OK, my eldest child is a dog. And in reality, I don’t refer to him as my child. He’s a dog. But a member of our family, nonetheless.
Gonzo — named after writer Hunter S. Thompson, not the muppet — was rescued from the animal shelter was he was about 6 weeks old. He’s a high-energy husky mix, a full-grown dog that never learned not to jump straight up in the air when excited, despite the fact that he’s fractured bones doing just that. He’s very tolerant of the human kids, which means he spends a good amount of time hiding/sleeping in my sewing room, coming out to clean up droppings on the floor of the dining room after meals.
He’s also a little high-maintenance. Gonzo was born bowlegged, a condition that, with age, has led to other problems including hip dysplasia, arthritis and the aforementioned fractures.
Sometime after moving to Alabama, he also developed flea allergy dermatitis, an allergic reaction to flea bites that causes a lot of pain, swelling, itching and hair loss even after just one bite (how cruel is it for a dog to be allergic to fleas, anyway?).
This summer was especially bad, so in June I decided that something had to change. I began with Gonzo’s diet. Gonzo has been a Pedigree-brand dog for as long as I can remember, but once I started doing research on dog food, I felt pretty bad for feeding it to him. Like humans, dogs have nutrition requirements, and the corn-based dog food just wasn’t cutting it.
With my vet’s permission and a recipe provided by Hill’s Science Diet, I started feeding Gonzo a homemade diet. There are lots of recipes out there, but always consult your veterinarian before switching to a homemade diet. Dogs need certain vitamins and minerals — especially a proper balance of phosphorus to calcium — which are present in store-bought dog food.
Here are some basic guidelines for a homemade doggie diet: First of all, dogs are carnivores, but they’re also fully capable of digesting starches, fruits and vegetables.
In fact, dogs need fiber in their diet to help clear out their digestive tract, just like humans (one of the reasons you occasionally see them eating grass).
Never feed your dog onions, garlic, chocolate, raisins, grapes or avocado. They are poisonous. The pits of some fruits — peaches, cherries, apricots, etc. — pose a choking hazard for dogs and contain amygdalin, which metabolizes into cyanide (the fruit itself is fine though, for canine and human consumption).
At least half of a dog’s diet should be meat. I mostly use chicken because you can often find 10-pound bags on sale for 69 cents a pound. I cook the chicken in a pressure cooker for an hour, remove the meat from the bones and then cook the bones in the pressure cooker until they crumble easily, about another hour. Then I run the bones through my food grinder to make sure there are no hard pieces left and add the bone meal to the meat. Only when using a method like this is it OK to feed cooked bones to a dog — they can splinter and really tear up the stomach. Bone meal helps with the phosphorus-to-calcium ratio that dogs require.
Starches should be easily digestible — rice and rolled oats are good options, but not corn. All starches must be cooked before feeding. I cook the white rice or oatmeal in the chicken stock that remains after cooking the bones.
Vegetables can vary. Gonzo’s fond of broccoli, pumpkin and peas. He doesn’t care much for carrots. Green beans are a popular choice in many recipes, but I personally don’t like them, so we never have any in our house.
I make a large batch and freeze the extras, pulling out amounts that I need for several days at a time and keeping it in the fridge.
Since beginning this diet, and finally finding an effective flea treatment (Trifexis, which also prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls hookworm, roundworm and whipworm infections), Gonzo’s skin has cleared up immensely. He’s hardly itchy at all anymore, and after being almost completely bald for about three years, the hair on his hindquarters is finally growing back.
Beginning a homemade doggie diet is a bit of a commitment, so why not start off with this quick and easy recipe my dad gave me for homemade dog treats.
HOMEMADE DOG TREATS
1 pound liver, chopped or ground
2 cups oat flour
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients, then pour onto parchment paper. Bake for 20 minutes, then cut into squares while still warm. Place in a 250 degree oven (or leave in oven overnight if it has a gas pilot light) until the treats are completely dry. Store in an airtight container.
Features Editor Deirdre Long: 256-294-4152. On Twitter @star_features.