You’ve had your dog on expensive food from the vet for the last few years, but are thinking of giving it a go to cook for him yourself. Where do you go from here?
Firstly, speak to your vet – or even more than one.
"Cooked food can be good for average-sized grown dogs, but it cannot always compete with commercial foods when it comes to young, growing dogs," says Dr Malan van Zyl, specialist veterinarian from Cape Town. "The benefits of all the research that has been done on commercial brands is difficult to replicate in your own kitchen."
He also mentioned that if your dog has a specific problem, such as a kidney or liver problem, it might be quite difficult for you to get the balance of the diet right by yourself.
Check here which foods you should not be feeding your dog.
But if your dog is healthy, and you feel you would prefer to cook for him yourself, here are some guidelines (and jolly good advice) from Dr van Zyl and Dr Jane Yeats.
Tripe and trotters
Cook up cheap cuts of meat. These are hard to find, but Pick 'n Pay has a small section of a shelf in the butchery dedicated to offal, e.g. lungs, kidneys, heart, tripe, lungs and liver. These only come in once a week on a non-predetermined day, so get details from the butcher. Remember that tripe smells awful when cooking and that some dogs don't like it.
Pets' mince a problem?
If pets' mince is made of sausage meat, it could be salted and spiced and rather fatty. Those made of pure beef leftovers also tend to be very fatty. Ask the butcher what it actually consists of.
A bone to pick with turkey
You can also buy "budget turkey drumsticks" - but then you have many bones to pick out. Turkey and chicken bones can be very problematic for dogs.
Poultry for pets
Chicken is excellent too and sometimes very cheap, unless you only buy free range.
From the heart
Country butcheries sell the "harslag", or chest organs (lungs, heart, liver and other bits, all in one piece), of sheep. These are brilliant and cheap, but not for the squeamish.
Plus rice and veg
If you find some sort of meat that's affordable, just cook it up quite well and add rice and veg for the last 15 min. of cooking. You can have rice/veg to meat in a ratio of about 2:1.
Give a minimum of 300g of meat per day to large dogs (30kg+) and less to medium or small dogs. Pasta, or mealie meal, or samp can be used instead of rice. (Just remember that samp takes a long time to cook.)
A bit rough?
There may be too much roughage in brown rice, even though it’s recommended by homeopathic vets (e.g. brown rice and chicken). Dogs don't need roughage in the same way herbivores do.
Not all vegetables are suitable. Stick to bland vegetables such as butternut, carrots, sweet potato and perhaps broccoli. Many people like to add chopped parsley.
Not for dogs
Stay away from cabbage and cabbage-like vegetables, such as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Also steer clear of brinjals, celery and other exotic vegetables. Avoid peppers and onions. Beans and lentils are also not suitable for dogs, as they ferment in the gut.
Dry as a bone?
You can add a little sunflower oil if there's hardly any fat in the meat, for example if you're feeding your dog ostrich meat.
A bony issue
Pick out bones. Dogs should only get big, raw marrow bones. Other bones could easily get stuck in the throat.
Cool things down
Serve the meal when it has cooled down. Dogs will swallow boiling hot chunks of meat and they can burn themselves.
Don't forget fish
Dogs are also crazy about fish. Why not give your dog a tin of minced pilchards once in a while?
"It is certainly much more of a mission to cook for them and almost certainly more expensive than the top dog biscuit brands, but vets regularly comment on the excellent condition of my dogs," says Dr Yeats, who regularly cooks for her dogs. "Give cooking a try for a while – at least until you know all is well in dog food land."