Increased interest in organics has filtered down to the dog world: At least three recent cookbooks tout healthy or organic home-baked goodies for canines.
As Jonna Anne, author of "The Healthy Dog Cookbook" (T.F.H. Publications, 2008), put it: "I want to make sure (my dogs) are healthy as long as they live."
Anne, the executive chef at the State University of New York at Geneseo, cooks for a household that includes seven dogs. One, a Doberman Pinscher, had severe skin problems requiring perpetual antibiotics — until Anne started feeding it some of the meals that ended up in her cookbook: healthy foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (found in some seafood, such as salmon).
She suggests supplementing a good-quality, store-bought kibble with her recipes, which can last several days, depending on how many dogs live in the house.
"Dogs used to eat this way," said Anne. "They ate table scraps. They ate what we ate."
Martha Smith, Director of Veterinary Medical Services at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, said cooking for your dog is fine, but a diet that's exclusively home-cooked can be dangerous.
"I just know there is no well-balanced diet for a cat or dog that you can simply make by adding grocery ingredients," Smith said. "They have specified needs for calcium and other nutrients."
She warned that anyone who wants to replace a dog's nutrient-fortified kibble with home-cooked food ought to have the diet "verified and balanced by a certified veterinarian nutritionist."
Anne's cookbook explains that approach, and includes portion sizes for adding her creations to daily kibble. She worked with a canine nutritionist and a veterinarian while writing the cookbook.
Lisa Fortunato, who wrote "The Everything Cooking for Dogs Book" (Adams Media, 2007), would rather see owners feed dogs organically, which is how her family and its two dogs eat. Fortunato manufactures organic dog biscuits in Brooklyn, N.Y., selling her products in stores and online under the robbie dawg inc. and Little LuLu's labels.
"I'm a person who reads labels, and I don't like preservatives and added ingredients that aren't natural," she said.
Her dog cookbook calls for organic ingredients, and she shies away from wheat products. Some of the recipes include unbleached flour, but she advises using it sparingly for dogs.
Stephanie Mehanna, author of "Pupsnacks" (T.F.H. Publications, 2007) and owner of the Canine Cooking Co. in Leigh on Sea, England, agrees. (Her dog treats also are sold online, and at Harrods department store in London.)
"Dogs were never meant to eat wheat," said Mehanna. Without domestication, "they'd eat many different things — fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs — but not wheat."
Smith, the vet, contends most dogs can digest wheat.
"People are taking the whole organic thing to the extreme," she cautioned. But she saw no harm in it either. "It's fine. ... It's time-consuming. It's expensive. But it's fine."
Most cheap dog food includes wheat as a filler, Mehanna said, while better-quality brands will list wheat lower among its ingredients. (It often appears as "wheat gluten.")
Both Mehanna and Fortunato advise keeping sugars to a minimum. Mehanna addressed her own Irish Setter's hyperactivity that way, she said.
"I started looking at the ingredients labels and I realized how many sugars there were," she said. "If you have a small child you try to cut back on (sugars) if they're hyperactive."
The recipes in Mehanna's cookbook are for treats, and aren't meant to provide a balanced diet. One is for a birthday cake that includes liver and bacon.
Dogs can eat what humans eat, omitting strong spices and onions, Anne said. Fortunato's cookbook advises against feeding dogs the usual no-no's, such as chocolate, grapes, raisins and caffeine, but it also urges owners to avoid Macadamia nuts, mushrooms and onions.
Garlic is debatable: Anne writes that a small amount of crushed garlic is fine, and Fortunato says her Italian heritage requires her to put a small amount in some recipes.
Smith says a little garlic, used as a flavor enhancer, won't harm dogs.
Herbs, such as mint and parsley, are not only good for dogs, they're good for dog owners. All three authors use mint and parsley in their recipes, and Mehanna even includes a recipe for "after-dinner mints" including both herbs.
"Most dogs have doggy breath," said Anne. "The cookies that I make with mint really help freshen their breath."
Dogs generally love the taste of peanut butter, apples and sweet potatoes, but nothing beats treats that have meat in them, said Anne.
"When I make liver brownies, they go crazy," she said.
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