Pet Food From Your Garden

From Chapter 24 of "Healthy Garden Healthy You" by Milo Shammas

Every animal deserves to be as healthy as possible. The best way to support your pet's health is to take control of their nutrition. I feed animals everything that I would make for my own family. I make my food myself from good, clean produce right from the garden, supplemented with meat and other goodies from the supermarket.

For most companies in all industries, profits are the primary driving force. Yes, companies need to make a profit to stay in business. However, I question when food producers become solely profit-driven to the point that their decisions are potentially detrimental to health. Those who provide any living being with food should be held to the highest standard. Since we are what we eat, what happens when profit comes at the expense of human and animal nutrition? To maintain balance between private profit and public good, a regulatory agency can impose labeling requirements, conduct inspections and enforce laws to insure basic food safety.

Safety is one thing, but legislating optimum nutrition is probably impossible. Why take a chance that your health and your pet's health might suffer in order to add to a commercial producer's bottom line when you can have complete comfort in knowing your food is safe and full of nutrition because you grew it and prepared it yourself? (If you decide to make the transition from conventional store bought pet food to home made pet foods, make it gradually to prevent upsetting your animal's digestive system.)

You may have heard or read you should not feed your dog bones. I agree it is dangerous to feed your pets leftover drumsticks. These bones can splinter and choke them or become lodged in their intestine. However, the bone itself is full of nutrition.

Most conventional dog and cat food comes from bone meal or fish bone meal. The pet food industry uses many of the suppliers we use to make Dr. Earth fertilizers. Pet food companies buy the same ingredients I do. Dr. Chan says "raw beef bones" are OK to feed your pets as opposed to cooked bones, because they are dense and not brittle. They also keep your pet's teeth clean.

The Blender Method
Buy a blender at a garage sale and make it your pet food blender. All chicken and soft bones are fair game for the blender method. If you season your cooked chicken dinner, as most of us do, run the leftovers under hot water in the sink to remove all the seasonings before you serve them to a pet. (Seasonings can cause diarrhea and completely throw off your pet’s digestive system. Some might say never give them garlic, but I do. It has worked well in my experience. I think it carries great merit in moderation and is good as a parasite control.)

Become the ultimate recycler by taking all unseasoned chicken scraps, excluding the drumsticks, and throw them into the blender. (Always discard the drumsticks. They pose a threat to your pets unless pulverized by an industrial blender.) All other bones are acceptable. Pour hot water or unseasoned meat broth in the blender to about a quarter full. Then add the bones left over from dinner until the blender is about three quarters full. Seal the blender tight and blend at full speed for several minutes until you have a smoothie and all chicken bones are finely chopped. Add a few vegetables from the garden, and you have the ultimate food for pet health.

This is great for either dogs or cats. Do this regularly and you can recycle for your pet’s benefit most of the food you do not eat provided it is rinsed or unseasoned. This is one of many approaches to making good pet food.

Using the blender technique allows you to mask the vegetables you want your pet to consume. The vegetables will taste like blended meat. When you use chicken or meat broth as the base, you can entice pets into eating even more vegetables, since the broth coats the vegetables with the meat flavor they love.

Most people think that dogs and cats are carnivores only, but look in the pet food aisle next time you shop. There are more vegetables in pet foods, such as corn, soybean, wheat, peas and grains, than there are meat by-products. Some dogs, especially German shepherds, are sensitive to corn, while others are sensitive to soy. For this reason, over feeding any one product can create allergies or hypersensitivity, so follow a varied, well balanced diet.

Dogs and cats are omnivores. My cats will eat all kinds of concoctions that I make for them from bones and vegetables. Bones are loaded with beneficial nutrients like calcium and phosphorus. Remember when using a lot of bones in the blender, the calcium may constipate the pets, so add vegetables to any blends for their high fiber content. This will aid your pet's digestion.

Next time you shop at the pet food store, look at the labels carefully. Pet food companies list four basic components: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber and moisture content. Some foods will show a vitamin profile that has been added, but that is about all a pet food label reveals.

Here is something else to try. Buy the best and cleanest organ meats you can find. Dogs and cats love organ meat. It is inexpensive and creates a creamy texture that they like. Many butchers throw away parts of an animal you and I would not eat. However, your pet will enjoy as a gourmet feast intestines, hearts, kidney, liver and brains. Next time you see your cats catching and eating a mouse, encourage it. Dr. Chan advises that eating the whole mouse, intestines, hair and all is a natural and beneficial diet for cats.

A Gradual Transition to Homemade Pet Food
Start slowly. Observe your pets carefully to make sure they are full of energy, have shiny coats, glowing eyes and regular, normal stools. If you are hesitant to dive in head first with home made foods for your pets, start with it twice a week and supplement feedings with your favorite organic pet food. See how your pets do. If they like the food, you can make enough once a week and freeze it for daily meals.

Here's a recipe: In a pot, the one you bought at the same garage sale as the blender, put in the meat, bones and all, bring it to a boil and make a pet stew, meat and water only, no salt or any seasonings. For chicken, let this boil until it is almost falling off the bone. The broth is now the base for your home made pet food, and you will build around this with vegetables and other store bought dry pet food that you trust. This stew is loaded with protein, fat, calcium and phosphorous. The carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and antioxidants will come from your garden. Since you have cooked the meat well to extract the flavor from it, many of the nutrients may have been lost. This is why you must add supplements to your pet diet to be safe. The broth is important to keep, as this will contain many of the nutrients that have leached from the meat and bones. Also, the broth makes all the foods very appealing for your pets to consume.

Use a different type of meat every time you make this stew. Alternate between chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, fish and even eggs. I used to give our Akita a raw egg occasionally as a treat cracked right on top of his food. He loved it, and it was great for his coat. Just make sure not to give your pets too many raw eggs, as they can cause a vitamin B deficiency if served too often.

Never give your pets unblended, cooked bones, chocolate in large quantities (especially dark chocolate, as it is more toxic), avocados, grapes, mushrooms or any leftover fried foods that may contain spices or seasonings. Remember they are still wild on the evolutionary scale, not nearly as evolved as we are, and cannot digest everything that we can.

Custom Blended Pet Foods
Once you have the base for your pet food cooked in a pot, it is time to incorporate the other healthy ingredients. Add any vegetables from the garden that they will eat raw when mixed with your stew base. If they refuse it, boil it with the stew lightly to soften it. Most dogs and cats like it cooked, but it doesn't hurt to see what they will consume raw at first. Watch for the signs of allergic reactions to any new food you introduce such as itchy skin, ear infection or even chewing on their feet. From the garden, you can add things like peas, soybeans, potatoes, alfalfa, carrots, spinach, finely chopped apples, cranberries, cabbage and garlic. Also add some store goodies like grains such as quinoa, flax seed, oatmeal, brown rice (a must), amaranth, brewers yeast and seaweed, which are full of micronutrients.

Supplements, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, all green super food powders and especially probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, are also great for your pets. A combination of good meats and homegrown vegetables from the garden will ensure your pet's health. When you first switch to homemade pet food, try mixing conventional organic pet food into the food you have prepared to help your pet make the transition. Simply add the dry pet food at the bottom of a bowl, and then pour your blended slurry of the homemade foods over it as you would gravy over mashed potatoes. Try this once, and then wait a day before trying it again. As they become accustomed to this new, healthy diet, keep adding more of the slurry and less of the kibble. Over a period, you should be able to give them more raw vegetables and less kibble. The crunchy kibble of pet foods helps clean their teeth and scrape away any plaque build up. This is the value of making a real effort to get pets to eat raw, crunchy vegetables. If they simply resist raw vegetables, keep feeding them the meat and vegetable slurry as their regular staple food. Supplement their routine with some store bought, high-quality, dry organic pet food twice a week just for the teeth cleaning benefits.

Cats love fish. If you have a friend who likes to fish, ask him to bring you the bones and intestines along with the head. You can make a fish stew just for your cats, but it must be fresh or it can cause histamine release and allergic reactions such as diarrhea. If fish scraps are not available, buy canned mackerel or salmon and boil it lightly to make a broth. Mix this broth with grains and vegetables as suggested above. Cooking for a pet take extra time, but it's an option that gives your pet natural, additive-free meals. It's also safe from pet food recalls. Nobody cares more about your pets than you do, especially not the commercial pet food companies.

Healthy recipes for pets are easy to make. Just imagine you are cooking yourself a meat meal. Dogs and cats love meat. Prepare the meat with vegetables. Selections range from practical meat in broth poured over brown rice to more exotic, elaborate meals of many grains, fresh vegetables, such as pumpkin or squash for complex carbohydrates, and probiotics with a little kibble added. You can also learn to make biscuits for pets baked in your oven.

Custom pet recipes are also available that meet special nutritional needs such as diabetes or heart problems. When preparing home-cooked meals for pets with special diet requirements, prepare the meal as you would prepare it for yourself. Consider what special nutritional requirements are needed. If your pet is diabetic, prepare a meal low in carbohydrates. Conversely, if your pet has a heart problem, prepare lean meat and a high fiber diet. Adopt the same nutritional guidelines for your pets that you use cooking for yourself.

Kittens and puppies require a little more fat early on. Plenty of grains with sugars will keep them full of energy and feeling alive. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains loaded with fiber keep your pet's gastro-intestinal system working right. Certain fiber contents in such a diet are referred to as prebiotics. The term prebiotic has become popular in the pet food industry. It is nothing more then non-digestible fiber that stimulates the growth of probiotics. Most often, prebiotics are carbohydrates with a high non-digestible fiber such as the veins in leafy greens and all grains like brown rice. The idea is to make sure your pets are getting ample amounts of prebiotic fibers that feed the probiotics in the intestine, releasing digestive enzymes. This will make nutrients more available and soluble for your pets to absorb. Fiber keeps the bowels moving and eliminates many toxins from the digestive system. If you think about it, preparing pet food is almost identical to preparing human food except for all the spices and seasonings that we love.

A regular feeding of quality, well-balanced foods is the basis for pet nutrition, although an occasional treat is fine. You can prepare something special from time to time. Try a little agave nectar and organic milk for your cat or a small amount of peanut butter and milk for your dog. Both dogs and cats love yogurt. Feed it to them in moderation. Yogurt is loaded with probiotics, but it is also high in lactose, which pets are not set up to digest easily.

Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator

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