Canine Cooking Class 101
Sorry for the delay, I meant to post this earlier but life and family took priority this week. So, you want to start cooking for your pet. Where do you start? Personally, I enjoy cooking and meal planning. But since I have a busy life with my clinic and my daughter (and working on my Master's degree) I don't have a whole lot of time. So, I tend to do a lot of one pot cooking. Especially for my dog. But if I do manage to grill or roast, I just add a little extra to the grill or oven and add that to my dog's meal. For dog food on the go, a crock pot can be your best friend. It takes about 10-20 minutes of prep, turn it on, and you will have dog food in anywhere from 6-10 hours. Alternatively, you can put everything in a large soup pot and simmer it on the stove top. For me? The plug in and go method is the best. I realize that fresh lightly cooked vegetables are nutritionally optimal. But let's face it. Sometimes convenience wins.
A good meal will have a protein source, a carbohydrate source, vegetables, and spices. It is fine to cook everything separately and serve like you would in a restaurant. Some grilled lean turkey meat, with a small roasted sweet potato and a side of steamed broccoli. Sounds like a very healthy meal (and not one I'd ever order in a restaurant...) The good thing about dogs is that they like it all mixed together. It makes it much easier to cook for dogs than for humans. Much easier. Especially when one of your human children will eat only broccoli, and the other will eat only brussel sprouts (my daughter was an extremely, weird, picky eater.... Once at the grocery store I was heard to say "No you can NOT have more brussel sprouts! Why don't you eat cookies like a regular kid!!!" I got some extreme stink eyes that day). I swear when kids are little, cooking for them is like trying to navigate through a thistle patch... blindfolded... Dogs? Aren't so picky.
Dogs are WAY more more appreciative of your cooking. They will lick their bowls clean and ask politely (maybe not so politely...) for more. I'm not sure why I didn't start cooking for my dog sooner... It is pretty satisfying. And my house doesn't smell like brussel sprouts.
My proportions are typically 40% protein, 30% carbohydrates and 30% vegetables. But that is not set in stone. You can vary the percentages depending on what is available, and what is on sale. I don't usually add oils to my stews. I go for mainly healthy natural oils in my meats and fish. But if you want you can definitely add a little oil if you choose (but just a little, like maybe 2-3 Tbs). Use peanut oil, sesame oil, or soybean oil over olive oil. Any of those oils are pretty healthy. I get asked a lot about flax seed oil. It is a very potent anti-inflammatory. Just don't cook with it, as it is pretty bitter.
I layer my stews with the meat on the bottom, dry goods like beans and barley over the meat, then layer my vegetables according to size shape and water content. I add spices after the veggies. I, then, will fill the pot with water or broth (low sodium broth) almost to the top. I don't fill the pot all the way to the top. But I do fill it most of the way. If I add spinach, It always goes on last. Spinach cooks down to nothing, so I stuff as much in as I can. When I have spinach, I will even leave a small space between the lid and the pot (the spinach shrinks pretty fast).
Now lets talk spices and flavors. I add salt and pepper. Not a whole lot. I don't add as much salt and pepper as I would in my personal meals (but then I like very salty). Frankly, salt and pepper make things taste better. Just because your dog likes to eat cat poop doesn't mean they don't have taste buds.... Plus, there are some good beneficial reasons to use certain spices. And, I use those to my advantage. It's too detailed a subject to get into in this blog, but I will be addressing it in the future. One additive, I almost always go for, is garlic. Culinary quantities of garlic are not toxic to dogs. Don't feed them the whole pod. Just a couple cloves will do. I'll mince up 3-5 cloves per 6 qt crock pot and put it in. It adds flavor and is potentially anti-inflammatory. The rest of the spices I add, are based on what is in my herb garden or in my spice drawer. Avoid onions, onion powder, chives, shallots or anything else oniony. You can use basil, oregano, thyme and marjoram, dill, rosemary, parsley, etc.... Use what you like, your dog will let you know if they don't like it..... Mint is a always a favorite (it's not just for tea any more!).
Now that you have all that yummy goodness in your pot. Turn it on (I prefer low settings) and go. When it is done, use a big spoon to stir it up. Add more broth or water if it is too thick. I keep about a weeks worth in the fridge. You can freeze what you don't use, to have emergency stash on hand. I do not feed the stew cold. It's best to serve at room temperature or slightly warm. If it is coming from my refrigerated supply, I will stick about a cup in the microwave for about 15-30 seconds.
How much to feed? 1 cup of food is roughly about 150 calories. About 1 cup per 20 lbs of dog is my standard. I will feed more, if my stew is more soupy and vegetabley, and less if it is thicker and has more protein and carbs. If I am top dressing regular dry food, I substitute about 1/2 - 3/4 cup stew per 1/4 cup dry dog food. For example, my dog, Freckles (25 lbs), gets about 1/2 cup dry dog food twice daily. When I feed her just stew, she gets 1- 1 1/2 cup stew. If I feed both, I give her 1/4 cup dry and 1/2 cup stew.
Is this meal balanced? No. It is not balanced according to AAFCO standards. It will need calcium and some vitamins added to balance it out. The best way to balance your dogs homemade diet is to go to balanceit.com. You can give them a recipe, or pay for one, and they have additives that will help balance out the calcium, vitamins and micronutrients. But, home made food should be fine it you feed intermittently or top dress your dog food with it. I may balance my recipes in the future, it just takes a long time and a lot of data entry to get the proportions right. Currently, I'm trying to focus on recipes that are healthy, and target a certain medical imbalance in the dog. So, balancing the recipes will have to wait.
My first recipe is called Yin and Qi Stew. Unfortunately, I can't upload a PDF file in my blog. So, the recipe will be added to my website. I'll add a page called recipes and you'll be able to fine it there. Maybe.... If I can figure it out after I post this blog. I would love to link to it from here, but I'm new to this blogging stuff and haven't mastered the art of embedding links yet. I hope to be more sophisticated in the future.
Yin and Qi Stew is used to metabolically cool a dog slightly, and to help tonify their Qi (energy) and Blood (fluid nutrients). It also helps with inflammation (whether due to arthritis or allergies, it is just generally anti-inflammatory) I use this basic diet for my 14 year old mutt (DNA says, she is an Australian Cattle Dog, Lhasa Apso, Poodle mix.... Which turns out to be a freckled, long, low, crooked-legged dog with overly large ears, and a serious overbite). She is old, a little creaky, and tends to run a little hotter than she should. She absolutely loves this particular stew. Except for the carrots. She picks out the carrot pieces and puts them beside her bowl on the floor. She then proceeds to lick the bowl clean, checks around the bowl to see if there are any microscopic food particles hanging around, and licks all horizontal and vertical surfaces that could potentially contain said microscopic food particles cleaner than a sterile surgical suite. She then lets out a big sigh, looks around to see in anyone is watching... and eats her carrots. That part of the floor is never licked clean.... Silly girl...
Don't know what it means to metabolically cool your dog??? That's the next blog.... Hot Dogs and What to do About Them...