Our recipe for making dog food at home

Ask any three dog experts for advice on making dog food and you’ll get at least six opinions.

It’s almost guaranteed to spark heated discussions whenever you bring up the subject. However, we’re wading into the fray, not to tell anyone to do it our way, but because we’ve been asked many times about our recipes. We’re not suggesting that anyone follow our way of doing things, just showing what works for us and our dogs.

Start of the journey

Our foray into making dog food at home started when Fran’s Boston Terrier Booker came home about seven years ago. He was just a little bit of a puppy, with terrible digestion. He was gassy, or he was vomiting, or he was constantly producing loose stools. His tummy growled almost all the time and none of the commercial foods we tried helped. 

We tried different proteins, different grains, limited-ingredient diets, etc. You name it, we tried it. We tried probiotics, supplements, antacids – pretty much anything people we respected suggested. It didn’t work. He was too skinny and we could tell he was uncomfortable.

Lucky to know a pro

Fortunately, a friend of ours from agility training started a dog-food business from her home. Lisa did exhaustive research and started her company, sadly now gone, to help dogs with medical conditions. Her own dog had been diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy, and her own veterinarian suggested she prepare his food. It helped her Collie, and she wanted to help other dogs, too.

We started getting food from Lisa for our dogs – and, for the first time in Booker’s life, his tummy was calm and happy. When Lisa’s business got busier, Hope would go and help out in her kitchen preparing dog food. That’s how she originally learned the preparation. 

Revising as we go

Lisa’s company specialized in making custom recipes for individual dogs. The vast majority of her customers got raw, frozen food. Lisa suggested to us that Booker may lack the ability to process raw, so his recipes were always lightly baked. Many vegetable nutrients are more accessible to dogs after baking, so that’s what we do.

We make 12 batches of food at a time, each containing 1.5 lbs. Meat, approximately 2 tablespoons of ground egg shell for calcium, 2 cups of chopped vegetables or fruit, and about four ounces of organ meat. The ingredients depend on the cost and availability, and our experience with our own dogs. The protein this week was chicken and the vegetables and fruits were:

  • Beets
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Daikon
  • Cucumber
  • Apples
  • Bok Choi
  • Cauliflower

Grind it all up in the food processor, mixed together, put into a baking pan, and bake for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Each batch is divided into eight portions and frozen. 

For our dogs, we’ve adjusted the portions according to their activity, size, and metabolism. We only use ingredients that all of the dogs can eat. Booker cannot tolerate pork, so we don’t use it. Torque adores beets, so we use quite a few. Simon adores dandelions. He finds them in our yard and munches away!

If you want a veterinarian’s take on making dog food at home, watch Dr. Judy Morgan’s “Pup Loaf” video.

What’s best for your dog

We’ve found ways to feed our dogs that work for us. All of our dogs also get a little bit of a commercial kibble for a couple of reasons. We want their bodies accustomed to it in case something happens and their homemade food isn’t available (power outage, travel). And we use it for training rewards. 

Your choice for dog food has to work for you and your dogs. Collect the information you need, listen to the experts you trust, and decide for yourself.

Living in the cone of shame

It’s all fun and games until someone winds up in the Cone of Shame.

This time, it’s Torque, with a stubborn eye ulcer. It started last month, and seemed to be healing okay. A little slow, but nothing to worry about. Until, somehow, the boy reinjured it. Our first clue was when he went to rub his face on his blanket and squealed in pain. And your stomach just sinks at the sound of it.

Life’s not easy – especially in a Cone

These days, nothing is easy – for anybody. With the possible exception of our cousin the lawyer who’s spending his shut-down in his Malibu beach house. No, we’re not bitter at all. He’s a wonderful man and we love him dearly, but we do turn off his video on the Zoom calls. 

Anyway, getting back to the point, we always look forward to Spring because winter in the Chicago area is a pain; extra layers, boots, extra time, scraping ice off cars, extra slippery, etc. So the change of seasons means life gets a little easier. Except when you’re in shut down mode and have to take your dog to the veterinarian every four days so she can check on his eye ulcer.

Our vet is a very old-fashioned general practitioner. No appointments, no vet techs. You used to come, sign in, and wait. Nowadays, you come, call to let them know you’re in the parking lot. And wait. We’ve been doing a lot of waiting lately.

Hard to navigate

I (Hope) freely admit that I was a bit cavalier about putting Torque in a Cone of Shame at first. He never wore one after his neuter surgery – he’s a French Bulldog and isn’t flexible enough to reach his “bits.” And he’s generally very good about “leave it!” whether it’s something disgusting in the yard or licking his paws.

When he reinjured his eye, Torque went into lockdown, too. Not a minute without the Cone of Shame unless we were brushing or grooming him. 

The only problem was – we didn’t have one big enough to fit a Frenchie. Our other dogs, Boston Terriers and Brussels Griffons, have all had about a 12” inch neck, or close enough that our array of cones were all about that size. 

Big boy

Torque, however, has a 16 inch neck. Big dog neck, little dog height. And the big dog Cones of Shame are several inches longer. Which means that Torque couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, and actually couldn’t fit through most of the doorways in the house with the big boy cone on. 

French Bulldog in a cone of shame

So our solution was to jury-rig a smaller cone. It keeps his eye protected, lets him get a drink, and even lets him chew on a bone. And he fits through doorways. 

With the proper-fitting cone on, Torque didn’t really move much. It’s as if putting it on him caused instant paralysis. With the jury-rigged version, he moves just fine. And delights in bashing it into our legs if we’re slow to get out of our little bull-dozer’s way. 

Challenges

We’re hoping we get good reports from the veterinarians this week. There are two in the practice, and, like everywhere, business has been slow. So they both come to see Torque and seem to take great joy in regaling us with horror stories about bug-eyed dogs (like French Bulldogs) whose eyes have popped out and other grisly details. They seem to find it fascinating and intriguing. It makes us a little woozy. 

So, between one thing and everything, this Spring hasn’t been one bit easier than Winter. Except we refused to wear boots when it snowed two inches in the last week. 

Connected during the shutdown

This week we learned how to stay connected while we’re all separated in our little bubbles. 

Before March 21, when our state (Illinois) went into shutdown mode, our days and weeks had regular markers. We knew it was Tuesday because that’s the day we go to Obedience classes. We knew it was Thursday because that’s the day we have Agility training. We know it’s Sunday because that’s the day we do our dogs’ nails, teeth, ears, etc.

Okay, Sunday hasn’t changed. We still do everybody’s nails, teeth, ears, etc. But the rest? Gone. Instead of filling our gas tanks every week, we’re still on the same tank as when the shutdown started. Instead of relaxing watching hockey or baseball in the evening, we’ve succumbed to a steady diet of HGTV. It’s less fattening than the Food Channel. But even the commercials have changed. Every big corporation is talking about how we’re all in this together, separate, but together.

Connected more personally

Fran was doing okay with it, for the most part. But, in all honesty, Fran would be a fairly happy hermit. Hope? Not so much. I miss yelling at my obedience students and joking around with my classmates. We’ve never been huge fans of talking on the phone, so, aside from the occasional yell “Simon, leave Tango alone!,” the house has been pretty quiet for us sisters.

Then we got together with some friends for a Zoom cocktail party. It was fun! We could see each other, we talked about dogs (what else?), and it felt like really getting together with friends.

Map of the world showing connected family

And this past weekend, we had a family Zoom get-together. We had to coordinate the timing just right – there were family members from Scotland, New Zealand, North Carolina, Illinois, and several California cities. It was great to see everyone, even on our tiny phone screens. And we got to “meet” our New Zealand cousin’s new puppy, Otis! We discovered that almost everyone had dogs. And the dogless two have other animals. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve seen studies mentioning that love for animals is, at least in part, genetic. That’s a force that runs strong in our family.

Scary bits

The most somber part was hearing the stories from one cousin who’s a doctor in the Chicago area. He’s an Ob/Gyn specialist, so not an emergency physician. And yet, he’s still on the front lines – treating patients who may be positive and still need to deliver their babies. But we got to virtually meet his Great Dane, Frankie. For some reason, he always had Frankie at daycare when we went to visit. Maybe he was afraid we’d go into “dog trainer” mode.

Actually, that was really tempting. Between the new puppy, the two “catch me if you can” pups in North Carolina, and the big galumpher here, it was hard to resist. But we weren’t there to lecture, but to connect with our far-flung family. 

The biggest laugh was Fran’s Boston Terrier, Simon. All our dogs were snoozing pretty peacefully during our family Zoom – until Simon started snoring. Loudly. The giggles heard ‘round the world! Fran had to mute her microphone.

Technology newbies

We didn’t set up either of the Zoom calls, but we understand it’s pretty easy to do. And free. So, while we’re not endorsing it, or any other “app” that lets you make video calls – we highly recommend it. We can all learn some new tricks and it helps to see other, friendly and loved, faces.

Dealing with the pandemic

We owe you an apology. We’ve been advocating dog games and dog training as a way of dealing with the pandemic. Of taking your mind off whatever anxiety and stress you’ve been feeling. 

But that’s not fair. That’s our escape, our way of dealing with what’s going on. It takes our minds off the worry we wake up with. When our new best friend, insomnia, isn’t paying us a visit.

We aren’t using our time to learn a new language, clean all the closets (not to mention the garage), spruce up the garden, or start a new fitness regime. We’re coping by doing things that are comforting and familiar. We suspect you are, too.

Common bond

The one thing we all have in common, the one thing that’s keeping us sane, is our dogs. 

Although we freely admit that the extra attention may just be stressing them out a bit. Hope’s French Bulldog Torque is getting extraordinarily clingy, and Fran’s Boston Terrier Simon is a tad cranky with the lack of naps.

But if this is the new, hopefully temporary, normal, our dogs are just going to have to get used to it. Instead of our regular two-nights-a-week training classes, we’re harassing them on a daily basis. We have short, individual training sessions with each dog every morning. It lets us start the day with a smile. 

It’s our thing. What’s yours?

We’d already started the habit of morning training. We firmly believe that habit is the most powerful force in the universe. When all of our routines and habits are thrown out of whack, as a good portion of the country has been, it’s an odd feeling. We don’t quite know what to do. So we fall back on habits – both good and bad. And revisit the things that are comfortable, soothing, and familiar.

How are you spending your time staying home? Are you okay? One of the things I (Hope) love to do is bake. Consequently, the freezer is filling up with cookies and cakes. Which is wonderful for occupying time peacefully, but terrible for our diet when even normal activities are lessened.

Lots of walks

It makes life a little easier that going for walks is still okay – as long as we maintain physical distance from everybody else. Since our favorite leashes are all six feet long, it’s really easy for us to judge the right “social distance” length – it’s a leash span! Now that the weather’s getting a little warmer, more people have the same thought and we see more people out and about. So far, everybody in our area is respecting the distance rules. 

And we’ve seen lots of little kindnesses like the “Bear Hunts” for children in the area. People are leaving teddy bears, or pictures of them, in their front windows for kids to find as they walk.

Tough week

The authorities are telling us that this week is going to be a difficult one, for a few reasons. Most horrific, of course, is the number of people killed and sickened by COVID 19. 

But it’s also not easy because this week includes holidays that are cherished for bringing families and friends together – Easter and Passover. Our family is figuring out how to gather by video chat – relatives from across the country and the world (Scotland & New Zealand) were supposed to be celebrating with us this week. We will celebrate together, somehow.

Comforting souls

But the ones we’ll be hugging will be our dogs. We’re grateful for their loud, exuberant, snorty, aggravating, adorable, soft, soothing presence every single day. Our dogs are helping keep us sane. It must be universally true. We saw a news report today that, for the first time ever, Chicago’s Animal Care & Control facility has no dogs to adopt. They’ve all found homes, comforting people dealing with the pandemic.

Dealing with pandemic: Woman napping holding a Boston Terrier
Fran & Booker

So we hope you’ll excuse us if we got a bit nagging with our talk of dog training. We think most dog lovers would have as much fun as we (and our dogs!) do, but it’s just not the right time. We’ll be here if and when you’re ready to try. Until then, hug your dog!