Homemade Super Dog Food … aka Ben’s Breakfast

Super Dog FoodIf I have a finger for every love in my life, one is given to food and another one, likely an opposable thumb, is given to Ben, my dog. Together, those two loves have produced this recipe for homemade dog food which I have been feeding to my super/wonder-dog for years.

For those new to my blog or me, Ben is my 17½ year old terrier-cross companion who is more than a fixture in my life: he is a reflection of all that is good and true about me and my heart. You can read much more about Ben in the “Benjamin Project,” a project I started earlier this year in a bid to document his life. For 30 days straight, I posted about Ben and in that big reveal, about both him and myself, you would have also learned that started cooking for when Ben came into my life in Poland … and I still do.

Ben Enjoying his FoodSome claim that Ben’s super-dog longevity is in part owed to what I feed him and his love of my cooking; Anne reminds me whenever Ben lifts up his nose at kibble that I recently fed him scampi, so what should I expect? I want to be clear that I’m not a dietician nor am I veterinarian; I’m not even a trained chef. And one dog, not matter his age, is proof of very little. Having said all that, I’m incredibly thankful for whatever anomaly he may in fact be and I continue to cook for him late into his senior years in the belief it is fueling is longevity.

The dish that follows was inspired by the ingredient list on the back of his triple premium dog food that he used to eat before he was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease (which is presumed to be caused by a micro-tumour on his pituitary gland). This diagnosis came almost four years ago and at the time he was given 6 months to live; the most optimistic prognosis for dogs receiving the diagnosis of Ben Eating Dog Fooda microtumor when older than 12 years old is no more than two more years. And yet Ben remains a vibrant and vital force in my life. The only medicine he receives is a professional afternoon dogwalk to deal the byproduct of his excessive thirst (a need to urinate more), unconditional love, and a daily breakfast of the following creation….

I won’t lie. Making this dog food is a lot of work. However, it produces a large quantity of food which lasts Ben 3-4 months; still, it amounts to an afternoon of my life every 3-4 months. I do it because Ben loves this food; because it sustains him; because it nourishes and keeps him healthy; because I love him this much and more. I will say, however, that time aside, the dog food I produce is cheaper than any premium dog food and what Ben is eating is “human ready food” which even human’s think tastes pretty damn good.

Homemade Chicken StockFinally, there is one more tremendous bonus that accrues from this quarterly production. Ben’s dog food, or more accurately the boiling used to prepare the chicken thighs in the dog food, is the source of my liquid gold, my ubiquitous and ever-present chicken stock. Were it not for this fact, you might be wondering why I’m throwing veggies and ingredients like fresh rosemary and peppercorns into the water, but I learned right from the very beginning that this production produces the most “chickeny” and flavourful stock I’ve yet produced. It might even be good enough to convince some of you to get a dog.

In terms of cooking tips, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way. First of all, you’re going to need a good food processor, a good and over-sized stock pot, and a thick sturdy wooden spoon … and freezer containers (and a freezer). Next, you’ll note that not everything needs to be cooked. Ben has always loved raw broccoli, carrots, and apple so I asked myself why I was bothering to cook these ingredients. Simply ‘grind’ them up raw and throw them in with the ground beef. The hot ground beef will, ever-so-slightly, par-cook the veggies and the veggies will help cool the beef. Next, be careful how much barley and sweet potato mixture you put in the food processor. Indeed, for younger and/or bigger dogs, you may choose to not process this at all. For a 17½ year old dog, though, it helps with the digestion; but, note, these high starch ingredients will quickly slow down most machines, so add them in degrees along with other ingredients you’re pureeing like the chicken. Ben loves the beets but I strongly suggest you only use beets if you can find golden beets:  conventional purple beets will be a staining scourge from stove to dog bowl if you aren’t careful. Finally, all the reading I’ve done suggests that dogs need a higher fat diet than us humans — nevertheless, I’ll throw away about half the beef drippings and instead throw back in the extra chicken fat that comes off the chicken stock.

And so there you have it … homemade dog food. A recipe a share with the world hoping it brings you a long and good life with your own much loved dog.

Prep time:   1 hour
Cook time:  2 hours
Stand time: 1 hour
Mixing/Packaging: 1 hour
Total time:  4-5 hours
Servings:    3-4 months

Homemade Super Dog Food … aka Ben’s Breakfast

INGREDIENTS:

  • Ben Dog Food Ingredients7½ lbs (3.5kg) chicken thighs, skin removed but bone-in
  • 5½ lbs (2.5kg) lean ground beef
  • 2 cups barley
  • 3 lbs (1.3kg) sweet potato
  • 1 lb (0.5kg) golden beets
  • 2 lbs (1kg) carrots
  • 2 lbs (1kg) broccoli
  • 3½ lbs (1.5kg) apples
  • 3 cups (750mL) tomato sauce, or equivalent
    (I used a marinara sauce in this case)
  • 20 Ziploc sandwich bags
  • 5 large Ziploc freezer bags

Stock Ingredients:

  • 6 cups (1.5L) water
  • large onion
  • celery heal and tops
  • 3-4 large sprigs rosemary
  • 20 peppercorns wrapped in cheese cloth
  • tops and tails of veggies above
    (carrots, sweet potato, broccoli)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and toss them into a 16 quart stock pot. Chicken Thighs Skinned
    Add the stock ingredients (see above) and fill with water to cover all ingredients plus an additional 2 inches of water. Cover and bring to boil then simmer for 90 more minutes (approximately 2 hours of total cooking).
    Stock Ingredients
  2. Meanwhile, place ground beef in a large Dutch oven (or fry in batches in a smaller pan) over high heat and begin to fry. Stir regularly, especially at the beginning, to ensure you keep the beef broken into small pieces. About half way through the cooking, drain off the drippings and discard (this will allow you to keep ‘frying’ vs. boiling he meat). When meat is fully cooked to an internal temperature of 170 degrees, remove from heat and let cool.
  3. While meat is cooking, in a large pot (e.g. pasta pot) add the barley and water. Wash the beets and sweet potatoes. Remove any nasty bits but DO NOT PEEL. Cube beets into 1″ chunks and cube sweet potato into 1½” chunks. Add the beets and sweet potato to the barley and water and bring to a boil.
    Barley, Sweet Potato and BeetsCover and simmer for approximately 45 minutes … at this point, the beets should be tender to the fork and barley soft to the tooth. Make sure the pot doesn’t cook dry, but if a little water remains, don’t worry. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, wash the broccoli and apples and scrub the carrots. Do not peel any of them (the peels at extra and important nutrients). Chop the carrots into the large chunks and place them in a food processor and, in batches, process until a fine meal. Place ground carrots in a large bowl.
    Chopped CarrotsDo the same with the broccoli and add them to the bowl.
    Chopped BroccoliCore and quarter the apples and chop them fine in the food processor as well but be careful you don’t make apple sauce with them. Add them to the bowl.
    Chopped AppleMix all together add cooling ground beef to the bowl as well and stir in to par-cook veggies and help meat cool.
    Veggies and Beef Together
  5. Remove lid from barley/sweet potato/beet mixture and using a sturdy potato masher, mash everything together. Let cool.
    Mashed Barley, Sweet Potato and Beets
  6. Chicken should be ready by this point. Using a large collander or the strainer from a pasta pot, pour chicken and stock ingredients into a large bowl or pot. Hang strainer back over the stock pot and let chicken cool.
  7. Meanwhile, place chicken stock in an ice-bath (cold water and ice) to cool and stir regularly until stock has reduced to a warm temperature.
    Stock in Ice Bath
  8. Here are the steps to salvaging this exceptional chicken stock (it would be shame to throw this away). Pour the stock through a medium mesh strainer into a fat separator (e.g. used for making gravy), and let each batch in turn sit for a few minutes as the fat separates.
    Stock in Fat SeparatorPour off the stock into freezer containers (e.g. 2 cup measures are best) and ‘discard’ the chicken fat into the bowl with the meat and veggies. Repeat until all stock has been portioned out. Cover with lids, label (with date) and freeze.
    Stock Portioned Out
  9. By this point the chicken should have cooled enough that you can handle it and separate the waste from the good stuff (the meat and some of veggies). Each thigh contains a single bone — discard the bones, the peppercorns, and most of the other stock ingredients.
    → Empty the 16 quart stock pot which you will use to mix the food.
  10. In stock pot add one third of the meat/veggie mixture and a third of the tomato sauce and mix.
  11. Fill the food processor two-thirds full with chicken thighs and a few scoops of the barley mixture and process until smooth. Add to the stock pot on top of the beef-veggie mix.
    Processing the ThighsRepeat until you have processed half the chicken.
    Pureed Chicken
  12. Top the chicken in the stock pot with another third of the beef-veggie mixture and another third of the tomato sauce and mix together with your sturdy wooden spoon. Then process the remainder of the chicken, as above. Top the chicken puree with the last third of the beef-veggie mix and the last of the tomato sauce. Optionally add a good squeeze of beef bouillon concentrate (e.g. Bovril) or salt … dogs need salt too.Flex your arm muscles now and start to stir and mix the dog food well, making sure to mix it from top to bottom evenly: this is why you layered the ingredients in the stock pot (to making mixing easier). As your arm fills with lactic acid, you will need to repeat to yourself over and over that you love your dog.Mixing the Dog FoodTaste for seasoning (salt) and adjust as necessary. It shouldn’t be salty but it should taste good to your palette. If you won’t eat it, fido will likely turn up his/her nose as well. Remember, this is all human food so don’t be shy to taste.
  13. Now prepare to bag the food. This is the finicky and fumbly part of the job. I use Ziploc sandwich bags for the portions, filling them 3/4 full with a large spoon — be careful not to get dog food on the ziplock edges or they won’t seal well.
    Bagging the dog foodCarefully flatten and force out the air before sealing baggies. Repeat until all baggies are full; you should fill somewhere between 16-20 portions, depending on how much food you made. Place 4 baggies in a large freezer bag and lay flat before sealing them closed. Repeat until done.
    Dog Food Bagged and SealedLay flat in a freezer … and voila, you’re done.Take out a bag 24 hours before use and let defrost in fridge before transferring to another container (the baggies have a tendency to either cause condensation or leak in the fridge).
  14. Serving size will depending on the size of your dog, but Ben, a 25lb terrier-cross, gets three heaping tablespoons for breakfast which I microwave for 20 seconds to take the chill off of before serving. Serve ….
    Ben Eating his Food… and watch for the smiles.Ben Enjoying his Food

I would love to read your comments ....

  1. Pingback: What’s in the Box? #81 | In Her Chucks

  2. I would definitely say that your food is what has keep Ben at your side for more than 17 years. Commercial dog food can cut your dog’s lifespan by more than half and severely increases the risk of cancer. I made the switch to homemade food after my black lab, Jake, started developing food allergies and never went back. Jake’s allergic symptoms disappeared and I noticed a significant change in his appearance and energy level. You’re right. Making your own food is a lot of work but it’s definitely worth it. I hope Ben enjoys many more years of your culinary expertise.

    • Thank you Jim for the encouragement and your own quest to raise awareness about the problems with commercial dog food and the possibilities of cooking for our family members at home. Please let me know when and if you plan to produce the next edition of your book and I’d be happy to contribute to it.

      Thanks from Ben and I both and a happy Canadian Thanksgiving weekend to you.

    • A good and fair question. The quantity is both very low in relation to the other ingredients and is largely being used as flavouring ingredient (for the stock). The stock is not given to the dog (it’s kept for me and my cooking) and the boiled onion is discarded. As a result, I’d conjecture there is likely no risk, but if you’d rather not include it, that’s ok.

  3. Hi.. Is your “super dog food” recipe also good for renal failure dogs? My dog also was just diagnosed and hence the research for me has begun..so thankful that I typed in the “right” search words to find your site- other previous searches didn’t. My Joey is similar to your dog Ben-diagnosed with cushings last year and now the renal failure. He hates the prescription food and refuses it-But he is also allergic to beef. I have read the low phosphorous diet and will try that with the alternate ingredients but your super food recipe does not say if it is low phosphorous as well-Is it? I think I would be able to feed him a smaller portion of the beef in the recipe with no reaction (ear infection) if it is. Also, were you able to put the supplements in the food each day without him sniffing them out and rejecting the food. Sorry- alot of questions but just trying to assist my dog in his final months. I think it is wonderful that you put this out there for other pet lovers.

    • Hi Deonne. I’m happy you found my site as well. I’m sorry to hear about Joey and the road you’re both on now, but if it is any consolation, Ben lived more than 5 quality-filled years with Cushings. The recipe here that you’re reading is what he ate for 4 of those years. Once he was diagnosed with CRF, I then created the kidney-friendly recipe which you’ve already seen. Like many dogs, Ben also hated the prescription food. My Super Dog Food recipe is likely not the worst thing for a dog with CRF, but not the best either. It is higher in vitamins and fibre but also probably not as calorie rich.

      Regarding getting Ben to eat his supplements and his prescription drugs, no, putting them in the food didn’t generally work. He was a clever dog that I swear at times thought he was living Lucrezia Borgia. My best remedy was hiding the pills in other food like cheese or later in sausage so that I could be sure they were eaten as much as anything.

      Best of luck to you, Deonne and to your Joey. ~ Dale

  4. He is a lucky dog indeed.

    I have a cat that has pica; he ate non-food items. He had 3 separate abdominal surgeries to remove foreign objects. The last time he couldn’t pass feces we could not afford the ‘exploratory’ and instead made him comfortable. He was young and strong, long story short his problems were coming from dry commercial cat foods and his reaction to same. We do not cook ALL of his food but about a third of it and we really watch the type and quality of the food he eats. It seems a lot of commercial food will outright harm your pet.

    • Thank you Kim. Unfortunately, Ben passed away 18 months ago but his spirit and legacy live on here. Everyone cares and must care for their pets according to their abilities and resources, so I certainly don’t judge whether people are able to cook for their precious creatures or not. But based on the other food recipe that I published for managing the diet of dog with chronic renal failure, the choice of diet can and will make a huge difference to the quality and length of life of our pets. I’m certainly with you that there are some horrible ingredients in some commercial foods — and my own philosophy is that homemade for both people and pets is preferable to processed/manufactured foods. I know for some that isn’t always possible, but when it is, the differences can be huge. Thanks for the very kind words. Wishing you and your whole family the best.

      • My almost 16 year old dachshund has just been diagnosed with Cushings. Did you treat Ben with medication? I have chosen not to due to the many side effects and frequent vet trips that she hates.

        • Hi Burlene. Firstly, I’m very sorry at diagnosis. It is a hard disease to treat effectively but one where you can I believe manage the symptoms in some cases. Ben was prescribed “anipryl” at the outset and he stayed on this for about a year or two. At that point looking at his blood work I decided to ween him off of it. At the end while his blood work was better, it didn’t change when he was off the meds so we assumed it was the diet that had made a difference and not the anipryl. Other than diet, the biggest treatment I chose was to hire a dog walker for mid day walks and continued to let Ben drink as much as he wanted. Hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck going forward.

          • Thank you for answering me. We have been home cooking for both of our dogs for years now, so Maggie has been getting food similar to your recipe, plus a little bit of Halo grain free kibble and a good quality vitamin-mineral supplement. I have now stopped the kibble altogether. So far,Maggie has few if any obvious symptoms..no excessive drinking or peeing, no skin problems, no coat loss. She does have an enlarged liver and elevated liver enzymes that have come down with milk thistle and SAMe. I believe that dogs respond better to natural supplements that most humans do. I will add supplements as time goes on as needed and take heart that Ben lived years with this disease.

  5. Hi there just followed your Blog I wish long longevity to Ben <3 you are doing a great job on keeping him healthy and happy! Best wishes for you both! I hope that you will check out my Blog sometimes! Take care 😉 Carolina

    • Thank you, Carolina, for both your support and your kind words. Sadly, Ben pass away two years ago but his legacy lives on here and in many hearts. Thank you and I love you website as well — beautiful work on many levels.

  6. Dale we have just received the news yesterday that our 8 yr old. Chocolate Lab CoCo has kidney failure. The symptoms have come on in the last week or so very aggressively. Ive been reading your info all day and it seems overwhelming. Can these recipes go in the crockpot? Im not a good cook but want her better now.Thankyou Rachel Price

    • Hi Rachel — I fully appreciate the feelings of being overwhelmed you’re handling right now and in the moment. I felt very much the same when I got Ben’s news … before I dove into my own research. All to say, doing what you can to understand the disease and how to help CoCo will be a positive way to manage what you’re feeling and give you some sense of control.

      As for your question about the crockpot, someone else recently asked the same question here. My answer there was that while I have no direct experience, it should work with the caveat that it will change consistency I’m sure (which may/not be an issue, but think it will be more watery) and that my recipe has the veggies done separately so the that veggie-water can be discarded because it will have leached out some of the phosphorus.

      Either way, if doing it in the crockpot is the only way you feel comfortable, my advice is that it would still be better than nothing, so go for it. Do you best and that will be the best ….

  7. Hi Dale,
    Your stories are both heartwarming and heartwrenching, thank you for sharing your journey with Ben online and how he touched you and all those around.
    Our little girl of nearly 14 years is in the vets at the moment, thought it was kidney damage and dehydration, but now seems like its possibly pancreatitis. Heart breaking to go and see her today and leave her a second night, feel torn between the need for our girl to come home and be loved and comforted but know that the best place for her is in the vet hospital having IV support and meds. Just hoping she pulls through, have already made some home made food for her and our other 2 shih tzu’s Isobel and Phoebe who are daughters of Penny’s.

    • Thank you, Lisa. There is no question that these journeys with our canine companions and family members are fraught with a whole range of emotions … and that the journey is not without its heartbreak and hurt. Thank you for your commenting on mine and sharing your own. Without question, the hardest part of our journeys involving all our loved ones is in those situations where we must decide and act in ways that provide support for our loved ones and which come at a personal cost to ourselves. They are the ultimate acts of love and, while hard and even devastating, they are also the ultimate proofs that we possess and have felt love. Wishing you and your family strength in your own difficult time.

  8. Hi Ben. I love that you really put together an awesome recipe (Super Dog Food – Ben’s Breakfast). I have a senior puppy that has some anemia issues that were brought on by garlic & onion in the food and constant antibiotics for the past three years. Because of this I would exclude the the onion and replace the tomato sauce with plain tomato paste. I haven’t analyzed the nutritional breakdown, but that is my next step.

    Sorry that Ben has crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

    Thank you for sharing the recipe, I’m definitely going to try it. I’m going to us the pressure cooker, it will cut time.

    Cheers.

    • Thank you Rock — and thank your kind thoughts of Ben. Great idea with the pressure cooker for sure. And, definitely, if you do the analysis of the recipe and come up with a nutritional breakdown, let me know, and I’d be happy to post it here for others. All the best to you and your senior puppy as well. ~ Dale