By Dr. Becker
Today, I'm interviewing a really fun guest. His name is Pol (pronounced Paul) Sandro-Yepes, and he's an avid dog lover.
I got in touch with Pol after receiving a video of him making homemade dog food. There's a link at the end of this article that will take you to his video. He shows how easy the process can be if you take an organized, systematic approach. I think you'll enjoy Pol's video as much as I did!
The video was so much fun to watch that I asked Pol if he'd be willing to Skype with me to talk with us about how he developed such a passion for making his own dog food. He really has a wonderful story to tell about how homemade pet food became a part of his life.
Why Pol and Andy Decided to Feed Their New Puppy a Homemade Raw Diet
Pol lives in Mission Viejo, California and works as an IT Manager. He and his husband of 22 years, Andy, have two adult children, plus a Labrador Retriever named Austen, and a blue-and-gold Macaw named Dante.
I asked Pol to explain why he got interested in homemade dog food. What made him switch from commercial pet food to homemade? He replied that about four years ago, he and Andy lost their 13-year-old Dalmatian. About two years ago, they decided to get another dog – a Labrador puppy. As they discussed how they would care for their new pup, they covered topics like doggy daycare, socialization, crate training, and diet. Their Dalmatian, Chaucer, had suffered with urinary tract issues in his final years. He also developed some paralysis and other health issues. So Pol and Andy were interested in seeing if there was a better diet available for their new puppy.
Andy went online to do some research on dog diets, came across my video titled 13 Pet Foods Ranked from Great to Disastrous, and as Pol puts it, "He was sold." Andy sent Pol the link to my video, he watched it as well, and thought to himself, "Well, there's only one answer." So from the very beginning, they fed their new puppy, Austen, a raw food diet. Pol says they've seen amazing results by feeding raw, and now they've formed a little "dog food-grinding consortium" because they recognize it's a very healthy diet. Also, they get to control what their dogs eat and the quality of the food.
Austen's brother/littermate, Sterling, was adopted by some good friends of Pol's and Andy's. Pol says when his friends visited and saw how great Austen's coat and weight looked, they decided to jump on the bandwagon. There are now three in the "consortium" who grind food for their dogs every eight weeks.
Smoothing Out the Kinks in the System
I told Pol that his video really shows that when you become sort of a "master of raw feeding," the whole process can come together quickly and easily. He has managed to work out all the kinks in his system. It's inspiring for me to see how other people prepare homemade pet food, which is why I wanted to interview Pol.
I was interested to know if Pol, when he first started making homemade pet food, had the same issues most beginners have. For example, it can be a little overwhelming, especially before you develop your own system for doing things. It can also be scary, because you're afraid of doing something wrong. I asked if he and Andy experienced some of those same doubts.
Pol explained that they used my book, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, as a guide for everything they did. They used all the recipes for dog food, because they agreed that it's a fallacy that dogs shouldn't have variety in their diet. In fact, according to Pol, when they recognized the fallacy, they got very excited about trying each of the recipes in the book. They prepared the food in batches, as you'll see from Pol's video.
One of the kinks they had to work out was that they didn't realize how much fat there is in chicken, and they ended up running back and forth to the store for more chicken to reach the amount of protein they needed. They also learned they would need a bigger grinder to handle the amount of food they were preparing. Pol had a small grinder, but it wasn't doing the job, especially since they wanted to grind bones. And as Pol told me, "I won't lie to you – it does take some time to grind the food."
I certainly agree that it does, especially since Paul and his group are preparing meals for three large dogs, and want to keep their food prep process to once every eight weeks. They also purchased another freezer to make sure they had plenty of room to store the food.
Pros and Cons of Preparing Homemade Pet Food
I mentioned to Pol that his group operates almost like a food co-op. It's a really great approach to preparing homemade pet food if you can do it. The group gets together every eight weeks to do meal prep, so it's a good chance to socialize while they're being productive. They also get the benefit of selecting all the ingredients that go into their pets' food, and since they are the only ones handling the food they don't have to worry about contamination issues. This provides tremendous peace of mind.
I asked Pol how long it takes to make food for three big dogs for eight weeks. Is it a six hour process? Eight hours? He replied that it's about a 10-hour process, not counting the shopping. But he agrees with me that it's also a social occasion, and everyone has a lot of fun with it. The group rotates who does what each time they get together, so no one gets bored doing the same chore.
The drawback to preparing homemade pet food for many people is the time it takes. That's one of the reasons commercially available food is so popular – it's extremely convenient. But the good quality stuff is pretty expensive. Pol and his friends, on the other hand, are actually cutting costs by making the food themselves. Of course, the tradeoff is the time commitment.
Another tradeoff, as in Pol's case, is the need to purchase equipment like a grinder or a separate or bigger freezer. Pol kiddingly says his freezer is big enough to hold three large bodies! I asked him how he found the grinder he bought. He replied that he read lots of product reviews to find out which grinder would be best for their purposes, especially since they would be grinding both turkey and chicken bones. They wound up purchasing one at Cabela's (a large sporting goods chain store) that they are very happy with.
How Pol Insures Austen's Homemade Diet Is Nutritionally Balanced
I'm really proud of Pol and Andy not just for their decision to feed Austen an optimally healthy, homemade raw diet, but also because they were able to figure out a system to get it all done that reduces stress and works for their individual situation. The fact that they were able to create a little consortium with their friends is icing on the cake.
Another thing I'm very impressed with is that Pol doesn't waver from the recipes. That's one thing I'm a stickler for – making sure that when someone decides to make homemade pet food, especially for a young and growing animal, that the calcium/phosphorus and trace mineral ratios are correct. It's very important to follow a balanced recipe that has been proved to be nutritionally complete, and Pol has done that.
I wanted to know how Pol did with the vitamin and mineral mix from my book, because I've heard from others that it's rather difficult and tedious. Pol answered that as far as he was concerned, it was really no big deal. He felt that all the ingredients in the book – from the veggies, to the meats, to the vitamins and minerals – were very easy to source. And he actually liked sticking to the recipes, because it made things much easier. He said that once you do it the first couple of times, it becomes like a routine. You no longer have to think about it.
Raw Fed Austen and Sterling at One Year as Compared to Their Littermates
Next I asked Pol to describe some of the differences he sees between Austen's health and the health of his predecessor, the Dalmatian. One thing, of course, is the difference in poop. Raw fed dogs produce much smaller quantities of poop than dogs fed processed pet food. (That's because raw fed pets get only the nutrients their bodies require and easily digest and absorb, whereas most processed pet foods are heavy on unnecessary, biologically inappropriate ingredients and light on high-quality animal protein.)
Pol also noticed a difference between Austen's coat and the coat of his littermate, Sterling, before Sterling began eating raw. Sterling's coat was dry, and he had dry, scaly skin. Austen's coat, on the other hand, was silky, and he had very little dandruff or dander.
When Austen turned a year old, Pol and Andy invited all his brothers and sisters over to celebrate. There were 10 one-year-old dogs in the house and Pol says it was amazing to see the difference in the body structures of Austen and Sterling compared to their eight littermates. Austen and Sterling were definitely more fit. And some of the other dogs' owners were saying things in reference to Austen like, "Oh, he has a taller build." And Pol was thinking to himself, "No, he's just the proper weight!"
Pol thinks it's pretty amazing. His dog is the perfect weight and has lots of energy. And of course the reduced quantity of poo is an added bonus! I asked Pol if Austen has any of the typical Labrador breed-specific issues, like allergies or heavy shedding. Pol says his dog has no allergies, which is awesome.
Pol's Advice for Dog Guardians Thinking About Switching to a Homemade Raw Diet
I asked Pol if he could offer a few words of encouragement to dog owners who want to try to make a homemade pet diet, but are intimidated.
Pol answered that he thinks following recipes simplifies the entire process. It takes away all the guesswork. He also recommends starting small. It's not necessary to tackle a large batch the first time out. Do a smaller batch and see how it goes, especially if you have a picky eater in your home. Pol says he's lucky because Austen eats everything!
I asked Pol if, when he transitioned one of his dogs from kibble to raw food, he had any apprehension about the concept of feeding raw. Was he nervous about feeding raw meat? Pol replied that in fact both he and Andy did have some reservations about, for example, salmonella contamination. Also, their daughter had some concerns about having kids around raw food and dog food bowls on the floor with remnants of raw food in them.
Since Pol's daughter is also part of their raw pet food group, they looked into possible risks, but beyond that they weren't too concerned.
Pol mentioned there's a lot of raw pet food talk out there right now, and he feels some of the diets he's seen aren't as balanced as the ones in my book. That's why he and Andy chose to follow the recipes in the book – they made much more sense to them than the advice to "throw a couple of meaty bones to your dog, and a carrot."
I want to thank Pol for talking with me and for making his wonderful video and sharing it with me – and now all of you here today!
Click the following link to watch Pol's video: "The Grind: Real Food for Real Pets."