Since I wrote the first post about cooking for Cooper, I’ve gotten a ton of brilliant questions. I spent some time combing through the comments of the first, second, and third posts, and I decided to tackle the top 5 FAQs about home cooking for your dog. If you have more, please ask away in the comments, and I will happily answer them!
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Before I get into the nitty-gritty, a disclaimer: I am not a vet. I am not a nutritionist or a chef or anything that certifies me to give advice on this topic. All I’m sharing is what we did and what our experience has been. Yours may be completely different (and, if so, share yours in the comments, pretty please, so we can all learn even more). This post is for informational purposes only.
That said, let’s dive in, shall we!
Question 1: Where do you find your recipes?
We started with a ton of research online about what ingredients in what proportions made up an “ideal” diet. All that initial research is in the second post in the series (linked above). We also had a few books on hand, and I ordered one additional one off of Amazon. They were useful and had a ton of fabulous information, recipes, quantities, etc. IF you have a “normal” dog. Even one of the allergy-friendly diets in one of the most popular books gave him an extremely upset stomach. In fact, that was our first major setback in this journey. I’ve linked to my favorite books in the resources question (#5). I know this doesn’t really answer the question, but what I mean to say is: Experiment. Figure out what works for your dog. Then craft your own recipe. Here’s ours (this is per meal): either lamb or salmon, boiled potato, steamed apples, quinoa, steamed green beans, a scoop of pumpkin puree, and supplements. Which leads me to the next most frequently asked Q…
Question 2: What supplements do you use?
This was setback two: We purchased two different supplements after extensive research. Neither worked for Cooper. Both made him VERY sick. Of course, both had small amounts of flavoring (liver in one, turkey in the other), which I hoped would be trace enough not to affect him. Nope. The big boys are getting them, though, so it wasn’t a total waste. Anyway, I found two vegetarian supplements. They are NOT as complete as the others. He’s been 100% fine on this one. In addition to the multi-vitamin/multi-mineral, the one thing that came up in every resource was that calcium deficiency is a real risk with a home cooked diet. The number one recommendation (after raw bones, which we clearly can’t do) is a bone meal supplement. I worried that it would be too much for him since it’s an animal source, but the one we picked (from the Pitcairn book below) KAL Bone Meal Powder is fabulous. It contains nothing but bone meal, and he’s done perfectly on it! We’ve also added coconut oil back in.
Question 3: How much do you feed your dog?
I wish I had an easy answer for this. So much depends on which ingredients you’re using, how active your dog is, how old your dog is, etc. Also, for Cooper, we’re desperately trying to put weight on him – after several intense GI problems in a row, he’s significantly underweight. Here’s the best suggestion I have: Before you start a new diet, weigh your dog. Feed your dog the new diet for a week, then weigh him again. Repeat weekly until you know if he’s gaining/losing/holding steady. Adjust up or down as needed. We may actually be adding lunch back in for Coop because the amount he needs to get enough calories for his high-energy level AND to gain weight exceeds what is reasonable for one single meal!
Question 3: Should I rotate proteins?
I think so, which is why we alternate between salmon and lamb. We do for the big dogs with their kibble, too. I think it helps cover some bases for fat/protein. If we could get a third protein in his rotation, I’d be thrilled, but I’m starting to realize that may never happen. And that’s okay. Two is good.
Question 4: How much time does it take?
If you have a dog with a strong stomach and no health problems, it’ll take you no time at all! You can whip up a month’s worth of food for the freezer on a Saturday afternoon! If you have a dog like Cooper, though, be prepared for a huge time commitment for the first few months. Every new ingredient required a trial period, so we couldn’t shop or cook in bulk. We were cooking for him nearly every day for the last three-ish months. Now that we have a solid recipe that works, we make a week’s worth on Saturday – the quinoa, potatoes, apples, and green beans go into one big jar, the meat is separate (this week is salmon) so we can monitor it more exactly, and the pumpkin is in a glass storage container. So, we scoop from the three containers (see below) and two supplements.
Yeah, it takes up a whole shelf in the fridge, but once a week has been a lifesaver! Also, we’ve been shopping for his ingredients about every other week at Sam’s Club and freezing them (uncooked) in batches.
Question 5: What resources are you using?
Truthfully, at this point we’re just sticking with what I outlined above because we can’t risk another bout of GI distress. However, the three books I used for the foundation and research are:
- Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats: I’ve had this book for years and reference it all the time. Unfortunately, the allergy recipe in this made Cooper super sick. However, it’s full of useful advice for all life stages, conditions, etc. so I highly recommend it, even if you aren’t cooking for your dog!
- Feed Your Best Friend Better: Easy, Nutritious Meals and Treats for Dogs: I ordered this one after the allergy fail from the first book because it has a section on allergy-friendly meals. We haven’t been able to try many recipes yet, but all the “info” sections, like nutrients and conversions and quantities, have been incredibly useful. My copy has a million sticky notes popping out of every chapter!
- The Healthy Hound Cookbook: We got this book for review last year, and I really enjoyed it. The recipes are super simple to follow and use easy-to-acquire ingredients. I’ve dog-eared all the salmon and lamb recipes to start trying on Coop once we’ve put a few pounds back on him.
Also, early on we met with our vet, which I strongly recommend for anyone considering this. Beyond that, I started a Pinterest board to gather online research, especially for treats, but that’s about it!
There ya have it! I really hope I addressed your questions, but please don’t hesitate to ask anything else that comes up in the comments below! And those of you who are home cooking, please share your insights, too!!