I know I’m not the only dog mom who panicked upon finding out that grain-free dog foods might not be the best option for my fur bb. In July 2018, the FDA announced that it was investigating certain grain-free dog food brands due to an increase in reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), particularly in breeds that are not predisposed to the heart disease, which essentially causes a stretchy heart that leads to death. “What they found was the lentils that are in the grain-free foods actually bind to taurine, which is an amino acid that you need for your heart to function well,” Dr. Zay Satchu, chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet, explained at our Raising a Dog in NYC event at The Wing. “So, we’re causing these dogs to be deficient in taurine without even recognizing it.” Dr. Satchu switched her dog to a new dog food that contains grains. Grain-free dog foods make up about half of the dog food market in the United States. As Amanda Mull writes in The Atlantic, our obsession with grain-free diets for dogs coincides with our nation’s obsession with gluten-free and paleo diets for ourselves. “[T]hese new concerns tell a cautionary tale about how contemporary American culture approaches health and nutrition—and not just for pet owners,” she explained.
I cook a lot for Artemis. Currently, when I don’t cook for her, Artemis eats Instinct by Nature’s Variety Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe with Real Duck Dry Dog Food mixed with Honest Kitchen Grain Free Mix Dehydrated Dog Food and a scoop of rice, along with a Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM Soft Chew for joint health as recommended by Dr. Gabrielle Fadl at Bond Vet, a splash of salmon oil, and a multivitamin. But she’s a picky eater, and she demands a home-cooked meal at least once a day—or else she goes on a food strike for several days.
Cooking a well-balanced meal for your dog isn’t as simple as throwing together some chicken and rice in a bowl, though. (Which is funny, because how many times have we eaten greasy takeout while stressing about the macronutrients in our dog’s bowl? Just me?) Dogs, for example, should be eating offals and have a source of calcium if they’re not eating bones. The dog food that you buy is fairly complex and contains a diverse mix of ingredients to give your dog a well-rounded diet. Whatever you may think about commercial dog food, it is important to consider that is standardized, and that’s a good thing! But it doesn’t have to be hard to make healthy and delicious homemade food for your dog. It’s all about meal planning, which any millennial with a Pinterest account has experience doing.
Now that I know Artemis should be eating grains, I’ve started making grain bowls for her. It’s simple, healthy, human-grade, and adaptable to seasonal ingredients and what you have on hand (yes, including leftovers from your own meals). Here’s how we do it:
Shop for produce that is seasonal and convenient to you.
Cooking for your dog doesn’t have to be expensive. (It shouldn’t be expensive!) Your dog won’t mind if you bought frozen peas on sale instead of microgreens at the farmer’s market. If you cook at home regularly, this is the perfect opportunity to join a CSA for seasonal produce. I split my CSA box between Artemis and myself; obviously, she can’t eat the onions and garlic and scallions, but we can split the beets, kale, and Delicata squash. When it comes to vegetables and fruits, I just make sure I set aside a little bit for Artemis each time. It’s also a great reminder for me to eat my greens, too.
Buy your meat in bulk, in Chinatown, and frozen.
Artemis and I are huge fans of Trader Joe’s Frozen Chicken Thighs. (They are very tender upon poached.) I go to a supermarket in Chinatown for chicken gizzards and hearts. Dogs can choke on soup bones, so we get the bones for cheap from our local butcher, and I make bone broth for her. (She loves the marrow!)
Use the entire egg.
Dogs can eat one whole chicken egg per day. We splurge on pasture-raised eggs because Artemis eats the eggshell, too! It’s an excellent and perfect source of calcium, especially since dogs risk choking on soup bones, and yet they need to eat bones as part of a balanced diet. After cracking the eggs, place the shells on a baking sheet (or just a plate) to dry. Once dried, grind the shells into a fine powder using a clean coffee grinder or a NutriBullet. Voilà! You have cheap, easy calcium powder to sprinkle onto your dog’s food.
Take gradual steps in the transition to home-cooked food.
I know it doesn’t seem like it when your dog is trying to eat French fries off the sidewalk, but dogs do have delicate stomachs. If they’ve been eating kibble their entire life, they won’t adjust to home-cooked food right away. As the vet recommends whenever you switch to any new foods, start out with a little bit combined with their current food and gradually switch the ratio. (Also, add canned pumpkin! It’s the perfect season to stock up on organic canned pumpkin at Trader Joe’s, in fact.)
You know how you keep a couple canned staples in your pantry to throw together that quick casserole? You can do that for your dog, too. Embrace canned beets, canned green beans, canned pumpkin, frozen vegetables, pre-packaged grilled chicken, and more! Just make sure there isn’t added salt or sauces involved.
Know what you can and cannot feed your dog.
Review the list of what dogs can’t eat, and be aware of your dog’s individual allergies. For example, most dogs can eat peanuts (thank goodness for peanut butter), but they can’t eat nuts like almonds and macadamias. (Peanuts are not actually nuts; they’re legumes! Cashews are not actually nuts either, and your dog can have a few.) Dogs also cannot eat grapes, chocolate, and alliums like garlic and onion. There is differing opinion on whether avocados and tomatoes are edible for dogs, so I avoid them.
Prepare your supplements.
As balanced as I try to make Artemis’ food, I still rely on supplements to fill in the blanks. (If you look at any prepackaged dog food label, you will see that they contain supplement ingredients, too.) This is highly unique to your dog’s needs. In addition to the homemade eggshell powder, Artemis gets a Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM Soft Chew for her early onset arthritis, a Well & Good Adult Stage Daily Soft Chews Dog Vitamin, a spoonful of Bob’s Red Mill Nutritional Yeast, a sprinkling of flax seeds, and a generous squirt of Zesty Paws Pure Salmon Oil.
Make sure you have ingredients to assemble from each of the following groups.
Every dog has different nutritional and caloric needs depending on breed and lifestyle, but we follow the general guidelines from Feed Me: 50 Home Cooked Meals for Your Dog by Liviana Prola. I recommend consulting with your veterinarian for specifics, but here is what I serve Artemis every day:
- Grains: half cup of rice, oatmeal, pasta, or quinoa
- Meat: one chopped, poached or roasted chicken thigh or breast
- Fish: two canned sardines, packed in water (no salt), and when we are feeling particularly extravagant, a spoonful of bottarga
- Eggs: one poached or soft-boiled pasture-raised egg, and a spoonful of powdered eggshell
- Dairy: 1/4 cup of ricotta, cottage cheese, or goat milk yogurt
- Offals: 1/8 cup of chopped chicken hearts or gizzards (be careful about overdosing on liver!)
- Green Vegetables: 1/4 cup of cooked spinach, string beans, peas, kale, collard greens, anything that I have in the fridge!
- Root Vegetables: a few chopped pieces of cooked sweet potatoes, beets, squash, or potatoes
- Fruits: 5-6 blueberries, a chopped apple or peach slice
- Oils and Fats: a squirt of salmon oil and a sprinkling of flax seeds
- Seaweed: 1/8 cup of boiled wakame
- Supplements: see above
Assemble these ingredients together in a bowl and channel your inner food stylist. That wasn’t so hard, right? Take a photo before your dog makes a mess. We’re all about presentation at Argos & Artemis, which is why we personally recommend the Felt+Fat Pet Set, available in Small and Large. After all, shouldn’t your dog have the dignity of dining in style, too? Bon(e) appétit!
Photography by Tayler Smith