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“We trust people to leave the hospital with a baby and keep it alive,” sighs Debora Robertson, journalist and author of Dogs’ Dinners and Cooking for Cats. “We trust them to feed their children, but not their pets. Is not that crazy? “
Canine behaviorist Louise Glazebrook agrees: “The constant declaration that there is no way we can count on feeding a dog without one of three multinationals putting it in a bag and whipping us at a ridiculous price makes my blood boil . “
Put that way, it seems strange. But like many pet owners who cook for other people without thinking, I am strangely nervous to admit that I sometimes prepare food for my terrier too. Robertson recalls the first time she wrote about it, “I felt like I was walking out of a very strange closet … but it was clearly a big one because so many people got in touch to say they did too to have. Everything went a little crazy to be honest. “
And that was before our pets were stuck at home with us all day: Spikes on Google searches for “homemade dog treats” last year suggest that if we don’t bake banana bread for ourselves, we have been cooking a storm for our furry friends.
Alison Daniel, co-founder of My Pet Nutritionist.com, had to hire three new employees to keep up with demand. “The most important thing is people who are at home and are more aware that their dog’s health may not be so good – and also pets who take on the stress of their owners. Pet behavior and fear issues go through the roof. “
Chef Asma Khan admits she makes putenkeema and fried chicken for her kitten, while an Instagram friend swears her two West Highland Terriers would never eat anything other than dog food – “but that has changed since the lockdown began.” Whether for health or environmental reasons, or just to show love, more and more of us are turning away from mass-produced animal feed.
It is recommended that you seek veterinary advice before starting a vegetarian or vegan diet.
My vet confirms this but is less enthusiastic about the trend and remembers the many cases of malnutrition he saw before commercial diets became the norm – a taurine deficiency especially in cats. Daniella Dos Santos, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association, says it is great that more people are “interested” in their pet’s diet – “as long as it is done responsibly and safely”. She explains that members of the Association of Pet Food Manufacturers must adhere to the strict nutritional guidelines of the European pet food industry – whose website informs me that a dog needs “around 37 basic nutrients in its daily diet and a cat over 40”.
“Basically,” says Dos Santos, “it is much easier to do something wrong than to do it right.” Dos Santos, however, has concerns about those considering a vegetarian and vegan diet for their animals. As an obligatory carnivore, cats get all of their food from meat and should not be deterred. While “it is theoretically possible” for dogs to get everything they need from a vegetarian or vegan diet, “you need to speak to a professional first,” whether it be your own veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist.
Robertson, who has consulted with a veterinarian and several nutritionists for her cookbooks, emphasizes the importance of being “careful and intelligent” when choosing the foods you choose and remembering that it doesn’t mean you will like something pet. (“Feeling like you want to pamper your cat by baking them a cake,” she says, “you are doing this for you, not her.”)
Daniel points out that every animal is an individual – “different races, different sizes, different ages, different levels of activity … what will work for one will not work for another. They are like us, they have their likes and dislikes. “Your customers fill out a comprehensive pet health questionnaire before the initial consultation so they can develop a tailor-made feeding plan that suits them,“ whether it is commercial fresh food or recipes they can make themselves ”.
Glazebrook also admits that cooking for your dog is not for everyone, even in a pandemic, but stresses that owners shouldn’t feel tempted to buy old things either. “The effects of inadequate nutrition are enormous,” she tells me.
“I am currently seeing a lot of puppies that are desperately hungry and almost starving because even though they eat a lot, the quality is not good enough. It doesn’t suit their needs, which affects their behavior – stealing things from counters, cleaning them up, running away with food, all because the particular brand of food being fed is not suitable for them. “
First-time puppy owners can be forgiven to play it safe: the prospect of keeping a baby of any species alive is daunting. I remember anxiously asking my dog’s breeder, Wilf, how we would know when he was hungry (laughs? She almost died!), And sending my friend out to diligently search the shelves for the UHT she recommended – Combing goat milk.
For the first few months of his life, he enjoyed a carefully balanced, age-specific diet. The only human food he knew was the English mustard, which we had to coat the table legs with to keep him from chewing them. And then, one fateful day, the one who is not named decided to give him a piece of bacon from his breakfast plate. It wasn’t the same after that.
“Whether for health or environmental reasons, or just to show love, more and more of us are turning away from bulk pet food.”
Gradually, as I became less nervous about killing this apparently sturdy little animal, I began adding a piece of fish or a can of fish to his dry food, stirring him an egg, or poaching him chicken and rice if he had a little off color – the way dogs I knew grew up were fed. These days he generally eats roughly half homemade offerings, half nibbles. For the purposes of this piece, Wilf were served homemade meals for two weeks.
Some were more popular than others – he refused to sniff a banana smoothie and hesitated two seconds before devouring a buckwheat pancake with raw spinach and cottage cheese. Robertson’s chicken and vegetable soup proved to be an excellent place to hide some medication that was briefly prescribed for him, however, and their canned salmon fish cakes made him lick the bowl long after a smaller animal accepted defeat.
I bake him liver chips from Lily’s kitchen founder Henrietta Morrison’s book Tasty Treats for Happy Dogs – then I have to hide them from him and me (they look unsettling like the chocolate variety) – and lamb meatloaf and burgers from Sean McCormack’s The Happy Dog Cookbook. I order organic seaweed powder and bone meal online to sneak into minced meat and vegetables for one of the recipes available on Daniel’s website, and on Valentine’s Day I spend four hours braising him a beef cheek with root vegetables that I will hopefully buy his Love for the next 364 days.
Wilf wolfs them all with significantly more sniffles than he normally greets a bowl of dry biscuits. That means, when I present him a dish with homemade shepherd’s cake and peas next to a small portion of dog food according to the moor standard, he sniffs the sweet potato mash and then takes the other bowl.
Perhaps pearls before pigs – I’m under no illusions that he’d like a fried chicken bone out of the gutter – but for me, this is a useful way of making sure the meat in his diet is as ethical as I am would want on my own (luckily we both have a penchant for cheap cuts).
If you can cook in batch it isn’t too much work, and as a bonus, there is less to do on the other end if the fillers don’t contain commercial dog food.
But then I have the considerable luxuries of time, money, and freezer space, as well as a pet who eats almost anything except smoothies; Not every pet does. But when you do, remember that you also have the luxury of choice. As Glazebrook says, there are many ways to feed a pet: “It doesn’t have to come from a plastic bag.” – Guardian.