What’s the difference between fresh and commercial dog food? Rick Woodford, aka The Dog Food Dude, is happy to tell you. “If you’ve ever put kibble into a glass of water for two hours it turns into gunk,” he says. “But a carrot in a glass of water doesn’t do much. It needs the stomach to do something to it.”
Advocating dog food made from wholesome ingredients like carrots, yogurt, eggs, fish and blueberries has been Woodford’s work of heart for several years. He empowers people to feed their dogs healthy food, not when they’re old or sick, but NOW, when it can prevent disease. Still, Woodford has researched and developed numerous recipes for older or sick dogs of all sizes.
It all began when his best friend Jackson was diagnosed with lymphoma and stopped eating. Woodford prepared nutritionally rich dog food for him. Jackson began eating again, and his health improved. But he also gained weight.
“I realized I didn’t know what I was doing,” Woodford says. So began an impassioned undertaking, researching and creating a database of dog food formulations and recipes. Originally Jackson was given nine months to live. After 18 months of good food, however, the vet found his lymphoma was gone.
“The vet said, ‘Wow, I don’t know what did this, but you don’t need to bring him back,’” Woodford recalls. “I said, ‘I know what did it, it's the food.’”
Eventually people started asking for help with their own sick and aging dogs, so Woodford started Dog Stew, a home delivery dog food company. He also began teaching the care and nurturing of dogs with healthy, homemade meals.
And his nickname, The Dog Food Dude? “When I would deliver food to peoples’ homes, the husbands, the children, would say, ‘Mom, the dog food dude’s here!’ Well all right, I thought; that’s what people are calling me, I guess I’ll go with it!”
Jackson lived for four years after his initial cancer diagnosis. He passed away from old age in 2011, cancer free. “Without exception, every dog who has had a serious illness did really well with my food,” Woodford says.
While the business was successful and rewarding, Woodford was unable to produce the volume necessary to successfully scale up. He opted to close the business and write the first of his two books, Feed Your Best Friend Better.
“When Jackson passed away I went into this big, horrible mourning period,” he says, “but I also decided I was going to write this book and give everybody the recipes for the food.”
Woodford’s mission with the book was getting the recipes into peoples’ hands. “But I wanted to make it even easier for some people, so I wrote a chapter called Foods Worth Sharing, which includes 30 foods you can feed your dog off your cutting board.”
As dogs age, their metabolisms slow, and caloric requirements diminish, but they still need nutritionally-dense foods. “If you are feeding kibble and start cutting back on that, your dogs will likely be grumbling around hungry,” Woodford says. “That’s one reason why I like fresh foods . . . they slow digestion because they take more time to process so the dog feels fuller longer.”
When dogs eat commercial food at the same time day after day the body starts to remember what’s going on, he says. “It says, ‘Hey, another easy day. Let’s just keep producing the same stuff we did yesterday. The body adapts to what it needs to process every day and over time it forgets how to process some things.”
That’s why some have experienced a “disaster” when giving their dogs fresh food for the first time. When you’re ready to start feeding fresh foods, take it slow. Woodford recommends “teaspoons and tablespoons” not “cups and handfuls.” “Diversity, diversity, diversity,” he says, “but start out slowly with the diversity.”
Sardines and tomato sauce, canned mackerel or salmon, and scrambled eggs are some of Woodford’s favorite whole foods for dogs. “Scrambled egg is a favorite because it’s the most bio-available protein there is and dogs eat it so incredibly easily. It’s also so easy to make in a frying pan,” he smiles.
Omega-3s are important for older dogs, to help prevent inflammation and arthritis. “Use a nice oily fish — tuna’s not so good,” Woodford says. “Or give them a fish oil pill, which I like to call dog jelly beans.”
Woodford’s second book, Chow, is even more accessible than Feed Your Best Friend Better, he says. “I say, these are the things you’re using in your food; here’s how you can use similar things to make a simple meal or a supplement for your dog.”
Woodford’s latest project is still under wraps. While he’s bound to silence for now, his excitement is clear. He did extend this little clue: that he will “be present in more people’s kitchens, hopefully helping both them and their dogs.”
Woodford knows every dog is going to die, and no matter what, every dog will die too soon. “But,” he says, “my goal is to get people to start feeding their dogs better foods early in their life to prevent disease, to give you two years, four years more, with your best friend.”
The Dog Food Dude * www.dogfooddude.com
Two recipes from Chow are available here: http://lisaekus.com/titles/chow-simple-ways-to-share-the-foods-you-love-with-the-dogs-you-love
Some of Rick Woodford’s favorite foods, with portion sizes
High-quality protein, low in calories and filling. One large egg has about 71 calories, equivalent to about 1⁄5 cup of commercial dry food. Replace 10% of your dog’s regular meal with the following amounts:
10-lb. dog: 1/2 large egg
20-lb. dog: 2/3 large egg
40-lb. dog: 1 large egg
60-lb. dog: 1 1/2 large eggs
80-lb. dog: 2 large eggs
100-lb. dog: 2 1/2 large eggs
High-quality protein, omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and keep the brain sharp. One cup of canned mackerel has about 300 calories, equivalent to about 3/4 cup of commercial dry food. Replace 10% of your dog’s regular meal with the following amounts:
10-lb. dog: 2 tablespoons
20-lb. dog: 3 tablespoons
40-lb. dog: 1/4 cup
60-lb. dog: 1/3 cup
80-lb. dog: 1/2 cup
100-lb dog: 1/2 cup
High in antioxidants that prevent cognitive decline. One tablespoon of fresh or frozen blueberries has 5 calories; equivalent to just a few pieces of commercial dry food.
10-lb. dog: 1 1/2 tsps.
20-lb. dog: 2 tsps.
40-lb. dog: 1 tblsp.
60-lb. dog: 1 1/2 tsps.
80-lb. dog: 2 tblsps.
100-lb. dog: 3 tblsps.
Potent cancer fighter and anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, helps to prevent cataracts, helps with weight management
10-lb. dog: 1/8 tsp.
20-lb. dog: 1/4 tsp.
40-lb. dog: 1/4 tsp.
60-lb. dog: 1/2 tsp.
80-lb. dog: 1/2 tsp.
100-lb. dog: 3/4 tsp.
Vanessa Salvia's love for animals began as a child, when stray kittens just seemed to follow her home. She now lives on a sheep farm outside of Eugene, Oregon, with a llama named Linda, a dog, a cat, two horses, a rabbit, two kids and a patient husband.