The other week I took my dog to the vet for her annual checkup. She was pronounced in excellent health: great coat, excellent teeth, nothing wrong with her at all. Then I disclosed that I make all of her food from scratch, its all raw, and give her raw (frozen) marrow bones. Upon hearing this, she looked concerned she said, “You may not be giving her everything she needs and terms of vitamins and minerals.”
I responded with “Didn’t you just say this dog was in perfect health?” to which she replied “You never know. Commercial dog food is formulated so that that stuff is all taken care of”. It was better not to engage. I was not going to see her for a year. Needless to say I have not taken her advice to give extra vitamin supplements and dog is still in excellent health.
Some philosophical considerations
I want to go back a little bit and explain how I arrived at the diet that I’m giving my dog. It started with our last pooch who in her dying days, gradually gave up on eating.In response to that I started giving her offering her better and better food. This briefly worked but ultimately it was her time to go.
This started me thinking about what is appropriate for the family pet in this day and age. We expect our pets to be cheaper to feed than we ourselves are, yet so often people agonize about the minutiae of their pet’s diet in a way they don’t about their own. I have a feeling they have been beguiled by the pet food industry.
So one has to ask: Is the pet a member of your family? If the answer is “yes” then the next questions are:
- What entitlements around food does this involve?
- Does one apply the same level of food care to your pet as you would to the members of your family?
- What if anything should be the per person cost differential?
While these are questions someone contemplating this should answer, my answers were essentially that the family dog is entitled to the same as the humans, and that the cost should really be less.
What to feed
I did some research on the net not a lot but enough to find out what ratios people tended to do with their pets and I arrived at a 1:1:1 carbs/meat/vegs ratio. I talked this over with another vet way back when when I was first beginning it and he suggested that I try a 20:40:40 ratio (meat:carbs:vegs) and I use this ratio currently. I did go through some shifts in how I prepare it, however, and hopefully my experimentations will save others some trouble.
I began by making a rich vegetable soup using marrow bones. This was, frankly, time and electricity consuming. One day, I decided to grate raw vegetables instead. The result? a perkier dog. I’ve never looked back on that one.
I also initially cooked the meat. That was my vet’s idea as he said you can never tell where its come from and what its been through, so its safer to cook it. However, I do know where my meat comes from. I am very fortunate to have a butcher up in Grey County (Ontario) where I go frequently. Country Meadow Meats goes hoof to table: they are a beef and lamb farm that butchers their own grass raised, antibiotic free, animals. Often I even know when the animal I’m buying from was butchered. Following the success of the raw vegetables, I decided to try raw meat as well – and again noticed a slight but none the less discernable rise in energy. She’s really as energetic as one could possibly wish a lab to be.
For carbs, its whatever is going, from rice, to homemade bread. I always have a jar of organic brown rice on the go in the fridge, be it for humans or dogs.
Where’s the beef?
My monthly meat order costs me about $50-60. It consists of a beef tongue and heart, 1kilo of liver, and about 2.5kilos of beef trim. There’s lots of organ meat in that, as well as muscle and fat.
Our pooch is a black lab weighing about 30kilos. In terms of quantities, I settled on 100 grams of meat 200 grams of vegetables and 200 grams of rice per meal, twice day. This seems right: she’s staying on her her weight, is looking wonderful and healthy.
Time commitments in food prep
It is true that scooping out a cup of kibble is fast. Doing what I am doing is slower. I would also argue that having fewer vet appointments over her life from a more natural and healthier diet more than makes up for the time spent in the prep. The meat prep takes a little over an hour and a half a month, and you need a meat grinder. The vegetables take about 15 minutes a week, using a large food processor with a grating wheel. The rice likewise takes about 15 minutes a week of your actual time.
Organic or not?
I would absolutely recommend using organic meat, vegetables and grains. You do not want your pet ingesting the various hormones and antibiotics found as a result of large agri business food lot meat processing. You do not want spray residue hiding in the leaves of a cabbage, and since you are not washing your veggies, you do not want any insecticide or hormonal residue on any of your other vegetables. In the case of meat , this is where costs can rise, and why its important to make a great relationship with your butcher. Much of the organ meat is a lot cheaper than even the cheaper cuts, and you want to get the absolute cheapest cut you can. My request is usually for ‘trim’ or else ‘what you would usually use to make sausages or patties’.
Still interested in reading on? Lets get to recipes.
- Weigh the meat
- Divide the weight by 60 to get the amount of salt to add. (Use grams. Its easier!)
- Cut the meat into chunks that will go through your meat grinder, and sprinkle the salt over it. Mix it up –
- Portion the meat into sufficient quantities for one day each. I’ve found it most efficient to make them into large sausages wrapped in wax paper. These are easily cut in half, and you can then easily tell how much supply you have left. Most of this goes into the freezer, and is taken out a day or two before consumption.
- The grinder I use is a Cuisinart home grinder. Its not the best out there, but for my needs its fine.
Make 3 cups dry (add 6 cups of water) organic brown rice, with a pinch of salt in it.
There’s no getting around it. Dogs don’t like veggies. A carrot may look initially bone like and interesting, but in the end, its not. So you do need to make it so that the vegetables mixed in with the carbs and meat make the whole affair palatable to a hungry pooch. I weigh out 2 kilos of what I have: carrots, cabbage, broccoli ends, kale stems – anything that has good roughage and constitutes a decent variety. There is no need to peel or wash them. (just think of what goes in their mouths on a daily basis) I gradually mix in 40g (i.e.2%) of salt to help the taste along. Having a good sized food processor with a grating blade is essential. This mix lasts about 5 days and takes about 15 minutes to put together.
I frequently give the dog leftovers as part of her dinner (but always in her bowl, always as part of her regular dinner). These are inevitably things that are still fine to eat, but its clear none of the humans will consume them on short order. You could say that the dog is like the first order of composting. So lets say I have a grain casserole that is in this category. I would weigh it into the dog’s dish, and then add rice until the overall carb complement is at 200g. Or lets say that the leftover is a mix of grains and vegetables. Same idea: weigh it, then add in more or less even amounts of the slaw and rice until it is 400g.
Similarily with meat: Lets say you are preparing a chicken soup with bones from the roast. There’s inevitably all kinds of little bits of meat left from a roast chicken, both before and after the soup. I package it all in 100g packages and put it in with the rest of the dog food. I tend to mix it with the raw beef though as my sense is that once it has become soup much of its nutrition is lost.
Marrow bones are an equally important part of the equation. Not only are they going to be your doggie’s favorite chew toy, they are wonderful for their teeth and are a great source of essential minerals and nutrients. As our vet noted, her teeth were perfect after a year of raw marrow bones. I understand the issue of raw or cooked is contentious, as with the meat. I would argue that this is what they would be doing naturally, and as long as you trust your butcher and know their practices, raw will ultimately be better.
Consider it at least
So there you have it. Although it takes more time than your kibble, I’d argue that by doing this you will know exactly what goes into its food, and be assured that it is getting the best organic, naturally prepared food you can possibly give, for about the same cost as cheap kibble. Once you get into the rhythm of it, and can plan ahead, it becomes a part of your regular routine. You also won’t be part of that enormous pet industry that is out there.
Most importantly, and based solely on my own empirical evidence, you will have a considerably healthier and content best friend.