You Can Make Your Own Pet Food
March 31, 2007
By Denise Flaim
That’s been the reaction of many owners to the recalls last week of 95 pet-food brands manufactured by Canada-based Menu Foods.
As of last week, the Food and Drug Administration reported that at least 14 cats and dogs had died of kidney failure from ingesting the food, which New York State officials say was tainted with Aminopterin, a chemotherapy drug no longer used in the U.S. It is used as a rodenticide in China, the source of wheat gluten the company put in its foods.
Sixty million cans and packages of moist food have been yanked off store shelves -- roughly 1 percent of the nation’s pet-food inventory. Even if their animals haven’t ingested any of the tainted food, the owners are panicking anew at this question: What will I feed my animal now?
Christie Shaver of New York’s Healthy Pet Gourmet (www.thpg.com), which makes custom fresh-food meals for dogs, has been deluged with calls from people who now are ready to fire up their stoves for Fido.
While the Menu Foods crisis was a powerful catalyst, she thinks common sense should prompt many to reconsider commercial foods, whether they are on the recall list or not.
“It’s all about knowledge,” says Shaver, who began home-cooking after her cat was diagnosed with severe diabetes and her now-former vet pushed for euthanasia; after a decade of home-cooking, Scout is still here and insulin-free.
Label-reading is a must. For example, “If you’re feeding a product that has meal in it -- whether it’s poultry or meat or fish meal -- that’s a rendered product,” she explains. “What happens in rendering is all the garbage from other food industries, as well as euthanized dogs and cats, are thrown together and melted down.”
A self-styled “pet nutritionist” who has studied holistic care for pets, Shaver notes that there is a persistent fear associated with feeding home-prepared meals to animals.
“You’ll even see commercials where people say, Don’t feed the dog people food!’ ” she says. “The truth of it is animals all over the planet eat what we call people food. It’s common sense, and I think most people know that deep down. When you have a bag of food that can sit open for six months and not deteriorate, there’s something unnatural about that.”
Shaver says people often overthink homemade diets, concluding they must involve intricate calculations and complicated chemistry.
“If you make a meal for your child, you don’t feel the need to count it out and make sure (you) have the exact number of calories,” she says.
For a typical dog meal, she suggests cooking some chicken and adding vegetables such as carrots, green beans, peas and a bit of tomato, rice or a cooked potato, and sardines they’re stinky, but they’re a good source of vitamin B12, essential fatty acids and ever-important calcium. (Alternately, for a calcium source, Shaver recommends ground eggshells, calcium carbonate or a kelp-derived natural supplement.)
For those who want a detailed primer, Shaver suggests “Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternative” by veterinarian Donald R. Strombeck (Iowa State Press, $42.99).
The most important component of home-feeding is to make sure that you are giving your animal a good vitamin and mineral supplement to avoid any nutritional imbalances. But be careful about quality: A recent review of supplements by www.ConsumerLab.com found that popular pet supplement Pet-Tabs was contaminated with 1.4 micrograms of lead per tablet. (“In general, we found pet supplements to be of lower quality than of those for people,” notes ConsumerLab’s president, Tod Cooperman.)
When clients ask for recommendations, Shaver points them to Anitra’s Vita-Mineral Mix (from www.halopets.com) as well as Animal Essentials Multi-Vitamin Herbal Supplement (available from www.onlynaturalpet.com, which also carries the brand’s seaweed-based calcium supplement, which also has her thumbs-up, too).
So, with apologies to Marie Antoinette, let them eat chicken or lamb or beef or macaroni or rice. After all, Shaver says, owners should wonder what’s so great about any brand of food that tastes so vile they wouldn’t sample it themselves.
If the recent national pet food recall has got you thinking about making your own dog food, you may want to try this recipe from “The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs” by Donna Twichell Roberts (Quarry Books).
¾ cup water
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 ¾ pounds meatloaf mix (see note)
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon ketchup
1. Bring water to boil in a small skillet. Add carrot and celery. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly.
2. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly to combine.
3. Place meatloaf on foil-lined baking sheet. Form into a bone shape measuring approximately 9 inches long by 5 inches wide by 1 ½ inches high. Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven about 1 hour.
4. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. If desired, spread additional ketchup or mild barbecue sauce on top of meatloaf, pipe mashed potatoes around the lower edge, and garnish with a cheese slice cutout. Makes 1 meatloaf.
Note: A combination of ground beef, pork and veal (or chicken or turkey).