Gracie is now 13 years old!

For nine years she's eaten REAL, HOMEMADE FOOD, NOT commercial dog food. This blog shows how easy it is to be a DOGGIE CHEF and how healthy a home-fed dog can be.

December 30, 2008

Easing Up On The Supplements

Happy New Year! --- almost, anyway.

Gracie turns 10 this coming year. It's a good time for a dietary review. Like any good Doggie Chef  I periodically take some time to think about what I feed my dog and why.

I've decided to gradually stop feeding Gracie vitamin supplements and nutritional yeast. I'll continue essential fatty acid and calcium supplements (corn oil, sunflower oil, ground flax seed, bone meal powder) but I'll phase out using the Doctors Foster and Smith Lifestage Select Premium Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement For Adult Dogs, and the Red Star Nutritional Yeast.

I think supplements can help if a deficiency or nutrient absorption problem exists. Yet I'm beginning to wonder if they're necessary when a dog is healthy and eats a balanced, high nutrient diet.
Gracie has thrived on homemade meals for almost six years. I've given her multivitamins for only a year. She seems to be just as healthy taking the multivitamins as she was without them. I don't think she actually need these multivitamins at this point in her life.

"Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs and Cats," by Richard H. Pitcairn (click here for my review of that book), gave me the confidence to make my dog's food myself. The author recommends feeding dogs nutritional yeast regularly, in small amounts. So ever since I started making Gracie's food I've sprinkled Red Star Nutritional Yeast on her meals periodically. Nutritional yeast contains B-complex vitamins which promote skin, coat and general health. However, I believe Gracie's good health and healthy coat are mostly the result of the nutritious foods she eats and the regular grooming she receives. For now I think she'll be just as healthy without the nutritional yeast supplement.

There's definitely some trial and error involved in being a Doggie Chef! I think it's okay as long as dietary changes are made carefully and gradually; with close watch kept on the dog to monitor the results.

November 12, 2008

Egg Breakfast 11-12-08

Scrambled egg, cooked in corn oil

Whole wheat bread

Black beans

Red Star Nutritional Yeast flakes

September 16, 2008

Chicken Dinner 9-16-08

Chicken cooked in canola oil

Brown rice

Cooked broccoli


The photo above shows how Gracie's food dish looked when I prepared her meal. I always try to keep the various food items seperate to figure the percentage of "protein," "grain," etc..., I give her at each meal. Right before I feed Gracie I thoroughly mash up any vegetables in her food dish and mix them together with any meat and grain or bread I serve her. When I include a dairy food in Gracie's meals (yogurt, cottage cheese, etc...) I usually leave it separate. Just before I served Gracie the meal pictured above it actually looked like this:

September 9, 2008

Baths --- How Often?

Some dog care “experts” say bathing more than once a month is bad for a dog’s skin. A few suggest a shampoo bath once a month and a water-only bath more often, if needed. I disagree.

Every dog is different. Gracie starts smelling a little “fragrant” about 10 days after getting a bath. If I didn’t bathe her, with shampoo, every other week (on average) she would smell offensive and so would my home.

Gracie's allowed everywhere in my house. Her favorite resting spots are the beds and couches. And I enjoy snuggling with her at least once a day. Bathing her once every seven to 14 days is necessary and does not harm her skin. It actually keeps her coat silky and promotes a healthier, more pleasant home environment for us and our visitors.

I use human shampoo on Gracie. For several years I used White Rain Kids’ shampoo. It made Gracie smell fantastic, left her coat soft and shiny, and never irritated her skin. Unfortunately, that shampoo is no longer available in my local stores! Lately I’ve used Pantene shampoo for dry/damaged hair and it’s worked well.

Bath time is always a big production because we have a deep, claw foot bathtub. I place a rubber-suction bathmat in the bottom of the tub to give Gracie sure footing. In order to get her into the tub comfortably I line the tub with her cushioned dog bed. I place a large, overturned laundry basket next to the tub for her to step up on. A little coaxing and a large crunchy biscuit get her into the tub.

I wet Gracie down and rinse her with a Rinse Ace Indoor/Outdoor Pet Sprayer. It's a hand-held shower head/8-foot hose that attaches to the bathroom sink faucet (a really handy device) and reaches to the tub. Click here to see a picture and learn more about it.

The first few times I bathed Gracie her I tried filling the tub up halfway so she could stand in the water. She didn’t like it at all so now I just give her showers in the tub.

As soon as I rinse Gracie off and shut the water, she knows it's time to start shaking. She gets a small crunchy treat each time she shakes herself off while I'm drying her. Our bathroom is small and a bit cramped so water gets all over the place during bath time. We’ve been meaning to re-do our bathroom for many years. When we do, a shower stall will be high priority to make bath time easier on everyone.

*** POST UPDATE: We finally re-did our bathroom and added a shower stall. Click here to see my June 22, 2010 post showing Gracie in the new shower stall!

September 2, 2008

Calcium & Bone Meal Powder

When I was a new Doggie Chef I boiled a big beef bone for about a minute (to "sanitize" it) and gave it to Gracie to chew on. She immediately cracked a tooth. Cooked bones really are bad for dogs!

The vet fixed Gracie's tooth but advised against feeding her anymore bones, cooked or raw.

So how could I provide Gracie with extra calcium? Getting enough calcium, and the right calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, is crucial to a dog's health. Even well-intentioned Doggie Chefs can get it wrong and accidentally harm their pets!

Every argument against homemade dog food mentions this calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. It almost scared me away from becoming a Doggie Chef. How could I ever get it right? It sounded way too complicated.

Well, it's actually easy!

I learned to supplement Gracie's homemade meals with bone meal powder (made for human consumption).

However, bone meal powder contains both calcium and phosphorus. It's important to find a bone meal powder with the recommended calcium-to-phosphorus ratio (or as close as you can get).

The ideal ratio most experts recommend for a dog's diet is a little more calcium than phosphorus.
Specifically: a ratio of 1.2 to 1.4 parts calcium: to 1 part phosphorus.

Yet some bone meal powders contain twice as much calcium as phosphorus!
That's okay because even though it's not ideal, a range of 1 to 2 parts calcium: to 1 part phosphorus is considered acceptable by many experts.

Through the years I've used Now Bone Meal Powder and KAL Bone Meal Powder. Both are tested for heavy metals and other contaminants.

When using Now Bone Meal Powder I supplement Gracie’s meals with about 1/8 teaspoon, three times a week. One teaspoon of the Now Bone Meal Powder I've used contains 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 500 milligrams of phosphorus; or a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus.

When using KAL Bone Meal Powder I supplement Gracie's meals with about 1/16 teaspoon, three times a week. One teaspoon of the KAL Bone Meal Powder I've used contains 1,620 milligrams of calcium and 540 milligrams of phosphorus; or a 3:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus. It's a higher calcium-to-phosphorus ratio than experts recommend but at times it's been the only bone meal powder I could get. When using it, I do my best to balance out the extra calcium with phosphorus-rich foods.

August 26, 2008

Outdoor Exercise

Gracie loves to play fetch with a tennis ball. And she loves to push and pull a basketball around the backyard.

I try to give my dog at least 30 minutes of exercise each day to keep her happy and healthy. I have a large, fenced yard so playtime is convenient. I always bring a bowl of fresh water outside for her when she plays, in summer and in winter.

I sometimes skip Gracie’s playtime in the summer if outdoor temperatures are very high. Even when she was younger, Gracie made it clear she doesn’t like playing outside for long in very hot weather. After about 15 minutes of playtime in very hot weather she’ll walk slowly to me, and then to the door. She’ll stand there, watching me and waiting until I let her inside.

Occasionally, in the winter, I’ll give Gracie less than a 30-minute playtime if the outdoor temperature seems too cold for safety. Yet even then I try to give her about 10 minutes, as she loves playing in the snow and never wants playtime to end when there's snow on the ground.
On cold and cool weather days, Gracie will gladly play outside, non-stop, for 50 minutes or longer.

August 19, 2008

Gracie Playing Kickball

This video shows my 10-year-old dog, on a hot summer evening, 20 minutes into a game of kickball.
Whenever I bring Gracie outside to play I fill a water dish with fresh water and bring it outside with us.

Please disregard the video below. I'm still trying to figure out how to delete it (sorry, I'm new to Blogger!).

August 13, 2008

Red Star Nutritional Yeast

Why would anyone want to eat yeast? And why would anyone feed it to a dog?

You may have heard some pet owners add brewer’s yeast to their dogs' diets. Pet companies such as Pet Smart and Doctors Foster & Smith sell brewer’s yeast supplements for dogs to promote skin and coat health.

Like brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is a dietary supplement available in most health food stores. Both are rich in B-complex vitamins.
Vegans (people who eat no animal products) and vegetarians often use nutritional yeast to replace Parmesan cheese or to flavor popcorn and other foods. It has a somewhat cheesy flavor.

Unlike the kind of yeast used in bread making, nutritional yeast is deactivated. In the book, "Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats," (click here for my review of that book) author Richard H. Pitcairn suggests feeding nutritional yeast to dogs. Pitcairn includes nutritional yeast in a recipe for, "Healthy Powder," a dietary supplement he suggests feeding dogs regularly.

Red Star’s brand is reportedly the most beneficial nutritional yeast so that’s the kind I give Gracie. I add a sprinkle of nutritional yeast to three of Gracie’s meals each week.

*** POST UPDATE: Since writing this post I've decided to stop including Red Star Nutritional Yeast in Gracie's meals. Click here to see my 12-30-08 post explaining why.

August 7, 2008

Egg Dinner 8-7-08

Egg cooked in butter

Brown rice

Homemade wheat bread

Cooked, grated carrot

August 4, 2008

Omega 6's vs. Omega 3's --- Essential Fats

Like humans, dogs need to ingest certain types of essential fatty acids.

Yet conflicting advice exists about what types of essential fatty acids dogs need. I decided to look it up myself in the online Merck Veterinary Manual --- an excellent source for information on animal health and nutrition.

[Note: To minimize confusion, mention of omega-6 fatty acids are color-coded in red. Mention of omega-3 fatty acids are color-coded in blue.]

According to Merck, dogs need linoleic acid; an omega-6 essential fatty acid found, “in appreciable amounts,” in corn and soy oil.
The Merck Manual further states, “Recent studies suggest that α-linolenic acid is also essential in dogs...” A-linolenic acid (ALA) is alpha linolenic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, flax and other oils.

It's important for Doggie Chefs to know HOW MUCH of these fatty acids to feed a dog.
The Merck Manual states the amount of dietary ALA (alpha linolenic acid, omega-3) a dog needs depends on the diet’s LA (linoleic acid, omega-6) content. It’s important a dog consumes the correct balance (ratio) of omega-3s to omega-6s to avoid health problems.

So in addition to getting the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio right (click here for my post about that), Doggie Chefs must also be careful to give their dogs the right omega-3 to omega-6 ratio!

It sounds difficult, but it’s easy to do.

According to the Merck Manual, the required amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are presently unknown but the current MINIMAL recommendation for an adult dog is, "0.44 g/kg diet ALA (omega-3) when linoleic acid (omega-6) is 11 g/kg diet (dry-matter basis)."

*** To put it plainly, it's recommeded an adult dog consume a ratio of AT LEAST  .44 alpha linolenic acid (omega-3) to 11.0 linoleic acid (omega-6) ratio. Which is:
AT LEAST 1 part omega-3 fats: 25 parts omega-6 fats

Gracie's diet contains both omega-6 and omega-3 fats.

Most of the foods I feed her contain a lot of omega-6 fats. I cook her eggs and meats in vegetable oils high in omega-6 fats, such as corn or canola (which also contains omega-3 fats). I also add ¼ teaspoon of cold pressed sunflower oil (high in omega-6 fats) to Gracie’s food once a week.

To provide omega-3 fats I feed Gracie fish, two to four days a week. I also sprinkle about 1/8 teaspoon of ground flax seed on her food once a week although I'm not convinced it's a great nutritional benefit. I think fish is a better source of omega-3 essential fatty acids than flax. One time I took a vet's advice For a while and supplemented Gracie's meals with small amounts of flax oil. I did that for a few months. Another time I gave Gracie a fish oil supplement for extra omega-3 fats for a few months. I added about 3/4 of the liquid contained in one fish gel oil capsule to a meal once of twice a week. Now I prefer Gracie get most of her omega-3 fats from whole foods, like fish; rather than from oil supplements or from ground flax seeds.

July 15, 2008

Gracie's Vitamins

During my first four years as a Doggie Chef, I never gave Gracie any vitamin supplements. I figured she obtained all the nutrients she needed from high quality food, oils, bone meal powder and nutritional yeast.

Last year I decided to give Gracie daily vitamin supplements to strengthen and maintain her immune system.

After researching different kinds of dog vitamins I decided to try Doctors Foster & Smith Lifestage Select Premium Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement for adult dogs.

My greatest worry in preparing Gracie's meals was providing an appropriate calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in her diet (click here to read my post explaining that).

The vitamins I give Gracie contain, in each tablet, 50 mg of calcium and 25 mg of phosphorus – a 2 part calcium, to 1 part phosphorus ratio. Of course the actual ratio of calcium to phosphorus Gracie receives depends on how much of the nutrients her body absorbs and how much calcium and phosphorus is in the food I give her.

According to Doctors Foster & Smith, the vitamins are supposedly formulated for nutritional balance. The company also claims pure and natural sources are used, whenever possible, for many of the nutrients contained in the vitamins. And the vitamins are fortified with additional Omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil) which I believe are good for my dog’s skin and coat and contribute to her general health.

The vitamin bottle suggests three tablets per day for a dog of Gracie's weight. However, I give her two tablets each day. With two vitamins each day and her high quality homemade meals, I think Gracie receives enough vitamins and minerals to maintain good health.

I'm not sure if the vitamins are actually contributing toward Gracie's good health. Yet I feel better about feeding my dog homemade meals now. I believe if I somehow miss providing her with any required nutrients, the vitamins will make up for it.

*** POST UPDATE: Since writing this post I decided to stop giving Gracie vitamin supplements. Click here to read my 12-30-08 post explaining why.

July 10, 2008

Ground Beef Dinner 7-10-08

Gracie eats two meals each day: breakfast at approximately 7 a.m., and dinner at approximately 5 p.m.
The photo above shows what Gracie ate for dinner today.

I usually put each food item in her food bowl separately, to better figure what percentage of meat, grain, vegetable and dairy goes into each meal. Then, if required, I’ll warm the food for 20 - 30 seconds in the microwave, add any supplements, mix it all together (mashing any vegetables very well) and serve it to her. If I include yogurt or cottage cheese in a meal I don't mix it with the other foods and I add it after the other food is heated.

This was what Gracie ate for dinner today:

Cooked, lean ground beef

Whole wheat bread

Some plain Cheerios cereal

Cooked green peas (from a bag of frozen green peas)

Plain, low-fat, all natural yogurt

3/4 of the contents of 1 fish oil concentrate soft gel capsule [Molecularly distilled Omega-3 Fatty Acid Fish oil concentrate made from, sardines, anchovies and mackerel. Tested to be free of potentially harmful levels of contaminants (mercury, heavy metals, PCBs, dioxins and other contaminants).] I give Gracie this fish oil supplement about twice a week.

*** NOT SHOWN IN PHOTO BUT ADDED TO EACH MEAL: 1 Doctors Foster and Smith Lifestage Select Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement for Adult Dogs

***POST UPDATE: Since writing this post I decided to stop giving Gracie vitamin and fish oil supplements. Click here to read my 12-30-08 post explaining why.

July 3, 2008

"Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health For Dogs & Cats"

"Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats"
 by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, Ph.D., and Susan Hubble Pitcairn

Doggie Chef Rating: 4 out of 5 Bones

This book is a MUST READ for all Doggie Chefs and wanna be Doggie Chefs. Particularly the sections on diet and nutrition.

Dr. Pitcairn’s book gave me the courage to become a Doggie Chef. Although the book provides nutritionally balanced homemade pet food recipes, I never actually used one. Instead, I used the book's valuable nutritional information to create my own nutritionally balanced meals for Gracie.

In the first chapter, Dr. Pitcairn describes how he discovered the relationship between diet and pet health in his veterinary practice. He devotes a whole chapter to the topic, "What’s Really in Pet Food." The best chapter in the book is Chapter 3, "Try a Basic Natural Diet --- with Supplements."

When I first began making Gracie’s meals I worried about unintentionally making her ill, or accidentally causing her to develop a vitamin deficiency. I started formulating her meals based on Dr. Pitcairn’s explanation of "The Basic Food Groups": meats, grains, legumes, and vegetables. I also followed Dr. Pitcairn’s advice, supplementing Gracie’s meals with nutritional yeast (rich in B vitamins, iron and other nutrients), bone meal powder (to provide calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals) and pet vitamins.

Every meal I make for Gracie contains meat (beef, chicken, fish, or egg) and has a grain base. The "grain" is usually whole wheat bread, since it’s easy to buy and serve but I also regularly feed Gracie oatmeal (often cooked with some milk for added calcium) or rice (brown or white). I include a very small amount of vegetables in her meals everyday and occasionally include black beans or chickpeas. Three times a week I feed her: Red Star Nutritional Yeast Flakes, bone meal powder; and a specific fat (flax oil, canola oil, corn oil or fish oil  *** See Post Update below).

I also make sure Gracie eats fatty fish each week (usually canned salmon or sardines), for the essential fatty acids and other benefits they provide.

Dr. Pitcairn’s book is a good general dog care guide. It includes chapters on common pet illnesses, exercise, rest and grooming for pets, and holistic and alternative therapies. I’m dubious about some of the alternative therapies discussed (homeopathy, herbal medicine, chiropractic therapy, etc...) but some people might embrace this approach to pet care.

If you’re interested in feeding your dog homemade meals, read Dr. Pitcairn’s book. The information on diet and supplements can seem overwhelming at times, but the book will give you the courage to take your dog’s health and diet into your own hands. With a little effort, most pet owners can be very good Doggie Chefs! It's not hard to provide your dog with meals that are nutritionally superior to commercial dog foods.

In the last six years I’ve read Dr. Pitcairn’s chapters on dog nutrition and homemade dog food three different times. Each time I learn something new. It’s important for Doggie Chefs to continue learning about canine nutrition. And it’s just as important to periodically review feeding methods and practices and improve them when possible.

I recommend this book for all Doggie Chefs.

*** POST UPDATE: Since writing this post I decided to stop including Red Star Nutritional Yeast Flakes and pet vitamins in Gracie's meals.  Click here to read my 12-30-08 post explaining why. I also no longer supplement Gracie's diet with flax oil or fish oil. I believe the canned and fresh fish Gracie eats provides her with an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids for abundant health.

June 26, 2008

"Food Pets Die For"

"Food Pets Die For --- Shocking Facts About Pet Food," by Ann N. Martin.

Doggie Chef Rating:
4 out of 5 Bones

This is the first book I read about commercial pet food. It's shocking and enlightening, yet some of the claims it makes are hard to believe.
The book's forward is written by Shawn Messonnier, a veterinarian and author who hosts the weekly radio show, "Dr. Shawn, The Natural Vet," on Martha Stewart Living Radio (on Sirius Satellite Radio). In his foreword message Messonnier recalls his days as a student of animal science. He especially enjoyed a class that taught him how to process meat for the consumer.

"I was quite impressed that literally nothing from the slaughtered animal carcass was ever wasted. What wasn’t wholesome for human consumption was sold to the pet food industry…Now that I have learned more about pet nutrition, I’m not quite so impressed…The reason many companies rely on slaughterhouse waste for raw pet food ingredients is cost: it is simply cheaper to use the trash from the slaughterhouse than whole fresh meat and organs," the book's forward states.

According to this book, many "deplorable" ingredients can legally be used as sources of protein in pet foods.
"Euthanized cats and dogs, diseased cattle and horses, roadkill, dead zoo animals, and meat not fit for human consumption. In addition, sources of fiber in many foods are composed of the leftovers from the food chain, including beet pulp, the residue of sugar beets, peanut hulls, and even sawdust sweepings from the floor of the rendering plant," the book states.

The book contains valuable information about deciphering pet food labels (such as what exactly is in "meat meal,"). It tells how some pet food companies carefully word their ingredient lists, splitting certain ingredients (for example, "corn") into categories ("ground yellow corn," and "corn gluten meal"). Doing this can make a higher protein ingredient (such as "poultry by-product meal") appear to be the number one ingredient in a pet food when it actually isn’t.

While "Food Pets Die For," advocates home cooked meals, the author does not denounce the entire pet food industry. One chapter, "Homecooked Meals and Natural Pet Food Companies" contains information about several natural pet food companies. For pet owners who can't or won't make their pet home cooked meals, the author suggests feeding companion animals one of these natural commercial pet foods, along with some whole people foods (such as meat or vegetables).

The book also talks about vitamins, minerals and supplements for pets and provides recipes for cat and dog meals.

I don’t follow any specific author's or veterinarian’s guide when choosing foods and supplements for Gracie's homemade meals. I’ve learned to formulate my own, continually evolving method for feeding my dog. I base my choices for food and supplementation on various sources I’ve read, discussions with my dog’s veterinarian and my opinion of what’s best for Gracie. I’ll share more information about the specifics of Gracie's diet --- including photos and descriptions of actual meals --- in future blog posts.

June 20, 2008

Evolution Of A Doggie Chef

The day I brought Gracie home from the dog shelter (see photo), I had no idea I would ever become a Doggie Chef.

For about three months I refused to give my dog "people food." Experts working within the dog food industry said it was unnecessary and unhealthy to feed a dog "people food" and I believed it.

I initially fed Gracie what I thought was the highest quality dog food available at my local supermarket. She seemed to like it --- for a while. In a few weeks her coat became extremely shiny. Yet she seemed too skinny. And she experienced recurring digestive problems. She occasionally ate lots of grass when she was outside and then threw it all up, along with anything else that was in her stomach.

Soon Gracie started leaving half her "food" uneaten at mealtimes. I began adding some "people food" to her dog food. A bit of hamburger, some cheese, some cooked egg. She always ate all the "people food" but often left half or more of her dog food untouched. I tried feeding her more expensive commercial dog foods. None of them totally agreed with her digestion or excited her taste buds.

I decided I was a pawn of advertising, feeding my dog expensive dog food she didn't even like or thrive on. So I tried inexpensive dry dog food from my supermarket, mixed with inexpensive canned dog food. Gracie seemed to like this combination. I should have realized that good taste doesn't always mean good nutrition. I began investigating what was in these cheap, dog "foods" and I learned some alarming things about the pet food industry.

The first book I read on the subject was, "Food Pets Die For – Shocking Facts About Pet Food," by Ann N. Martin (Click here for my review of that book). The book makes some hard to believe claims about commercial pet food. It also shares valuable information, like how misleading pet food labels can be.

The book that most helped me become a Doggie Chef is, "Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health For Dogs & Cats," by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, Ph.D. (Click here for my review of that book). While I don’t agree with all its content, it gave me the confidence and guidance to begin preparing healthful, homemade meals for my dog.

Fifteen months after adopting Gracie (the year she turned 4) I became her Doggie Chef. Since then Gracie eagerly eats every bit of every meal I give her. She's 9-years-old now and she no longer experiences digestive problems. Her coat is naturally shiny and she has plenty of energy.

I created this blog so others can see how well my now 9-year-old dog is doing eating homemade meals. I also want others to see how easy it is to be a Doggie Chef.

It's so rewarding to feed your beloved pet nutritious, delicious food!

"Bone" Appetit!