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How and why to make homemade dog food

For those who want to feed Fido only the very finest chow.

Dog catching a biscuit.

Your dog will love homemade food & treats almost as much as they love you.

Richard Clark / Getty Images

"Dog food" is no longer an automatically unsavory term -- fresh dog food and gourmet dog treats are now big business, but if you like to DIY there are abundant resources to show you how to make your own dog food. August 26 is National Dog Day, so there's no better time to give it a try. 

Yes, they eat out of trash bins. They gnaw on the crust beneath the refrigerator. They stick their noses in the briny viscera of half-decomposed birds. They lick each other's butts.

Read more: Gourmet dog treats we'd totally sneak a bite of

Dogs are many things but they are not generally known as picky eaters.

That's not the point, say a growing number of people who believe that despite their lack of gourmandise, dogs should be offered homemade food instead of commercial kibble.

The Evolution of Dog Food

Cooking for your dog is not new: Processed dog food was invented around 1860, and the now-ubiquitous bagged kibble has been popular only since the 1950s. Before that, most dogs were fed table scraps and maybe a little special chicken and rice porridge. In rural areas and outside of the developed world, many dogs continue to survive on just that.

But ever since the 2007 pet food recall (and unfortunately, there have been many more since then), books about home cooking for dogs have been selling as fast as Amazon can restock them.

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured here.

It was in 2007 that we spoke to Arden Moore, author of Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome, which had then hit Amazon's bestseller list. "It really just showed me how much people are scared," she said. More people started to wonder what was in commercial pet food. But, as is still often the case, "there [were] really more questions than answers."

dog-food-cookbook-amazon

Just one of many cookbooks with recipes for your canine companions.

Amazon

To Moore, spending an hour making liver treats for your Labradoodle is a natural extension of the anti-corporate-grind mentality that spawned the Slow Food movement and gave rise to the quit-your-job-and-open-a-bakery trend. "I think there is a push for more of a sincere, simplistic life, and I think pets give you that," she said.

Though she claimed she didn't have anything against the pet food industry, she was also pretty sure that her two dogs enjoyed her Marvelous Mutt Meatballs and Pooch Pancakes better than they would something from a can.

Dog Nutrition

The meatballs, like two-thirds of the recipes in the book, are fit for people too. The most notable thing about them is their conspicuous lack of onions, which can cause a dangerous anemia in dogs.

Eggplant, chocolate, grapes and macadamia nuts are other no-nos, which just goes to show that canine nutrition is not as simple as dumping a meat 'n' three in a stainless steel dish. Pet-food cookbook authors speak of things like amino acid complexes, bone meal supplements and eggshells ground for calcium.

Moore teamed up with a veterinarian from the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, who analyzed all the recipes in her book to make sure they give dogs what they need to stay healthy.

Rudy Edalati, owner of the Barker's Grub canine catering company in suburban Maryland and author of a cookbook by the same name, also knows a thing or two about doggy nutrition; we spoke with her in 2007 too.

A former riding instructor, Edalati often sounded a lot more like the chef at a hip eco-spa than someone who spends all day up to her elbows in puppy chow.

"Can you imagine eating processed foods every day?" she said in horror when talking about doggy diets.

Edalati's takeout dishes are prepared to meet each dog's specific nutritional needs and are full of seasonal veggies -- pumpkin in fall, green beans in summer. Her customers and her own eight canines eat dishes like Dragon Grub, a simple egg-noodle-and-ground-beef concoction that would be right at home on the kids' menu at any corner bistro.

Spot and Tango dog food delivery

Spot and Tango delivers farm-fresh meals for your dog.

Spot and Tango

But unlike children, dogs will not wrinkle their noses at the sight of a stray speck of parsley and ask for plain buttered spaghetti.

"One thing about dogs is they're just so happy and they just love everything you make for them," she said.

Even the most ardent butt-lickers have their limits though. Moore recalled a dog that would use his nose to push away every single piece of carrot in her canine casserole. "I have no idea how he did it so masterfully," she said. "When you can't even make food for a dog, that's kind of sad."

Sally Sampson, a Boston-based restaurateur and author of 17 people-food cookbooks, said she approached the recipe-development process for her canine cookbook, Throw Me a Bone, the same way she would for any project: test, test, test. "If a dog walked away from something, we didn't include it," she said.

Most of the recipes in Sampson's and Moore's books contain some type of grain (rice, pasta, corn mix, wheat flour). Although there are people (especially those who feed their pets only raw foods) who subscribe to the theory that dogs can't eat grains, many dog-food cookbook authors believe that dogs are omnivores.

All of the recipes in Throw Me a Bone made it past a canine taste panel that included Max, Sampson's father's wheaten terrier, and Cooper Gillespie, the Welsh springer spaniel of Sampson's good friend, New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. Orlean wrote the text of Throw Me a Bone from Cooper's perspective -- it's his name, not hers, that appears on the book jacket.

Homemade Dog Food Recipes

While there are plenty of people who think that cooking for your dog is a sign of pathetically misplaced priorities, the authors all said there's nothing overindulgent about wanting to feed your pet the healthiest food.

"I'm not sitting here dressing my pets up in costumes," Moore said. "But what I put in their food bowl I do make sure is very nutritious."

These days, you have your pick of pet food delivery services that tout fresh, nutritionally balanced, human-grade food for dogs (and cats) but some people will always prefer to make their own -- and they have plenty of other canine cookbooks to choose from. You can even find wildly popular people-food blogs offering their own homemade dog food recipes, and -- naturally -- both Instant Pot Dog Food and Slow Cooker Dog Food recipes. Because where there's a will, there's a way. Try your hand at one of these treats from Moore's cookbook and you're going to have a happy dog.

Marvelous Mutt Meatballs


(Fit for people too)

From Real Food for Dogs by Arden Moore

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef (or ground sirloin) 
  • 2/3 cup grated cheddar cheese 
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped or grated 
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs 
  • 2 eggs, whisked 
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste (low sodium)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

2. Combine all ingredients in a medium-size bowl. 

3. Scoop out by the spoonful and roll into mini size meatballs. 

4. Place the meatballs on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonfat cooking spray. 

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. 

6. Cool and store in the refrigerator in a container with a lid.

Leap for Liver

(For dogs only)

From Real Food for Dogs by Arden Moore  

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sliced beef liver (save the juice) 
  • 1/4 cup water 
  • 1 small box corn muffin mix

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

2. In a food processor or blender, blend the liver one slice at a time on high until liquefied. Add a little water as you add each slice. 

3. Pour the corn muffin mix into a large bowl. Then add the liver liquid and mix thoroughly. 

4. Spray an 8-1/2-by-11-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. 

5. Pour the liver mix into the pan. 

6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the middle springs back at your touch. 

7. Cool and cut into small cubes. Store the cubes in resealable plastic bags in the freezer.

This story was written by Emily Matchar and originally posted at Chowhound.