Nutrition Primer
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An extra dose of delicious


Dog Food Toppings

A homemade vinaigrette on the salad, fresh herbs over a perfect al dente pasta — these are the flourishes that elevate our experience of eating. Everyone who has watched their dogs dig into a flavorful meal knows that they too are gastronomes to the core.

Like us, our dogs occasionally enjoy a little something different, and it’s easy to provide those quick hits of tastiness that make a meal just that much better. This is especially true for dogs with diminished interest in eating, whether due to illness, age or simple boredom. By adding toppings, you have a real opportunity not only to brighten your dog’s day with fragrant, fresh tastes, but also to slip in some supplemental nutrition in the process.

The good news is that you need go no further than your own pantry or the aisles of your local pet-supply or grocery store to discover simple, healthy ways to liven up an otherwise humdrum dinner for your dog.

Some of you may be saying, Wait! We know dogs have only about one-sixth the number of taste buds we do. Why bother dishing up anything out of the ordinary? Ah-ha. You’ve forgotten another widely known fact: When it comes to smell, dogs have 125 million sensory cells to our 5 to 10 million; they can smell each and every ingredient. Imagine that! And research has shown that they are able to distinguish at least four flavor profiles: sweet, sour and salty, which they tend to like, and bitter, which they do not. (Put down that saltshaker; according to Psychology Today, because dogs’ wild ancestors ate primarily meat, they did not develop salt receptors like those of humans, so what we consider perfectly seasoned is likely to be too salty for them.)

In this round-up, The Bark shares three different kinds of toppings: On the Go, or easy toppings that will bring a little surprise and variety to their meals. For the Home Cook, which includes ingredients and recipes that take a bit of preparation and Off the Shelf, commercial additions that often include nutritional enrichments. With a few key harmful foods excepted (see box on left), the only real limits to topping your dog’s food with delicious add-ons are her particular needs and tastes, and your imagination. Of course, each dog is different and it’s best to clear dietary changes with your veterinarian.

On the Go
Before the pet food industry asserted itself as the mainstay of canine dining, our dogs ate table scraps. On the one hand, this meant a bit more bone and a bit less meat than a dog might need. But it also meant that their diets, in many instances, may have been richer in variety and flavor. Much of your leftover “people food” is perfectly fine to share with your dog (our trainers chime in: but preferably not from the table!). We take the rainbow approach, adding good-for-dogs fruits and veggies in all of nature’s colors.

Even easier? Drizzle some oil. Few supplements are as popular as salmon or fish oil for the canine mealtime — and for good reason. Fish oil is among the most beneficial additives to the canine diet: it is excellent for the treatment of canine allergies, but is now recommended for everything from arthritis to high cholesterol as well. One convention for calculating the amount of fish oil to include in your dog’s diet is to multiply your dog’s weight (in pounds) by 20. For a 60-pound dog, for example, the daily target dose is 1,200 mg. Another top product is flax seed oil, which is credited with healing, strengthening bones and maintaining dog’s energy. Flax seed and olive oil are both great sources of antioxidants, and key for maintaining canine cardiovascular health.

For the Home Cook
Lucy Postins, pet nutritionist and founder of The Honest Kitchen, has come up with a series of dog-jaw-dropping toppers for all occasions, including this super healthy innovation.



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Submitted by deidre | April 27 2012 |

lovely idea -- the only suggestion I question is bacon. just too fatty / salty. Plus, our dog is Jewish. I would suggest low fat, low salt (if available) cottage cheese (hold the latke.)

Submitted by Amy | May 17 2012 |

Hi Deidre,
It is clear that your intentions are to have a healthy pet. Your comment about fat caught my eye and I am moved to share my experience.

We have a very large poodle, 'rescued' at three years old from a family moving to another country and unable to take him. So... a well loved pet who's 'mom' still emails for updates on his life with us.

I took him to my vet for a look over and she immediately noted the ridge of bone on his head... with little flesh around it. Her diagnoses was that he was not getting enough fat. He had a heart murmur and when weighed, she noted that he needed to gain around twenty pounds for his frame... not to flood him, but to make sure he was not kept on the giver's low fat, 1 1/2 cups of food a day, 1 tablespoon of low fat yogurt a week diet.

She advised a Tablespoon of olive oil and since he liked yogurt a couple Tablespoons of whole fat, unsweetened yogurt daily. When the carton is at the bottom he likes to take it into the back yard for
a through cleaning.
Base dog food of meat and vegetables, no grains. (Blue)
A couple times a month, clean raw meat, organ meat, fat.
I roast chickens regularly, save the fat and bits of meat to portion out.
Leftover soup goes over his dry food... and sometimes we share a slice of sprouted wheat toast with peanut butter at breakfast.
Boxed treats are Trader Joe peanut butter and variety pack.

Now just after his seventh birthday he weighs in at (pefect for him) 85 pounds. A full of energy, healthy dog who can run faster than any other dog at the park. His heart murmur is gone and the scull safely filled out with flesh. His coat is soft curls no coarseness left.

So... just FYI :o)

Submitted by Anonymous | April 27 2012 |

Raw eggs or cooked?

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | April 28 2012 |

Thanks for your question. We suggest hard-boiled. I'll revise the story to reflect that.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 2 2012 |

I read that some dogs don't digest raw whites well so they can be cooked but raw yollks are fine. My dog eats a raw diet and is very happy and healthy. Kibble is overly processed with synthetic vitamins sprayed on at the end. Yuck for all!

Submitted by Ruth's Weimaraners | April 27 2012 |

Found out that by adding some raw turkey, chicken, lamb, or venison meat to my dogs kibble has really helped them receive their proteins and the meat absorbs into their bodies and has benefited their health. However, not all dogs can stomach raw meat, as my two Weimaraners Shadow and Barron cannot digest the meat - one try and they one knows. However, my four other Weimaraners love the raw meat - and I feed them raw meat a few meals a week - I add a hamburger size patty to their 'Taste of the Wild' dog kibble and I have seen wonderful benefits. Some of my Weimaraner friends do feed an all raw meat diet - but I prefer to feed my dogs a 1/3 raw meat to 2/3 kibble serving. Also, your article above is great - on days that I do not feed the raw meat - I add pumpkin puree to their kibble - or canned dog food to top off their kibble - yogurt - and even chicken broth!
My six dogs are all in great health and lean and sporty and in perfect weight for their size. Your BARK magazine is great - I enjoy each edition and I give many of my friends the Christmas Gift subscription as well - thank you BARK for a wonderful and creative approach to dog care of the body, mind, and Spirit!

Submitted by Nina L. | April 28 2012 |

I loved this article. I have been making my own "stew" for my dogs as a topping for years now. It contains yams, spinach, peas, carrots, brown rice (all organic with an occasional lapse) and I alternate beef, chicken and turkey minced meat and add some organ meat as well but not always. So easy to prepare, and such a pleasure because they enjoy the variety! I make a batch, freeze in small containers and have enough for several weeks. They get a heaping tablespoon twice a day on top of their dry food.
There is really something satisfying cooking for those we love and knowing it promotes health and enjoyment.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 2 2012 |

No need to cook the veggies...just purée. This will keep more of the nutrients available for your pup. No need to cook any of te meat either. Try all raw! Your dog will love you even moreM

Submitted by Cookie and Angel | April 29 2012 |

Our mom buys whole chickens regularly. She breaks them down and makes stock from the back, wings and giblets cooked with onion and celery. Then she refrigerates it, skims off the fat and pours it into Nalgene bottles. We get some every morning on our kibble. We know that she uses some it in other ways, but she always makes sure that we never get stiffed. Also, we get the bits of cooked chicken she pulls off the bones as treats, and of course we love the heart and the gizzard.

Submitted by Nervous | May 2 2012 |


Submitted by Frances | May 1 2012 |

Thanks - very helpful. My dogs are fed raw/home cooked, and love it, but I am always looking for new ideas!

I am rather surprised by the suggestion of blue-green algae, though? Round here we have regular blooms of blue-green algae in the lakes, and are warned to keep dogs away because it is so toxic.

Submitted by Amanda Mae | August 15 2012 |

I like putting extra toppings on my dog’s kibble for variety. We usually get one of the flavors of the natural balance dog food rolls and shred it on top, then mix it in. They’re very healthy with no fillers, and it really energizes my dog’s appetite!

Submitted by Kim | April 6 2014 |

I have a small maltipoo that was always on the thin side (about 4lbs). After getting her fixed this year she has been gaining weight. I feed her about 1/4 c Blue Buffalo potato & turkey dog food and about 1tbs. Of homemade dog food. I use turkey brown rice and vegetables that I freeze in small portions and then thaw in the refrigerator. Occasionally I will put a little bit of grated mozzarella or Parmesan cheese on top, but she isn't losing any weight. Does anyone have any suggestions???

More From The Bark

More in Nutrition Primer:
What's on (and in) a bag of dog food?
Pet Obesity
Dry-Matter Basics
Lessons in Healthy Eating
Important Vitamins and Minerals for Your Dog
Canine Nutrition Basics