There's nothing like a little home cooking to cure what ails you.
Just ask Penny Maletic, who credits homemade pet food for giving her severely allergic, overweight dog, a 10-year-old Bichon Frise named Teddy, a new lease on life.
"He's an older dog, but he's back to enjoying life again," Maletic says, beaming. "It (home cooking) has really helped. If a dog is thriving on a store-bought food, that's great, but for my dog this is working. I definitely recommend it to others."
To say tubby Teddy has had a long history of health woes is kind of like saying Winnipeg hockey fans are happy to have the Jets back in town.
In an email to the Pet Valu Fit Project, Maletic said her pet's severe allergies literally kicked in overnight when he was around a year old. "We woke up to him throwing himself all over the bedroom, wrapping himself in the curtain and rolling under the bed," the St. Vital pet owner wrote. "Turned on the light and, to our horror, saw that he had been chewing himself to ribbons and was bleeding all over, with chunks of fur torn out."
It was the start of a long journey with veterinary medicine. For years, nothing seemed to help, until Teddy was prescribed the drug Atopica, cyclosporine capsules for an allergic condition that causes a dog's skin to become extremely itchy, red and scaly.
Last December, the plucky pup had surgery for a dislocated hip and pre-op blood work revealed a borderline kidney condition. He was put on a special renal diet, which worsened the allergies. Then came a hypoallergenic diet, which involved sprinkling a calcium powder on his food, something Teddy hated.
A short time later, a painful knee problem had Teddy limping and he spent two weeks on anti-inflammatory drugs. The little dog bounced back, but his weary owner felt it was time for a major change.
"He was very unhappy," Maletic recalled. "He wouldn't eat, so I started thinking, if I cook his food, maybe he'll like it and take his (kidney) medication. My girlfriend had been feeding her dog homemade meals forever and her dog looks so healthy, so I thought, 'I'm going to try it.'"
For the last four months, armed with her friend's recipe, Teddy's owner has been whipping up four-pound batches of homemade dog chow that last about 20 days.
"It's about one-third protein, usually ground beef or sometimes chicken," she said. "Then one-third veggies and one-third quinoa or sprouted brown rice. He gets no gluten whatsoever. Then I throw in a large carton of cottage cheese so he gets some calcium. Then I may throw in a cup or two of blueberries. He gets half a cup twice a day. It doesn't sound like much but he's doing great on it. I can't even get the bowl on the floor; he goes crazy."
In the passionate world of pets, store-bought versus homemade is a heated debate, but Maletic says the personal touch has worked miracles for Teddy, who now weighs 8.4 kilograms, down from 10 kg when he started eating home cooking.
"I can feel his ribs now," Maletic says proudly. "His coat is softer now. He's getting into trouble the way he used to do. For the longest time, he didn't play much. It was sad. Now he gets into things like garbage cans and tips them over and grabs the toilet paper and runs through the house with it."
Part of Teddy's health journey involved a visit to holistic veterinarian Dr. Linda Hamilton, owner of Natural Healing Veterinary Care on Corydon Avenue, who gave the thumb's up to the little dog's big diet change.
Hamilton says she can't speak specifically about Teddy's case, but chats openly about the pros and cons of feeding pets whole foods as opposed to processed food. "There's no single, individual diet that works for every dog in the world," explained Hamilton, who spent 24 years as a traditional vet, but for the last eight years has dispensed holistic care, including acupuncture, Chinese herbs, animal chiropractic care and food therapy.
The holistic practitioner said if a dog is thriving on a store-bought food, that's great. If not, the owner might want to consider incorporating home-cooking into the animal's diet. "If a processed food is working for their dog and it's healthy, stick with what works," she said. "But I see the ones that are broken and that's when it's time for a rethink.
"There's lots of dogs who do just fine on kibble and canned food, but it's the chronic diseases that respond really well to whole foods. It might be home cooking or raw food. Some animals do great on a raw diet and some don't. It can be very complicated."
She stressed it's never wrong to consult a vet about what you feed your animal. "Some vets will be very open-minded," she said. "Some are not. There's also a lot of amazing books out there on home-cooked diets, raw diets, supplementing with different foods, even books on Chinese medicine for pets."
One of our experts from Pet Valu, the sponsors of the Fit Pet Project, said the choice of what to feed your pet can be an extremely delicate issue for some owners.
Sandy Waldner, owner-operator of the Pet Valu at 1670 Kenaston Blvd., said home-cooking might be the right choice in extreme cases where pets suffer from severe allergies. But she stressed the majority of dogs will thrive on high-end store-bought diets that are scientifically formulated to deliver optimum nutrition and palatability.
"As a general rule, the foods in the store will help your dog live a long and healthy life," Waldner said. "The level of quality in the super-premium and holistic foods is done with so much care and caution and testing. They'll get a well-balanced meal. I don't eat that good."
She said it would be hard for home cooks to match the expertise that goes into a super-premium or holistic dog food, many of which are formulated to handle any health issue a dog may face, from allergies to obesity.
"The only concern (with a home-cooked diet) is it needs to be balanced," she said. "Our fear is a dog doesn't have the same needs as a person. So you have to do the research and make sure you're not missing something in your dog's diet."