It was only a matter of time before I turned my culinary attention to the pets. I mean preparing food for them, not eating them. With increasing discussion about the dangers of commercial pet food, including toxins, plastics, nutrition and primal pet instincts, there is a growing movement of folks making their own food for Fido and Fluffy—or in my case, Lily and Fang.
I actually started on this adventure when Lily the Chow just stopped eating and drinking. She was a beautiful 6 year old Chow Chow, normally interested in food and minimally active (like most Chows). Her primary enjoyment was chasing chickens and following us around the farm. Until. . . . our rooster matured and began attacking her. It seems that this quick reversal in the Great Chain of Being was pretty devastating to her. She didn’t want to play outdoors (for fear of the mean rooster), and she was uninterested in food and water even though it was a balmy 85-90 F outside. I tried tempting her with raw hamburger, and she turned up her nose. I resorted to freezing the burgers into small balls and stuffing them into her mouth sideways. I mean, what self-respecting dog does not want a raw meatball? It was at this time I began to realize that she must be anxious because of the poultry harassment. (She’s a sensitive soul.) So we packed up the trailer and took a four day trip. (She loves trips!) Being away from the mean rooster seemed to do the trick, and Lily began to enjoy her meatballs and rally emotionally. When we returned, the mean rooster was dispatched humanely. In a true moment of poetic justice, the mean rooster was stewed and fed to Lily and her frenemy, Fang the cat. (Please don’t sic the animal police on me. We have been raising and “harvesting” chickens for many years. Sometimes you need to cull your flock to get rid of misbehavior or low producing birds.)
After having spent 10 days making meatballs for the sullen Lily, I came to the realization that it really wasn’t that much work. I had earlier made special meatballs for our geriatric Great Dane (9 years old) and Standard Poodle (12 years old) when they were eyeing that Rainbow Bridge. However, I had not considered how making my own pet food could be a regular activity, not just for sad or elderly puppies.
I did a bit of research to ascertain the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, looking into the BARF (bones and raw food), PMR (prey model raw), and general homemade pet food. I also looked at the custom pet food, but it was about $5-7/day for a dog our size (e.g., The Farmer’s Dog Co./ BTW I love this product.). I was not looking to create expensive food. In fact, I was hoping to save money on expensive pet food. Lily/dog ate high end commercial dry dog food, and Fang/cat (having no teeth now—long story) ate canned food. Below are the costs for each per day for this standard fare and costs for the high end commercial home-style food:
|Lily/dog||Name Brand Dry Food||$2.00|
|Fang/cat||Name Brand Canned Food (2x day)||$1.40|
|Fang/cat||Not found–revert to Name Brand Canned Food||$1.40|
Armed with this information (and chortling over internet posts about the oldest cat in the world eating bacon and eggs, coffee, wine, and broccoli), I embarked on my experiment.
My hypothesis: one can feed pets high quality homemade food, superior to most commercially produced food, for the same price or less.
I decided to buy ground beef, ground turkey, chicken thighs, and liver on sale. For both pets, I bought a 90 day supply of DINOVITE ($60 for Lily/dog and $30 for Fang/cat).
Details and Costs: In Real Time
I scour the “Manager’s Special” and pick up as much as I can. Regularly, I can get bargain ground beef for $2.50/lb, chicken thighs for $0.99-$1.59/lb, chicken and beef liver for $1.49/lb. I can get ground turkey on bargain special for $2/lb. I pick up bargain canned pumpkin ($.99), jasmine rice ($3.59 for 32 oz), bagged frozen veg ($1.50) and use up leftover acceptable veggies for Lily dog. I have come to understand that dogs enjoy and benefit from some veggies and carbs (such as canned pumpkin, rice, broccoli, sweet potato, kale); while cats do not like nor benefit much from the carbs, being “obligate carnivores”. Based on my research, for a dog Lily’s size and activity level (62 lb/medium dog/low activity), she should require 1 to 1.25 lbs per day of fresh food. Fang the cat will require .25 lbs per day. We are fortunate to have a flock of laying hens, and both pets do receive eggs daily—cooked and raw. They both also get leftover bone broth from dishes. Occasionally, they will get chicken hearts and gizzards (cooked) after we harvest meat birds.
I prep pet food at least once a week, most times about 6 lbs. It typically includes eggs, hamburger or chicken, perhaps with liver. Rice and/or veg are added to the dog food. The Dinovite supplement is added to each pet’s food separately when served. For Lily dog, I try to give her raw hamburger instead of cooked food every couple days with her Dinovite. Lily also gets a raw egg in the afternoon for helping with the chickens. She has to break it open, which is great fun for her. Fang the cat does not seem able to tolerate raw food (she is 19 years old).
Homemade Fare (Chicken)
|Lily/dog||Meat 1/2 lb ( $0.75) + quarter bag frozen veg ($0.38) + one quarter C cooked rice ($0.10)||$1.23|
|Lily/dog||Dinovite per day||$0.66|
|Fang/cat||Meat 0.25 lb x $1.50 /lb||$0.38|
|Fang/cat||Dinovite per day||$0.30|
*(We don’t buy eggs, as our come from our hens.)
|FOOD||COST/DAY for DOG AND CAT|
It costs a bit less to feed a homemade diet than the SAD (Standard American Diet) to the pets. It is certainly cheaper to make the food at home than to buy it as a fresh prepped food from a delivery service. With the homemade food (versus the standard food), I can attest to both pets being peppier and to the cat’s improvement in coat, body condition and demeanor. OK, Fang the cat is still very vocal and annoying at times, so the diet did not cure that. This is a cat that has major hereditary deficiencies—being a feral cat—having her teeth removed 14 years ago because of stomatitis, and suffering with recurrent eye infections. After going on this diet, not only is she better looking and less surly (an improvement many humans could use), but her eye problems have decreased (now off all vet meds for her eyes, only on homeopathic remedies, another cost savings).
So, there you have it. If you are feeding a medium/high price commercial pet food, you will likely save some money or break even depending upon the cost of your meat. And you will certainly save money compared to buying home-style food from a commercial provider. (Here is an important caveat: the homemade food companies (like Farmer’s Dog) need to make a profit and take care of payroll and shipping. When you look at it that way, they are delivering a pretty good value, and providing jobs in addition.) I realize that many do not have the resources to do this—in time or money. So, this is by no means judgmental. I’m simply sharing my experience.
Bottom Line: If you want to give your pets a homemade and nutritionally complete meal, but do not want the crunchy dry food (cheaper) or the gourmet home prepared food (expensive): consider making your own. It is likely less or about the same cost as medium/high price grocery store pet food, and it is half the price of the gourmet fresh food for delivery.
Almost a Week Recipe (5-6 days) for a Medium Dog, Low Activity
- 2 ½- 3 lbs chicken thighs
- 2 C water
- 1 C uncooked rice
- 1 bag frozen broccoli, cauliflower, carrots
- ½ C canned pumpkin (optional treat)
- 6 eggs
- 5 scoops of Dinovite
- Put chicken thighs in Instant Pot with water. Press “Meat/Stew”, which will be about 40 min.
- Remove meat and dice.
- Put rice into the pot with the existing reserved stock.
- Empty bag of frozen veggies on top.
- Press “Rice”, which will be 8-10 minutes.
- Fry up 6 eggs.
- Combine chicken, rice and veg, canned pumpkin, eggs.
- Package in 1 C containers for doggie.
- Add the Dinovite to the food daily when served.
A lazy, medium dog will eat 1½-2 C (est a pound) each day.
(For a very cute YouTube about IP pet food see this by Jeffrey Eisner of Pressure Luck Cooking.)
For the Cat, Almost a Week
- 1 lb chicken thighs with 1 C water in the Instant Pot for the “Meat/Stew” cycle.
- Remove meat, dice.
- Fry up 3 eggs.
- Combine chicken, eggs, broth.
- Package in individual containers of ½ C and refrigerate for kitty.
- Add the Dinovite to the food daily when served.
Our cat will eat ½ to ¾ C per day (about a quarter pound). Fang the cat eats constantly, as she only eats a small amount—3 T at a time (remember, she is elderly).
In case you are ever wondering about what things your pets might enjoy from your leftovers (or if the stores are all closed), here are some ideas. (BTW, most cats don’t like green veg and fruit, so give up on those.)
- Eggs (raw or cooked)
- Cottage cheese
- Blueberries (thank you to my friend Karen for this addition!)
- Leftover cooked or raw veggies, but NO onions or garlic (some of our dogs loved raw peas, kale, tomatoes, artichokes, turnips, and green beans)
- Cooked sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, pumpkins
- Melons and other fruits (chopped) but NO grapes
- Rice or bread (especially if mixed with bacon grease)
- Cornmeal grits and cooked oatmeal
- Oil or water drained from canned seafood
I only give bones that are raw as treats. Cats and dogs do like them. Lily dog chews for a while on large beef or lamb bones then promptly buries them. Fang cat tries to chew, then abandons the bone for Lily. Our past dogs could spend hours chewing on large bones. According to the BARF folks, you can give a dog a raw chicken carcass and have it easily and safely dispatched. It sounds logical, but it still scares me.
Animals need fats to help absorb certain vitamins. While you certainly do not want to overdo it and create a problem (e.g., diarrhea, pancreatitis), a daily tablespoon of fat for a medium dog or a half teaspoon of fat for a cat is not likely to cause a problem. Ideas for fat? Oil from canned tuna, bacon grease, coconut oil, chicken or beef fat, EVOO. Fang loves a half teaspoon of solid coconut oil on top of her morning meal.
Pets probably don’t want your spicy additions. They do, however, like turmeric and a little pinch of salt. There is some controversy about adding salt, as it is present in meat already and can be toxic at certain levels.
About Smelly Food and Things
Well, of course, do not give your pet rancid food. However, keep in mind that dogs and cats don’t have the same smell sensibility about food that we do. Dogs do, in fact, eat crazy shit (literally) when unwatched by us humans. It may smell a bit off to you, but animals have higher tolerance for past “best by” food. Their sniff-o-meters are tuned differently. You only have to go on a walk with your dog to recognize that she sniffs out all the other dogs and all the unsavory things in the park. Several of our dogs ate cow pies (frequently!) when our backs were turned. Rolling in chicken crap is a dog’s heavenly dream. Cats are more discerning. They are predators and like their food fresh.
A Cautionary Thought
While your dog or cat can eat many of your leftovers, she is not a garbage disposal. Try composting. If you want an animal to dispose of all your kitchen waste, get a pig. Pigs are fabulous with that. About which, more later . . .
I am neither a veterinarian nor a pet nutritionist. (I’m an English major.) I’m just sharing what is working for us. Your pet may eat more or less. And, of course, if your pet doesn’t do well with this regimen, stop.