLE SCRAPS. Contrary to popular belief and recommendations from veterinarians, dogs can have table scraps. That’s right, I said it, table scraps are okay! They’re better than most dog foods you would happily shovel into their bowls. Just think of all the foods presented on the front of your dog’s food bag. You likely see chicken, rice, oats, peas, sweet potatoes, or any number of fruits and vegetables. So if those ingredients are baked into your food, how come they can’t have a piece of freshly boiled chicken? I’ve fed many dogs countless pieces of fresh chicken, vegetables and fruits and not one upset tummy occurred.
So why on earth would the dog industry make such a fuss about it? Well that’s because if you thought it was okay to feed your dog your own meals, you wouldn’t be buying their dog food, or maybe your dog wouldn’t be hungry enough to eat the kibble you presented, or possibly even refuse to eat it after knowing there is something better!
Please know that there is some validity to this scare tactic, puppies and dogs do need certain vitamins and minerals just like humans, and they are added into the foods you purchase. But much like those dreaded cafeteria lunches in school, they are not full of nutrition, just the basic needs to survive. If you’re sharing the occasional fresh protein or vegetable with your dog that is perfectly okay, but if you’re using those items in their bowl for supper time, then you need to make sure you have a balanced meal. When home cooking, it’s always pertinent that you give your dog a properly balanced meal and to add a mineral mix or multivitamin to assure the dogs get the calcium and other minerals they need to stay healthy.
You may have also heard that table scraps cause pancreatitis, while we will get more in depth with that farther down, it must be acknowledged that obesity is the main underlying cause of pancreatitis. I’ve met more overweight dogs on commercial dog food than I have on home cooked meals. Commercial foods are full of mainly carbohydrates, and as we know from human dieting techniques, carbs can be the enemy! There is much discussion on whether or not dogs are carnivores or omnivores, but all are in agreement that dogs are not herbivores. Obviously everything should be in moderation, dogs shouldn’t be eating a pound of bacon each day, but eating a high protein diet, if fed correctly, will keep your dog happy and healthy for years to come!
Now barring a few simple guidelines listed below, you can easily allow your dog to enjoy snacks with you and bask in the freedom of a healthier life with them!
What to share:
- Proteins of any Kind – Without seasonings, salts or any marinades or sauces
- Fruits and Vegetables – Dogs can enjoy almost any fruit and veggies except for: Grapes, Raisins, Onions, Excessive Amounts of Garlic. Each dog has a different pallet, so they may disclose their favorites to you pretty quickly! I try to steer clear of cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower because they tend to create an additional gas factor, and heavens knows there’s enough of that in my house! Papaya is a HUGE favorite in my house, it also acts as a natural dewormer! Papaya and Pumpkin (canned) help with the extra phlegm that can accumulate for some dogs. That slimy spit up in the morning? That’s phlegm, dogs get drainage just like people! If your dog has that problem, try adding a little papaya and/or pumpkin as a topper to their food!
- Peanuts and Peanut Butter – Without salt/all natural. It’s a pain to stir, but avoiding the hydrogenated oils will keep your dog healthier. Pop it in the fridge to harden it up and pack into an empty bone or Kong toy!
- Tofu – Unless your dog has a soy allergy, although I’ve never had a dog react to fresh tofu.
- Yogurt and Cottage Cheese – Just make sure it’s plain and doesn’t have any added sugars. These are the ONLY milk based products I recommend. Goats milk is a much better alternative for dogs.
- Applesauce – No salt or Sugar Added. Most dogs love apples!
- Eggs – Raw or Cooked, without salt or pepper of course, dogs will take them any way they can get them! I always recommend feeding a raw egg and a spoonful of yogurt stirred up for any dog having an upset tummy. It helps to get their digestive system back on track and it’s pretty much irresistible! Always make sure your eggs are fresh.
- Raw Bones – Buy one too many soup bones for your beef stew? Give it to the dog! Raw beef bones are my only recommendation for chewing. Soup bones are the easiest and the best for avoiding any flare up of a beef allergy since they have virtually no meat on them. Even my little Schnoodle Toto, who is allergic to beef, can chow down on a beef soup bone and does great. The dogs eat out the marrow and enjoy an all natural teeth cleaning from the wild! The bones dry out on their own but still make great chew toys, most of their teeth cleaning properties are lost with the hardened bone but they still make for good entertainment. For the teeth cleaning purposes the bones need to be softer, so you can give them fresh bones weekly. Or if your dog takes a while to chew them you can place them in the fridge and they will take longer to dry out!
An Important Note: Never cook bones before giving them to your dog, this hardens the bone, making it harder than their tooth’s enamel and can break your dog’s teeth! Always give size appropriate bones to your dogs. Once the centers are cleaned out, bones can slip over the dog’s bottom jaw, so it’s important to make sure the holes are too large or too small to get stuck there. If it does happen and gets stuck don’t stress, if it got on there it will come off! This has happened to me on a few occasions before I learned to have my husband break them in half with a shovel if they were a certain size, but I just wiggled them off. Usually the bone goes over their bottom canines and twists to get stuck. A lot of times the dog may not realize it’s stuck, so just keeping them still to wiggle it off is the main challenge. To avoid this scenario, just make sure the holes are smaller or much larger than your dog’s bottom jaw, and problem solved! Aren’t you glad I’ve done all this leg work for you?
If you have a very large dog, go to your local butcher and ask them to cut you a large knuckle bone, if you have small dogs, the smaller bones already packaged in the meat case are likely suitable. Always supervise your dog when enjoying a bone, just as you would any treat or toy. Raw bones are easy to break yummy pieces off of, and if you have an aggressive chewer it’s important to grab any big pieces as they chomp them off just to make sure they don’t try to swallow them. Usually they crunch them up into smaller pieces, it just depends on your dog and how they enjoy their bones! Feeding bones is much safer than the very popular rawhide, which I never recommend. I’ve had countless dogs choke on rawhides, not to mention they’re treated with various chemicals to bleach and flavor and are big culprits for allergy flare ups. I’ve always followed the above guidelines and have never experienced any issues with dogs chewing raw beef bones and that’s all my dogs ever get!
What not to share:
- Any foods toxic to dogs – Chocolate, grapes/raisins, macadamia nuts, onions, excessive amounts of garlic, bread dough, anything containing xylitol, alcohol of any kind, and hops (in case you’re a novice beer maker).
- Bread or Corn tortillas – Many dogs are allergic to wheat and corn so it’s best to avoid these. The occasional pinch of bread won’t hurt a dog, but there are much healthier items you can share!
- Seasoned Foods or Sauces – If it’s a meal you’re ready to eat it’s likely going to upset your dog’s tummy. So put it in some tupperware and save your leftovers for tomorrow, Fido should pass on these.
- Fast Food – Besides the chicken nuggets without the breading, there is too much salt and seasoning on most fast food, not to mention that it’s not really good for you, so why would it be good for them?! But I know you’re going to do it anyways, so just order the grilled chicken sandwich and give them the chicken only! The fried foods can hurt their tummies so I try to avoid those. There is no fun in your drive through outing ending up in vomit in the back seat!
- Cooked Bones – Many raw feeders will attest to debunking the theory that raw bones splinter, to which I agree. I stick to raw beef bones because they’re readily available, and as a Pescatarian (Vegetarian + Seafood) I prefer to handle as little raw meat as possible! While you can decide how far you’d like to delve into the raw feeding world, cooked bones are always a no no. Not only can they splinter, once they’re impacted with heat during the cooking process they become harder than the enamel on your dog’s tooth and can easily cause a slab fracture, which is just as bad as it sounds. Trust me, I’ve dealt with these, and I didn’t learn the first time, so let my lesson save your dog’s teeth! You may ask, what about the raw bones that have dried out? Those bones have become brittle from drying naturally, they are not harder than your dog’s tooth, which is why they are able to still make grooves in them even after they’ve dried out.
If you adhere to these guidelines, you can share in the joy of giving healthy snacks to them! Although it seems like a lot to remember now, once you settle into a routine, like anything, you’ll be a pro at feeding your dog table scraps and can teach your friends the wonders of breaking the rules!
Myth #2 – The cheap brand of dog food is the same as the expensive food.
While the price of any food can’t be a true determination of it’s nutrition, as a whole: the pricier the food, the better the ingredients. If you’re buying Ol Roy, you’re getting quite a deal and you know it. While you may think there is some form of FDA approval for dog food, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The guidelines for dog food lies in the labeling itself and it is very relaxed at best. The description as to what qualifies for by-product meal is a myriad of things that could make your stomach turn. From roadkill to the diseased animal discards from human food factories, the “chicken” you think is in your dog’s food is the farthest thing from what ends up on your plate. Furthermore, whenever you see those colored pieces of kibble, take note that there are dyes in the food to make us humans think it’s filled with vegetables that must give it those bright colors. One food dye was even banned from dog food after being linked to cancer.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, there is no perfect dog food on the shelves of your pet store currently, but the higher end dog foods are almost always of a higher caliber and will provide your dog with less carcinogens and as much nutrition as can be packed into an overcooked pellet of kibble. The brands I recommend to our dog rescue’s adopters are: Wellness Simple Ingredient (turkey or duck blends), Halo Purely for Pets (Spot’s Stew), Nature’s Variety (frozen raw medallions), Natural Balance (Limited Ingredient Diets). Take note that I have reservations about each of these foods, their balance of protein vs. grain content, unnecessary ingredients (i.e. chicory root, natural “flavorings”, salt content, sugar content, etc.), and how much nutrition is still intact after cooking. But these are a far cry from your average Pedigree or IAMs and even Science Diet.
Feeding these foods you can relax knowing your dog is getting proper nutrition and their body isn’t filtering out as many toxins. They do run with a higher price tag, but I can assure you that you will avoid many vet bills over the years because your dog will not have the ailments that a dog with a lower immune system has due to lack of proper nutrition. Reducing the amount of toxic carcinogens your dog is exposed to by feeding a higher quality of food will also help to prevent dreaded cancerous lumps in their senior days. We all grow so attached to our dogs over the years, it’s best to give them the right food so they can live long and prosper with you! I always recommend wet food, and canned food has to undergo a canning process at very high temperatures which can kill much of the nutritional value. Frozen is always better. Freeze dried and dehydrated are good as well, just remember that you’ll have to take time to soak those in water before feeding. Want the very best for your dog in my opinion? Homegrown Hounds is my dog food company and I have an entire line of foods, do it yourself home cooking mixes, and treats to give your dog the best of nature! My food recipe is high in protein, great for picky eaters, sensitive stomachs and keeping a physically fit pup. Don’t waste time worrying about recalls or reading ingredient labels, I’ve done all the hard work for you, and from one dog parent to another – I wouldn’t trust feeding my dogs anything else! All of my products are sold online here: www.HgHdogs.com
All of my D.I.Y. products can be used with raw proteins, but I feel it is important to share the info I’ve gathered on raw feeding. The purpose of feeding dogs a raw diet is to simulate the true diet they would have in the wild. In theory it’s a fantastic idea, but when a dog kills their prey they’re getting fresh meat and consuming almost the entire animal usually. This cannot be equaled with store bought chicken or beef. Most of the meat sold in our grocery stores is not sold for raw consumption and has not been handled with the proper care to feed it raw. Dogs do have a better tolerance for food borne illnesses than humans, but most of the nutrition has been lost in the meat sold for human consumption. In a study done on dogs, they found that dogs do not absorb salmonella, it goes right through their digestive system and can be found in their stool. This can make raw feeding a concern for parents of human kiddos since that poop lies in the yard. Not to mention these are not wild animals that are being served up to us, yet corn-fed animals pumped full of terrible things to get them as big as possible. So with that being said, in my opinion, gently cooking the meat can provide the same amount of nutrition as feeding raw. I do not discount raw diets at all, and support them as long as they are balanced with some fruits, vegetables, vitamins and minerals. Sometimes there are even local farms you can get your meat at directly, or there are raw diets available through some pet food companies and most have taken the time to make sure the meat is handled properly.
BUT MY KIDS LOVE THE KIBBLE! Do they? Did you know that sugar stimulates the same part of the brain as cocaine? Thus creating an addictive effect where your dogs go crazy for it. Why else include sugar in dog food? I’m sure human kids would love a spoonful of sugar with every meal but that wouldn’t be healthy either! So don’t mistake your dog’s “excitement” for addiction. The truth is sad, but no need to be glass half empty, there’s a simple solution! Your dog is relying on you to become an educated consumer and all you have to do is start reading the ingredients on the back of those foods and treats. Just avoid any salts, sugars, by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy, dyes and any ingredients you don’t understand!
Just can’t swing the expensive food? That’s okay, I’ve eaten bean burgers for weeks to feed my dogs properly when money was tight, so I completely understand. Sometimes home cooking can be a less expensive route! Check out my recipes on my website and don’t be shy, your dog will love everything you make, even if you’re not a cook!
Myth #3 – Dogs need to eat hard food to keep their teeth clean.
I read a terrific analogy to this myth once. It said, “if a person eats potato chips every day without anything else their teeth will stay clean”. If you’ve ever held a piece of dog food in your hand and rolled it around, you’ve felt the greasy nature of it. It’s oily, like a potato chip, which is why I thought this was such a perfect way to describe this untruth. Dental hygiene for dogs is a requirement, regardless of the type of food they eat. Plaque, gingivitis and digestive issues can all be causes of bad breath. Different dogs are predisposed to better dental health just like humans. Unfortunately, the only real solution I’ve found thus far for keeping your dog’s teeth pearly white is regular brushing. Most dogs can go with brushing only 3 times a week. I know brushing seems somewhat unreasonable for a dog, but once you get used to it and enter it into your nightly routine, it is a breeze!
I’m sure you’re thinking, but dogs don’t have toothbrushes in the wild! That is true, but in the wild they would be eating fresh meat, ripping into it with their teeth and consuming the stomach contents which contains acids that aid in keeping their teeth clean. Unfortunately even if feeding raw, it’s impossible to mimac this with domesticated animals, so we have to supplement with brushing to keep their teeth healthy!
If your dog is going to live for a long time, then they’re going to want those teeth to keep chewing on bones! Some people find that yearly dentals at the vet are the answer, but the older your dog gets, the worse it is for them to go under the anesthesia. So when switching to a healthier, home cooked diet, don’t be fooled by the naysayers who demand your dogs require crunch to keep healthier teeth. I’ve rescued many dogs who have had access to nothing but kibble and they had such bad gingivits that multiple teeth had to be pulled. Share what you’ve learned with your friends and family and get some doggie toothbrushes!
I’ll have a later blog on dental health that will cover all the bases of keeping your dog’s teeth pristine as well as a how-to on brushing.
Myth #4 – The food my vet prescribed is the only thing my dog can eat.
Vets prescribe food for various reasons. Most of the time, the prescription diets you receive are made by Hills, the maker of Science Diet. Hills continues to put inferior ingredients in their food, even the prescription ones. If you were to take a look at the back of the label you’d notice that most of these foods your vet prescribed contain by-product meals, flavorings, salt and other ingredients that have no business being in a pet food. If the maker was really concerned about your dog’s health ailments they wouldn’t add harmful ingredients. Don’t forget that your vet likely sells these prescription products and makes a profit from them, just as any doctor would get kickbacks for prescribing brand name prescriptions. Your dog’s health ailments are not to be discounted, there are wonderful pet nutritionists that can help you formulate a diet that works best for your dog’s needs. For coat/skin and stomach ailments you may find that changing their diet to a fresh one actually corrects those issues. There are various solutions for every medical issue and some may be easily managed in the foods you feed them, but just like all commercial dog foods, these aren’t going to aid in your dog’s health.
Myth#5 – My last dog ate Pedigree their whole life and lived to 15 and never had one health issue.
I honestly think it’s outstanding that some dogs have such an amazing gene pool that they live long past their estimated life expectancy. I often tout in our rescue that mixed breeds are proven to live longer, so they are wonderful dogs to adopt! However, this is more of a case by case basis and not attributed to the food. I don’t hear it often, because it doesn’t happen very often. This lies somewhere along the lines of that relative you hear about who smoked for 60 years and never got lung cancer. They got lucky. They have great genes that are apparently made of steel.
The odds are that ingesting toxins and consuming low quality food will take a toll on your life sooner rather than later. It’s likely when the above mentioned Fido did pass away it was from an “unexpected cancer” that just “came out of nowhere”. I’ve known many dogs to develop seizures out of the blue, some say the constant exposure to toxins in commercial pet foods can cause seizures in dogs that show no underlying health factors. Most veterinarians are left to diagnose this as epilepsy because they truly don’t have another answer. So as an owner you’re left to feeding seizure meds daily, or looking for alternative options. Some owners reported that once they changed their food, the dog’s seizures subsided. This may not happen in every scenario, and there are many western and eastern medicine remedies to try along with proper nutrition. The thing to remember here is that proper nutrition helps to keep your dog healthy, which prevents ailments that are more common in unhealthy animals.
I know when I eat something truly unhealthy I feel icky, same is true for dogs. Upon switching my dog’s diets they all started to have more energy, to seem more full of life, their ear infections disappeared, their coats looked shinier and they seem utterly grateful to scarf down their meals and can’t wait for the next one! Okay, that last one is probably true of most dogs no matter what is in front of them, but when you home cook or provide them better food, you’ll see what I mean! So in all, common sense is your best friend on this one. Good food = good health.
Myth #6 – A high fat diet causes pancreatitis.
I touched on this a bit before, but there is far more to be said. I’ve heard this too many times from people and vets and while pancreatitis is a very serious and real health issue, it is also something that is caused mainly by obesity. It and diabetes are very real issues for the overweight pooch and should not be taken lightly whatsoever, but the high protein diet isn’t to blame. Pure, old fashioned, over feeding is the culprit. The “I think they’re starving…look he’s still hungry” is what gets us into trouble here. Don’t get me wrong, I am a quarter Italian and I have a feeding gene like no other, like I said, my dog was overweight! How did I trim him up? I started home cooking, and feeding the appropriate portions. Even if you cook the best food for your dog, you can still over feed, so follow the feeding guidelines and check out my post on finding your dog’s healthy weight. You think you’re loving them by giving them extra portions, but in reality you could be harming them.
Pancreatitis is not an easy disease to suffer through and can result in abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and shock. It’s much easier to measure your dog’s portions, split their meals into twice a day and up their exercise, than to deal with this terrible health issue. Just avoiding table scraps and fatty foods will not keep you out of this boat. Those high carbohydrate-laden commercial dog foods, filled with sugars and corn, will pack on the pounds easily and leave them hungry shortly after. If you’re already living with a dog who has mild pancreatitis and are interested in changing their diet, you can still home cook for them, but there are important things to avoid and upping exercise is a must. There has also been talk that excess vaccinations should be avoided when caring for a dog with the disease. I would highly recommend a holistic vet and pet nutritionist to anyone dealing with this issue.
To Wrap Up…
Hopefully you’re not overwhelmed by the influx of information in this post! I feel the need to explain as much as possible so that you can take with you the info that pertains to you and your dog. It can seem like a lot at first, but just as the health food world emerged for humans, it is now here for dogs! As a dog owner I always had trouble finding a good resource of information. You can walk into the pet store, but those workers don’t always have the hands on experiences, education or training that you need (some do and I love them, but it’s definitely hit or miss!). Your veterinarian may or may not be up to date on nutritional info and just like doctors, it’s important you find a vet who listens to your concerns and supports overall wellness in your dog and doesn’t just treat their symptoms.
With all I’ve gone over here you can see why I do not feel there is a dog food good enough to feed my own furkids. I searched for years because as much as I love to cook, the pain of home cooking can be arduous when running low on time, which seems to be an never ending constant in my life! All of you home cookers will sympathize with the evenings when you realize you have to cook and you frantically look in the fridge to see if you have enough ingredients! Well I decided I had to make it easier for all of us. Even recipes I’ve found in books and online I felt needed to be altered to be perfect, which is why I created my own food. I share it with you to share with your furkids, because dogs are my life, and I’ve never met one I didn’t like! If you’re local to the Dallas/Fort Worth, TX area, I invite you to come visit me at our Homegrown Hounds Dog Deli and Bakery in Downtown Dallas. I hope to meet you and your dog one day soon!
I firmly believe dog lovers are better people, which is why I rescue and educate. 100% of the proceeds from the sales of my food and treats go to our nonprofit dog rescue, Hound Haven. Check out our food products and recipes on our website here: www.HomegrownHoundFood.com
Paws, Love and Happiness-
The Dog Food Guru (a.k.a. Melanie Fox)