Pet Corner: Try Natural Homemade Dog Food

Don’t bore Fido. Try our vitamin-rich, balanced recipes to perk up your pet’s mealtime routine.

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Recipes like The Colonel’s Chicken Dinner can enliven your pet’s meals.

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Dog Food Recipes: 

• The Colonel’s Chicken Dinner
• Beef Dinner
• Healthy Powder 

Imagine what your life would be like if, day after day, you opened the same box of granola for breakfast and dinner. Not a very appealing idea, is it? Yet day after day, millions of us expect our pets to be perfectly happy and stay perfectly healthy with the same old “box of cereal.”

If your dog is lucky, you’re at least buying him something high-quality. And if he’s not so lucky, you may be buying a less-expensive generic brand from your local supermarket. Although one choice might be slightly healthier than the other, either way, it’s still a boring proposition. 

But what if you did the same thing for your dog that you do for yourself? Mix up some grub using real ingredients, a little variety and a sense of purpose?

True, cooking for your dog requires a bit of advance planning. Just as feeding yourself and your family requires some knowledge about what you need to stay healthy, so does feeding your dog. He or she is a scavenger by nature, but he still needs more than just assorted table scraps or chicken from the local broiler.

Look to the diet of a canine in nature for clues. According to Steve Brown, author of Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet (Dogwise Publishing, 2010), in nature, coyotes, wolves and the ancestors of modern dogs thrive on a diet that is made up of about 50 percent protein, 45 percent fat and 5 percent vegetables. Grain is rarely a part of the primordial canine diet, but check out its place in the list of ingredients of most dog foods. Fiber is supplied to a dog from the fur and feathers of animals they may catch or scavenge, while calcium (cats and dogs all have calcium requirements that are considerably greater than those of humans) is supplied by the bones of their catches. For this reason, it is always a good idea to supplement your home-cooked meals with a calcium powder.

Adding fresh herbs to your dog’s food can help keep him healthy and happy and, while I’d choose carefully, remembering that some plants and herbs can be toxic to dogs, there are food herbs and plants that are a pretty safe bet for your pet’s diet. I, for instance, always add fresh parsley to my dog’s homemade grub. It supplies a bit of fiber, some chlorophyll, and vitamins A, B and C. And I like the flecks of color it adds to his otherwise-monotone meals. A bit of kombu or seaweed soaked in water is also a good bet as an occasional addition to your dog’s dinner. Raw grated carrot is well tolerated by most pets. Garlic is considered a good deterrent to fleas and worms, according to Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats (Rodale, 2005) by Richard Pitcairn, D.V.M. And just as in humans, caraway seed aids digestion. In the springtime, when the very young, tender nettles are coming up, I sometimes pick a few leaves to chop up and add to my dog’s dinner. 

Try our two basic recipes (The Colonel's Chicken Dinner and Beef Dinner) to start you on your way, but I strongly recommend that you check out some good books on preparing dog dishes at home so that you get a broader sense of your canine’s nutritional needs. (See "Read More About Pet Nutrition" below.) You can add some of the above-mentioned herbs or vegetables to the basic recipes below. It’s always a good idea to vary your dog’s meals, just like you do yours. Remember that the nutritional supplements are important, so don’t leave them out if you want to feed your pooch a balanced meal. 

Read More About Pet Nutrition

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats (Rodale, 2005), by Richard Pitcairn and Susan Hubble Pitcairn

The Healthy Dog Cookbook (T.F.H. Publications, 2008), by Jonna Anne, Mary Straus and Shawn Messonnier

Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet (Dogwise, 2010), by Steve Brown

Woofing It Down (AuthorHouse, 2007), by Patricia O’Grady

Lynn Alley is a Southern California-based food and wine writer who has cooked for her pets for years.