It’s been a few years since Indie has popped in to say hello on the blog. Today, she wanted to invite you to breakfast. Or more accurately, to invite you to look at her breakfast.
In 2018, we published a post on the history of dog food and how you could easily make your own. This was and still is a daunting notion for some pet owners. But back then we were on a mission to dispel the myth that feeding your dog was a difficult, complicated ordeal. In that year, Indie was six and had strictly eaten a homemade diet since the moment she bounded into our yard during a Fourth of July barbeque four years earlier.
Now Indie is nine, considered a senior dog, and still eating that same homemade diet. Over the years, that post has sparked a lot of conversation. It connected us with a batch of fellow homemade dog food comrades who championed this from-scratch form of feeding and eating, and it also spurned a lot of questions about portion sizes and nutrition and what-if-I-do it-wrong worries. I totally understand. Feeding your pet from scratch can feel like a big responsibility. But Indie and I confidently declare, if you can feed yourself, you can feed your dog.
Today’s post is just one of several coming out this year regarding nutrition, aging, and balanced meals based on vintage dietary wisdom. In an effort to explore the ways our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents lived, ate, and gardened back in the 20th century, we are tackling nutrition in 2023 from a variety of angles that don’t necessarily receive so much attention. This dietary dive begins with our four-legged friends, our best pals, our constant companions. Since their overall health affects our overall health and vice versa, and since our food is also suited to be their food, this is a copacetic cooking arrangement that benefits both pets and people.
Indie is so pleased to be your food guide today through the delicious land we (and she!) call breakfast. For the past eight years now, these are the types of foods that have kept her healthy and happy.
Each morning, throughout the entire month of December 2022, I photographed Indie’s breakfast. By sharing what she ate each day, I thought this might help show fellow home cooks how fun, easy, inexpensive, and healthy it can be to make your pup’s food from scratch. Albeit, it is not as easy as opening a can of condensed dog food or a bag of ready-made kibble pulled off the grocery store shelf, but for those of you that are interested in embarking on such a culinary adventure, with your dog’s overall health in mind, this glimpse will give you a good example of the types of foods that dogs can eat.
Ever since the commercialization of pet food in the United States, beginning in the 1860s, there have been debates about what to feed dogs, how much, and for what reasons. Motives have not always been scrupulous in the industry. And our pets have not always been considered worthy of high-quality ingredients. When mass farming and feed lots came into play in the mid-20th century, pet food manufacturers turned their focus towards cheaper ingredients and filler products rather than wholesome, natural foods. Even today when consumers are more educated than ever on balanced nutrition, this area of the food industry still remains complicated, obtuse, and not altogether transparent. Luckily, beginning in the 1970s small rumblings of a grass-roots movement began to emerge among pet owners – those who were concerned that their pets were not getting the nutritional attention they deserved. A focus towards more thoughtful diets that were less processed, less traveled and more custom to individual dogs began to take shape. Slowly across many decades, this passion has bloomed into a food love affair between people and pets.
So what exactly did Indie eat for breakfast last month? Let’s look…
In our 2018 post, we went through the basics of cooking for canines and how their diets have changed since the days of James Spratt and his meat fibrine biscuits in the 1860s. Refer to that post for specific information as to foods to embrace and foods to avoid, as well as notes on ratios and serving sizes. Below, we break down Indie’s breakfast bowls week by week, ingredient by ingredient, to show the simple combinations that make up a healthy dog’s diet.
Indie is an English shepherd by breed and a gourmand by heart. She weighs 55 pounds and is considered a medium-sized dog. We feed her twice a day – morning and night. She gets a fair amount of exercise every day and she is always (always!) excited to see what’s in her bowl.
We stay away from anything that contains soy, wheat, and corn, as they are known allergens which affect most dogs in one way or another. Also, we stay clear of dried fruit, beer, bones, wine, citrus, onions, garlic, seeds, cores and fruit/vegetable pits when it comes to feeding Indie, as they contain toxic elements and/or possible choking hazards. Other than that, a bounty of edible options and combinations await every day.
Primarily Indie eats what is in season, so her breakfast is never the same month by month but does follow a typical consistent pattern of one to two proteins. one to two grains, and one to three vegetables at each serving. A great deal of what we feed her is influenced by what I’m making for our human meals each week as well. Since this record was kept during the month of December, many of Indie’s breakfasts were planned around holiday meals. But you’ll notice the throughlines that stayed the same each day. Protein, vegetable, grain.
In trying to care for Indie’s health and the environment as best we can, we only feed her food that we want to consume ourselves – organic vegetables, humanely raised chicken, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. All of her meat proteins are always cooked, never raw, and we generally buy bone-in chicken with the skin on since the bones can work double-duty as a flavor enhancer while cooking and the basis of a broth once the meat is chopped up for her meal. For dinner, Indie eats in the same fashion as breakfast, but we tend to change up her vegetables so that she has a little variation between day and night. We serve all of her meals warm to the touch but not hot and never cold from the fridge.
Rice and/or oatmeal are generally daily staples and she tends to cycle through a round of vegetables every three days or so. On days that she gets extra exercise, like going for a hike, or spending a great deal of time running around the yard, then we’ll feed her larger portions. On days, when she is more sedentary or housebound due to inclement weather, she’ll receive a little less food since she’s not exercising as much. So far this balance between portion size and activity level has worked out really well. We’ve managed to keep her at her wealthy weight of 55 lbs for all eight years following this same routine.
These days, her most favorite foods are chicken, carrots, sardines, potatoes, pancakes, cheese, and oatmeal, but every year she seems to enjoy a new love only to move on to something else the next year. One year she was all about green beans. The next year it was mackerel. Then came a love affair with roasted pumpkins. Every once in a while, she’ll boycott a vegetable at breakfast or decide to only eat some of it, leaving the rest in her bowl skillfully arranged, like she’s creating some sort of art. Note the lone brussels sprout and grain of rice here…
These left-behinds are always short-lived. As rare occurrences, if a few pieces happen to sit in her bowl after she’s walked away, we just scoop up what’s remaining, and refrigerate it until dinnertime. Then it gets thrown back into the mix with her nightly meal, never to be seen again.
So how do we know that Indie is meeting all her nutritional requirements?
First off, we can see it. Her eyes are bright, her hearing excellent, her mobility flexible, her coat ultra-soft and shiny and her responsiveness quick and intuitive. She greets each day with energy, enthusiasm and an infectious amount of joy. And most importantly, her appetite is very, very healthy.
We also have assurance from the vet community as well. When we moved to New England this past spring, we got Indie all set up with a new vet so that she could get her flea and trick program started. As part of the vet’s welcome program, all new pup patients need to have an exam before they are administered the flea and tick medicine. This once-over by a vet is always a great opportunity to see how Indie’s homemade diet is holding up. Will she get a good report? Will she be deficient in some areas? Will they tell us we’ve been doing it wrong all along? Par for the course, these worries never come to light. Every vet visit she has ever had ends with flying colors in the general overall health department. This last time, she was greeted with good news on all fronts – eyes, ears, teeth, coat, mobility, energy, and responsiveness. The vet said she was in fantastic shape and couldn’t believe she was nine years old. I attribute this continual good news about her health to her homemade diet.
So feeding your pup can be as simple as that. If you make oatmeal for breakfast, cook your dog some oats too. If you’re making a big pot of chicken noodle soup for dinner, chop up some extra chicken, celery and carrots for your pal. If you are serving watermelon in the summer or roasting pumpkin wedges in the winter, toss a few extra pieces into the pup’s bowl too. All you need is protein, vegetables, and grain and then you are on your way.
Since we moved to New England, Indie’s been expanding her palate to include more homegrown garden vegetables and regional foods including slow-cooked beans, crab, cod, blueberries, apples, and the occasional bite or two of lobster roll. Just like Katharine Hepburn, she’s also decided that swimming in the Long Island Sound is her new favorite form of exercise.
With so many pet food recalls today, expensive vet visits, and food product companies importing unregulated dog food from other countries, making your own dog food from whole ingredients is one way to ensure a healthy, nutritious and fulfilling life for your pup. A gourmet world awaits once you get past the cans and the kibble.
If you are thinking about starting your pup out on a homemade diet this year, I hope this post helps your canine culinary adventures take shape. If you are already a fellow dog foodie, Indie would love to know what’s on the menu at your house.
Cheers to our pups and to healthy, homemade breakfasts! Bone Appetit!