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Home Cooking for Boxers from Dale’s Kitchen

by Dale Ulmer,
co-owner/administrator of the BOXER MAILING LIST

Toby and Lily, my two dogs, are my third and fourth Boxers. Those that I owned earlier lived fairly long lives by today's standards, eleven and ten years, but each of them died of a form of cancer. Because cancer also afflicts human beings, a great deal of research has been done on the disease. There is strong evidence that suggests that environmental factors play a major role in the onset of many forms of cancer. Food is one such factor.

After my second Boxer's death, I resolved to see what I could learn about dog food. I was surprised to find very little information available on the topic. What little there was tended to be based almost exclusively on research conducted by or funded by manufacturers of pet food products. Not surprisingly, the conclusion of these industry sponsored studies is what we've heard for years, that a completely balanced dry dog food is a dog's best source of nutrition.

That conclusion has always bothered me, and not just because of the vested interest involved in reaching it. We know for a fact that prepared foods are not the best things for humans to eat. In fact, many of them are pretty bad. Is it likely that dog foods are markedly superior to products intended for human consumption? Dogs, after all, evolved as humans did, eating a collection of meats, grains and vegetables. And, also like us, their bodies were not designed to be maintained on an exclusive diet of fast food. That's what dog food really is. Eventually I came across a couple of books written by veterinarians who had found reason to distrust the conventional wisdom.

Both of these doctors explain that the pet food industry is not subject to the kind of regulation that's applied to suppliers of food for humans. Dog food purveyors are free to use whatever ingredients they want to. Think about economics for a moment. Premium dog foods sell in the range of 40 to 60 cents a pound at the wholesale level. How much of that do you suppose manufacturers spend on advertising, shipping, packaging, sales commissions, employee salaries, equipment maintenance and other overhead costs? There can't be much room for profit at those prices, let alone the cost of ingredients.

When meat animals arrive at the stockyards in less than good condition, the meat from them cannot be sold for human consumption. Want to guess what happens to the meat from animals who are dead, dying, disabled or diseased when they're shipped? Much of it is used in pet food.

Both doctors warn against using products that are based on "meat by-products" or "meat meal." A better all inclusive term might be "cheap stuff." I won't go into great detail here, but few people would feed these products to their dogs if they were aware of their contents, including hair, feathers, beaks, and floor sweepings, regardless of the source. Unfortunately, nearly all commercial foods contain one or more of these things.

Wendell Belfield is one of the vets referred to above. His book is How to Have a Healthier Dog, Doubleday, 1981. The original edition is out of print, but I understand it can be ordered fromOrthomolecular Specialties, PO Box 32232, San Jose CA 95152-2232, (408) 227-9334. Belfield suggests trying to find a source of food that does not use meat byproducts, meat meal or meat products from animals of questionable health. It's not easy to find such a dog food. He does not give recipes for home made food. He does present a solid program of vitamin and mineral supplementation aimed at remedying the deficiencies that exist in dog food, regardless of its source.

The other vet I'm citing is Richard Pitcairn. Dr. Pitcairn's Natural Guide to Health for Dogs and Cats, Rodale Press, 1995 (ISBN 0-87596-243-2), is often available at public libraries. Pitcairn argues against using commercial foods and provides a selection of recipes for home made dog and cat foods. He also provides recommendations on supplements, and explores other health matters.

I raised Toby and Lily on home made food based on Pitcairn's recipes. I use a couple of his ideas on supplementation, but rely more on Belfield's thinking in that area. In my opinion, Pitcairn's ideas on vitamins and minerals are not as fully developed as Belfield's. He quotes Belfield and incorporates some of his suggestions.

What follows is a summary of the ideas I've used in feeding my dogs. I'll begin with the basic recipe I started with:

2 cups cooked grain

2/3 cup meat

1/4 cup chopped or grated vegetables

Here's some further information on ingredients.

Meat: Nearly any muscle tissue meat is fine. Dogs are crazy about organs like hearts and gizzards, but too much liver is not good. An animal's liver tends to store concentrated pollutants.

I buy frozen ground turkey for my dogs. The price ranges from 60 to 80 cents a pound. When the price is low, I buy 8 or 10 cases and store it in my big freezer in the basement. I'd buy fresh ground turkey if it were available, but, at least in this area, it isn't. Now and then I buy a package of chicken innards as a treat. If you eat meat, leftovers and table scraps are fine.

A couple of times a week, I let my dogs split a can of mackerel instead of having turkey.

Grains: Bread, rice, wheat, oatmeal, barley, etc., are good choices. Corn is more difficult for dogs to digest, in spite of the fact that large quantities of it are found in commercial foods, especially the cheaper ones. On average, 3 large slices of bread equal 1 cup of cooked grain. I use a combination of cooked oatmeal and whole grain bread. Day old bread keeps the price down, and the dogs think it's just fine. Leftover pasta works well too.

Vegetables: Anything but onions will do. I've read that large amounts of onions appear to cause a type of anemia in dogs. I'm not sure how much is necessary to cause trouble, but I'd rather not take chances.

Preparation: My original method was to make a big pot of rice a couple of times a week and store it in plastic tubs in the refrigerator. I thawed four pounds of ground meat and a pound or two of vegetables at a time and stored them the same way. I used a pair of 2 cup Pyrex measuring cups as my main cooking utensils. Zapping the meat for two dogs takes just under 4 minutes in the microwave. It's done on the outside and red on the inside when it comes out, but stirring it immediately quickly browns all of it. Then I'd warm up the vegetables and rice and cool off the meat at the same time by mixing them all together along with the bread.

These days I follow the suggestion of Karla Spitzer, a member of the Boxer Mailing List, and cook oatmeal, meat and vegetables together in a sort of extremely thick stew, but in larger quantities. I use a 20 quart stock pot, and store the stew in plastic tubs in the refrigerator until I need it. At mealtime, I warm each bowl of food in the microwave for a minute to a minute and a half, add a few pieces of torn up bread and serve. My adaptation of Karla's recipe is included below.

I find the first method to be slightly more convenient, but the dogs prefer the second method. Toby, my older dog, is one who will eat nearly anything, but Lily, the younger one, is more fussy. When I cooked the ingredients separately and mixed them at mealtime, she'd sometimes get that old "Is this all there is?" look on her face. Now that I'm cooking everything together, Lily sometimes stares at the microwave waiting to get at her food.

My Boxers eat two meals a day, morning and evening. Lily gets exactly two cups of my homemade stew, while Toby, the larger of the two, gets a slightly more generous serving. I tear up a couple of small slices of rye bread for each of them and toss it on top of the stew.

Toby and Lily, along with every other dog I've known, are crazy about fish. Three mornings a week, I serve them a dish that the BML's Laura Krebill has named "Mac 'n' mac," mackerel and macaroni. I cook four cups of macaroni (measured dry) at a time. That's enough for two meals for each of my dogs. When it's been cooked and drained I put half of it away in the refrigerator for a later serving and divide the remaining half in two again. Then I split the contents of a fifteen ounce can of mackerel between the two dog bowls, add the usual torn up bread and voila! Mac 'n' mac.

Supplements: In the morning, I give each dog a half tablespoon of dried brewer's yeast and a 200 iu vitamin E capsule. In the evening they each get a multiple vitamin/mineral tablet. Nearly all of the pet supplements contain chemical preservatives, so I use multis intended for humans instead. Except for vitamins C and E, a product called Centrum contains just the right proportions for an adult Boxer, according to Belfield's recommendations. I buy a cheap supermarket copy for about half the price of the name brand. Julie Jones, another BML member, buys an inexpensive copy of Centrum from Puritan's Pride, Box 9001, Oakdale, NY, 11769-9001, (800) 645-9584.

Each dog also gets 1000 milligrams of sodium ascorbate powder at each meal. Sodium ascorbate is a form of vitamin C. The more common form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid, can produce diarrhea in some dogs. A mail order source for sodium ascorbate is Bronson's, Box 46903, St. Louis, MO, 63146-6903, (800) 235-3200.

If you're feeding a puppy, use a half a multiple vitamin tablet, and 100 iu of vitamin E for the first six months. Puppies should get the full dose of vitamin C. Pups and growing dogs can also use some additional calcium for their growing bones. I'd add a half tablespoon of powdered bone meal, the kind sold in health food stores for human consumption, to each meal. Bone meal has the proper blend of calcium and phosphorous.

This feeding program is working well for me. So far, neither of my dogs has ever been visibly sick. Both are in excellent physical condition and have glossy coats. In my opinion, the food they eat is one of the things that's responsible for their good health. Equally important is the fact that they're heavily exercised. They spend at least an hour each day, year round, in vigorous off-leash running and playing with each other or with other dogs.

Here's my version of Karla Spitzer's recipe. It requires using a very large (20 quart) pot, or reducing the amounts.

Heat 11 cups of water and 3/4 cup of canola oil. While the water is heating, unwrap 5 pounds of frozen turkey and place it in the water. Turn off the heat and allow the meat to thaw. Bake five or six large size washed potatoes (or ten or twelve small ones) in the microwave while the meat is thawing. After the meat has thawed and been broken into tiny pieces, turn the heat back on. When the meat begins to turn brown, stir in a can of tomatoes, a can of carrots, a can of spinach, two cans of green beans, two cans each of kidney and lima beans, and a couple of pounds of frozen broccoli or cauliflower. Chop the potatoes, skins and all, and add them to the mixture along with one or two large cloves of minced garlic. When everything comes to a boil, stir in one 42 ounce package of quick cooking oatmeal, the kind that cooks in a minute. The mixture will be thick at this point and will require thorough stirring to get the oatmeal evenly distributed. Simmer for fifteen minutes before turning off the heat. Spoon the mixture into smaller containers for refrigerator storage. (Note: The 11 cups of water called for above may vary, depending on the quality of oatmeal used. I buy very cheap oatmeal. Other BML members who buy more expensive name brands find that they need to use considerably more water. You may have to do some experimenting.)

Bon appetit!

As I was preparing this article for publication in the December BU, a few more questions about home cooking occurred to me. Since I’m a newcomer to "home cooking for dogs," I thought other novice chefs might have the same concerns. VZ

BU: I've been cooking for the pooches since we discussed the subject about a month ago. However, instead of using grain, I've been adding the meat/fish and vegetables to a "Brand X" dogfood base, on the theory that 1) for four and sometimes five dogs, that's easier and faster than making everything from scratch, and 2) several of my dogs go to shows often, and their handler certainly won't cook for them there. What's your opinion of my HALF-home-cooking?

DU: Frankly, I think your idea is half-baked. Worse, it may be dangerous. Commercial dog food is NOT a substitute for grain, even though the processing it undergoes gives it a similar appearance. Commercial dog food manufacturers go on at great length about "balanced" nutrition. A key element of what they're talking about is the meat to grain ratio. It's appropriate in their food (by saying which, I certainly don't mean to say that I approve of the ingredients they use to realize that ratio), but by adding a great deal more meat and no grain to that food, you're knocking the ratio completely out of whack. Your dogs will get far more protein than they need. Some surplus protein is reprocessed and stored in the body as fat. A vast overload of protein places an unnecessary burden on the kidneys. That's why I said that what you're doing may be dangerous.

Karla Spitzer faces the same problems with showing that you do, although probably on a smaller scale. She cooks for her dogs at home. When they're on the road, she feeds a high quality commercial food that is made with ingredients deemed suitable for human consumption. Your "Brand X" is not such a product.

BU: Am I correct in assuming that a home cooked diet requires the addition of supplements? Or does a combo of grains, meat, and vegetables provide a "balanced" diet with all essential vitamins and minerals?

DU: That's largely a matter of opinion. Do you take supplements? Most people don't, and they get along pretty well eating the same sort of foods that I feed my dogs, so I guess the dogs would be fine too. On the other hand, I DO take supplements, and I'm convinced that the fact that I do has much to do with the exceptional good health I've enjoyed in recent years. I extend that logic to my dogs and give them the supplements described in my article. The supplements the dogs get are not much different from the ones I take. :-)

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Willy, The Rescue
Farewell to Audrey
Cultural Differences
Breeding to Improve
Bobtail Story Part 2
Don't Buy that Puppy
Canine Cuisine
Osborn Saga
Boxer Bytes
Bear Speaks

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