Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
We've owned several dogs since we got married almost 10 years ago. They have all been Labrador Retrievers, with the exception of one evil beagle which we dare not speak of. We love our dogs like we love our child. Our first two labs were like our first children, as they came before our son. They were sisters and they certainly acted like it — constantly in competition with one another. We added a beagle into the mix a few months later, and all heck broke lose. The beagle went to a new home, and all went back to normal here. Until that winter day when our beautiful Red Fox lab, Roxy, tore a tendon in her knee.
We tried nursing the knee as long as we could. There was nothing we could really do to fix it, other than pay $5,000 for a surgery that would only last a few months. It was inevitable, we would have to let her go. We kept her as comfortable as possible, and she was always in good spirits, until the evening she snapped at our newly crawling son. We knew, it was time. She was miserable, and there was no good reason to keep her in pain.
Fast forwarding to last year, five years after Roxy's death. Our seven year old lab (her sister, Lacey) started vomiting up her food every single night. She lost function of her left side, went blind in the left eye, and would have several mini strokes each day. How could such a young dog have so many health issues? I noticed on certain days, when I would make her strictly homemade dog food, she would act "better". But I wasn't fluent enough in my "crunchy lifestyle" to understand what was happening. So I didn't pay much more attention and kept her on her regular, overly processed dog food.
We lost her last year. The strokes became too much, nothing helped, and day by day she was even more miserable than before. It wasn't right for a dog her age to go so soon.
We replaced Lacey with a spunky black lab puppy named Samson. We needed a quick replacement for our son, and honestly, for myself. I'll be honest, he is quite likely the most amazing lab we have ever owned...and he is most certainly like my second child. But as he started to grow, I noticed something. He couldn't hold down his food, and I found him vomiting quite often after his breakfast and dinner. No way was I going through this again, and his sweet soul wasn't even a year old yet. I had to do something, something was wrong.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks - why am I feeding my dog the same exact dog food every single day for the rest of his life? Why am I feeding my dog overly processed food when I don't even feed my family overly processed food?I started by weaning Samson onto real food. I knew he needed vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins, so I researched constantly until I came up with several options for him.
Proteins - Our main source of protein is raw eggs. Yes, raw from the backyard coop. He goes crazy over them. Shells included, crushed up. For smaller dogs, one egg a day would be enough. But Samson is quite the big boy, so two eggs a day does it for him, though sometimes I do only give him one. Raw eggs not only help your dog get its necessary protein, it also helps tremendously in making their coat shiny and beautiful.
Other proteins include meat, beans (he loves beans), seafood and some dairy. You can feed your dog raw or cooked meat, however, you should never mix them. If you choose to do raw meat in your dogs diet, it must strictly be a meal of raw meat. A dogs body processes cooked and raw meats differently — giving them to your dog in the same meal can cause more harm than good. Strictly raw, nothing cooked (including other things like veggies and oatmeal).
Fats - This can certainly come from the meat that you give your dog. You can also use oil, but we choose to just use drippings or fat from the meat.
Carbs - Grains such as rice and oatmeal are a great base for your dog food, and carbohydrates are necessary to keep your dog's energy levels up to par. We tried brown rice several times, but his body did not digest it &mdash it came out the same way it went in. Therefore, oatmeal is our go-to grain. His body digests it easily, and there are lots of good things that oatmeal does for the body and the coat.
Vegetables - This goes along with the "carbs" section, but I like to treat it separately. Take this time to really dive into what veggies your dog might like, each dog is different. Samson loves carrots and peas (cooked or canned). Vegetables are a necessary part of the diet, though not as necessary as proteins, fats and carbs. I always suggest doing more of the top three, and then sprinkling a thin layer of veggies over top.
Calcium - Egg shells, certain dairy (yogurt, cheese, limited raw milk).
Fatty Acids - This is kind of an "eh" category. Your dog will be getting most of these from the other things that you're giving in the homemade dog food. Fatty acids come from egg yolks, oatmeal and some plant oils.
Here is how our typical meal goes.
We do not give him the same exact things everyday, but the base is the same.
• 2 cups cooked oatmeal
• 1 cup veggies
• 1-1/2 - 2 cups cooked meat (leftovers normally)
• 1 raw egg PLUS shell (crushed)
• Raw Yogurt
• 2 cups dry dog food
• 1 raw egg PLUS shell (crushed)
Yes, that's right, you just read dry dog food.
Because Samson is still a growing boy (he's not even a year old yet), I still feel more comfortable knowing that he's getting necessary vitamins from his "natural" dog food, so we only do 1-2 cups of it per day. However, once he's older, we won't be as concerned. Minerals and vitamins are necessary for dogs, just as they are humans. If you feel that your dog isn't getting enough of them in their new homemade dog food, you can buy supplements for them. However, you can also add in more things, such as cooked kale and other hardy veggies that are packed full of vitamins. This is what we will be doing when Samson is a little over a year old. If your dog turns its nose up, you can try blending these veggies into a smoothie and pouring over their regular homemade food. If they're like my dog, they'll scarf it right up.
Though it may be tempting, one of the things you should never feed your dog is cooked bones. They can become lodged in their throat and can tear up their stomach and intestines.
Samson now loves his dog food, and we can tell a major difference in his digestion, his beautiful coat, and his recouped energy. It is one of the best decisions we have ever made for our homestead dogs!
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