Catering to their needs

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By Katie Knorovsky
Special to Express
Thursday, November 12, 2009

The slightest rustle of the Milk-Bone box gets mutts and purebreds alike drooling. But for pet parents who pledge allegiance to Whole Foods and the locavore lifestyle, the number of unpronounceable and unthinkable ingredients in mass-produced canine treats can cause a paw-size pause. So, if cooking at home is good enough for human foodies, could it work for your pet, too? Many animal lovers and canine chefs think so.

"If you like to bake, it's a new audience," says Eve Adamson, author of "Chow Hound: Wholesome Home Cooking for Your Doggie" (Sterling, $12.95), a new book of easy dog-friendly recipes, including Beef Stew Biscuits and Quiche Lassie. "You can save money on dog treats, which are over-processed and filled with junk."

Caginess over store-bought chow can be traced to recent pet food recalls, such as the 2007 melamine tainting in a few major brands. "Many people lost trust in commercially produced pet food and wanted to start cooking some of their pet food at home, so they have more control over the ingredients," Adamson says. "A more natural, home-cooked diet is actually sensible. Healthier dogs live longer."

In other words, the homemade kibble trend isn't just for pampered pooches in Versace vests. "When you go back many years, people used to give dogs human food rather than processed food with a lot of additives," says Kelly Raiser, co-founder of Max and Ruffy's, an Arlington organic and vegan dog-treat company. "People are going back to basics, giving dogs ingredients we would eat."

At Alexandria's Barkley Square Bakery, glass jars filled with organic and vegan pooch treats evoke an old-time candy store, albeit doggie-style. Treats are vet-approved, meaning they're low in salt and garlic, and don't contain sugar, raisins, chocolate, macadamia nuts or other ingredients that can be harmful to the four-legged.

Though Barkley Square makes custom doggie birthday cakes ($27-$33), owner/baker Kristina Robertson says the store's bestseller remains a bacon and low-fat cheddar cheese bone. "Dogs don't care what it looks like," Robertson says. "It's all about the smell."

A pup's palate isn't particularly discerning -- a trait you might notice when he rifles through the trash. "Dogs don't taste flavor as much as we do, so their food can be blander," Adamson says.

That evens the playing field for novice bakers, says Krista Heinz, owner of Doggie Style Bakery in Dupont Circle. "Making treats for your dog isn't as much about finding the exact taste and consistency as it is for humans."

Heinz says any cookie or dough recipe can become pooch-friendly with a few simple alterations: Swap sugar for honey (or leave it out completely), reduce salt to a pinch and use whole-wheat or brown-rice flour instead of processed or bleached varieties. Also, be sure your recipe is free of dog-toxic foods. (Visit the Humane Society's Web site,, for a lengthy list.)

Just like polishing off that pan of cookies would go straight to your hips, man's best friend has a figure to worry about, too. "When you make dog treats, it's easy to get excited and go overboard," Robertson says. "Remember that it's a treat, and not to take the place of meals."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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