My adorable, sweet foster dog Opal has made some vast improvements over the past five months that she’s been with me. Especially in these past couple of months. When I first rescued Opal, her fur was patchy and coarse from fleas and mange. Now she’s getting compliments about how shiny her coat is. She used to be scared of everything, including me, and she didn’t like to run around and play. Now she loves to snuggle, go on walks, and do zoomies around the yard. I attribute a lot of this to being in a stable home instead of living on the streets. But I also think her most recent improvements are due to a change in her diet.
About two months ago, I decided to try giving Opal homemade vegan meals for a week or two to see how it went. It was so easy to do and Opal loved the meals so much, we just made it a permanent change! I had done research in the past about feeding dogs vegan food. I hate processed dog food, there’s so many icky things in it, even in many of the natural brands. Plus, as a vegan myself, I didn’t like buying dog food products made with meat.
I wanted to share how I made the seamless transition to a plant based diet for Opal. It doesn’t take a lot of effort or money, and the effects are noticeable. I’ve also included the recipes to some of Opal’s favorite vegan meals!
I’ve been incorporating my own ingredients into Opal’s meals since I first brought her home. Because of injuries or wear or tear from being a stray, her front teeth are filed down, some all the way to the gum. So when she ate dog kibble, I had to soak it in water before I gave it to her. Along with that, I would mix in wet dog food, canned pumpkin, plain Greek yogurt, oatmeal, or brown rice. Then I learned that apple cider vinegar is a good homeopathic cure for mange. So I began sauteing organic frozen veggies in a little coconut oil, then pureeing them in a blender with some apple cider vinegar and adding it all to her dog kibble. I would also give her a good quality probiotic each day, opening up one capsule and mixing it into her breakfast.
One day I had an extra sweet potato laying around, so I peeled the skin off, cubed it, and simmered it in water on the stove until soft. I pureed it in the blender and Opal loved it sooooo much! That led me to remembering that dogs can many types of beans. Dry beans are super cheap and you can buy them in bulk. One of the main nutritional needs of dogs is protein, and beans have got plenty of that! That’s when I decided to do a vegan trial of homemade dog food.
Here are the ingredients I stock up on each week:
- dry pinto beans
- dry black beans
- dry lentils
- brown rice
- sweet potatoes
- organic canned pumpkin
- organic oats (or sometimes steel cut oats)
- frozen organic veggies (like broccoli, carrots, peas, corn, cauliflower, or spinach)
Here are “extras” I like to have as well:
- peanut butter (with no sugar or additives)
- nutritional yeast
- unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil
What I do is pick a protein base – pinto beans, black bleans, or lentils – and soak them in water overnight. The next afternoon or evening I rinse and drain them, then cook them on the stove. After they cool, I measure out 1.5-2 cups (Opal is medium sized, around 45 pounds) into the blender. Then I supplement it with cooked sweet potatoes, brown rice, sauteed veggies, canned pumpkin, or a combo of these, and top it off with any little extras.
I’ll cook enough of the beans/lentils so they last me twice a day for 2-3 days. I store them in the fridge and they are super easy to grab and blend up. I do the same thing with the sweet potatoes and brown rice. If I happen to run out or am running low, then I’ll cook some oatmeal and mix in extras.
I usually save peanut butter as a treat, or something I mix it into the homemade dog treats I make her. Dog biscuits are easy to make and you can make them whatever shape or size you want! Plus, you can make a bunch and store them. If you have a juicer at home and make your own juices, if the ingredients are dog friendly, you can take the leftover pulp and mix it into your dog’s food for some extra fiber and nutrients.
It may seem like a lot of work to someone that barely has time to cook for themselves, much less their fur babies. But honestly, I thought it would be a lot harder than it actually was. You just have to remember to soak the beans and rice ahead of time (to release the acidic outer layer and allow for more nutrients absorption), and don’t wait until the last minute to cook them. It took me about a week to incorporate this into my schedule but it easily became a part of my regular routine. The beans can take around an hour to cook, but I’m doing work or things around the house so it’s not sucking up my time. And seeing how much Opal loves the food I make is totally worth it!
Plus, I don’t spend any more money on her new meals than I did on her bags of dog food. All of the ingredients I listed above are really cheap, even a lot of the organic ones. The most expensive thing on the list is coconut oil, but I use it for myself too! It was easy for Opal to transition to plant based because I had already been incorporating some of these foods into her diet for a few months. I would recommend a thoughtful transition so you don’t upset your dog’s digestion or give them a belly ache.
My best advice if you are considering a vegan diet for your dog (or even cat) would be to do lots of research ahead of time (which may include speaking with your vet or a dog nutritionist), and make sure you are aware of what foods should not be consumed by dogs. I really like this article by Gentle World, it goes into the nutritional needs of dogs on a vegan diet, the best way to prepare certain foods, and it lists several plant based ingredients that are great for dogs. I’ve been introducing Opal to new foods each week, and next up are split peas, chickpeas, and squash!
It must get really boring for dogs that eat the same exact thing every single day, year after year! I love that Opal gets a variety of foods and she’s always so excited to see what I made for her. Plus, I know exactly what is in the food she’s eating. And just as plant based foods can heal physical ailments in a person, the same is true of dogs.