Why pet parents are moving to home-cooked dog food

Southside Matt

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Since 1860, dog food has been commercially available for those who wished to have others take the time necessary to cook food for their canine companions. Beginning as a mix of wheat meals, vegetables, beetroot, and beef blood, the recipe started a trend that would see various companies develop recipes known as biscuits or kibble for dogs. In the first quarter of the 20th Century, canned dog food made its entry into this market.

With the dog food industry increasing in popularity as an investment in what was considered a luxury item since dogs as pets were considered a luxury in the late 19th Century, veterinary nutrition became an area of study. This led to the formulation of a food specifically tailored to the needs of puppies in the 1960s. Later, in the 1980s, the U.S. National Academy of Science, through its National Research Council, developed and published nutritional requirements for cats and dogs.

As of 2012, almost 60 percent of households had a pet (56.8%), with dogs as pets in almost 40 percent of American households (38.4%). This means that one out of every three households is a potential customer of dog food manufacturers.

With almost 75 million households seeking a way to feed their dogs, pet food manufacturers have developed a number of different ways to convince pet owners that they have the best option available. As society learned the benefits of antioxidants, dog food manufacturers began to incorporate and tout such ingredients as blueberries in their foods. They also recognized and promoted the fact that their foods contained “real meat” and vegetables, both of which are vital to a canine diet.

These meats, though, are severely less-regulated than those used for human consumption. A large majority of the meat products used for dog foods are those by-products determined to be not fit for humans. Known as offal, much of this comes from parts that are stored in hot trailers, not refrigerated, but are still considered suitable for dogs. Similarly, dead farm and zoo animals are often turned in to meat meal.

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Through the process of developing the meals used for dog food, the meat is rendered. That is, brewed into a stew that is intentionally overcooked to remove all of the water content. Once this is done, then the meat by-products have the fat skimmed away and then are baked until they become a meal product.

This generally allows for the removal of bacteria and other contaminants that may be harmful to the pets. But, it also removes the nutrients of the meat, making the meal little more than a filler used to satisfy a dog’s hunger without providing any nutrition.

The lack of proper nutrition has also provided room for companies to develop supplements that are used even with these commercially-produced foods. Mercola and Only Natural Pet are two in particular who have developed supplements that can be used with either bought or homemade foods to ensure that a dog gets the vitamins and minerals needed for good health. Mercola’s Meal Mix for Dogs is generally available in powder form that is delivered in premeasured packets. Mercola has combined the offering of the Meal Mix for Dogs with a website that provides the opportunity to get recipe guidance and amounts of the Mix to be given. Ultimate Daily Vitamin Bites from Only Natural Pet come in the form of chewables that are also premeasured, with the container providing guidance on administration based on the dog’s weight.

This lack of what many would consider suitable requirements has led to 258 recalls of dog food since 2009, an average of almost 20 per year. While the recalls have been gaining in press coverage, many still consider that the subject is dog food and do not take much notice, particularly if their brand is not affected.

Those who do take notice, though, have returned to the pre-20th Century trend of making their own dog food. Veterinary nutrition has also gained in popularity, with some doctors specializing in this field and devoting their studies to making sure they learn all they can about how the canine digestive system processes various foods and ingredients.

Through their research, these professionals such as Dr. Karen Shaw Becker and Rodney Habib have written books, produced videos, and used podcasts to share their information. They work to expose the habits of commercial dog food companies that put profit over health not to put the companies out of business but to try to shame them into providing the nutrition that they purport with their products.

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Combined with the efforts of these professionals, various websites have sprung up to spread the message, as well. This has led to the enlightenment of pet parents in regard to the way that pet foods are processed and the ingredients that are used.

Many pet parents, with their new-found knowledge, have taken to heeding the advice of professionals and have started making their own foods. In doing so, they find that the process is relatively simple, can be done with common household items, and is not any more expensive than many of the store-bought dog foods.

An owner who has been feeding his beagles homemade for almost a decade uses a general recipe that has had his regular vet state that his beagles are the healthiest the vet has seen. His cost is less than $2.00 per beagle meal, serving his beagles two meals per day. With “Veterinary Diet” foods costing over $5.00 per 13.7-ounce can, this owner believes he is saving money while providing his beagles an even healthier diet.

In discussing what he feeds his dogs, the owner relays some of the things that he has learned and confirmed from researching claims made by Dr. Becker and others. He avoids grains except for certain situations such as the rare gastrointestinal upset as grains tend to lead to skin issues and allergies. He also stays away from grapes while using other fruits that are suitable for dogs. Onions are, and always have been, a big no-no for dogs, as well. Otherwise, he includes so-called add-ins for his recipe that provide additional benefits above and beyond the normal recipe. These include antioxidant fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries; apples with the skin to help with allergies; various nuts such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds; and garlic which, despite its controversy, he agrees has been shown in recent studies to provide similar benefits to dogs that it does to humans when consumed in moderate quantities. Because he lives in a suburban area and cannot always get organic ingredients, he also uses milk thistle powder to help the beagles’ livers cope with the everyday toxins that they encounter in the air and surroundings.

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During a tough time that lasted about six months, the owner switched back from his homemade recipe to canned food from the store shelves. While he claims that he cannot prove that this was the cause, one of the beagles developed an enlarged liver and began a vomiting spell that one vet was not able to diagnose and another was able to attribute to an ear infection. A follow-up visit for the ear infection had the veterinary clinic wanting to perform multiple expensive tests for a severe condition that would require lifelong monitoring. Returning her to the homemade diet, the owner saw his beagle’s health improve almost immediately with her returning to “normal” after only a couple of weeks.

Other pet parents across the nation have followed suit and begun developing their own recipes. With that, the beagle owner and the professionals all caution pet parents who want to do this to do their research beforehand. Many who decide to start their own homemade meals without researching them properly end up doing their dogs more harm than good. By feeding the wrong foods, the pet parent can actually cause or exacerbate conditions that will then require more visits to the vet and, in the end, cost a lot more than beginning with the right mix of foods, vitamins, and minerals.

Pet parents who choose to make their own food are able to avoid worrying about recalls such as the one that was announced as this article was being compiled. They know exactly what ingredients are being used in their dogs’ food and can make sure that it has the nutrition the dogs need. For about the same cost as those in the grocery or pet stores, the pet parents are also able to avoid costly vet visits, saving them even more in the long run.

GENERAL RECIPE MENTIONED ABOVE

  • 1 tbsp Coconut oil
  • 2 lbs 7 oz Boneless, skinless chicken thigh
  • 1 lb 3.5 oz Russet potato
  • 1 lb 3.5 oz Baby spinach
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 pint Blueberries
  • 1/2 pint Raspberries
  • 1/2 pint Blackberries
  • 2 medium Bananas
  • Supplements

Melt coconut oil in medium to large soup pot. Grind or small dice chicken thigh, add to pot and cook until just done (just until turns white). Do not overcook! The cooking process is solely to remove bacteria and other harmful contaminants while maintaining nutritional value. Set aside to cool.

Dice potatoes and boil until fork-tender. Set aside to cool.

Add remaining items to food processor and chop until smooth. If using non-powder supplements, do not add until feeding time and according to package directions.

When the chicken and potatoes have cooled and the remaining ingredients have been chopped, combine all together (excepting the supplements if meeting the criteria above).

Serve based on the dog's weight and activity.

For 30- to 35-pound beagles with minimal activity, 7.5 ounces twice daily is recommended.

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Hailing from the Great State of Texas, South Side Matt monitors government for compliance with the Constitutional values that founded the United States, and works to maintain liberty for all in that spirit. His articles focus on furthering this cause, but also occasionally go "off track" into lighter topics such as cooking, general life and others.

Fort Worth, TX
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