I know – this is a dramatic, over-the-top question.
But I had to ask it of myself when I noticed that our beloved rescue dog began to slow down prematurely. Nugget, our 5-year-old chihuahua/golden mix, had always been a high-energy dog, the fastest girl in the dog park, with bright, mischievous eyes and wagging tail. She exuded joy.
Then I started to notice a shift in her energy. She seemed a little less playful. At the dog park, she was slightly less interesting in romping with her canine pals. When I looked into her eyes, I saw a kind of dullness that broke my heart. Nobody else noticed it, but I did.
At first, I thought it was my imagination. Then I told myself, “Well, she is five years old after all. She’s not a puppy anymore.” After trying my best to brush off my concerns, I finally had to face my worst fear.
There was something wrong with Nugget.
My thoughts went to cancer or some other serious disease. I considered taking her to our vet, but then I wondered what I would say. She had no specific ailment to treat, like a broken bone. Would she have to endure lots of miserable tests? Would we run up huge vet bills?
Dogs Need Fresh Ingredients Too!
One day I was in the kitchen contemplating all of this. I started cooking a beautiful, simple meal with fresh, organic ingredients – as I always do for me and my husband – and the truth hit me like a lightning bolt:
I was ruining my precious dog’s health with those stale, brown pellets I was feeding her twice a day.
In other words, I wasn’t cooking the same wholesome food for her that I was for my family and me. How could I possibly think that she could thrive on dry, stale, highly processed kibble made from subpar ingredients?
It’s well known that we humans thrive on a varied diet of fresh ingredients. The fresher, the better. (See my article “The Simple Secret to Healthy Eating.”) Fresh ingredients contain the most vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. They’re also easier to digest and contain much-needed moisture and healthy fats.
Just as importantly, fresh food contains prana, the intelligent life energy that sustains all life on earth. Prana comprises the subtle, life-enhancing quality of food recognized by holistic health sciences such as Ayurveda as the key to optimal health.
Like us, our pets need fresh, wholesome, prana-rich ingredients to thrive. Multiple research studies have shown that some of the world’s longest-living dogs are fed a diet of unprocessed food, while the incidence of canine cancer, diabetes, obesity and shortened lifespan has risen dramatically since the explosion of the commercial dog food industry following WWII.1
Not surprisingly, our furry friends also need these foundational aspects of healthy food in order to thrive. Humans and dogs (and all animal life) share a common connection to nature. When our dogs are nourished with proper, wholesome ingredients, they, like us, will achieve optimal health. We must trust in nature to provide for our needs.
Kibble is Scary Stuff (NOT Food)
Dry kibble is the exact opposite of fresh, wholesome food. Let’s not even call it “food,” which erroneously implies that it will properly nourish your dog and ensure she lives the longest, healthiest life possible.
Here are some of the ingredients used in processed dog food: whole, ground carcasses, including those of sick, dying or dead animals, animal by-products such as grease and feathers, excessive carbs used as fillers (especially corn), and hard-to-process synthetic vitamins.2,3
On top of this, the process of creating the kibble balls involves the use of extreme temperatures that destroys the nutrients and removes moisture from the original ingredients. Finally the kibble is sprayed with animal fat and preservatives.
Does this sound like wholesome food to you? Of course not!
Dr. Karen Barker, an integrative wellness veterinarian, explains that processed pet food is biologically inappropriate, but because dogs are highly adaptable and resilient, they can withstand nutritional abuse for a long time.
“Immunologic and physiologic degeneration occurs as the result of an inappropriate diet, but sudden death does not, which is why we’ve convinced ourselves convenient, entirely processed pet foods are acceptable, or ‘good’ for dogs and cats,” she says.4
Once I learned what was in kibble and how it was processed, I couldn’t feed Nugget one more bite.
Trust Yourself to Cook for Your Dog
Dog owners are slowly wising up about kibble, and more and more companies are selling fresh dog food to meet this demand. Some will even deliver to your door!
But many pet owners, like me, don’t have the budget for such convenience. In addition, we love to cook for ourselves and want to do the same for our beloved dogs. After all, the absolute freshest food comes right from your stovetop to your dog’s bowl.
And don’t forget the secret ingredient of the chef’s love. No company can provide this, no matter how well intentioned they are.
If you search on the internet, you’ll see lots written about what makes up a healthy meal for dogs. Some experts recommend a raw diet of mostly meat; others suggest cooked, lean meat combined with a whole grain (such as brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats and millet) and a few vegetables.
The American Kennel Club suggests that dogs can thrive on either type of diet.5 The latter is how I feed Nugget. But please don’t take my word for it. Do your own research, like I did, and then double check with a holistic health vet if you still feel unsure.
A word of warning, though:
Some articles will try to shake your confidence in your ability to prepare nutritious, homemade meals for your dog. These mostly come from a few veterinarians, traditional processed dog food companies and even some of the newer, fresh dog food suppliers.
They will try to convince you that canine nutrition is so complex that you must leave feeding your dogs to the professionals. The very fact that these articles are written by people trying to sell you their own dog food or vet services makes them suspect.
Catherine Lane, a canine nutrition specialist, assures us that we can give our dogs homemade food as long as we realize that humans and dogs have different nutritional needs and adjust accordingly.
“Current nutritional guidelines for humans—who are omnivores—emphasize foods and ratios that may not be ideal for dogs. Ensure dietary balance by aiming for about 30 to 35 percent of total calories from fats, 30 percent from protein and the balance from complex carbohydrates,” she writes.6
In other words, it’s important to prepare food specifically for your dog, taking canine nutrition into account. Don’t just give your dog whatever you’re eating, minus the spicy sauce. At least not on a daily basis.
It’s Easy to Create Canine Health in Your Kitchen
Here’s the main take-away for me:
We can easily teach ourselves how to be our dog’s best health advocate. We have the power to create the ideal conditions for a long and healthy life in our own kitchens. It all starts with giving our pets fresh, wholesome, homemade food twice a day!
Don’t be concerned about the time involved. When I first started this journey, I was afraid that I’d get overwhelmed with the food prep. After a couple of weeks, I devised a method that works for me.
First of all, let me say that I don’t cook a fresh meal on the stovetop twice a day! I wish I had the time, but it’s not realistic – not for me and probably not for you either.
I spend about one hour each week, usually on a Sunday, cooking a large portion of food that will last an entire week. I combine my cooked meat, grains and veggies in a large bowl. I put a few portions (for 2-3 days) in a plastic container in the fridge, which I use up first. I also place the remainder in small containers and then freeze those immediately.
I take out the frozen containers one by one as I need them. Freezing small portions like this is the best way to preserve the freshness of your homemade meals. I don’t recommend putting a week’s worth of food directly in the fridge without freezing, although it might seem easier. Both the nutrients and the prana (the food’s intelligent life force) will decline more quickly.
A Happy Ending for Nugget
For Nugget, the switch from kibble to fresh, homemade meals was transformational.
The first time she got a full bowl of warm chicken, rice, carrots with broth and a touch of ghee, she seemed so satisfied, like I’d never seen her after a kibble meal. Of course it was tastier! Why wouldn’t we want our dogs to enjoy their food just as much as us?
She also seemed to stay fuller longer after eating a meal. When you give your dog homemade food, you can usually give them a larger portion than kibble. Processed dog food can be fattening, and I was always amazed that I had to continually watch Nugget’s weight on kibble, even though I was giving her smaller and smaller portions.
Her poop changed, too! Whereas before she would poop a mountain of nasty smelling excrement several times a day (NOT a good sign!), now she has one, small, relatively odorless bowel movement a day. I take this to mean that her body is actually absorbing what she’s eating rather than eliminating it as unnecessary waste.
But most importantly, after only three days on homemade food, I noticed a dramatic increase in her energy level. She slept less and moved about more at home. She ran and romped more at the dog park. She got her sassy, puppy eyes back.
As it turns out, I was right! She wasn’t sick or dying or aging prematurely. She simply wasn’t getting all the nourishment she needed to thrive. Once she got that, she returned to her rambunctious self. Today Nugget seems like the dog we rescued when she was only one year old.
Now I tell her story to any dog owner who’s interested in hearing about it. I’m on a mission to inform dog owners about the dangers of processed food AND how easy it is to prepare fresh, nourishing meals instead. Several friends at our dog park have started cooking for their pets as well, and they also report the same, positive results!
Remember: We have a lot control over dogs’ health and it begins in the kitchen. We just need to take the first step.
1 Habib, Rodney. “Why Don’t Dogs Live Forever?” TEDTalk. 27 August 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R_RsOmXV_s
2 Rasmussen, Jan. “Dog Food: Ten Scary Truths.” Dogs Natural Magazine. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/dog-food-ten-scary-truths/
3 “The Truth About Kibble.” The Num Num Now blog. https://www.nomnomnow.com/blog/the-truth-about-kibble
4 Becker, Karen. “FDA’s Dire Warnings Create a Laughingstock.” Healthy Pets blog. https://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2016/04/04/pet-fresh-food-natural-diets.aspx
5 Coil, Caroline. “Can Dogs Eat Wheat and Other Grains?” American Kennel Club website. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/can-dogs-eat-wheat/
6 Lane, Catherine. “10 Myths and Misperceptions about Homemade Dog Food.” Bark – The Dog Culture Magazine. https://thebark.com/content/10-myths-and-misperceptions-about-homemade-dog-food