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The recent pet food recalls were a bit of a wake-up call for Las Vegas resident Sandra Benton.

Benton has been making her own dog food off and on since her West Highland white terriers, Sid, 12, and Wes, 10, were puppies. When she was particularly busy — as when she started a new job not long ago — she would sometimes use what she considered a high-quality commercial food instead.

"Unfortunately, one of the pet foods I thought was high-grade was on the bad-food list," she said. The week the recall was announced, Benton was feeding her dogs one of the implicated canned foods as a topping on their dry food.

"I was devastated," she said. "I had already had Sid to the vet to the tune of $500. The first time, they said his (protein) levels were off the charts." On the advice of her veterinarian, she switched Sid to a prescription diet, which brought his protein levels down significantly.

"She said to either continue the prescription diet or it was OK to make my own food," Benton said. "That’s pretty much what I’m doing. If for some reason I don’t get to the dog food, I’ll feed him the prescription food."

Benton said her veterinarian told her there’s no way to tell if Sid’s problem stemmed from the pet food or was simply linked to aging. But she’s not taking any chances.

"I’m just not comfortable feeding any canned food right now," she said.

That’s a common refrain among pet owners across the country, who are reeling from at least 16 pet deaths nationally that have been linked to the tainted food. Many are turning to homemade foods, at least until the threat passes.

And as it turns out, that tends to be easier with dogs than cats.

"You can make a good basic diet out of hamburger and rice" for dogs, said Gary Weddle, a veterinarian who is the shelter administrator for the city of Henderson. "Boil equal proportions together until both components are cooked. Get the fatty water off. And then you need a good multivitamin supplement. This will get you by for a while."

Weddle noted that that’s the same basic recipe suggested for dogs with digestive problems.

"It’s most commonly used for intestinal problems, but it’ll work as a regular diet, too, if it doesn’t constipate them," he said. In that case, he suggests adding some bran. For supplements, he suggests a calcium/phosphorus supplement such as PetCal, and a common multivitamin.

"It’s fairly well-balanced," Weddle said of the diet. "We used to have people who refused to use (commercial) pet food. We’d have them cook up large amounts and freeze them."

Benton makes the food for Sid and Wes and for Nikki Bear, her 2-year-old Shiba Inu, in her slow cooker. She uses ground turkey with a little olive oil. She also uses one food on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ list of things to avoid.

"I do use a little bit of garlic, because they like it," she said. "It doesn’t bother them at all. I don’t use an excessive amount."

Benton uses petite frozen vegetables, "which are very easy, or you can cut up things like carrots or celery," she said. "They like the crunchy aspect." She adds two cans of low-sodium, low-fat or fat-free chicken broth and an equal amount of water.

"I also have used on occasion brown rice, which they like, and I’ve also even used oatmeal, which adds a bit of texture to it," she said. "It should be a little bit soupy because in Vegas, where we have a problem with dehydration in our pets, that’s one way to get them to consume more liquid."

If she makes a larger batch than she’ll use within a week, she freezes individual portions in cupcake tins. And whether it’s frozen or not, she microwaves the mixture to warm it just a bit before ladling it over the dogs’ dry food. Then she sprinkles on some Missing Link supplement — either regular or with glucosamine — and adds a children’s Flintstones vitamin tablet, broken in half, to each dog’s bowl.

The last is at the suggestion of her veterinarian. But some veterinarians don’t suggest homemade food at all.

"If people are going to be feeding human foods, they really should consult with a veterinary nutritionist," said Las Vegas veterinarian Regina Anderson. "The fee is in the hundreds for that."

"There’s a lot of people food that people don’t realize isn’t safe," Anderson said. "There are a lot of people who will give you recipes to feed dogs, but that doesn’t mean it’s nutritionally balanced." It takes a specialist, she said, "to be able to say, ‘Dogs need this percentage of fat … versus protein and fiber and vitamins and minerals.’ "

The issue seems to be especially problematic with cats.

"You’re barking up the wrong tree," Weddle said when asked about cats. "I don’t know anybody who cooks for cats."

"The main reason," said Las Vegas veterinarian Terry Muratore, "is a lot of the ratios that are involved in cat foods are specifically designed for that individual animal. Probably one of the biggest concerns is an amino acid called taurine. Cats are not able to synthesize taurine; it has to be supplemented in the food." Deficiencies, he said, can lead to severe liver problems or heart disease. And improper amounts of magnesium, ammonium and phosphate can lead to feline lower urinary tract disease.

"Unless these things are regulated, there are sometimes potential complications," he said. "Nutrition is the only thing we can control."

But Muratore said feeding cats a balanced homemade diet is within the realm of possibility. "There’s a lot of people who do."

Some of them are clients of Las Vegas veterinarian Nancy Brandt. Brandt said when the recalls were announced, "my clients were all on good-quality nutrition. Two percent of my clients had used any of those products. So most of my calls were grateful."

She suggested those concerned about the recalls consider the alternatives.

"I think that they can go ahead and look at making their own food," Brandt said. "They just have to really be educated, and it has to be designed for the pet. They can’t just go and think that they’re throwing something together and it’s going to be adequate. Using a little bit of education to design your food is really best."

Brandt recommended consulting with veterinarians with a specialty in nutrition, or "they can use the Internet — judiciously, because there’s good stuff on the Internet and there’s bad stuff on the Internet. Books are not in agreement with each other. This is a new field as to what animals need."

And nutritional needs differ, she said, because of the animal’s age, breed, level of activity, health needs, etc.

"My theory of nutrition is the evolutionary diet," Brandt said. "What would this animal be eating in nature, and then how can I mimic that? It’s more about the ratios of what they would be taking in."

In the case of cats, she said, "they’re pure carnivores — much more than a dog is. You basically don’t put grain in their food. It’s about an 80 percent ratio of meat (30 percent of which is organ meat) to a 20 percent ratio of really high-quality vegetable material. The vegetable material needs to be completely crushed in order for them to digest it, because that’s how it’s been taken in nature — already fermenting, already rich in probiotics," since it’s in the digestive tract of whatever animal they’ve eaten.

"Dogs are carnivores and can have a little bit of grain," she said. "I’m OK with barley and I’m OK with potatoes. And only 20 percent of their diet should be grain. Depending on the dog, another 20 (percent) to 30 percent should be high-quality vegetable material. Again, it needs to be crushed. The rest should be a meat source, of which 30 percent should still be organ meat."

Brandt also suggested "certain supplements to finesse this diet and make sure it’s balanced over time." And she said a switch to a high-quality homemade diet must be done gradually.

"You can’t do that immediately; their body’s not ready for it," Brandt said. "Their gut is really sterile. It’s not rich in enzymes, not rich in probiotics, because the food they’ve been eating is sterile. They’re predators, and in nature, they get all that from eating the prey. I like to call it preparing the terrain, actually helping the animals convert from being on commercial food to a high-quality homemade diet."

That’s done, she said, by adding digestive enzymes, probiotics, good-quality vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Brandt sells supplements as well as balanced food products, and also offers nutritional phone consultations for a fee.

But most of the veterinarians said research has produced commercial pet food that’s tailored to the animals’ needs and is perfectly safe under normal circumstances.

Anderson noted that the recall seems to center around wheat gluten, and "if it doesn’t have it in the food, it should be safe."

"Commercial foods are far more consistent in that they have the trace minerals that are needed, especially if you’re using a higher-quality diet," Weddle said. "I’m still a great proponent of using Science Diet and those similar diets, as long as you check the (recall) list and make sure it’s not on it."

"I think all the foods that are on the shelves right now are probably OK," Muratore said. "Sometimes media sensationalism causes a mad rush to point fingers.

"If you look hard enough, you’ll find something in everything."




 3/4 cup water

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 3/4 pounds meatloaf mix (see note)

1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 tablespoon ketchup

Bring water to boil in a small skillet. Add carrot and celery. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly to combine.

Place meatloaf on foil-lined baking sheet. Form into a bone shape measuring approximately 9 inches long by 5 inches wide by 1 1/2 inches high. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven about 1 hour.

Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. If desired, spread additional ketchup or mild barbecue sauce on top of meatloaf, pipe mashed potatoes around the lower edge and garnish with a cheese slice cutout.

Makes 1 meatloaf.

Note: Use a combination of ground beef, pork, veal, chicken or turkey, as desired.

— Recipe from "The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs," by Donna Twichell Roberts




1 cup water

1/3 cup dry rice (brown or white)

2 teaspoons corn oil

 1/2 teaspoon iodized salt

2/3 cup ground meat

1 tablespoon bonemeal

2 tablespoons cooked liver

Bring water to a boil. Add rice, corn oil, salt and simmer for 20 minutes.

Dredge meat with the bonemeal.

Add meat and liver to the rice mixture and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Cool and serve. Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen.

— Recipe from "Real Food for Cats: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Feline Gastronome"




5 ounces dried apples

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon parsley flakes

1 cup ice water

 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon corn oil

5 cups flour

 1/2 cup powdered milk

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the dried apples in a food processor and chop finely. Place the apples, cinnamon, parsley, water, oil, flour, dry milk and eggs in a large bowl and mix well until dough forms.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to  1/4 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes, place on cookie sheets and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

— Recipe from www.recipegoldmind.com





1 teaspoon corn oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons paprika

1 cup hot water

3 pounds of chicken, skinned, boned and cut into bite-size pieces

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 medium potatoes, cut into small cubes

 1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

Fresh parsley, to garnish

Additional ingredients for cat portions:

 1/4 cup cooked rice

 1/2 teaspoon brewer’s yeast

 1/2 teaspoon bonemeal

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic, salt, paprika and  1/2 cup of the hot water. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken, remaining water, carrot, potatoes and broth. Return to a simmer and cook another 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and red and green peppers. Stir well and simmer another 10 minutes. For people, garnish with parsley.

For cats, chop the chicken into smaller pieces, mix with rice, brewer’s yeast and bonemeal. Allow to cool before serving.

Serves 6 people, or 4 people and 2 or 3 cats.

— Recipe from "Real Food for Cats," by Patti Delmonte




 1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup whole wheat flour

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

 1/2 cup carob chips

 1/4 cup carob powder

 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend oil and honey in a bowl. Mix in remaining ingredients and pour into a greased 15-by-10-inch baking sheet.

Bake for 30-35 minutes.

— Recipe from "Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome" by Arden Moore

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