Why hog the harvest when your dog may be able to enjoy some of your garden's bounty, too? Many dog owners have taken to making their dog’s food from scratch in order to prevent their furry friends from ingesting too many preservatives. Additionally, numerous pet food recalls have made some owners hesitant to purchase store-bought options for fear of endangering their animal companions.
If you’ve always been on the fence about trying grow the ingredients to make your own dog food or even if you didn't know it was possible before today, it’s a great time to sow the seeds. If you plan out a batch of crops ahead of time like some of the plants mentioned below, you can take the time that you're waiting to harvest your own garden and experiment with recipes, substituting organic ingredients from the grocery store. If you don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen - and let’s face it, who does? - simply place the chopped ingredients in the crockpot and let it cook on low overnight or while you’re at work.
Before You Start
When you’re making food for your dog, remember that they have different dietary needs than you. For example, dogs need more protein, calcium, and minerals. A mistake that many dog owners make is not providing enough calcium in their dog’s diet. If this is the case, you may need to speak with your veterinarian about giving your dog a calcium supplement.
One huge consideration that many people forget, is that change takes time. If you’re making a dramatic change to your dog’s diet, be sure to introduce the food slowly, so that you don’t upset their system too much. Plus, your dog may not like the taste of certain foods or need some time to adjust. Just as with people certain foods and diets can be an acquired taste, and in your dog's case they can't tell you precisely why they are or aren't loving exactly what you put in front of them. So go slow, and substitute one ingredient in or out at a time until you think your pet's content.
If you use your time wisely, by the time your plants are ripe, you'll know your canine's favorite recipes like the back of your hand.
What to Grow
Oats are a great source of fiber and they're relatively easy to grow in your home garden. If you have space, you can freeze them and store them for up to two years. This can be useful if you have a larger breed of dog and want to stockpile some pet food staples. If you're interested in growing edible oats for reasons beyond feeding your pets, consider planting one of these species which are shrinking in the wild.
Barley is another source of fiber for a dog's diet, and while it's often used as a filler ingredient in store-bought dog foods, it's not actually bad for them to eat. Barley is low in cholesterol and easy to grow at home. It’s just not something your dog would naturally consume if given the choice. It is a carbohydrate though, so try not to rely on it too heavily as the cornerstone for your dog food mix.
Rice is something one wouldn’t ordinarily think of growing at home, but why not? If you're fortunate enough to have a backyard pond, you may even be able to grow rice in mesh containers after starting it from seed. However, keep in mind that your garden scale rice crop likely won’t yield enough to use on a regular basis. But, it may be a fun experiment for both your family and your pooch to try.
Sweet potatoes are a nutritional powerhouse, full of fiber, calcium, and iron as well as vitamins like B6, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing and since sweet potatoes are exceptionally high in vitamin A, they may cause bone issues for your dog if eaten in large amounts. Be sure to cook them well before feeding them to your pet.
Carrots are a great source of fiber, potassium, vitamin A, though in more reasonable amounts. They’re a treat when served cooked and some dogs love snapping their chompers down on a hard piece of carrot when raw due to the benefits this can have for their teeth's health. However, be sure to cut them down to bite-sized pieces to prevent your animal from choking.
Peas are packed with potassium, phosphorous, and B vitamins and are easily grown in a container. Peas thrive in the cooler temperatures of the spring and fall. While you may not want to incorporate peas into your dog's daily meals, as the FDA has discovered dog diets high in peas can lead to enlarged hearts, the plant's small size and abundance can make them a good sometimes snack that is bite sized for your furry friend.
Kale, turnips, and broccoli are all high in vitamins and minerals that are actively good for your dog. Keep in mind that they may make your dog extra gassy, so serve them in moderation. For a treat or in food, you can serve them raw, dried, or cooked.
Parsley is not only a great source of calcium but also beta-carotene and potassium. Plus the versatile herb can do some good for your dog in a way that makes your life more pleasant as well, working as an effective doggie breath freshener.
Beans, including black beans, lima beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, green beans, and chickpeas are an excellent source of plant based protein. Mix plain, cooked beans with rice or another grain and a vegetable for a balanced meal.
Eggs are a yummy treat for your dog. Smaller dogs can tolerate one egg a day while larger breeds may be able to handle two. Smash one up for your dog, shell and all for a powerful protein-calcium combination. If you keep chickens, consider feeding your dog the egg in a consistent location away from the coop in case he or she decides to raid it for a second helping.
Meat is a common way to meet your dog’s protein needs. Serve it raw or cooked; however, don’t mix raw and cooked meat together as it can be dangerous. Go to a local butcher and look for grass fed versions of lean cuts of meat for the most nutritional benefit. Cook it without additional seasoning or oils.
Fish is another source of protein and the best source of fish oil, a healthy fat that dogs need. Remove any bones before serving to prevent choking and avoid fish that tends to have high levels of mercury. As with meat, cook the fish without any additional oils or seasoning. If you want to feed your dog raw fish, freeze it for several weeks to kill any parasites or choose fish that has been flash frozen.
Like humans, dogs need some fat in their diet to thrive. Add a bit of fat from an oil, such as olive, canola, or fish oil to ensure they’re getting all the heart healthy benefits.
Harmful Ingredients to Avoid
Dogs tend to eat anything, which is why it’s all the more important to keep certain harmful foods away from them. Some of the most common foods that you should not feed your dog include chocolate, raisins, grapes, onions, macadamia nuts, and even garlic (in excess). As with any dietary changes, speak with your veterinarian before you make changes to your pet’s diet.