Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Home cooked dog food - How did I get here??

Jan 27 - First, a bit of history - condensed version: After the pet food recall a couple years ago, I began researching the idea of home-prepared food for my dogs. It seemed pretty daunting - purchasing weird chicken parts and needing a huge freezer. I was also quite concerned about maintaining proper nutritional balance for the dogs. All of it seemed too overwhelming at the time for me to take on. Since then, my two oldest labs passed away and our pup grew into a adult dog; however at one point in his first year, we noticed his appearance changing and he seemed to be getting "flimsy" to us. Turns out the commercial food we were feeding reformulated and it did not seem like he was getting the nutrition he needed. We began adding ground meats (combo of beef, turkey and occassionally lamb) to his commerical food. We did switch brands at that as well. The additonal protein from the meat improved his looks and he filled out again to a healthy dog.

Also around that same time, we noticed a great deal of scratching - it was summer and his favorite thing to do was roll in the grass. We suspected allergies but were not ready to do a full blown treatment option yet. A steroid shot would stop the scratching and we figured we'd see if that was the answer. As fall came and snow fell, the scratching stopped. We began to put two and two together and suspect allergies to grass, etc...This previous spring, the snow melted and the scratching began again. Sooo...we decided to do allergy testing and pursue a shot regimen. Tests came back that he was allergic to several types of grasses, cigarette smoke (no smoking around my dog!), cotton and some food items.

Taking this info as gospel, we began the shot treatment and began to feed one one of the commerical foods on the approved list provided by the allergy shot lab. Itching did not improve and in fact, my other lab puppy began to itch as well. Case of monkey see, monkey do? Not sure...Long story short, we ended up at a canine dermatologist and arrived with a course of action of changing the dosage of the allergy shots - essentially throttling back the cocktail he was receiving a bit, and seeing what happened with the scratching when winter came (we live in Maine).

Snow fell, grass covered, dog stopped itching! Yeah! Next test to see what happens this upcoming spring, while continuing shots all winter - hoping to see improvement in conditions.

Went away on vacation, came back - Jack scratching like mad, fur falling out in clumps, ears infected. Hmmm...still snow on change to brand of food we're feeding but new bag bought. Who knows? All during this time, we were moving closer to that idea of making our own food. Oh - also allergist advised there's not much credibility in the allergy testing conducted for dog food issues. Unfortunately to solve a food allergy, it's much more trial and error.

So after coming back from vacation, we scheduled appt. with allergist to discuss latest issues with Jack's coat and the recurrance of the scratching, even though it was winter. In the meatime, we pulled him off commerical dog food almost as an experiment (he was also losing weight). Still not quite ready to commit to a recipe of home cooked food, he was getting a concoction of beef, rice and some veggies. As it turns out, not far off from where I've ended up today.

I tentatively approached the allergist on his thoughts on a home cooked diet and he responded very favorably (some vets caution against this as they think owners will compromise their dogs nutrition). He suggested if we were up for it, that we move to an elimination diet to truly get a handle on what food allergies, if any, were causing Jack's symptoms.

So that brings us to today, or to the activities of last weekend. After order 40 lbs of ground ostritch on the internet, cooking it and about 20 lbs. of sweet potato up in my kitchen, along with two giant vats of oatmeal, Jack now eats a special mix of the above. 50% ostritch, 25% oatmeal and 25% sweet potatoes. Good thing I have a lot of counter space in my kitchen!

It's important to note that as soon as we pulled him off the commerical food (1/8/10 or so), we almost immediately began to see an improvement. We did a bath with an oatmeal based soap and began feeding the beef mix mentioned above and almost overnight, the scratching lessened.

As it took a few days for the ostritch to arrive, we stuck with the beef & rice up until 1/22. That evening was his first meal of the ostrich porridge (as I'll now refer to it). As he's a lab - usual weight around 86 lbs and present weight at 80, you do need to feed a pretty big portion of this mix. Info from the allergist indicates 1 cup of prepared mix per 10 lbs of body weight. So he's getting 8 cups of the porridge - takes up a lot of room in his bowl. He looks at me like "really, I get to eat ALL THAT"....and seems to love it! I think the sweet potatoes puzzled him a bit at first but once you mash them up, it's fine.

So, where are we today (1/27/10) - 5 days into the trial - no scratching, coat is shiny and black and I can't feel his ribs quite so prominently. We'll see...but I am encouraged.

He did not seem to be himself over the weekend which to some degree, I attribute to his body getting used to this new food. He was pretty lethargic unless I got him engaged in playing ball, etc...He'd also spent several days at daycare which does wear him out. However, yesterday and today, I'm seeing a peppier boy, even after daycare last night.

Two other things to know - the elimination diet requires strict compliance with what goes in his mouth. NOTHING else can be consumed. NO treats, no toast crust, no biscuits at the bank. Everyone around him must know and comply or the results of the test are compromised. I felt pretty badly that my other dog (who for now, we've decided to keep on a commercial diet - more on that in a later post), can still have biscuits. I came up with an answer to the no biscuits for Jack though - I used the dehydrate function on my oven and cooked up sweet potato slices for him. He seems to like them and then at least there's something he can have as a treat. Took a bag to daycare too, which they appreciated.

Second thing - he's drinking very little water out of his bowl, like almost none! Freaked me out at first, but I began thinking about the two cups or so I add to the food mix to make everything sort of mush together, so he is getting water. Also the info on the diet states that reduced water consumption is normal. I assume because ingredients contain water, he doesn't need to consume as much.

So, I'm supposed to be maintaining an "itch calendar" to monitor results of the diet. I've chosen to use this blog to do that. No idea if people will find it but for me, it'll serve as place to record what I'm noting. That's all for this morning...future posts will include thoughts on my other dog, things I've learned so far about home cooking for dogs and costs associated.


  1. We think Jack's itching because you won't let him shack up with Molly!!!!

  2. In the beginning I thought maybe it would be a good idea to move so far North that you never see grass. Can I come for supper sometime? I would even eat what you are feeding Jack! Sounds Good!!!! Amos is going to be jealous eating the old stuff.