Home cooking for our dog: What we’ve tried + resources

Yesterday I started out explaining why we’re home cooking for our dog. In short: his health was a mess. We’ve been at it for a while now, mostly experimenting, but we’ve seen incredible results already.

Home cooking for your dog: Ingredients and resources

The first thing we did was to throw out all our previous “insights” into what he could and couldn’t eat. We had been working on one thing, one issue, one symptom at a time for so long that we no longer felt confident that any of our notions were correct. I pulled a couple dog cookbooks off the shelf and flipped through. The pattern that emerged was, essentially, mixing a meat protein source, starchy stuff (like sweet potatoes), fruits and veggies, grains, and supplements. I found this article from Whole Dog Journal to be useful in weighing ingredient possibilities, especially this:

It’s important that the diet you feed your dog is “complete and balanced,” meaning it meets all of your dog’s nutritional needs. It is not important, however, that every meal be complete and balanced, unless you feed the same meal every day with little or no variation. Home-prepared diets that include a wide variety of foods fed at different meals rely on balance over time, not at every meal. Similar to the way humans eat, as long as your dog gets everything he needs spread out over each week or two, his diet will be complete and balanced.

Our next step was to start testing ingredients to see what he tolerated. We started with a base of quinoa and mixed vegetables, which we steamed, because we had fed those to him in the past with no reactions, then we futzed with the proteins. Keeping the base the same, we tested tuna, pork, and lamb. All those were good, so we added in some whole wheat pasta, then varied the vegetables. Who knew that Cooper loved Brussels sprouts so much! We then added steamed spinach to the base, which went well, then we tried steamed kale, which did NOT go well. In fact, the kale experiment was the first time in nearly three weeks that he had diarrhea. So, kale is off our list! He’s also good on sweet potatoes and white rice. Next up: brown rice and squash. We’re also going to try turkey and salmon in the next round of proteins. As for ingredient testing, this chart has been incredibly useful.

But here’s our key: We are only changing ONE ingredient at a time. We isolated a few things that we could count on and only make one change at a time. Yes, it’s making this process take forever (we need to cook a new batch of food nearly every day), but it’s helping us isolate what works and what doesn’t.

While we’ve been working through our ingredients list, I also downloaded this PDF guide from The National Academies that details the minimum daily requirements for vitamins and minerals. I know that ultimately he will get much of his requirements from his food, but while we’re testing and to be extra safe, I wanted to get him on supplements that would get him to his daily minimum. Using the guide, I downloaded the labels for a handful of supplements. I’d be happy to share my comparisons with you if you’re interested, but after a lot of number crunching, we decided on these vitamins with this calcium supplement. Combined, the two get him almost to the full daily requirements outlined in the guide. He also gets a scoop of pumpkin with breakfast and a scoop of coconut oil with dinner.

My ultimate goal is to nail down a few proteins, a variety of fruits and vegetables, some of the carbs, and a couple grains… then go to Sam’s Club and buy them in bulk. Ideally, I’d like a freezer stocked with daily portions so that we aren’t cooking every day, but I’m not willing to do that until we have a solid rotation of possibilities. On Facebook, Lisa suggested preparing batches in the Crock Pot (genius!!) and on yesterday’s post, Pamela recommended Dr. Pitcairn’s book (which I actually have), so I’ll be doing a bit more tweaking before that stage.

I read tons more, in addition to talking to our vet, but the resources I’ve linked here are the ones I found most useful.

Preliminary results: His stomach is the best it’s ever been. Ever. In four years. His coat is shiny, and his eyes look clearer. I think he seems happier, too, but John says we can’t quantify that. (But, trust me. He seems happier. ;) )

So, there you have it! I’ll let you know how everything progresses, but thank you to everyone who shared your experiences yesterday. So helpful! If you have any more questions or comments or have a favorite recipe, please do share in the comments!

Our next adventure: Home cooking for Cooper

Let me start by saying: I am not a vet. I am not a nutritionist. My background qualifies me to correct grammar. That’s about it.

I am, however, an obsessive researcher, and I’m neurotic about solving problems. I’ve gotten many messages about home cooking for Cooper since I mentioned it a few weeks ago. I’ll try to address them the best I can, but if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments!

If you’re interested in home cooking for your dog, I’m going to share our journey over a few posts. Today is all about how we got started.

Home cooking for your dog

Cooper suffers from a range of allergies and intolerances. His fur has fallen out. He’s broken out into pimples, and he’s developed hives. He’s had head tremors. And he’s had constant diarrhea (like, five or six days a week) that had recently become bloody. Over four years, we spoke with several vets and strove to manage or treat each symptom as it arose. We put him on limited ingredient and prescription diets, which didn’t work. We did an elimination diet, which showed us that he couldn’t have chicken (the main ingredient in those prescription diets…) or beef. After we eliminated those proteins, we settled on fish as his main protein and chalked up the rest of his symptoms to seasonal allergies.

I do think the drastic change in climate – from Indiana to Louisiana to Indiana again – messed with his system, too, because the bloody stools started only after we got back. So, we talked to our vet, and she suggested that he had maybe developed an intolerance to fish. We switched him to lamb. He did okay for a couple days, then back to an upset stomach. Then pork. Same thing. Meanwhile, we had been noticing that his training treats weren’t working for his stomach either. Cooper goes to doggy daycare on Mondays, and one Monday a few weeks ago, they had a note for us at pickup: Cooper has bloody stool.

That was the last straw for us.

We looked at his ream of vet records tracking four years of symptoms. We looked at all the foods he could no longer eat, including treats. Looking at all the data at once, I started to suspect that it isn’t one particular thing that upsets his system, but rather processed food in general or some sort of additive that’s aggravating his system. This is sort of happening in human health right now with all the developing digestive disorders that might be linked to GMOs and processed food. It seemed likely that could be the case for Coop, too.

Once we came to that realization/decision, we immediately stopped feeding him kibble and started cooking his meals. (There are a range of reasons we’re not considering raw an option, so this has been the perfect solution for us so far!)

For the first couple days, we were winging it, then I dove into the research, and we took him in to chat with his vet. We have a rough outline of a plan that we’re refining. This is getting pretty long already – thanks for sticking with me this far! – so tomorrow I’ll share what we’re feeding, including treats and supplements, plus some helpful resources!

Have you tried home cooking for your dog? Any favorite resources or recipes? I’ll have more to share in the coming days, but I’d love to hear your experiences or your questions in the comments!

Senior dog wellness in winter weather #PetHealthAwareness

When I was a girl, around this time of year, I used to go Christmas shopping and to lunch with my mom and grandmother. Everywhere we went would be over-zealously heated to compensate for the frigid, icy outside temps. I wore layers so that, when we stepped into the mall, I could take off a sweater to feel more comfortable. My grandmother, too, wore layers, but even in the heated shops, she was adding. A cardigan over her sweater, a scarf tied tighter around her neck, her gloves on until the food came. I remarked on this to my mom, and she said, “Well, as you get older, it’s hard to stay warm.”

Over the years I had forgotten about that conversation until recently. Now, I realize, that this applies to our aging dogs.

Senior Dog Wellness in Winter #PetHealthAwareness

Emmett used to love the winter. This was long before Cooper, but he and Lucas would romp in the snow, tackle each other, and chase a bright red rubber ball through the drifts in our backyard. After an outdoor play session, they would curl up in front of the fireplace together and bake themselves warm.

At some point in the last couple years, that’s changed for Emmett. Now, he runs outside, does his business, and runs back in as fast as possible. Plus, as his joints have gotten stiffer over the years, I imagine his body feels the cold a lot more forcefully than it has in the past. His tolerance for winter has declined significantly, so we’ve found ways to accommodate him.

If you have an aging pup, there are a five things you can do to make the winter season more comfortable.

  1. Buy or make a jacket for your pup. Emmett has two, the fleece shown above and a water-proof version, which can be layered. We don’t usually put his coat on for a backyard potty break (unless it’s sub-zero), but for walks, it’s crucial.
  2. Salt and chemical de-icers are horrible for our dogs’ feet anyway, but for older dogs who might have a tougher time slipping and sliding on icy surfaces, boots are a must. They can be insulated or a simple rubber boot (like Pawz), but the goal is to provide your senior with some traction.
  3. Take shorter walks and don’t leave your senior outside for any longer than he wants to be out.
  4. Provide plenty of warm spots: a dog bed by the fire, a heated blanket on the sofa, a pile of warm knits (bonus if they’re fresh from the dryer) on a pillow for nestling.
  5. Talk to your vet about adding supplements that can help alleviate wintertime joint stiffness or, if necessary, your vet can help you choose a medication to manage joint pain.

And, of course, for the benefit of both you and your senior pup, spend as much time snuggling this winter as possible!

How does your dog do in the wintertime? Have you taken any steps – above or otherwise – to mitigate cold weather discomfort? 

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by BlogPaws. I am being compensated to support Pet Health Awareness Month with an educational post, but OMD! only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. BlogPaws is not responsible for the content of this article.

A runner’s physique: Tips for dealing with joint problems in dogs

Several years ago, we had an incredible vet who worked with us to get to the root of Lucas’ limping. After years of on-and-off problems, he continued to limp in the cold winter months and after activities like hiking or, even worse, a day at doggy daycare. We had him on a joint supplement but hadn’t yet arrived at the root of the problem.

After a series of tests and x-rays, we discovered that, at some point during his puppyhood, he had sustained a trauma (like, getting hit by a car) that was left untreated. As a result, his pelvic bone grew too narrowly to support his big frame. So, while the joint supplements helped – and a doggy aspirin and heating pad on bad days – there wasn’t much to do to alleviate his pain.

Except.

Our wonderful vet recommended that we drop weight off of him. He wasn’t overweight, but she said to think of a runner’s physique: lean, trim, nothing extra. Lowering his weight would decrease the strain on his hips and too-small pelvis. We needed to get him lean. Here he was in July 2009:

Lucas in July 2009: Tips for dealing with joint problems in dogs

Here he is today:

Lucas in October 2014

He’s definitely dropped a bit of weight, though not that much – only a few pounds – which you can see mostly behind his ribs. But that lighter load has helped immensely.

We’ve kept up with supplements, too. He’s been taking DGP for a few months now and hasn’t needed any extra aspirin after a day at doggy daycare. The supplements have become as much a part of his daily routine as an afternoon walk. It’s just part of overall health and maintenance. With Lucas, especially, I worry a lot about aging, so we’re trying to do what we can now while he’s still young (although… he’s younger at heart than in reality, but don’t tell him that).

Joint problems in dogs range from Lukey’s oddity to things like hip dysplasia, nutritional deficiencies, and dozens of other possibilities. If you suspect there’s something going on with your dog’s joints, definitely get a full work-up at the vet. I’d encourage x-rays because it wasn’t until our vet here in Bloomington that a set was ordered, thus getting us to the root of the problem. (His DC vet felt that his limp was likely because he had been severely malnourished, and he would grow out of it. He didn’t.) Talk to your vet about supplements, too. DGP has been great for Lucas, and we intend to keep him on it.

We’ve gotten a few comments here and there – most recently from my mom! – about Lucas looking way too skinny. He definitely is thin, thinner than most shepherd mixes his age. However, it’s kept the pressure off those delicate joints, so as long as he’s healthy – eating like a pig and exercising like a champ – we’ll strive to keep his runner’s physique.

Do you deal with joint issues with your dog? What steps have you taken to alleviate any issues? Any preventative measures?

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Disclaimer: We were not compensated for this post, though DGP did provide Lucas with samples of the product to see if it would work for him. It did. All these opinions are mine, all mine!

An eye-opening visit to the UT vet school

One of the best parts of the PetSafe summit was our afternoon at the UT vet school. There were three BIG take-aways for me that I want to share here.

A quick note: While there were animals all over the place, we weren’t allowed to share pictures. Our guide explained their policies as “HIPAA for animals” so I took what I could. You’ll just have to imagine the animals that were there. (Including a TIGER! Having SURGERY! Which I SAW!!! I have the pics on my phone if our paths ever cross…)

Take-away one: We need a better understanding of the root cause of animal behavior. That means scientific inquiry, rather than just theory.

At veterinary schools around the country, behavior is diminished in importance compared to other specialties. The reason? According to Dr. Julie Albright, the PetSafe Chair in Small Animal Behavioral Research, it just doesn’t bring in the money that other areas – like oncology – do. At UT, PetSafe pays for a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to hold a post at the school where she sees patients, consults on behavior issues, and conducts research. This is huge since there are so few veterinary behaviorists around the country, and PetSafe is ensuring UT keeps one in their school. We spent some time chatting with her and learned, not surprisingly, that her most common dog cases are aggression (cats are inappropriate elimination). But she made the fascinating point that there still isn’t a genuine understanding of the causes of aggressive behavior – there’s a lot of theory, but the data isn’t there. Her research is looking at play behavior among puppies, mapping the differences between breeds and changes in play as the puppies develop.

Take-away two: The care available to our animals is far more sophisticated than I ever imagined.

And it’s such an uplifting demonstration of the compassion and love we have for the animals in our lives. I was amazed at the resources they have, like physical rehabilitation and sports medicine to stem cell therapy and emergency care. They have two hyperbaric chambers – one for small animals, which was even used on a guinea pig who had smoke inhalation, and one for horses/large animals. Here’s the small animal one:

Hyperbaric chamber at UT vet school
They’re able to treat avian and exotic animals all the way up to that tiger mentioned above. The Equine Performance and Rehabilitation Center was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. There was an underwater treadmill designed exclusively for horses.

Underwater treadmill for horses

State-of-the-art equipment and procedures are available for every type of animal you can think of. The entire place blew me away, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy thinking about all the attention and care our beloved animals are receiving. They literally have the benefit of every type of treatment under the sun. (Like, the CT machine there was IDENTICAL to the one at my oncologist’s office!)

Take-away three: Veterinary social work is an important emerging field. We need more of it.

There aren’t a lot of these programs. Yet. But they play such a critical and often overlooked role in veterinary medicine: caring for the people. We happened to be at UT shortly after Dr. Sophia Yin’s tragic suicide, and there was a somber mood as they spoke to us about this program. But there was a light, too. These social workers are specializing in the veterinary field so that they’re able to support vets. At UT, they’re offering courses on wellness and self-care, suicide prevention, and more for the veterinarians. But they also support the patients. They help upset or confused clients communicate with the medical stuff. They arrange community resources and pet loss support groups. In the hospital, they provide emotional support to patients who have to make difficult decisions and are available to be present during euthanasia. They provide grief counseling. And so much more. Can you even dream of a better service to be offered in a veterinary hospital? And it makes so much sense, right? We have those services in human hospitals across the country. This, to me, is a natural and much needed extension of that, and I can only hope that this field grows rapidly! So much warm-fuzzy here, too!

Overall, it was an amazing visit. I learned so much, and I was inspired to see how perfectly the school combines compassionate care with technology.

(Oh, incidentally: We heard a presentation from a veterinary nutritionist. I think Cooper needs one of those. I’m going to see if we can get some sort of referral at his next appointment…)