There is a spectrum of nutrition for dogs and cats (and humans), moving from processed GMO foods, to home-made with fresh organic ingredients, and perhaps even a step further is fermenting foods. Think sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, cheese, fish and meats, and much more. Some of these choices are ideal for your pet.
Why are fermented foods often nutritionally superior? Because they contain loads of probiotics (beneficial bacteria for gut health) and more available nutrients (cells have been broken down by enzymes and microorganisms). They are also alkalinizing to the body, which creates an inhospitable environment for cancer cells. In addition, they are an inexpensive, DIY way of turning good foods into super foods.
Which choices are best for your pet? Dogs and cats are predominately carnivores, but benefit from some veggies. Many dogs do well with up to about 30% and cats up to about 10% veggies. Since vegetables are the simplest to ferment, we’ll start there. In fact, veggies are the best choice for fermenting for your pet for several reasons. First, it is the easiest with the least risk of problems. Second, you can benefit from the same preparations. Third, it is inexpensive. Fourth, it is the most biologically appropriate. Cats, and to some degree dogs, eat mostly fresh meat “in the wild”. However, their consumption of plant matter is mostly in the form of gut contents from prey. These contents, such as from the rumen of a deer or intestines of a mouse have already been partially broken down by bacteria… ie, fermented.
To ferment vegetables, gather fresh vegetable from the store or your garden, such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, and carrots. You can even use your veggie scraps, such as broccoli stalks, kale stalks, watermelon rinds, and even some citrus and banana peels if they are organic. You may find many recipes for fermenting plants. Look on-line and in books. Sandor Katz and Sally Falloon are two of my favorite authors. The down and dirty method is to chop everything finely (especially for pets), add a bit of salt, and mix and compress together. Allow it to sit for 2 hours. If the veggies have not produced enough water to cover them, add water until all plant matter is submerged. Anything poking its head above the water will accumulate mold on it. In fact, it is possible that the water will develop a sheen of mold on it. If it does, don’t freak out. Let is stay there until you are ready to serve it or put it in the fridge. At that time, scrape off as much as you can.
I let my ferment sit on the counter in a glass gallon jar and add to it every few days. I take out scoops daily and add it to my pets’ food. Obviously, Annie our dog gets more than Alice and Polly 0ur cats. Annie may get up to 20% and the cats may get 5% mixed into their food. Cats may reject any veggies, especially fermented ones, if they did not start on them when they were kittens. If they do, try again. If they are certain they will not eat them, forget it. You tried. Most dogs will accept some amount of fermented plants. If they do not, try mixing it into a bit of yogurt or cottage cheese then into the food. These additions can be added to home-cooked, raw, or commercial diets. Do not cook the fermented foods. Introduce it slowly and only use as much as the dog could tolerate. Too much could cause diarrhea.
A word about salt. I prefer Real Salt, which is available bulk at most health food stores. Sea salt is a runner up. I do not bother with NaCl, table salt and do not recommend it. I minimize the use of salt. It is a preservative, but not particularly healthful in large amounts, especially not table salt. In any case, use enough that the water tastes a little salty, but not as much as sea water.
An easy method of chopping is to throw everything into a food processor or blender and puree it, like many prey animals would with their grinding teeth. You will need to add water to a blender, which is fine. You will create a fermentation soup. It may grow more fungi on top, but is easy to scrape off. If you reach an acceptable level of sourness (smell and taste), you can put it in the refrigerator or outside in the winter to stop the process. When I blend my dog’s veggies, I leave them on the counter in a jar and immediately begin adding them to her diet. As days passed, the mixture would ferment more and more. As I collected more veggies, I would puree them and add them to the mixture. It was a rolling preparation, so that all the good bacteria grown in the original batch would immediately begin working on the new plants. That method is the artist’s approach. When sauerkraut or kimchi is produced for people, salt is added, the veggies are always kept totally submerged, and the process is stopped at a certain point with refrigeration or heat.
If you want to take the veggie fermenting to a nutritional and economical extreme, gather wild edible plants such as plantain, lamb’s quarter, sorrel, clover, dandelions, violets, pigweed, and even grass for your pets. These plants can often be found in great abundance. Pick them from your yard before you mow! They are free and have such a higher level of nutrition compared to cultivated crops, that you could feed a tablespoon and get more variety than a bowl of store bought greens. Chop them finely and stick them under water as mentioned above.
Kombucha, yogurt, and kefir are also fun and easy to make at home. They will benefit most animals and people. Raw milk is awesome, if you can get it. Goat and cow are most common. I will not go into detail now with recipes, but they are readily available with a quick search. I have less experience fermenting meats and fish, but I think it is a great idea, especially for dogs, who are scavengers by nature and are designed to eat some pretty raunchy, rotting… ahem.. fermenting stuff Please comment and share your experience fermenting protein-based foods or any others.
Of course, most ferments are available commercially. Purchasing them is an acceptable time-saver. Always look for products that have not been cooked to stop the fermentation process. Cooking them destroys the beneficial bacteria.
Dirt, deer poop, and rabbit pellets are also some readily available wild sources of fermented, probiotic rich medicine for you dog. He will find those without your help. 😉
Have fun and be well!