Pet food is BIG business. Projections estimate the industry to reach $100 billion by 2020. And with an increasing number of brands offering selections that sound more like a ranch-style restaurant menu selection (steak, venison, salmon, bison, wild boar) and less like offal from the slaughterhouse floor (feet, heads, bones, cartilage, intestines), the issue of sustainability in pet food is not out of line. For instance, Nestle’s Purina brand is test-marketing kibble made with sustainable, alternative proteins like ground crickets or fish heads.
Ultimately, store-bought pet food, no matter how safe or eco-friendly we consider it, often is subject to frightening recalls, health problems, downright misleading marketing tactics, and a suspicious lack of supply-chain transparency. The solution to both sustainability and knowledge of exactly what your beloved pet is eating? Make your own! You’ll save a ton of money, and it’s not as hard as people imagine, either. You will need a food processor, a five-gallon bucket, a box of quart-size freezer bags, and a largish freezer. A pair of long calf-birthing gloves is helpful but not essential. Today, let’s tackle dog food.
Over the years, my good friend Tim has developed this recipe for his two dogs. When I visit him in San Francisco on occasion, I’m liable to get roped into helping make dog food. It goes much faster with two people, but do plan on spending the better part of an entire morning or afternoon. Lounge music and a glass of wine help make it more fun.
Ahead of Time:
Between dog food-making sessions, Tim and his partner save food scraps that otherwise would have been scraped into the trash: vegetable scraps, leftover noodles, yams, beet tops and bits of cooked chicken. They are collected and frozen in freezer bags, then thawed out the night before dog food production.
First, throw all those scraps into the five-gallon tub. Get out the food processor, and add chopped carrots and chopped parsley to the tub. You can also chop some apples or kale or mint and throw those in as well. Your finished product may come out greenish or reddish incolor, depending on which veggies you put in. Kale? Green. Beets? Red.
Throw in a few containers of whole blackberries and a few smashed ripe bananas (but NO grapes or raisins). Add a few cups of cooked brown rice. Some fish oil and some coconut oil. That’s the vegetable mixture. Stir it up well and set aside.
Tim pre-orders 25 pounds of ground organ meat from his local butcher, and also gets a big tray of raw chicken thighs from Costco. The organ meat goes into a big bowl, and the raw chicken is ground up in the food processor. Mix them together well. Let your kids delight in the disgustingly squishy sounds.
By now, your dogs undoubtedly will be supervising your activities with rapt attention. They make great floor vacuums if you drop anything and super-handy glove cleaners.
Put it All Together:
Now you have some options. You can try these methods:
- Throw the protein mixture into the big bucket with the veg mixture and stir it all up. Enlist your kids or, as in my case, let your freeloading houseguests to do the heavy mixing. This is the easiest method.
- In the video below, Tim freezes the protein and veg mixtures separately, then mixes them together when thawed; but he’s since refined that method in favor of a third option:
- If you want to be precise about your protein-to-veg ratio (1:1 is recommended), you can measure equal portions of each mixture into a separate bowl and mix them in the bowl before storing.
The bottom line is, you want to combine the protein and veg mixtures in about equal proportions. Whether you do it on dog food-making day or on an as-needed basis is up to you.
Using a one-cup measure, scoop two cups into a quart-sized Ziploc freezer bag. Press out as much air as possible and seal. Press flat for easy stacking in the freezer. Remove and thaw individual bags as needed.
Spoon food into a Kong toy to feed your dog(s). Kongsare nontoxic, dishwasher-safe rubber toys with hollow centers. When stuffed with food, they provide dogs a healthy outlet for their natural desire to chew and lick, keeping them calm and occupied for hours. Or you can simply spoon it into a regular food bowl. Figure about a half pound in the morning and again in the evening for a medium-sized dog.
- 3 bunches kale
- 3 bunches parsley
- 4 large carrots
- 1 head broccoli
- 1 bunch mint
- 1 bag organic apples
- 1 yam (cook in microwave — this is the only cooked ingredient)
- 1 cup fish oil pills (pre-soak to soften)
- 1 cup coconut oil (reduce the fish oil/coconut oil if your dog is inactive, overweight or elderly)
- ½ teaspoon each, bone meal and psyllium husk powder
- Overripe fruit lying around that’s past eating. (NO GRAPES and NO RAISINS!)
- Optional but expensive: seaweed, quinoa sprout powder, moringa leaf powder (adds green), turmeric root (good for older dogs’ joints — young dogs don’t need it)
- 5 pounds chicken hearts
- 6 pounds chicken necks and backs (including bones)
- 4 pounds chicken thighs
Get a local butcher to grind the hearts, backs and thighs together, bones and all, into one big bag. (Tip him ten bucks because it’s a disgusting, messy job.) Even with the tip, the cost of the meat should be only around two bucks a pound. CHEAP! Note: if your dog is inactive, overweight or elderly, reduce the chicken backs by three pounds and increase the hearts by three pounds.
By feeding your best friend homemade dog food, you will avoid the fillers, additives, preservatives, stabilizers and sheer lack of regulation found in commercial products. You’ll also save lots of money and sleep better at night knowing precisely what your beloved dogs eat. They will have more energy, shinier coats, firmer bowel movements and less-stinky farts. They trust us implicitly; don’t they deserve the very best?