A large number of people have domestic pets and it makes sense that we want to care for them in the same way that we care for any other member of our family. So, when my family started trying to live more simply and frugally, I looked for ways to include our pets. If I could make foods and products for my family more healthily and cheaper than buying them, surely that applied to our pets as well!
The first aspect I looked at was their diet. Just as I was seeking to eliminate artificial additives from my family's diet, I also wanted to eliminate them from my dogs and cat. A quick glance at the ingredients list on their purchased food was pretty eye-opening, even though we had been buying supposedly 'fresh' food for our dogs (i.e. refrigerated dog food rolls) as opposed to tinned food. In hindsight, I doubt the 'fresh' stuff was any better, it was still full of artificial colours, preservatives, salt, sweeteners (!) and other cheap non-food 'fillers'. It was also quite expensive, especially with two large dogs to feed.
A quick Google search for dog food recipes revealed a plethora of information, including the BARF diet (Bones And Raw Foods, also known as the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods diet, said to mimic the evolutionary diet of dogs and which is totally raw), plus numerous different homemade cooked dog food recipes, as well as a list of foods to avoid feeding dogs, namely:
* onions, shallots etc,
* grapes and raisins,
* chocolate, and
* artificial sweeteners.
Basic recipes should comprise of around 50% protein, 25% carbohydrate (grains) and 25% vegetables, as well as some oils to provide Omega-3's. In the wild, dogs would have gotten the carbohydrate and vegetable component of their diet by eating the stomachs of their prey. Also, be aware that many fresh ground/ minced meats, particularly 'pet quality' meats, quite apart from being made up of 'meat' of dubious origins, have had preservatives added to them to extend their shelf life (generally sulphur dioxide [preservative 220]), which have been linked to thiamine deficiencies in dogs if consumed in large quantities, and they are often sprayed with sodium nitrite to make it look red and fresh (when it isn't).
The recipe I use is one I picked up at the Aussies Living Simply forum a few years ago:
Homemade Dog Food
1 kg/ 2 pounds minced/ ground/ finely chopped meat*
1 cup raw brown rice
1 cup raw pasta
1 cup barley or lentils
2 cups chopped mixed vegetables (NEVER use onions or shallots)
2 cloves minced garlic**
1 spoonful of nutritional yeast (or if you are an Aussie, Vegemite)
* Including a small amount of offal in the mix adds valuable fats and vitamins.
** Small amounts of garlic are said to repel fleas and worms but can be harmful in large doses.
Mix all the ingredients in a large stockpot and cover with water. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice and pasta are cooked. Top up the pot with water and allow to cool. Freeze in portions.
Using a bulk pack of 3kg of minced meat and adjusting the rest of the ingredients accordingly, I make enough food for our two large dogs for approximately two weeks. Please not that this recipe doesn't contain a source of calcium so isn't suitable for growing puppies, but our adult dogs are fine on it. They also get uncooked bones to chew on as well, which I buy in bulk cheaply from our butcher.
If you are switching your dog from a commercial diet to homemade, you might want to do it gradually to reduce the chance of upsetting your dog's tummy.
Recipes for other homemade dog foods and treats can be found here and here.
After switching our dogs to home cooked food, the next area I looked at was their coat care. I had changed our family from using commercial shampoos to more natural, organic ones at that stage (and later went "no 'poo"), but natural, organic dog shampoos are very expensive, so I went looking for homemade alternatives.
I found that just like bicarbonate soda (baking soda) is great for washing human hair, it's also fabulous for washing dogs! You can use it both wet or dry.
Dry Dog Shampoo - Sprinkle plain bicarbonate soda over the dog's coat. Brush through the dry coat thoroughly with a soft- bristled brush. The bicarb soda neutralises dog odours, it absorbs dirt and oils in the coat and contains no nasty chemicals! It's terrific for wet days when our dogs come inside at night with that distinctive "wet dog" smell (erk!).
To use it wet, mix up the bicarb with water at a ratio of about 1 part bicarb to 4 parts water, and use as you would shampoo. Rinse thoroughly.
You can finish off with a homemade flea repellent spray if you wish:
Flea repellent spray #1 - Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a clean spray bottle. Spray onto coat the dog's coat and allow to dry. Repeat every few days.
Flea repellent spray #2 - Bring about 1 litre (1 quart) of water to the boil, then remove from heat, add one sliced lemon to it and leave to steep overnight. Strain and store in a clean spray bottle, spray the dog's coat daily or as needed (the limonene in lemons supposed to repel fleas).
For those little "accidents", you can also use trusty vinegar and bicarb soda to clean urine stains on the carpet. For fresh accidents on carpet, blot immediately with towels to remove as much as possible, then blot with a 50:50 mixture or white vinegar and water, using clean towels. For dried stains, gently apply a 50:50 mixture of water and white vinegar to the stain and allow it to dry. When dry, sprinkle liberally with bicarb soda and then vacuum thoroughly. For persistent stains or smells, follow up with another application of bicarb soda, then mix 1/2 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide with a teaspoon of dish washing detergent. Don a pair of rubber gloves, and then slowly pour the hydrogen peroxide mixture over the bicarb soda, dissolving it and rubbing it into the carpet well with your gloved hands. When dry, vacuum thoroughly.
I'm sure there are many, many other green and frugal tips out there - feel free to share your favourite in the comments section!
** I'm going to be away from the computer for a day or so, so please don't think I'm rude if I don't respond to any comments immediately :-) **