by Jenny Brown
Please note: I am not a veterinarian or a nutritionist and am not qualified to give advise regarding your pet’s medical or nutritional needs. Thank you for understanding!
When we adopted our dog, Brewster, a German Shepard mix (of which we will never know for sure of what), he sneezed often and shed like crazy. Being a firm believer that the food you eat affects you for better or worse, I started with the dog food as a potential cause of these problems.
I began researching what ingredients to look for in rating quality dry dog food. My criteria became this: Meat must be the first ingredient; if it said corn anywhere in the ingredients, especially near the top, I ran the other direction. I knew corn was not only a cheap GMO filler in dog food but the most likely ingredient to cause allergies and stomach issues. I tried a few different brands that contained higher quality ingredients and were supposedly hypoallergenic, but Brewster continued to sneeze and shed hair like Linus’ blanket in ‘Peanuts’ sheds dirt.
I didn’t try every brand. There still might be one out there that works but an $80. a month dog food bill was out of the question.
I began to think realistically about this… what would my skin and hair look like if all the food I ate was processed and dried? The thought of canned dog food crossed my mind and was quickly dismissed. I wasn’t going to pay double for what was really just reconstituted dry dog food and I didn’t think I could bear the smell of that stuff every day. This finally led me to research a raw food diet.
Since we raise grass-fed beef cattle, a raw food diet for our dog fit very nicely into our lifestyle. I asked our butcher to grind all the tongue and the organ meats (except the liver – they do not like to grind livers because it makes an incredibly juicy mess – I have to chop the liver myself). We also had some of the fat and the lower cuts of meat ground. My recipe proportions were about 60% muscle meat, organ meat, and fat, 20% vegetables such as cooked grated carrots, squash, or pumpkin, and 20% either cooked potato, whole-grain brown rice, or millet. I added a few needed supplements, mixed it all up in a big tub, and put individual servings into Ziploc sandwich bags.
I left a few in the fridge and put the remainder of the packages in the freezer and defrosted a few days-worth at a time when needed. Right before serving, I stirred in a raw egg which raised the protein level a little higher and gave Brewster’s coat extra shine.
Within only a day of this dietary switch, the sneezing stopped. In one week, the shedding problem decreased dramatically, dog breath improved, the smelly dog farts ceased, and his poop wasn’t as offensive smelling and it biodegraded quickly. Go figure.
Raw dog food mixture. Not what I would call ‘pretty’ but extremely healthy. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have much of an odor…it’s all fresh ingredients. The white stuff is ground fat done by our butcher (My husband thought it looked like maggots. My kids thought spaghetti sauce with small noodles).
Bonus tip: If sending boys to help you transfer the packages to the freezer, inform them that the packages must be stacked neatly before they freeze. ‘Put in the freezer’ does not mean ‘toss in the freezer’.
This diet works great during butcher season but unfortunately it doesn’t last the entire year. I had to come up with another solution until the next butchering.
Since I didn’t have meat from our own animals available anymore and my budget doesn’t allow for organically raised meat bought elsewhere for dog food, I had to settle for store bought hamburger the rest of the year. Sometimes being a purest is just not affordable and you do the best you can. I knew it was still better than whatever ‘meat’ is in commercial dog food.
Regardless how hard of an iron gut dogs supposedly have (which in reality is a high acidic level), I was not comfortable feeding the store-bought meat raw; it had to be cooked. I began hunting for homemade dog food recipes. After playing around with several different ones and adjusting the ingredients to fit my standards and meet the correct percentages of protein/vegetable/grain, I came up with my own ‘meatloaf’ recipe for dogs. The protein in the meatloaf is mostly meat but is also in the form of beans and eggs to help reduce the cost.
A few notes on feeding grain to dogs:
Many raw food advocates are against feeding dogs grain and think that all grains should be completely eliminated from their diet. I think they have good evidence that supports that grains were not a part of a dogs primitive diet but there is disagreement on the issue of whether some whole grains are a problem for dogs. Many of the higher quality dog foods contain a percentage of whole brown rice or potato.
We don’t feed grain to our cattle, why would we feed it to our dog?
For comparative purposes, let me first give you a picture of how livestock animals process their food:
Livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and goats are ruminants. A ruminant is an animal with four compartments in their stomach for digesting feed. Their digestive systems work like a fermentation vat and have a proper balance of microbes to break down and digest roughage such as grass, hay, and tree leaves. Adding grain into the mix (which is more acidic than roughage) causes imbalance and upset in the digestive system’s micro-organisms as they try to adjust to a more acidic feed. This can cause serious gas problems and reduce the animal’s over-all health. These animals are not made to switch back and forth from roughage to grain (One exception: a steady combination, gradually introduced, is necessary for lactating dairy livestock, especially goats).
Dogs, on the other hand, have a simple stomach, similar in some ways to humans but with some huge differences in chemistry. A dog’s digestive system has a highly acidic environment for breaking down proteins. Although dogs are carnivores, they are not solely dependent on protein for their food, but it is the most important part of their diet.
A dog that is fed a high grain-based dog food is more likely to have health issues and be a problematic dog. Dog’s will dig through garbage and tear up a house in search of protein if the diet lacks it. Dogs also do not have the enzyme in their saliva like we do which begins to break down starchy foods in the mouth. The result is that the starch sticks to their teeth and causes tartar and plaque build-up which, if fed too much grain, could lead to gum disease. Also, the digestive tract of a dog is short, and is not designed for processing large quantities of grain, it will just pass through the dog’s system, leaving you with “petrified logs” on your lawn. But, because of the higher acid levels in the dogs stomach, it is able to break down and utilize some grain.
I have chosen to include a percentage of whole grains in my dogs diet. My dog is very healthy and there have been no signs of allergies or any other problems from the low percentage of whole grains he is given. You’ve got to find a healthy balance that works for your dog and for you. Much of my reason for keeping the whole grains in the recipe is cost. Meat is the most expensive ingredient. If I felt whole grains was a detriment to my dog’s health, I would change it.
Portion sizes and a few other ‘tid-bits’
As far as how much to feed your dog, I suggest starting with an amount that is recommended for the weight/activity level of your dog and watching to see if your dog maintains a healthy weight. I had to cut back a little from what was recommended for my dog’s weight because he started gaining a few waist sizes.
We feed our dog once a day at our dinner time. Food stays in the dog’s stomach for a longer period of time than your stomach would keep food. This allows the acids time to break down meat proteins, fat, and bone. This is why most dogs do fine being fed only once a day.
Unless your dog has better self-control than my dog, basing an appropriate serving size by how much a dog is willing to eat doesn’t work. Brewster is not what I would call “in tune with his body.” It’s definitely quantity over quality for him.
One HUGE bonus to this diet, whether I’m feeding raw food or the meatloaf recipe, is that I rarely ever have to scoop poop in my yard; it breaks down very quickly. One good rain and it’s part of the earth.
I have adjusted my recipe slightly from batch to batch depending on what and how much of the ingredients I have on hand. The most important rule is that the percentage of protein does not drop below 60%. The higher the protein, the better. If you find that your dog is sensitive to grains, just as some humans are, the amount can be reduced or even even eliminated but it won’t likely hold together as well in a loaf form.
One more note: When switching from the raw food to the meatloaf, I have never had to ‘slowly introduce’ the change in food. There have never been any adjustment issues. With dry dog food, it was a different story. This is the case with my dog though; your dog may react differently.
Jenny’s Homemade Dog Food Recipe
This recipe will last about 1 month for one large dog. I like to make a big batch so I only have to make it monthly. It’s a bit of a project so set aside a morning or an afternoon to do this. If you do not have enough bread pans or don’t have the freezer room, you can cut the recipe in half or even quarter it. I use two large bread bowls for mixing.
In a big container or 2 large bread bowls, combine:
10# raw hamburger
12 c pureed, cooked beans (I usually use pinto or red beans)
1 dozen eggs
2c wheat germ
4c rolled oats (finely chopped in a food processor)
8c cooked brown rice, cooked millet, or cooked and mashed potatoes
8c liquid (either water, milk, yogurt, whey, or stock – can be a mixture)
4c cooked pureed vegetables (preferably squash, pumpkin, or grated carrots)
6 T. garlic powder (acts as a natural internal parasite deterrent)
1 T. salt substitute – such as ‘No Salt’ (potassium chloride – a needed form of potassium)
12 T. egg shell powder – a necessary source of calcium(I save my egg shells by rinsing them out immediately and letting them dry on a baking sheet with sides. When I have saved a large amount, I grind them into a powder in my coffee grinder.)
6 T. kelp granules and any other desired supplements
Pre-cook beans and rice, millet, or potatoes, and the vegetables ahead of time. I like to work on this the week before I’m ready to make the recipe and just put them in the freezer until it’s time (except potatoes which do not freeze well.)
Mix all ingredients with hands in two large bowls or a large container.
Divide mixture evenly into 12 bread pans
Bake at 350° for 1 hour.
Let cool completely. Remove from pan and cut into desired serving size slices.
Place individual servings in Ziploc sandwich bags and pack as many as will fit neatly into gallon Ziplocs for storing easily in your freezer.