Cooking for my dogs has always brought me joy. I love to feed them nutritionally sound meals all the time but I especially enjoy sharing special holiday meals with them. Whether we're eating a traditional Thanksgiving roasted turkey with the trimmings or a Christmas roast, I include them in our celebration. If you take a few minutes to think ahead, it's actually very easy to feed them well and keep the meal nutritionally sound.
What I mean by nutritionally sound is that we don't want to upset their delicate digestive system by loading on gravies, heavy starches and high fat items. They can quickly become sick to their stomach, develop diarrhea and, the worst case scenario, be at risk for acute pancreatitis.
I always recommend adding human food slowly and not overloading your dog with a heavy meal three days from now on Christmas Day. Even just a taste for some dogs will satisfy them after they've been smelling that turkey roasting all day!
The night before a holiday meal, I roast sweet potatoes on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. It'll save clean up time, free up your oven for the next day and be one less task to complete on your holiday. Trust me about the baking sheet and foil because you'll have some lovely stickiness after they roast! Poke holes in the potatoes, set them at about 425 degrees and cook until tender (usually at least an hour). When they have cooled enough to handle, slice them open and scoop out the contents. If you want to add skin to the mix, you'll need to puree' it. Put them in a container and refrigerate them overnight.
PROTEIN: Roasted turkey is a great protein for dogs. After your bird has finished roasting, carve a portion for your dog. Remove all the skin and bones. Dice it as fine as you can, puree' it or mush it with your fingers. I prefer the puree' method because dogs will absorb the nutrient-rich food more thoroughly since they don't chew like we do.
DOG STUFFING: Just about any vegetable can be stashed inside of what I call "dog stuffing". They really don't need the bread in their diet but it holds the veggies together nicely and you only need a little bit. I like to start our human stuffing at the same I start the dog stuffing so grab two bowls.
Add some chicken broth to a saute' pan. While it's warming, puree' any combination of veggies together (NO ONION): I always use celery and carrots and then add another veggie like broccoli, green beans, chard, collard greens, kale, squash, etc. I would avoid a starchy veg like peas because you'll already be feeding some bread and sweet potatoes to their meal. Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add your veggies to soften them for a few minutes.
Grab your bowl, tear apart or cube small pieces of Italian bread and add the softened veggies to it, broth and all. Since I measure nothing, you'll have to judge how extra much broth is needed to soften but not soak the bread. At this point, I also add a can of finely diced beets to my stuffing bowl. They add a touch of sweetness and a pretty color. There is always controversy over garlic so you be the judge here. I dice a clove for my dog stuffing. Place all the stuffing in a pretty casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or so.
When it's time for dinner, I use a one-cup measuring cup for each of my 75 pound dogs. I add 1/3 turkey, 1/3 dog stuffing and 1/3 sweet potato. Since I have four of my own dogs as well as many more in various forms of training or boarding here, I plunk individual cups of food into a large bowl and microwave it to warm it. You can also add a small amount of boiling water to each bowl of food to warm it and skip the microwave. Beware though--that boiling water hits the metal bowl and it gets very hot. Mix the food thoroughly with the hot water, dip your finger in the center and test it first. I fed 10 dogs at Thanksgiving and it was a huge success!
I believe in feeding my dogs first, letting them potty and then boom--they're satisfied, snuggly and out cold in minutes! You'll be able to eat your dinner in peace and enjoy your company without beady eyes begging for just a taste! They'll have full bellies of warm goodness.
When your meal has ended and you're cleaning the rest of the meat off the carcass, be sure to use that carcass to make them a pot of dog soup! Remove all the skin, toss the bones into a pot, add 5 whole carrots (unpeeled and scrubbed clean) and 5 stalks of celery (leaves included), cover it with water and let it simmer away for a few hours. Add water as needed until you have a lovely rich broth. I'm usually tired by this point and put the cooled pot in the fridge until the next day.
The next day, bring it to boil again and strain the broth into a new pot. You'll be left with meat that has fallen off the bone. Pick through it very carefully and add all that lovely meat to the pot of broth. Bag up those bones and put them in a land far, far away. Otherwise, you'll have various critters picking through them. Cooked bones are a choking hazard!
If you are not serving the stuffing and vegetable casserole to your dogs, this is a good time to add veggies to the broth and let them simmer. Again, it's your choice of veg but be sure to puree' them. I use a hand-held immersion blender and I'm done in seconds.
Dogs thrive on homemade soup around here. I feed it several times a week either at dinner over their kibble or at bedtime after their massage. Nothing settles a dog in for a night of calm like a warm bowl of goodness! While I don't use food to train a dog, this is a great way to build that training relationship with them. I can almost promise you that dogs will be keen to work for you when they know what's waiting for them at their next meal!
Holler if you have any questions and happy cooking! Merry Christmas to all of you!