Food Wonks, Gather ‘Round

Reducing fat and calories can lower cancer risks for dogs (and people!) according to newly presented research.  Specific recommendations including lowering dietary intake of sugar and Omega-6 fatty acids (e.g. nuts, seeds, corn oil, soybean oil and grain-fed red meat).  It’s important to note that Omega-6 fatty acids are not “bad”, it’s just that they are commonly out of balance with Omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet.

There’s another interesting tidbit in the article on fiber:

[T]he ideal blend of fiber for dog food is about 75 to 80 percent insoluble and 20 to 25 percent soluble.

Examples of insoluble fiber (the 75% recommendation) are whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, whole-grain breads/cereals, nuts, seeds, brown rice and many vegetables.  Food sources for soluble fiber (the 25% recommendation) include oats, oat and rice brans, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium.

To put this in some perspective with regard to dog diets, that National Research Council’s 2006 pamphlet (pdf) on canine nutrition says:

Q: How much fiber is good for my dog?
A: Fiber in the diet is probably good for overall gastrointestinal health and may help some dogs keep their weight down. The typical diet of normal adult dogs contains between 2.5 and 4.5% fiber.  However, the fiber content of some “diet” dog foods may be higher. This may allow the dog to feel full without consuming too many calories for effective weight control.  Diets high in fiber also may help in the management of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and may improve large intestine function.

On the other hand, too much fiber in the diet can decrease the digestibility of other important nutrients and result in loose stools, frequent defecation, and reduced palatability of the dog food. Wheat bran and barley products are high in fiber.  Conversely, dog food ingredients high in starch, including rice and dried potatoes, have less fiber.

Dinner at Chez Dog

Leftover bits from the produce drawer that I needed to use up before they went off:  spinach leaves, broccoli, grape tomatoes.  Add rice, chicken livers and turkey thighs and dinner is served.

Home Prepared Pet Food – Reader Submissions

Our first dog (20-odd ago) had early arthritis- our vet said she was otherwise healthy and could possibly make it to 7 or 8. Started reading up on what was in commercial dog food and, with the help of a chef friend with scraps, starting cobbling together a crockpot mash of brown rice, vegetable parings and meat scraps. She improved noticeably within a few months and lived happily until almost 14.


Our current boy Trevor came as an adolescent with terrible skin allergies; with trial & error, we found he’s reactive to fowl. His current mix is mostly beef, barley (or rice/pasta/beans) and veg with a splash of oil and a bit of liver. We try to change ingredients with availability and add a spoonful of kibble for crunch. Daisy gets the same but with chicken/turkey because she needs a lower-fat diet. We make a “cauldron” full once a week and freeze.
Both dogs are doing well and our vet thinks they eat better than most kids. My husband loved the cooking smells (as does  everyone who visits), so we now make a beef, barley & carrot casserole for us as well.

-J. Martin

***

– I have three dogs.

– I feed a combination of raw foods (mostly for dental health/tripe) and cooked foods (meatloaves). I strive for a 70 meat/20 veg/10 meaty bone ratio. We do have grain free kibble on hand when we need it (like Acana Pacifica, right now).
– I started looking into homemade foods when the big pet food recalls broke. Luckily at the time I was feeding Wellness but I still was really scared by the whole thing… scared that I wasn’t as conscious a consumer as I should have been. That’s when I found Sojo’s Europa and tons of info on raw fed dogs.
– I’ve been feeding this way for almost 3 years
– Tons of benefits to fresh foods.. peace of mind, no real doggy smell because coats are healthy and self maintaining (on my dogs anyway), cleaner teeth/breath, more vitality and I would even say that combined with their daily exercise regimen, they are “calmer” or at least more “even” on a diet that doesn’t consist of corns, corn syrups, dyes, etc. and they have to sometimes work out how to eat something (like ribs). Its all around rewarding!
– Recipe for a fun meatloaf done in a 70meat-dairyprotein/30 vegetation
with this, I’d probably give a raw turkey neck.

-Jen

***

I have a dog, two cats, a snake and a variable number of rats.

I’ve made a couple half-hearted attempts to switch the cats from their
expensive dental kibble stuff for several years now, but they love
their kibble (preferring it even over canned tuna!) and their teeth
have shown marked improvement, so I’m just not sufficiently motivated
to switch their diet. And I think a home made diet for the snake would
involve my own breeding colony of mice which is also a no-go for now.
The dog and the rats, though, get mostly home made food. It’s handy
that their dietary requirements are similar to ours, so we all eat
basically the same stuff.

I mix up a batch about once a week of whatever is in the
cupboards/freezer/garden/farmer’s market. It usually involves a mix of
grain (rice, oats, noodles, potatoes, etc), broth, veggies, dairy
product, eggs, cooked or canned meat… the list goes on. The dog also
gets some raw meat occasionally. Chicken necks, wings, backs, and
organs. Neither me or my husband like chicken wings, so before
roasting a chicken, I’ll cut off the wings and toss them to the dog.
If I don’t feel like eating all my salad, I’ll dump it into the mix.
The rats love gnawing on left over bones.

I’ll be honest, in the three years I’ve had my dog I’ve gone back to
“high quality” kibble off and on, sometimes for months at a time
depending on how busy my life is and my level of motivation. I’ve
never seen a change in her health either way. She’s young and very
healthy, anyway, and her coat, weight, nails, teeth and energy levels
are the same no matter what she eats. (The rats will have skin/coat
issues if they get too much protein for too long). Although they
obviously enjoy fresh food, I feed homemade mainly for me, I guess. It
makes me feel good knowing exactly where all the ingredients came
from.

Here’s Zelda with part of her camping dinner:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyborgsuzy/3883588931/

Here’s a batch of food in-progress with some of the ingredients:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyborgsuzy/4367081840/

The rats also like wild dandelion:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyborgsuzy/3498089600/

– From Suzanne (of the Hoof & Paw blog)

***

Thank you for sharing your homemade pet food recipes and experiences!  I always enjoy reading about how people feed their pets.

Lastly, dinner at our house last night was boiled potatoes (which I chunked after boiling), buttermilk, and minced greens (broccoli leaves, parsley and mint).  I sprinkled on some ground flaxseed before serving.  Also, I had handed out raw carrots as a snack while I was cooking which gave me 5 minutes of peace.

Dinner at Chez Dog

Actually “Side Dish at Chez Dog” would be more appropriate.  I boiled a pot full of russet potatoes and then mashed them up with some leftovers from the fridge:  half a carton of sour cream, chicken broth and minced greens.  The dogs enjoyed their mashed potatoes although Charlie kept looking at me while smacking his lips like, “Why’d you give me something so sticky?”  I made a veggie omelette to go with the mashed potatoes.

Reminder:  If you feed your pet some amount of home prepared food (cooked, raw, whatever) and would like to share your recipes and/or experiences, please submit your story on or before July 9.

Seeking Stories from Owners Who Feed Homemade

I had an idea for a collaborative post among readers who feed their pets either a partially or entirely home prepared diet.  I thought it would be fun and interesting to put together a collection of anecdotes and recipes and post them on the blog.

If you would like to contribute:

  • E-mail  (eiderdown–at–yesbiscuit–dot–com) your submission regarding how you feed your pet(s).  You can be as brief or as detailed as you like.  (List of possible topics below.)
  • Photographs are welcome but not required.  Photos may be of pets or food (or both!)
  • Sign your name at the end of your submission exactly how you’d like it to appear in the post.  Real name not required.
  • I will collect submissions until July 9 and, assuming I get any, will publish the post shortly thereafter.

Suggested topics:

  • What kind of pet(s) do you have?
  • What foods do you feed?
  • Why did you decide to include homemade foods in your pet’s diet?
  • How long have you been feeding this way?
  • Have you noticed any benefits to feeding fresh foods?
  • Recipes (for either meals or treats)

Recipe: Spanish Rice

I made spanish rice for the humans recently and had some leftover veggies so decided to make a modified version for the dogs to use up those leftover bits.  Rather than chop up ingredients by hand, I decided to use the food processor for the dog version.  I tossed in bell peppers – red, orange and yellow, parsley and a carrot (because all dogs like carrots, don’t they?).  Then I poured the chopped veggies into a warm skillet that I’d doused with olive oil.

Veggies in olive oil

Once I got those going, I added a heaping cup of rice and sauteed that for a few minutes.

Rice being sauteed with the vegetables

Then I added about 3 cups of water, covered the skillet and simmered for 15 minutes or so.  I added a little more water after the dish was done and shut off the heat, leaving the lid on for some additional cooking (I like to overcook rice a little for the dogs).

Voila!

Spanish rice

If desired, you could melt shredded cheese on top of the hot spanish rice.  I served mine with eggs.

Frozen Dog Treats

The temperature is in the triple digits again today (NOT a dry heat).  I’ve been making various frozen treats for the dogs including:

yogurt, peanut butter & honey

strawberry yogurt (pre-mixed in the carton)

yogurt and frozen fruit

fruit juice

I usually use an ice cube tray to make the treats but sometimes use small paper cups.  I just peel off the paper before handing them out.

Three Veterinary Views on Non-Meat Pet Diets

Since this subject has come up in the comments recently, and since I’m a food wonk (and a vegetarian, of sorts), I wanted to gather some info from my bookshelf on the subject of vegetarian and vegan diets for pets.

The first important point is to make distinctions between the two as some people use them interchangeably when they are actually two different diet plans.  That said, I’m giving my own simplified definitions here (with a Wiki link!) based on my understanding of the most widely accepted terms.

A vegetarian pet diet would include plants and foods derived from plants (e.g. rice, tofu) as well as some foods from animals (e.g. eggs, yogurt).  It would specifically exclude foods derived from slaughtered animals such as meat and bones.

A vegan pet diet would be plants only – all foods derived from animals would be excluded.

I’m using 3 pet diet books written by veterinarians for this post:

Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets by Donald R. Strombeck, DVM, PhD

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, PhD & Susan Hubble Pitcairn

The Nature of Animal Healing by Martin Goldstein, DVM

Dr. Strombeck

Page 133:

Dogs and cats are not anatomically and physiologically designed to be vegetarians.  Cereals are also not nutritionally adequate because they do not satisfy some essential amino acid requirements.  Thus, dogs and cats are not designed to consume vegetable or cereal products as the most significant parts of their diets.

I’m guessing here that Dr. Strombeck is possibly against vegan pet diets even though he used the word vegetarian.  The reason I make this guess is because he does provide a number of vegetarian recipes for pets in the book and in fact states on page 90:

Completely balanced vegetarian diets can be fed to dogs without fear of causing any nutritional deficiency.

He goes on to note that vitamin B12 is found only in foods from animal sources and must be added weekly to a vegetarian dog diet.  I did not find any references specifically to a vegan pet diet in the book.

Regarding cats, page 112:

[Cats] have some unique nutritional needs that a strictly vegetarian diet cannot satisfy.  […]  If a cat is fed a vegetarian diet appropriate for human beings, it is likely that signs of a nutrient deficiency will eventually develop.

Dr. Pitcairn

In summary, Dr. Pitcairn is a no on vegan dog diets and a NO on vegan cat diets.

Page 76:

My observation is that problems arise mostly when owners exclude all animal foods, including milk products and eggs, from their pets’ diets.

Regarding vegetarian dog diets, he is a yes – while cautioning that you must be careful with the nutrients – but no for vegetarian cat diets.  He does encourage reducing the meat in pet diets as a generally good thing to do.  Besides the global, ethical and environmental considerations about feeding pets diets that are high in meat, he adds on page 71:

Our primary health concern about feeding meat […] is that meat is now the most polluted food source on the market.

Dr. Goldstein

Dr. Goldstein states on page 59 that he is a vegetarian himself but believes that dogs and cats need meat in their diets:

Specifically, they need more protein and calcium than a vegetarian diet can provide – which is also to say more protein and calcium than humans need.

He goes on to relate the story of a dog on a vegan diet who came to him in very ill health.  He tested her blood and found that her immune system was draining protein from her muscles.  She died very shortly after her visit.

This post is intended merely to share 3 individual opinions on meatless pet diets.  It is not presented as the final word on the subject by any means.  If you have an opinion on, or experience with, feeding a meatless (or even reduced meat) pet diet, please share in the comments.

I am hoping one day to keep some egg laying chickens as pets.  I’d like to rely on them to supply a significant (but not exclusive) protein source for my dogs.  I like the idea of knowing for certain that the eggs I’m feeding came from well cared for hens and that they are fresh.

Treats on the Internets

Food Geek Edition:

The New York Times has a good article called The Truth about Cat and Dog Food:

[…]I wonder whether people who invest in high-end pet foods are getting their money’s worth. Are their pets really healthier and happier? Do they live longer? And are these foods any better than the generic versions sold in supermarkets and big-box stores?

Terrierman has posted a view on the above article.

The NYT piece contains an interview with food expert Marion Nestle, as does this piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

A Veterinarian links the 2007 pet food recall to food safety issues which affect us all

FDA launches a pilot program for GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) “substances” in animal food.  Let me guess, that would include everything on the planet?

Bravo, a company which sells raw pet food, is moving its production of beef and lamb formulas from the U.S. to New Zealand.  Bravo had previously sourced some lamb and beef parts from New Zealand but did the manufacturing of the product in the States.  One reason for the switch:

Sourcing and manufacturing the products in New Zealand enables Bravo to use the entire carcass and reduce the number of steps involved in the production process, thus resulting in better quality products[…]

I always like the idea of using an entire carcass of a food animal.  I hate to think that anything edible or usable is wasted.

A cooked, homemade dog food recipe I came across

How does this vid compare with feeding time at your house?

Dinner at Chez Dog

Puffins cereal is on clearance at my local grocery store.  I hope they’re not discontinuing it and that it was only on clearance because the expiration date is within a few weeks.  At any rate, I am always looking for alternatives to slaving over a hot stove once the heat and humidity hit Africa levels.  So I scooped up a couple boxes of Puffins and will be feeding that to the dogs with some homemade yogurt and applesauce from a jar.  (I did have to cook the milk last week to make the yogurt but that was worth it to make 4 quarts of yogurt.)

Puffins – at least this variety – is a corn based cereal and I know some people don’t like to feed corn to their dogs.  Mine have never had a problem with it and in cold weather, I make corn bread to share with the dogs quite often.  (I really prefer it warm and fresh out the oven so the dogs are a handy disposal for all that “cold” corn bread later on.)  So I get today off from cooking.  Anyone else have any no (or low) cook dog dinners to share?