Wednesday, April 4, 2012

DIY Homemade Dog Food


Don't freak out, this is not completely a crazy dog lady past.  There is an element of cray-cray, but I promise I won't take you too far over the edge. A lot of people are being much more mindful about the food they eat, and that's something that is also carrying over to their pets. Pet food companies are advertising all natural product lines, and pet owners are more concerned with what they're feeding their furry bundles of joy. Some, including myself, have gone a step further and decided to make their own batches of food at home. It's not as crazy as you might think! You can control the quality of food your pet is eating, and it can save you a lot of money. Come on, follow me to crazy dog lady land...



I only want the very best for my little dumpling Oliver, so I've always tried to feed him high quality dog food. The food his breeder had been feeding him caused some vicious gas, it was a nightmare. I switched him to a higher quality food and noticed an improvement right away. After some research, I started feeding Oliver raw food (raw meat, bones and veggies). His gas cleared up almost completely, his coat was soft and shiny and his eyes brightened up significantly. There were two problems: one, Oliver wasn't always 100% down with the food. Sometimes he'd scarf it down, and other times he'd turn his nose up at it. There was no rhyme or reason, I'd just have to cross my fingers at every meal and hope it was a good day. Problem number two, it was really expensive... about $80 a month. Every time Oliver refused to eat a meal and it had to be thrown out, it was like a dagger in my heart and wallet.

My vet had been suggesting homemade dog food forever, and I always thought it would be too much trouble and too expensive. So when I took Oliver in for a follow up on a mystery insect bite (which left my poor little monkey with a swollen face and me with a nervous breakdown at the pet ER), I asked for more info about his recommendation for the home cooked food. I decided to try it out by making a small batch to try, I figured there was nothing to lose.

First step: talk to your vet! Make sure you check with your regular vet before changing your pet's diet, they can help you with picking the right kind of foods to use since there are some that can be dangerous or toxic to animals. Some of those include: chocolate, onions, nuts, garlic, grapes and raisins.

Once your vet has signed off on the diet change, you can get cookin'! I went with a simple chicken and rice dish for Oliver's first batch of homemade food. My vet recommended going to Balance It for recipes and supplement information. You enter in your pet's info and can select the kind of carb and protein you want to use, and boom, out come recipe options. There's no need to register with the site or buy their supplements, you can view recipes for free without entering any info except your dog's name, age and weight.

You can also Google recipes, just remember that the basic recipe should be about 50% protein, 25% veggies (chopped or pureed to make it easy for your pet to digest), and 25% grain. You can add in your own supplements (again, check with your vet for advice), I always add a nice omega-3 oil just before serving it up to Oliver. Okay, let's get to the cooking...


Those are my basic ingredients: shredded chicken (I use breast and thigh, boiled in water with a little olive oil, no salt or other spices), chopped/peeled sweet potato, and kale. I throw it all into a pot with some brown rice and let it simmer for about an hour.


Mmmm.... chicken goodness! Once piece of advice -- when you're shredding up the chicken, don't give any to your dog. This is like chumming the water for a shark feeding frenzy. You'll end up giving your dog way too much chicken, and he'll never leave you alone. Instead, save a piece for him to give after you're completely done. Trust me. Also, your dog can learn how to jump way higher than you thought possible, and might be able to sneak a piece of chicken off the counter when you're not looking.... Oliverrrrrr!


Once the food is done, I like to strain it and set it out in a baking pan to cool off. Just cover it up with a dishcloth or something to avoid driving hungry dogs from going berserk!


After the food has cooled off, I take a digital kitchen scale and dole out single portions for each meal into sandwich bags. Each bag is one meal, so it's super easy to serve up breakfast and dinner! I leave 2 days worth of meals in the fridge, and the rest go into a freezer safe bag in the freezer. Every time I use a bag from the fridge, I put a frozen bag in its place to thaw out. Easy as 1-2-3.


Sidebar: I also do a recipe with ground beef or turkey - same idea, just in a pan rather than a big pot. This method is slightly less time consuming, and is easier for smaller batches. I like to make about 3 weeks of food at a time, so I'll switch off between recipes each time to prevent Oliver from burning out on the same food week after week.

Proteins I've used: Chicken, ground beef, ground turkey, salmon (if it's on sale), and cottage cheese (for real, Oliver loooooves it).

Veggies: Sweet potato, pumpkin, carrots, green beans, kale, spinach, and broccoli.

Grains: Brown rice, quinoa, couscous (Oliver really likes Israeli couscous), and whole grain pasta. 


Of course, the most important question is... does Oliver like it? In a word, yes. He goes banana balls crazy pants for this food. Since switching over to homemade food, Oliver has never turned his nose up at it. He's excited at each meal, and licks the bowl clean.

I feel much better knowing that Oliver is getting good quality food that's fresh and prepared safely. I also feel better knowing I'm doing it without spending an arm and a leg. I did some calculations for comparison based on Oliver's size/age (30 lb, 2 year old neutered male):

Raw Food: $80/month
Mid Range Dry Food: $65/month
Low End Dry Food: $35/month
Homemade Food: $35-$45/month (depending on protein used)

So for about the same price as the low end dry food, you can give your dog good quality food made from scratch. Added benefits: no wasting food, smaller poop (the less junk/fillers in your dog's food, the less waste they produce), less gas, shiny coats, and healthier pets!

How much will your pet love you when you save money and start feeding them amazeballs homemade food?

This much.

50 comments:

  1. I also recommend chopping hard boiled eggs into the finished dinner. If you cook the eggs before hand, crush the egg shell as much as possible and add it to the food. Your recipe lacks calcium they need for their bones (hence the egg shells). My vet recommended this when I started cooking for my dogs.

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    1. An excellent tip, thank you! I add supplements with calcium for Oliver, but egg shells are a great natural source.

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  2. I have two cockers, one who will eat wet socks if you put them in her dish and one who is very picky. Since I started making their food a couple years ago, my picky girl has never turned away from her dish until it was empty. Another plus, they both lost weight without having to cut their portions and have maintained at their normal weight without any additional fuss. Yeah!!!

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    1. That's so great to hear! I've also noticed my dog has lost a bit of weight on this new diet, another bonus of home cooked meals.

      It's much easier to do than people might think, and you'll never have to toss out uneaten food again!

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  3. Wow need to try this thanks !!!!

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    1. Let me know if you have any questions, and give us an update!

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  4. I have two bostons, and I love this idea! They both have super sensitive stomachs, and I'm currently spending approximately $150 a month to feed them, since they can only eat the most expensive kind... sigh. So I'm going to try this. I can say that I will be putting NO eggs in this food, as I've found in the past that bostons+eggs=gassy... ugh. Thanks for the post!

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    1. Oliver went so bonkers for this food, I hope your two Bostons like it too! You'll be blown away how much you can save making these recipes yourself. If eggs aren't agreeable with your Bostons, try a little dollop of yogurt for some calcium (plus, it's good for their tummies).

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  5. I tried a similar home cooked food for my two dogs last summer (after I found out what goes in the normally priced dog food), and it lasted three weeks. My dogs LOVED it, but my Cairn terrier gained weight on it, and my Boston lost three pounds! I don't know what went wrong, but since my Boston only weighs 17 lbs. soaking wet, the weight loss scared me. I've been feeding Blue Buffalo since then, but I still love the idea of feeding home cooking to my dogs. What would you say the serving size should be? Maybe I just wasn't feeding the right portion sizes...

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    1. I give my 30 lb dog Oliver 4 ounces of food, twice a day. You might want to ask your vet about portion sizes, just to be safe. Balance It will tell you what one portion size should be, and they'll ask for your dog's weight, age and whether they're neutered/spayed.

      I didn't include this in the post, because I haven't actually used it myself, but there's a company called The Honest Kitchen that makes dehydrated mixes for dog food. They carry one that is a starter for homemade food called Preference. You just add water and your choice of meat: http://www.thehonestkitchen.com/products/preference/

      It comes with a feeding guide, so you see how to feed each of your dogs. You can also purchase a "test kit" size for about $4, so you can try it out without having to pay for a full size box.

      One of my local pet stores carries it, so I do plan on going in and asking their opinion of it and will make a test batch for Oliver.

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    2. I guess I need to change vets, because my vet doesn't approve of home cooking for a dog. He says that Purina has been around a long time and has done tons of testing to make sure that their food is nutritionally balanced. I say that is malarcky. I've seen the crap that goes into Purina and other "premium" brand dog food, which is why I want to control the ingredients myself. Plus I absolutely love watching my dogs dance with joy at meal time!

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    3. I agree about Purina and the lack of quality ingredients it contains. There's no way anyone will convince me that mass produced food full of cheap ingredients is as good as home cooked food.

      If you have a pet store near you that sells raw food, you can also speak to their employees about portion size.

      I did a little digging, and according to Small Batch Pets (the raw food I used to feed Oliver):

      Dogs in good health: 3% of body weight
      Dogs who need to lose weight: 2% of body weight
      Puppies/Nursing mothers/Highly Active dogs: 4-5% of body weight.

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    4. I agree with that. My Lab/Weim is overweight, we've been giving the 'fat dog food' from Costco which is NOT cheap, no corn, no wheat, no soy, she did lose weight but we were very disturbed by what was in the ingredients to say the least. She's aging prematurely, she has several fatty lipomas and my vet says commercial food is 'highly tested'. Ugh. Anyway thanks for the kickstart on making my own food for her.

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  6. Such a wonderful post Vanessa! Tino is more picky the older (and more crotchety) he gets, so I really should go back to making his food. I like your recipe better than the one I used to use. I'm inspired!

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    1. Do it, girl! You can make a small batch to give him a taste test to see if he's into it. Please send me a picture of Tino eating out of a crystal goblet!

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  7. Looks great--aside from calcium,what else is missing nutrient-wise? :)

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    1. Thank you! It really depends on your dog's health, which is why I'd talk to my vet before starting. There are a number of supplements you can add to the food or give as a daily multi-vitamin.

      My dog is in good health, just a few pounds overweight, so I use the Balance It mix, which my vet approved. His skin does tend to get a little dry, so I also mix in fish oil to each meal right before I serve it to him.

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  8. I must say, these really are tempting! I guess this can easily mistaken as human food! =) It really looks really good!

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    1. I've tasted it, curiosity got the better of me, it's a little bland!

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  9. I have a full grown shar-pei and a miniature yorkie, what portion sizes do you recommend?

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    1. I do about 2-3% of the dog's ideal weight to start, you can add or subtract as you see fit from there. For Oliver, I calculate 2% to be about 8 ounces of food. That's a daily total, and I split it up between two 4 ounce meals during the day. Because Oliver is a little chunky, I go just under the 4 ounces, about 3.75oz per meal.

      Check with your vet, he or she can help you figure out the best portion size for your two pups.

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  10. Hi! This is a great post, and I've been using this recipe as a guideline to make dog food for my two the last 3 weeks. But I was wondering if you had any idea how I could make it more economical? Last night I made a new batch with a whole chicken, 4 bags of boil in a bag rice, a huge 2lb bag of carrots, large amount of spinach, and about 2 cups of lentils. I also added the leftovers from juicing (spinach, carrots, apples, oranges). I have two bigger dogs and give them about 1 cup each twice a day...so I need 4 cups of food a day. I spent 3 hours in the kitchen last night, and only got 7 1/2 days worth. What am I doing wrong? I don't mind the work, but I'd like to at least get 2 weeks worth of food each time. And each time I make it, I've spent about 10-12$, so for less that 3 weeks of food I've spent close to 36$. Any tips or advice is appreciated! My hardest thing is finding meat. We live in Germany and bulk meat, and ground meat is rather hard to find. Thanks for your time!

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  11. My suggestion was going to be to look for meat in bulk or using ground meat, but that won't be easy for you. You can try getting a meat grinder and grinding your own, that will make the meat stretch out a bit more. You can also add eggs or cottage cheese for some extra protein - make each portion a bit smaller then add the egg or cottage cheese when you serve it to your dogs. [Personally, I'd cook the egg but my best friend gives her dog raw egg (shell and all), he loves it and she's comfortable giving him raw foods.]

    With bigger dogs the homemade food will cost you more, but I think finding a way to get the most out of the protein is the key to making it more economical. If you're not able to find meat in bulk or at good prices, grinding your own or looking for other sources of protein will help give you the quantity of food you need without spending a fortune.

    P.S. Using the juicing leftovers is so smart! I'm going to start doing that from now on as well.

    Let me know how it goes, you can email me if you have more questions. :o) vanessa@verbalswitchblade.com

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  12. Thanks Vanessa! Great suggestions! My dogs love eating real food now! There's not too much that we juice that the dogs can't have, but of course double check before you add it in.

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  13. I cooked for years for my super-sensitive tummy dogs. He could only tolerate ground beef so any poultry was out. My recipe : 1 lb ground beef, boil in water and drain ; cook 2 cups brown rice in 4 cups of water (follow package directions). 1 box frozen veggies, such as chopped spinach, green beans, chopped brocolli. Hard boil 6 eggs, peel and chop - grind up shells in food processor. Mix everything together. My shelties got a little less than a cup 1x a day, then homemade biscuits for breakfast. I also added a vitamin supplement from Springtime. My old dog had no tummy issues with this diet, and he was on it for the last 10 years of his life (he died at 16 1/2 and I still miss him dearly)

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  14. I forgot to add - get the veggies without any sauce. Supermarket brand is fine. I threw the veggies in with the hot cooked rice to thaw, so no need to cook.

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  15. How much would you give a great dane

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    1. It's based on the dog's weight, 2-3% of the dog's ideal weight is how I determine how much to feed my dog.

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  16. We have four Rott/Mixes and I have thought about cooking food for them, but with four I am afraid that I would always be in the kitchen cooking either for them or us...but beside that. Did you just jump in one day and start feeding them the home cooked food or did you mix with his dry food and ween him off the store bought brand? And do you think you could put everything in a crock pot and cook it like a regular dinner, then divide out once it has cooled?

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    1. Oliver was on raw food before I started the new diet, and his vet said it was okay to just jump in without having to ween him off the raw food.

      I think a crock pot is a great way to go! Home cooked dog food is more work for bigger dogs, but a crock pot is a good solution if it's not practical for you to make large batches.

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  17. Please check out Dr. Becker's web sight. She says our dogs and cats need species appropriate diets which is raw meat. I wonder if all this cooked food is good for our beloved pets? In the wild they would certainly not have cooked food, our pets are starting to suffer ailments that humans do. This is crazy and sad!

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    1. The opinions on the raw diet vary, some vets are all for it - other are strongly against it. My dog was eating raw, but he wasn't eating consistently. My vet recommended a cooked homemade food diet, and my dog responded to it right away.

      It's true dogs wouldn't have cooked food in the wild, but they'd also be much more active. I think the key is finding quality food for dogs, and preparing it in a healthy way. No salt/spices, nothing fried, lean proteins - and most of all, appropriate portions.

      Going raw or cooked is an individual choice, I've seen pets thriving on both diets - so clearly there's no one right answer. Do what works best for your pet and your situation, and always run it by your vet!

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  18. I feel so stupid asking this, but this is my first time making something like this for my Fur-kids so I don't want to make it until I ask...

    So what I need to know is how do I figure out in cup measurements what the 50/25/25 ratio would be as far as the ingredients go in this recipe.

    Thank you so very much for any help you can provide for this newbie :)

    -Brenda

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    1. Hi, Brenda! Honestly, I just eyeball the measurements. I wait until I see how much chicken I've got (once it's shredded), then I add in the veggies and grain.

      If you want more accurate measurement guidelines, check out the Balance IT site - they've got all the measurements and calorie breakdowns listed. I just looked up a chicken & couscous recipe for a dog Oliver's size and this is what I got:
      Chicken - 3 1/2 oz.
      Couscous - 2 5/16 cup
      Olive Oil - 2 1/2 tsp
      Veggies - 1/2 cup

      You don't need to register or purchase anything from their site, you can enter your pet's info and view the recipe for free.
      https://secure.balanceit.com/

      Let me know if you have any other questions, and good luck with your first batch! :-)

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  19. Researchers at the University of California Davis studied more than 200 dog food recipes online and in cookbooks and found most of them do not have the proper nutrients for you pup :( http://bit.ly/1dCVX0u

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    1. This is why, as I mentioned in the article, you should always check with your vet before changing your pet's diet. Depending on your pet's needs (and what you'll be feeding them), you may need to add supplements to make sure they're getting proper nutrition. You need to do your homework before going the homemade food route, and always check with your vet!

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  20. Vanessa, what supplements do you use? We are starting to cook a whitefish and potato blend for our two Bostons, one of whom has allergies (just got through the testing phase, and the specialist recommended homemade). Their recipe has 2 T corn oil, which I will replace with a lesser amount of organic coconut oil, but think the vitamins they recommend are too expensive. Can you share the brand you use for the supplement with the calcium?

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    1. Hi Julie! I use Balance It supplements which are available at: https://secure.balanceit.com/marketplace2.2/index.php?

      Balance It provides customized recipes, so you get the correct dosage when you enter your pet's age and weight info. One bottle of Balance It will last me about a month for Oliver (roughly about 50+ meals).

      If you're only looking for calcium, I've heard really good things about Animal Essentials Seaweed Calcium Supplement.

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  21. Thanks for sharing the idea to prepare the dog food at the home.

    _______________
    Dog Health Care Takers Clinic Parlors & Pet Food Retailers Distributor

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  22. I don't see any measurements? Also how much does this make?

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    1. I use the recipes from Balance It, you can enter your dog's age/weight and they give you recipe measurements. You can just multiply them out to make bigger batches.

      https://secure.balanceit.com/

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  23. Fantastic! Thank you so much! My beagle Gracie is sure to love this! :)

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  24. Made this yesterday for my little dog. She had grown tired of dry food. Instead of "draining" and packaging, I gave it to her this morning with about 1/2 cup of the dry mixed in, she had turned her nose up to. She emptied the bowl. Thanks for the recipe. I will vary it from time to time with something other than chicken.

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  25. Royal Canin Dog Food is an excellent product. This dog food focus totally on the animal, with the aim of improving daily life and ensuring better health for dogs through nutrition.

    Royal Canin can offer unique nutritional answers that will guarantee :

    * An optimal digestibility and palatability
    * The proper nutrients and level of nutrients to meet the energy requirements
    * The proper nutrients and level of nutrients to maintain a healthy skin and coat
    * Adapted kibbles (textures and shapes) for the jaws of the dog to make them easier to prehend and chew.

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  26. I have a 20 lb frozen turkey, have you ever tried shredded turkey?
    I have 3 dogs- 2 are chow mixes 9yo, and 1 is a 7 year old basset hound. All are happy and healthy, I make home made dog treats and I know the bonkers look- love it! There were some really good deals around Christmas and its left me with 2 20lb turkeys that I would love to get rid of. I also have a good amount of carrots from my garden that my dogs love +as evident in their constant digging up), and I'd love to try a combination of the 2 with some rice, any thoughts on that? I tried the balance it website but I didn't see turkey as a protein option? I do plan to check with the vet, I was just curious if you had any personal experience :) thanks!!

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  27. Hi Jessica,
    I've used turkey too, shredded up and also ground. I use rice as a grain, but I know that there are some people who stay away from it because they see it as a filler. My dog likes it (he also loves pasta, couscous, and I've even snuck in some quinoa) and my vet approved - so that sold me.

    I like Balance It's site for the most part, I use it as a guide but I branch off and do my own combos when a protein isn't listed. I think using a chicken recipe and swapping out turkey is fine!

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  30. Hi! I just started doing this for my dogs. 3 of them Duke and Duchess are American Cocker Spaniels (Duchess has allergies) they are both 8 years old, and Windsor a Golden Retriever cross who is 12 years old. I was just wondering how do you measure the amount you feed your pooch? I have been giving them 3/4 cup of food three times a day. And everyone is doing good on that. Duchess who was overweight is losing some now her allergies are clearing up and the other two are still maintaining their weight? I have their weights and ideal weights just not sure how you go about knowing what amount to feed them?

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    1. Hi there! I use the feeding guidelines from Balance It - their recipes give you a suggested daily calorie count for each pet, and the amounts required for one day's worth of food. Since I don't have time to cook for Oliver daily, I just multiply out the amount for two weeks at a time. It does take an extra bit of time to calculate the larger portion, but it saves time and I can portion it out and stock my freezer with 2 to 3 weeks of food at a time.

      To double check my math, I prepared a single serving (based on the Balance It recipe) and weighed it using a kitchen scale. Oliver needs about 4 ounces per meal, so when I make a big batch I weigh out each baggie and I know that each one is just the right amount per meal.

      And as always, you can ask your vet for their recommendation. They can make sure each of your dogs is getting the correct amount of food per day/meal.

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