Yesterday I received an email from a new reader named Nicole on the question of storing dog food in terms of preparedness. I've looked into this issue quite a bit, but since I hadn't yet addressed it on the blog, I asked permission to post her email:
I just recently found your blog (my very first introduction to self-sufficiancy/ survivalism, etc) and have started following your posts. My husband and I have recently started "prepping" and, though I am absolutely clueless when it comes to canning (we are from New Jersey and the idea is pretty foreign around here!), I was wondering if you were able to can or store dog food long term? I haven't seen any mention of this in your archived posts and I know you have dogs as well -- what are the long term storage options when it comes to dry dog food? Any advice you can give would be much appreciated!
Obviously there is nothing wrong with storing cans of commercial dog food; however if you have Big Dogs (as we do), then it won't last very long. Besides, canned dog food is expensive.
But that doesn't mean dry dog food is a good option for long-term storage. Many years ago, we were feeding our dogs a good-quality but off-brand (meaning, it wasn't available in grocery stores) dog food. Because the store where we bought it was in another town, we bought a lot of dog food at a time and stored it in clean dedicated garbage cans. At one point we bought enough to last for about a year.
It didn't work. By the time we got down to the bottom of the can, the dog food was going moldy and rancid. We wasted a lot of dog food and learned the hard way that the oils in dry food (which are essential to a dog's health) don't translate well into long-term storage.
Because we love our dogs and want to make sure they won't go hungry if their food becomes unavailable, I've looked into making homemade dog food and found it's quite a common thing to do. I also found that many online sites dedicated to making homemade dog food seem additionally to be dedicated to the concept that ALL commercial dog food is poisonous to your pet.
While I won't go that far, there's no doubt that certain dog food components originating from China have been known to kill pets. This spurred a great deal of interest into making homemade dog food. Type "homemade dog food" into your preferred search engine and take advantage of the wealth of information.
A couple years ago, I copied-and-pasted a variety of info into a file on my computer. Unfortunately I didn't think to copy the sources, but here's some of the info I have in my file. I'm not an expert, so if you have questions about anything, you'll have to do your own research.
• There are endless variations on the theme of homemade dog food, but the basic ratio appears to be 40% meat, 30% vegetables, and 30% starch.
• Oatmeal, pasta, rice, or potatoes can be used for the starch component.
• Healthy foods for dogs:
- Organ meats, liver (don't overuse)
- Cultured dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, cheese
- Complex carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes, beans, legumes
- Fiber sources such as bran, fresh vegetables, whole-grains
• Foods to avoid:
- Onions (except small amounts for seasoning)
- Garlic (ditto)
- Artificial sweeteners or artificial fats
• Some sites recommend against feeding raw meat because of the potential for bacterial contamination, salmonella, parasites, or viruses. "Your dog can suffer from food poisoning just as humans can," noted one website. "Only cooking will make these foods safe for consumption." I concur, especially if you're feeding your dog meat from wild game.
• Most homemade dog food must be cooked. This means starches (whether it's pasta, rice, potatoes, whatever) should be cooked; legumes should be cooked; etc. Believe me, you don't want to put a bowl-full of dry beans and dry rice in front of your dog. He'll break his teeth and possibly choke (if he eats it at all).
Now this is all fine and good, but what should a good pet owner do under preparedness or survival conditions? Obviously no one will be trotting down to their local grocery store to obtain the fresh ingredients (meat, veggies, whatever) to make dog food if society is disrupted.
This question is especially pertinent to us since a good snowstorm is all it takes to strand us. While we always try to make sure we have at least one (40-lb.) bag of dog food in reserve, things can happen.
What we decided to do is to store the components for dog food, with some of these components (namely, the meat) canned up.
Look at the three basic ingredients for homemade dog food: meat, vegetable, starch. Dried starches are easily stored. Rice is the classic example. It stores beautifully and, when bought in bulk, is cheap (50 lbs. for about $20 at a wholesale grocer such as Cash & Carry).
Ditto with pasta and oatmeal -- bought in bulk, it's cheap and stores well (though rice is still the least expensive option).
What about vegetables? Canned vegetables will work, but isn't a practical solution since they take so much room to store and (frankly) are too expensive to "waste" on dog food. On the other hand, if you have a bumper crop from your garden, more power to you (green beans seem to be the first choice for green veggies).
We have dried split peas stored away. Soaked and cooked, these will work just fine for the veggie component of dog food.
Legumes such as lentils or beans (soaked and cooked, of course) are also an excellent choice.
So this leaves meat, the most expensive and perishable component.
We're fortunate that we have livestock and chickens, so for us, meat is available on a long-term basis. But for short-term convenience, I have some cheap cuts of meat canned up.
Where did we get this cheap meat? Well, a few years ago we were the clean-up family for our local Second Harvest distributor. Since our area is so rural, any Second Harvest items that didn't get distributed can't be distributed elsewhere because of the travel requirements. So the pastor who runs the distribution would call us if they had leftover items.
That's how we came into possession of numerous five-pound bags of frozen chopped Mystery Meat. Apparently nobody wanted it because, frankly, it looked awful. The pastor told us it was chopped bologna, but I've since seen similar-looking bags at Cash & Carry (our regional wholesale grocer) and realized it's chopped ham. Didn't make any difference -- it still looked revolting.
At any rate, I must have had ten of these bags of chopped Mystery Meat taking up space in the chest freezer and had no idea what to do with them. They hung around for almost a year before I got tired of pushing them around to reach other items. So I decided to can them. I figured, in an emergency, even Mystery Meat is edible.
I was startled to find that each five-pound bag yielded about nine quarts of canned meat. I canned up 35 quarts before I ran out of jars and got tired of canning such blech-looking stuff. I then discarded the remaining bags of meat. I now realize in retrospect that such an act was criminal, but at the time I wasn't thinking in terms of dog food. Now I wished I'd canned it all up, because I've earmarked this meat for the dogs should the time come when we need to make their food. Now that I have more jars (and more knowledge!), someday I might actually buy a case of this meat (six 5-lb. bags) which would give me over 50 additional quarts of canned meat.
Like all stored foods, our canned meat will eventually run out (unless I can up meat from our own animals), but portioned out with vegetables and starches, this should last us quite awhile into an emergency situation. For people with smaller dogs, canned meat (which can be done in pints or even half-pint jars) will last even longer.
I also feel compelled to point out, however, that canning meat specifically for dog food is an inefficient use of space. What else would work? I'm not entirely sure. Don suggested dehydrating cheap cuts of meat which could then be re-hydrated for dog food. If you can find meat cheap enough, that might be an option. Alternate protein sources might include eggs or cheese.
Let's not forget one thing: dog food is a fairly new phenomenon. For hundreds -- thousands -- of years, dogs ate pretty much what we ate. It might not have been an scientifically-balanced nutritionally-optimal diet, but then neither was human diets. Under "bleep" circumstances, assuming you have food to spare at all, your dog will eat what you eat.
What about cats? Well, I copied over this note into my files -- make of it what you will:
Homemade Cat Food
2 cups of ground or chopped chicken, cooked
1 cup of cooked brown rice
¼ cup grated carrots
Put chicken, brown rice and carrots in a blender and mix well. If there is any fat from the chicken, pour about two teaspoons over the mix. Serve at room temperature.
(This website stressed that cats require more protein than dogs do, but they should also have grains and vegetables. Grains need to be cooked, but vegetables and fruit can be served either steamed or raw.)
My $0.02. I'd love for readers to chime in with their ideas.