Every morning when I get home from the school drop, the dog and I have a race to minesweep the children’s breakfasts. I am more intelligent and better informed than him, so I know who’s left half a croissant and who has just shoved a banana under their pillow, but he is much faster and more determined, so we end up about even. I’m just setting the baseline here for human foods that I will allow Romeo the dog to eat: pretty much anything. And a baseline for what he will eat: also pretty much anything, except raw fish, grapes and edamame beans.
When you cook for your dog, though, you have to get a bit more on it, with an eye on nutrition and balance. Cooking for your pet seems to be a growing trend among owners worried about additives in commercial dog food, or just wanting more control over their their animals’ diets. Whether or not it’s reflected in actual statistics will have to wait until the ONS understands counting this activity as its core business, but people are certainly talking about it a lot.
I cannot and will not describe any of this food in terms of preference. Romeo ingests it all indiscriminately, and every experience, to him, is priceless; let’s concentrate on what the experience was like for me. Before you start: never feed a dog chocolate – which of course you knew – but also: no raisins, grapes, onions, tomato, garlic, caffeine, xylitol, alcohol (!) or macadamias. Some people say no almonds. It’s like having a friend on the Fodmap diet except, of course, dogs never talk about it. So totally different.
Be Diligent about Vet Visits. “Don’t wait for the signs,” Dr. Becker stresses. Focus on “prevention first.” Pets age fast, and when it comes to illness they are programmed to mask weakness, “they’re naturally secretive.” One to two visits a year is ideal, but if you suspect a problem, don’t hesitate, and don’t self-diagnose. “In the last two years I’ve seen four or five cases where people went to the internet for help, and by the time they get to the vet it’s too late,” says Dr. Becker.
The number of calories your dog needs will depend on its age, breed, activity level and so on, as will the target amounts of protein and fat. It sounds like a faff, working out all this out, and it is a faff, compared with buying a big bag of kibble with all the values printed on the side. But you can look up the main things that matter or even talk to your vet. And you can afford to wing it a bit till you’re sure you want to do this regularly.
Ultimately, as you can tell by their teeth, their enzymes, their digestive tracts and their awesomely adaptive guts, dogs are not like you: they are carnivorous, and built for protein and fat. That doesn’t meant they don’t need carbs – they do – but they don’t do as well with grains as they do with high-carbohydrate vegetables, while complex carbs are wont to pass through them completely. Use a calcium supplement if you don’t want to give them raw bones (some people worry about obstructions; I don’t).
10 Tips for First-Time Dog Owners
The most common allergies for dogs are wheat, dairy and beef. There’s rarely cause to give them dairy, and beef is at the pricier end of protein anyway, so if you’re worried about allergies, just don’t give them pasta or bread and use buckwheat rather than regular flour, which most dog-food recipes stipulate anyway.
The internet tells you that dogs will lack minerals and vitamins if you don’t give them green vegetables, but then they will never eat green vegetables; allay your anxiety with an all-purpose supplement such as VitaPaws Complete. I also use Yumega, an omega-oil supplement, because a guy in a bar with a really sleek bitch told me to.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: One of the fringe benefits of taking on the responsibility of pet ownership is that animals can be an instant icebreaker, whether they’re with you or you’re just using them as a topic of conversation.
You’ll find plenty of recipes online, although you will also have to put up with a lot of watercolour portraits of cockapoos, but you’re basically just combining a protein source and carbs. So, as well as meat or fish, you’ll need a mixture of something like sweet potato, brown rice, turnips, swede and cauliflower.
Steam the vegetables, making sure they have some crunch left; dogs prefer it and it’s more nutritious. Cook the rest and mingle according to your expertise. Don’t fuss too much as it’s a waste of time. Feed the dog. If you’re avoiding meat, then mackerel, sardines and salmon are all good. Dogs are not like children: if they don’t like a thing – broccoli, say – they will not eat the thing, and there is no persuading them by pretending your fork is a train. I was always told never to give a cat an egg because afterwards all it would think about was eggs. It’s fine to give a dog an egg. You can’t tell what they’re thinking about.
Homemade treats are an entirely different category, generally for when you’re trying to treat-train dogs that aren’t especially food motivated, so you have to make something so delicious it turns their heads. Nuclear-tasty options are lamb’s heart or a piece of pig’s liver, in centimetre cubes, baked at 120C for three hours or so, which dries it out and has a preservative effect (it also makes it less smelly). I did that a lot for my last dog, a ridgeback-staffy cross, who was too dignified to go wild for a biscuit. He ended up so well-trained that after the 2010 election, a newly elected Labour MP, Karl Turner, came up to me in the park and asked me to recommend a dog trainer (his dog wasn’t what you would call surgery-ready). I said: “Isn’t that the first thing they teach MPs – not to talk to strangers on Clapham Common?”, which at that time was still a very current joke.
Give him the exercise he needs. All pets need regular exercise to stay fit and to release their energy. Without it, your pet will begin to act out. Young pets that do not get enough exercise are more likely to develop negative behavioral issues that lead many to give up their pet.