Four Feet and Food

A blog about life and training with dogs

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Homemade Sweet Potato Chews

With all of the circulating reports of dogs falling ill or even dying after eating jerky treats, I no longer feel confident feeding Chile most store-bought chews.   She is a dog, however, and loves to have chewy treats to gnaw on and I like them because they keep her busy if we are out at a restaurant with her or shopping, etc.   I decided to try making some sweet potato chews at home and it was actually pretty simple.  Chile loved them and my husband and I even ate some as a snack ourselves.

I made them in the oven so it tsweet potato treatsook a few hours but if you have a food dehydrator that would probably be faster.

The “recipe” is as follows:

  • Pre-heat oven to 250° F
  • Scrub the sweet potato (I used one large, organic sweet potato), no need to peel.
  • Cut the sweet potato into the desired size, I cut them into chip-sized discs because Chile has a smaller mouth. The ones you see sold in stores are usually cut lengthwise to make them look like jerky. The thinner you cut the slices the shorter your baking time.
  • Place the slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake at 250° F for three hours (slightly chewy) or longer for crunchier.  Keep an eye on them because your cooking time will vary depending on your oven and the thickness of your slices.

One single, simple ingredient that’s delicious and nutritious!  (Much cheaper than buying a bag at the store too!)

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A Few Good Treats

It seems every week the FDA’s list of dog treats that are under investigation in connection with making dogs sick gets longer and longer.  How do you know which brands to trust?  About a year ago the local dog and cat health food store that I shop at, Dexter’s Deli, stopped carrying any treats that are made in China.  I think this is a great first step since most of the food and treats that have been recalled were sourced from China but I still prefer to do my own research when it comes to the health and well-being of my pets.  I start by carefully reading the information provided on the manufacturer’s website and then personally contacting them with any questions I may still have that were not answered on the site or just to have them verify any concerns.  Remember, just because a product is labeled “Made in the USA” does not mean all of the ingredients used in that product come from the US.  Usually I just ask them up front if any of their ingredients are sourced from China.  Some companies, such as Dogswell that makes Vitality treats, admit that their chicken breasts are from China because it’s a much cheaper source.  For me  saving a few dollars on a bag of treats is not worth putting Chile’s health in danger so I don’t buy their products.  I have also contacted Cloud Star who assured me that all of their ingredients are sourced from and farmed here in the United States.  Zuke’s  is another company whose treats I have been a fan of because they use good ingredients and their mini naturals  are perfect to put in Chile’s Kong toy when we leave her alone.  I recently emailed them about where their ingredients come from and their response (listed below) was impressively thorough:

Thank you for writing us here at Zuke’s! All of our products are made in
the United States, with all of our meat, fruits and veggies not only
being ‘Human Grade’ (things you would find in your farmer’s market!),
but also sourced from the USA (with the exception of the Wild Rabbit and
Venison, which comes from New Zealand). Even our glycerin is sourced
from domestically produced palm oil. There are a very small number of
ingredients, such as the phosphoric acid, chondroitin, sorbic acid and
glucosamine that we have to source from China. We unfortunately have our
hands tied on this one as they are not available in the USA without
almost doubling the cost of our treats, and some of those ingredients
are only available from China. We are constantly looking for ways to
source everything from the USA and have not given up in our quest!!  We
do have certificates of origin for our ingredients, and we also perform
tests on our final products to ensure they are safe. All of our
ingredients are also Human Grade, as we would NEVER feed our own pets
anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves!!

From what I’ve seen only a few of their treats (clearly labeled) contain chondroitin and glucosamine, and as far as the other ingredients that they do source from China I think the amounts are very minute.  I would have a much bigger issue with them if the protein was sourced from China.  We continue to give Chile Zuke’s treats but we are very conservative with them so her daily intake of treats is quite minimal.  She usually gets about two of the small training bites in her Kong when she goes into her dog run in the morning.  If she gets any treats at night they are most likely carrot pieces from our salads or homemade sweet potato jerky (I will post a recipe later).  Chile really enjoys treats made by Salmon Paws and I like them because their products are 100% Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon.  If you are feeding Salmon Paws be careful to put any opened packages in the refrigerator immediately as these will get moldy very quickly.  I’m sure there are many other manufacturer’s that are just as responsible when it comes to sourcing their ingredients, the ones listed here are just a few that I have personally researched and trust.


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A Vegetarian’s Best Friend– a meat grinder?

After my first round with preparing Chile’s raw meat diet I was a little discouraged by how long it took me and how much it grossed me out.   Also, as mentioned in my previous post, I had not been able to give Chile the turkey necks which are supposed to be part of her weekly meal plan.  I tried asking the butcher at Jimbo’s if he could grind them for me , unfortunately the gentleman that had helped me before wasn’t there, and this new guy told me they wouldn’t grind the necks.  When I relayed my dilemma to Sabine she suggested that I might want to invest in a meat grinder.  She recommended the Tasin TS-108.  I am obviously meat grinder ignorant so I sent the link for the Tasin to my co-worker Rob, who I know makes sausages, to see what he thought or if he had another one he might recommend.  Rob told me this is the first time a vegetarian has ever asked his advice on a meat grinder but that the Tasin seemed well equipped for what I needed it to do (including grinding some bones) and that he is now thinking about getting one for himself!   So I ordered the grinder and it arrived shortly before Christmas.  With all the craziness of the holidays and our being out-of-town I didn’t get around to using it until New Year’s day.  Let me tell you, it is fabulous!  I was done preparing a week’s worth of food in less than half an hour.  Without the grinder it had previously taken me over an hour.  After ordering the Tasin I had watched a couple of videos on ts108_electric_grinderYouTube to learn how to operate it properly.  During the first run through I didn’t have the grinding plate on properly so the meat wasn’t coming all the way out of the chute and gathering on the sides of the plate.  I realized I must have done something wrong because that’s not how it looked on the video.  It was pretty easy to figure out the problem and fix it so that I had a properly functioning grinder that was a cinch to use!  The cleaning was a lot less difficult than I anticipated too.  I would recommend this grinder to anyone thinking about making their own pet food and particularly those that are nauseated by man-handling raw meat like I am.

At this time we are still transitioning Chile from her commercial raw diet to the fresh one by gradually adding more and more to her daily meals.  I thought I could handle changing Chile’s diet in conjunction with all the hosting we were doing in December but was reminded, by the Universe once again, that I’m not Super Woman and decided to just take it slow.  So far we haven’t noticed Chile having any problems with digesting the new food and no upset stomach or diarrhea has been observed.  I definitely think having the grinder will make all the preparation more convenient in the future and will make it easier to keep Chile on a fully homemade diet.

(Side Note:  I have not tried grinding the turkey necks yet because they took longer to defrost than the rest of the meat and were still partially frozen at the time. I will try those later this week. )



This is Love

I cook the occasional chicken roast or steak for my husband or guests but handling pounds of raw meat is something altogether different, and I have to admit, the first batch of raw food I prepared for Chile made me sick to my stomach. I also didn’t realize that raw turkey smells a lot worse than raw chicken!  But for Chile I sucked it up and kept on going, trying to suppress my gag reflex as much as possible.  As with the handling of meat for human consumption, I was very diligent about using a separate cutting board for all of the raw meat and thoroughly cleaned my work areas during and after the preparation.  Chile’s new diet also recommends she be given raw chicken and turkey necks each week to chew and consume.  These are parts of a bird I had never seen up close…and let me tell you they aren’t pretty!   I was very wary of feeding them to Chile because historically she’s not the best chewer and usually sends large objects down her gullet like a pelican as soon as they are swallowing size.  With some coaxing from Sabine I presented Chile with her first chicken neck last week (served on top of an old sheet).  She absolutely loved it!  She did a pretty good job with the chewing and only swallowed the last bit.  She showed no signs of an upset stomach following her treat so I guess she handles it pretty well. Although I still find the prospect of feeding her the neck of something disgusting, I was actually excited to feed her another one last night because she enjoyed it so much…now that’s love!

DSC_0870(I am still way too grossed out by the turkey necks to feed them to her but who knows I might warm up to those too…doubt it, but who knows?)






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Learning to Navigate the Meat Aisle

Did I mention I’m a vegetarian?  Ovo-pesco-lacto vegetarian to be exact, meaning I eat eggs, seafood and dairy products but no land animals.  I have been a vegetarian for the last ~16 years after I learned where most of the meat products in America come from and how inhumanely the animals raised for slaughter are treated.  That being said, I have no judgements against humans that do choose to eat meat and  I realize that dogs and cats have to eat a  meat based diet to stay healthy, but I have never spent much time in the meat aisle or gotten to know the butchers who work in the deli of the local market.  In San Diego, we are very fortunate to have a local chain called Jimbo’s that carries tons of organic produce and only sells meat that comes from farms that raise their animals humanely. I know some people take issue with paying for items marked “free range” or “cage free” because there is no clear cut guideline that needs to be followed for this label.  The animals could be let outside for less than ten minutes a day and be called “free range” or be kept in a pen indoors and be called “cage free”.  That is why I don’t buy the Horizon brand products that claim to be organic and cage-free.  Jimbo’s closely monitors all their supplying farms to ensure that the animals are being housed and treated humanely and are not treated with any antibiotics or growth hormones.   I believe in supporting local farmers and we try to buy all our groceries from local organic farms (also sold at Jimbo’s) but unfortunately the farms providing meat from humanely raised animals are not always local.  We have hosted Christmas Eve dinner for my husband’s family for the last two years and I insisted on serving ham from what I call “a happy pig”.  The ham sold at Jimbo’s comes from Denmark.  I find it sad that they are not able to find a local humane source but I still bought it since that was all that was available.  The cruelty-free meat definitely comes with a heftier price tag (the ham costs about 5x more per pound than your regular super-market ham) but it’s a once a year purchase for us so Merry Christmas to the pigs too!

Anyway, Jimbo’s was where I went to pick up the items for Chile’s first week of homemade meals.    While shuffling through the pre-packaged meats I found that Jimbo’s carries organic, free-range beef liver at a very reasonable price.  Chile’s diet includes a liver supplement (available in tablet form) or fresh liver.  I figured since I was able to find a fresh source I would give it a shot.  I must have looked pretty lost wandering around the meat cases because one of the butchers came right out from behind the counter to help me.  I asked him for their leanest ground beef.  He said the one they had ground earlier that morning was pretty lean but if I wanted he could grind some fresh top sirloin ( I think?)  that would be more lean.  Totally out of my element, I just smiled, nodded, and handed him the list of the rest of the meat items I needed.  I was very thankful that he even de-skinned and de-boned the turkey legs for me which made it much easier for me to prepare when I got home.  Also on the list were chicken necks and turkey necks.  They don’t normally stock these but I was able to order some that would come in a few days later.  I learned that getting to know your local butcher is very helpful when you’re going to be purchasing large quantities of meat, particularly when they are things you aren’t exactly familiar with.

The butcher never asked what I was doing with all this meat that I was so clueless about but the guy at the checkout counter did ask me a question about one of my items and I told him “I have no idea.  I’m a vegetarian and all of this is to make food for my dog”.  He just laughed and said “Well that explains the beef liver, I hardly see anyone buying that!”  .

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Making the Switch

Moving away from a commercial diet has been in the back of a mind for years now but I was never really sure how to do it right. I wanted to make sure Chile was getting all the proper vitamins and minerals in her diet along with the right balance of protein , fruits and vegetables. I was given the opportunity when a fellow dog lover who runs the local dachshund rescue recommended Sabine Contreras, a canine nutrition counselor. I started working with Sabine of Better Dog Care in late November 2012 to formulate a balanced, raw, homemade diet for Chile. With Sabine’s personalized meal plan and guidance I have started to slowly transition Chile from her commercially prepared raw food (Stella and Chewy’s) to an all homemade diet. While on paper Stella and Chewy’s provides the type of nutrition that I consider to be ideal (raw meat from free-range animals and organic fruits and vegetables) you can’t beat a homemade diet where you can be 100% certain exactly what goes into every meal.  I understand that not everyone has the time to prepare a fresh diet for their pets but not all commercial brands are created equal .  A raw diet is also not the answer for every dog but a diet based solely on dry food is not right for any dog. I have heard SO many excuses from SO many people over the years about why they continue to feed their animals a dry diet but the one that seems to top the list is “Dry food helps clean my dog’s teeth”….WRONG! Eating dry food cleans your pet’s teeth about as much as eating a pretzel stick cleans your own teeth. Brushing your pet’s teeth is what cleans them, raw meaty bones also help, but kibble does next to nothing for a dog’s dental health. If you want to do one thing to improve your pet’s health STOP feeding kibble!