How to Feed Your Dog

When you can't afford to feed your dog.

Do click on the puppy.
What a conundrum we find ourselves in, while presented with a plethora of dried kibble in bags, assurances of dietary completeness and wondrous health splashed across the commercial packaging. Is this the most efficient, cost-effective, and healthy way to feed my dog? What's ideal nutrition for an opportunistic carnivore that can survive on twigs and berries, but thrive on a rotting carcass? More importantly, how can I best mimic that ideal nutrition in a depression?  How can I avoid all the scary pet food recalls, mysterious ingredients from China? Weren't dogs originally used as trash-heap cleaners, guardians of the perimeter and eater of our scraps?
When did we stop using them to help dispose of the trimmings from our dinners, and start feeding them only dried grains? Ahh, but that last deserves its own page...

Consider the canine digestive system: short, fast, highly acidic and capable of handling a much higher bacterial load than a human can. Dogs have no real need for complex carbohydrates, synthesizing almost all their raw materials from bone, meat, and fat. When there are carbs present, their systems slow way down and create more waste. Grinding, pureeing or shredding fresh veggies makes more of their nutritional value available to dogs, but ultimately only add empty calories to the diet. A good way to keep a dog feeling full is to add boiled grains and shredded veggies, they'll lose weight but feel well fed. As you can afford to replace those meals with meat, you'll increase the nutritional value, and consequently need to feed less per meal. Ideally, you'll only need to feed a good balance of 2% of their body weight per day, and many dogs do very well eating one larger meal.  A puppy is a special case, and should be fed at nearly 6% of weight, but that'll change pretty fast, so it's probably best to feed as if it was the size you expect it to become. 2% of the expected adult size is a reasonable place to start, even if the dog is over or under weight. Squashes offer an unusual and helpful menu option, as running them through a blender or cooking to a soup will help a dog's digestive system level out regardless of how strangely they've just been eating.

Switching too fast to a home made diet can cause stomach upset, so start with small amounts of 'real' food to help increase your dog's 'food vocabulary.' What is real food? Whatever vegetable you're having for dinner, in the blender, hold off on onions, cucumbers and raisins. Did you have chicken, trim the fat and skin off before cooking it? Chop that up and offer it with warm water as gravy. Stretch out the kibble until your dog is eating almost none, and stop buying it. Once a week, make a big pot of rice, using 3x as much water, and when it's all soft and fluffy, add 3x as much water again and cook it into a gruel. Put that up in meal-sized portions and mix in the scraps from your dinner, or things you find on sale. Eggs are nature's perfect food, and can be fed in any way that works. Raw scrambled over food like a gravy, or boiled and tossed onto the lawn as a chew toy for a rambunctious puppy. Whenever you wonder if you're feeding your dog correctly, look at the poop.

Don't click on the poop.
The scoop on the poop: When your dog's digestive system is properly warmed up and ready to cook some nutritional value out of what's for supper, and that menu is readily bio-available, there's not a lot left over to go to waste. Without being too graphic; there's less, it's in a dryer, more powdery form, and it's gone in a few days in normal weather. Here's where squash becomes your friend - if there's any upset at all, a base level of squash and a soft grain such as oatmeal will show you a mid-point for healthy poop. Take a look when you scoop! The more raw meat you add to the diet, the less you have to feed over all, and the smaller the poop will be. The primary waste product becomes calcium, dissipates in a few days. If you cook the meat, it becomes less bio-available to the dog, a bit harder to digest, and then they can benefit from some complex carbs acting as fiber. If you feed meat raw with bone, not only are the teeth cleaned, but the dog uses the bone and connective tissue as readily digestible glucosamine and bone-building raw materials.

Where do you find raw materials that are literally, raw meat? Hunt through the meat counter looking for sales, and ask the folks behind the counter for out of date packages. Resolve to wash everything you buy. The biggest bacterial risk is to you, and the highest point of risk is contact with the liquid in the packaging, so always thoroughly submerge and rinse any meat, especially bought on sale or out of date. Always ask your local farmer if there's any leftover ribs or scraps suitable for a dog to chew. Freeze in meal-sized containers for easy thaw and serving. Beginners should always feed those first few meals with raw meat chunks held by hand with plenty of encouragement so the dog will chew instead of trying to swallow whole. Once a dog understands that chewing is fun, you'll see their focus shift and they'll slow down; see video of a dog enjoying chewing dinner. Normally a dog will start using their teeth right away, a few will need their food held for a week or two. This is a marvelous opportunity for some warm-weather outdoor bonding, with plenty of eye contact and verbal praise.

Slow and steady introductions of all new foods is the safest course, but some dogs willingly switch with hardly a hiccup. I find that the more diversity and variety I introduce to my dogs, the more they are interested in trying new foods, and the quicker to let me know what they like best. If you're hesitating because too often your 'scraps' are leftovers from McD's or PopEyes in a bag, well then, hold off on feeding any of that to your dog - it's not real food! Cooked meat is always a bit risky to feed to a dog, but fried chicken should be avoided, since the bones will definitely splinter and can pose a health risk! If you'd hesitate to feed it to your dog, why are you feeding it to yourself? That's a bit beyond the scope of this blog, but I suggest you start to change that by visiting your local farmer's market!