Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Dog Food Pyramid doesn't exist.

Finding a good Homemade recipe for dog food is something I've looked into quite a bit since becoming a dog owner. As part of my perspective that nutrition is the future of preventative medicine and the key to efficiency in the home, nutrition for my dogs becomes increasingly more important.

Boston's recent diagnosis of heart disease and immenent heart failure has reinvigorated my search for something better. While the disease is not caused by insufficient diet, a better diet can help keep the symptoms at bay.

In the past, my main goal when searching for dog food is to find something as close as possible to what a dog would eat in nature. Finding ingredients with real words that I recognize is step 1.
Heart disease has forced me to take it a step further.

One of the side effects/ symptoms/ signs of heard disease is Pulmonary Adema. More commonly known as fluid in the lungs, it's caused by the heart not pumping efficiently enough to clear out the lungs. You may have also heard the term "Congestive Heart Failure", and the word "Congestive" refers to the "Congestion" in the lungs or heart (sometimes in other places, too).

As with Congestive Heart Failure in humans, one of the primary dietary concerns is the amount sodium the patient eats. For Boston, the cardiologist recommended less than .25% dry matter. (I think i'm gonna do another blog post in the not-too-distant future about food label terminology, but for now, just focus on the number)

So I excitedly went to my local pet food retail center. I was on a mission armed with one of my favorite weapons, a number! I love a number because its easy to tell when it's right or wrong. I hate it when a vet gives me terms like "lethargic" because I can't measure it, and I can't tell if my dog is lethargic or just a lazy couch potato like every other great dane i've ever heard about. But I can tell when a number is less than or greater than .25!

Except that sodium content is not listed on the ingredient list of dog foods. Awesome.

So I did what I had to do, and found the 1-800 number on the bottom of the bag, and called to find out sodium content.

Boston is also allergic to rice, so the dry bagged dog food options are limited already, which was probably a good thing because otherwise I would have had to call every 1-800 number in the store. Instead, I was able to skip quite a few that I knew from previous investigations did not have a rice-free formula. I ended up calling 10 companies.
Of those, 2 had low sodium rice-free options, neither of which were sold in my particular location.
Fantastic. Reason number 759 I hate living in a small town.

I had to buy something, the dogs have to eat, so I went with the same dog food I normally buy, high sodium and all. But I got home and started my search for a homemade recipe again.

Every time I search for  dog food recipes online, I just get mad. There is an emmense void of understanding about canine nutrition, and the internet proves that tenfold.  If you do a search for "canine nutritional requirements", one of the first results is a website that says how awful it is to give your dog bones and specifically says "cooked or uncooked" bones are bad. Then on the SAME page is a link for a BARF recipe (stands for Bones And Raw Food), of which a primary ingredient is raw animal bones. It's just one example of the internet as a whole.

The truth is, we just don't know that much about canine nutrition, and there is no official guideline for dogs like there is for humans. I think it sucks, but it's the truth, and just like always, we have to do the best we can.

I've been invited to guest-post my resulting recipe on a friend's blog, and hope to have it up for the Reckless Culinarian by next weekend. The recipe won't be perfect, and I'll do my best to identify the areas for improvement, so that hopefully if you know of , or can find a better solution, you can make it happen.

The meal is something that will look very similar to one you might cook for yourself.  A main entree, vegetables, and a "filler". The term filler getsa bad rap, and most of the time when it comes to dog food, it probably should.  But we all use filler in our diets, and in fact it is an important part of our nutritional requirements. You know this as your pasta, your bread, your rice, or your potato dish. It's the inexpensive part of the meal that makes the more expensive parts be enough to fill you up. The only thing that really changes to make it a dog food recipe, is the ratio of these different categories. Although, if you eat like a lot of Americans, you might not be changing the ratio at all.

So why can I make dog food out of "people" food, but I'm so against feeding dogs leftovers?
Most of it is preparation. When I cook food for my family of two, I pan sear in oil, I saute in oil, I fry in oil. None of that is acceptable for dog food.
I also add onion, butter, season with garlic and salt.. sometimes I take shortcuts with premade sauces or seasoning which are loaded with more salt and hidden sugar, not to mention more ingredients that are toxic for dogs.
But the gist of it is, if you eat steamed foods, and don't add fats and oils, and don't season with salt, and don't eat anything that is toxic to dogs, then I have no problem with you sharing your leftovers with your dog, in fact, I highly recommend it, because you probably will be doing fido a favor. Do your homework first, of course, but afterwards, go for it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to my recipe unvealing on The Reckless Culinarian, and hope you'll at least consider it for your dog!

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