Most of the dogs I’ve had have been prepared to eat just about anything – including socks, paper, and packaged pet food. But this doesn’t necessarily mean any of those things are actually good for them. Household items aside, many commercial pet foods – particularly wet foods (tins, etc.) all have a particularly unappealing smell. A nasty, I-wouldn’t-want-to-eat-that, sort of smell. I don’t think the pretty pictures on the tins/sachets make up for this in the slightest.

So it occurred some time ago to question the quality of of said food? Really – would you eat it? Like most people, I’ve tended not to read the ingredients list too closely. Even when I do, the information doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. What even is animal digest or high quality protein?

The pet food industry is big business, but it doesn’t appear to be particularly well legislated and the standards for compliance in terms of content appear sketchy. This 10-minute video provides an overview of impressive machinery, manufacturing process standards and some charming pet pictures. Where the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia video falls down is that it doesn’t provide any detail on what actually goes into the food that’s being so carefully processed.

pfiaa vimeo video

I hunted down the Australian Standard on the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food (AS 812-2011). It’s available online so, if I really want to check what’s allowed to go into pet food, I could download that. The catch? Well, to gain access to more than the cover, preface, contents, and part of the scope statement of the of the (2011) legislation, I need to invest $200.

The (free) preview pages online tell me the following, but essentially it’s committee-speak and leaves me no better informed than the video did.

This Standard was prepared by the Standards Australia Committee FT-033, Pet Food. The objective of this Standard is to provide requirements for the manufacture and marketing of pet food intended for consumption by domesticated cats and dogs. The focus of this Standard is on the safety of multi-ingredient, manufactured food for feeding to pets and on ensuring products are accurately labelled and do not mislead purchasers…This Standard specifies requirements for the production and supply of manufactured food for domesticated dogs and cats. The Standard covers production of pet food from sourcing and receipt of ingredients to storage, processing (including heat treatment), packing, labelling and storage of products in order to assure its safety for pets. It also includes instructions for the uniform application of information provided on labels.

So it’s not surprising that most people I speak to have no more idea than I do of what goes into the commercial food they give their pets. We see the TV ads, with puppies and kittens rushing to their delicious-looking dinners, and forget that these self-same pets would probably eat socks, cardboard, poop and pretty much anything in-between.  But commercial dog food, whether it’s dry kibble, tins of wet food, or training treats, is quick and easy. Not cheap – but easy. Not necessarily healthy – but easy.

It turns out, however, that commercial dog/cat food is largely made from leftovers. Not the yummy sort of leftovers you find in the fridge after pizza night. No. These leftovers are the scraps that can be scavenged from animal carcasses after all the saleable meat has been harvested, the bits not considered suitable for human consumption. This includes a bunch of things I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat (and I’m not a vegetarian): offal (liver, heart, kidney, lungs, brains, stomach), fat, intestines, blood, beaks, and so on. Not exactly gourmet fare, right? But it’s all lumped under the generic label of high quality protein or meat meal (of one sort or another) on the ingredients list.

This is amongst the reasons that we’ve chosen to make the bulk of our dog food, processing it every six weeks or so. We augment this with commercial kibble, but choose the best brand we can afford – after a rigorous check of the ingredients list. Why? Because my dogs are effectively our kid-replacements and this matters to us. I don’t want to feed them anything I consider distasteful or wouldn’t, at a push, be prepared to eat myself.

Training treats are my current bugbear. Most dog schools advocate soft treats, preferably meat-based. So many people use generic dog sausage (TM) for this. However, I find that even the products that claim to be ‘leading health food for pets’ are a little dodgy. The ingredients may well include 70% fresh meats… vegetables and grains, but it’s a bit like generic polony (luncheon meat): it can be keep in the fridge for weeks, just getting a bit dried out and shrivelled after a while. It also smells a bit odd and the dogs get mild diarrhoea the day after their training session. Given all of this, surely it’s not something I should feed to them?

So now that we’ll have two dogs at school every week, we’re going back to making our own training treats. This is a recipe for Sunshine Liver Brownies, given to us by a trainer at the dog club a number of years ago. It’s easy enough to make, keeps well, smells okay and I know exactly what’s in it. Oh – and the dogs love it and has no negative side-effects 🙂

  • 450g chicken or beef liver (I’ve used both; beef is often cheaper and easier to get hold of; 1kg of beef liver cost me $1.50 at the meat markets last weekend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup corn meal (aka polenta)
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp garlic (I use bottled garlic, but no doubt fresh is better)
  • Parsley – fresh or dried (this is optional; I think it’s just decorative & tend to leave it out)

Puree all of the above in food processor if you have one OR just mince the liver and then add it to the other ingredients and mix well. Note: the mixture will be quite thick. Line a baking tray with foil – and oil it lightly. Pour the mix onto the foil and press out as evenly as possible so that it’s about 1cm thick all over. Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes (Check at 15 – it’s usually enough). Brownies are done when the pink (liver colour) has gone. Don’t over bake or the brownies’ll crumble. Once it’s cool, slice the bake into pieces small enough to use as training treats (about 1cm cubes). They keep in the fridge for about a week – but you can freeze the rest and take some out each week for training. Can be frozen for up to 6 months. I’m pretty sure your dogs will love you for this.

As for the dogs’ daily (wet) food intake, we combine 2 – 3 ox hearts (minced), 1 liver (ditto), 8 – 10kg mince (depending on the number of hearts used), 1.5kg sardines in oil.  That gets frozen in 500g lots and taken out as required. Our 2-year old gets 300g of this mix each day, the puppy gets 200g. They also both get an appropriate ration of (soaked) kibble with each meal, along with whatever appropriate veggies/fruit I have to hand. Now that is gourmet doggy-fare – and yes, I would eat it if I had to!

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