Bone Appetit: Home Cooking for Pets

Homemade meals can be healthier, less costly, and easier on the planet than store-bought meals.  Ours is a planet already choking on oceans of plastic and other petroleum and packaging materials; it doesn’t need any more ALPO Cans or Purina Chow boxes. Pet food is a 50 billion dollar industry in the US, a number that’s risen steadily over the last 10 years. It will set you back as much as $700 a year to feed Fido (a little less for Tabby). Or put another way, it costs roughly $11 per day for a 50 lb. dog who eats about 1000 calories daily.

That can add up.  Especially if you have more than one 50 lb. dog or a couple of fat cats. The cost of commercial pet foods has risen 6% over the last year, complicated by supply chain issues that may continue into to the near future. More troubling is that many popular brands are sold where there is often the issue of lack of oversight and quality control. Fresh in the memory of many pet parents is the melamine pet food recall of 2007 in which the USDA found chemical contaminants in proteins imported from China that wound up in many pet foods. And it’s not just inedible melamine.  74% of all pet food recalls over the past ten years have been for Salmonella, Listeria or E.coli. Canned pet food has experienced 17 recalls over the past ten years– 6 for too many or too little vitamins and/or minerals, 5  for deadly Pentobarbital, 3 recalls for elevated thyroid hormone, and 3 for foreign objects. An average of 8 cat foods alone are recalled every year. Besides what’s deadly, many pet foods come with preservatives,  processed ingredients, low-quality meat, and genetically engineered starches like rice, potato, corn, wheat, and soy that may be allergens for your pet. Commercial foods are convenient but in many ways not optimal.

Experts advise checking the label the same way you read the labels of food products you buy for the family. You’ll save money in the long run on vet visits.  Look for “limited or single ingredient” on the label; and watch out for excessive use of grain fillers like corn and wheat. And too many ingredients in general is always a bad sign.  Even better, why not make your own pet foods using fresh ingredients and clean proteins, the kind of farm or ocean-to-table proteins you would eat yourself and feed your family?

Here are a few pointers.


Dogs are like us, in that they need a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, and veggies. Something like 40% protein, 50% vegetables, and 10% starch. Some breeds cannot handle high amounts of protein, though, so it is important to check with your vet for guidance.

Beef, Turkey, Chicken, Lamb, Pork, Shrimp (fully cooked with the shell removed), Tuna, cottage cheese, and eggs (in moderation) are all good. Remove excess fat and skin, and watch for bones that can splinter.

Vegetables fruits and starchesCarrots, Green beans, Spinach and kale (helps with digestion), peas, celery, cucumbers, pumpkin, sweet potato and  corn are some but not all of the ingredients to consider.  Oatmeal, coconut milk and oil, strawberries, raspberries, apples, and melon, also ok. Even peanut butter in moderation.

 Avoid: Alcohol, almonds, avocados, chocolate, coffee,  raisins,  garlic, onions, salt, and seasonings in general although some herbs and spices like rosemary, cinnamon, turmeric, and parsley are fine.


Cats, as the Feline Nutrition Foundation reminds us, are carnivores that evolved to eat prey and meat. Domestic cats, in fact are nearly genetically identical to African wildcats and their bodies are still designed to follow a similar diet. So, no, a vegan diet that affirms your sensitivities would seriously endanger your cat’s health. To say nothing of offending his/her palate.  Homemade fare is an especially good idea if your cat has digestive issues, allergies, and/or doesn’t tolerate chemical additives. And even cats without such special needs have higher hydration needs than dogs, a need that you can address in preparing your own pate and crumbles that may not be met by most commercial brands.  Interestingly, although cats need fiber like the rest of us they have no biological requirement for carbohydrates, unlike canines.

Avoid: Onions, garlic, salt. Thumbs up for catnip, cats’ claw and thyme.


* Transition slowly: most animals will resist switching directly from canned and boxed fare to home-cooked food. Try to transition them over a period of 6 -7 days, mixing the existing food with a little of the home cooked and gradually increasing the home cooked. You may in fact, prefer to keep this 50:50 arrangement if the store bought is of good quality.

*Puppies: Vets don’t recommend home-cooked diets for puppies because without the proper amounts of calcium and phosphorus, a young dog could suffer bone abnormalities

* Cooked not raw: The AVMA, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend against raw pet food because of the risk of bacterial contamination.

* Square meals not scraps: don’t feed your pet table scraps.  And don’t feed your cat dog food.  Cats need a very different set of nutrients than a dog. They especially need plenty of vitamin A, taurine, arachidonic acid and animal protein,  Without a sufficient amount of taurine, cats can develop heart disease, vision and dental issues.

* Good grains, bad grains: No corn soy and grains other than rice for cats and dogs.  They can generally do without them, especially if they are overweight, since (as with humans) grains can lead to weight gain.

* Drink Up: Make sure your feline gets enough fluids. Cats tend not to visit the water bowl as much as dogs. But no milk. Most cats do not tolerate lactose well and digestive problems may present.



  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 5 cups water
  • ½ cup dry lentils
  • ¾ cup steel-cut oats
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed and chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 cups ground turkey,
  • ¼ cup olive, sunflower or canola oil

* Put the lentils and rice in a saucepan, cover with water and bring the mixture to a boil. Then, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.

*Once cooked, you can add the sweet potato, chopped carrots, chopped herbs and oats.  Simmer    gently for 20 minutes. Add more water if the mixture is too dry;

*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is heating, brown the turkey for 10 minutes.

*Place half of the cooked vegetable and grain mixture into a food processor with half of the cooked turkey, and then add half of the oil and pulse until the mixture comes out as a thick purée.

* Grease two cookie sheets with remaining oil and spread the mixture bout ¼ inch thick onto both sheets.

*Bake for 45 minutes. Then, using a spatula, turn kibble over so that it dries thoroughly.  cook for 30 mins longer.

* Reduce the oven to 325 degrees, remove, cool and crumble  into smaller “kibble”pieces. Place back in oven and bake until dried. Remove from the oven and cool. Refrigerate for 7-10 days.


  • 6 ounces of a cooked protein — chicken, turkey, lamb, pork, or beef
  • 2 cups of  cooked rice, sweet potato, or oatmeal
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetables, cooked  (carrots, green beans, or broccoli)
  • 1-2 rosemary (optional)
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil or bacon fat

Combine all ingredients well. Keep in a covered storage dish. Refrigerate for 7 days.



  • 1 cup  lightly cooked  salmon
  • 2 cups lightly cooked beef liver
  • 2 whole eggs, cooked (with shell)
  • 1 teaspoon taurine supplement (optional)
  • 2 cups water or beef or chicken broth

*Grind fish and meat with egg in food processor. Place in a large bowl and combine with remaining ingredients.  Add the taurine, and water and combine well for a pate-like consistency. Refrigerate or freeze.


  • 2 cups canned mackerel or sardines
  • 2 tablespoons oil from canned fish
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice, cooked
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of chicken or beef broth or water

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until blended.

Serve immediately and refrigerate leftovers (up to three days)


Okay, what if you like the idea of homemade pet food but not the work that goes into it? You’re in luck. You can get take-out, from folks who don’t mind being in the kitchen. Companies  like

The Farmer’s Dog and Spot & Tango ship a month’s worth of fresh dog food (frozen) to your home and a company like Nom Nom offers fresh cat food formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists. They send you individual bags of food pre-portioned according to your cat’s calorie needs. Simply thaw and pour.

-Frances Goulart

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

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