We all remember when school lunches consisted of greasy pizzas and salty fries. Thankfully, school lunch menus have evolved, and today’s meals are lower in fat, calories, and sodium. Veggies have replaced pizzas and there are even vegetarian options. 

Pet meals have undergone a similar evolution. Increasingly, pet foods are made with fresh ingredients, and what’s in their bowls (or puzzle toys) ranges from balanced raw foods to kibble with high-quality ingredients and no fillers.

Even more recently, the evolution includes ways to enrich meals, and spicing things up can be simple and easy.

Nancy Fedelem, owner of Salty’s Pet Supply and Fang & Feather, loves the idea of enriching daily meals. “Adding enrichment to your animal’s diet doesn’t take away from the benefits of dry kibble. I do recommend cutting back on their base food so they don’t gain weight.” Fedelem adds, “Take what you’re currently feeding and add something that complements it.” This might include pre-made foods you can re-hydrate, or
something as simple as veggies. Other great additions to the menu include canned or other pre-made moist foods, or supplements like pumpkin. 


A great way to easily add variety to your pet’s diet, consider pre-made toppers that are dehydrated or freeze dried. Honest Kitchen offers options that rehydrate fast and mix easily with food, Fedelem says. Other popular brands include Primal, Vita Essentials, and Bravo.


Another option is supplementing with super foods like Green JuJu, bone broth, or goat’s milk. Added to kibble, raw, or home cooked meal, Green JuJu’s ingredients include celery, ginger, dandelion greens, coconut oil, kale and lemon (just to name a few!), which helps with bacterial
infections, hot spots, and stomach issues. Lunchtime finds my dogs often eating better than our human family members! Their meals routinely include kale, coconut oil, celery, dandelion greens and buffalo broth.

Fedelem encourages pet parents to consider the wide variety of options for mealtime. “I always try to give Parker, my dog, a variety in his diet, so I rotate between freeze dried and raw foods, and different supplements. We rotate bone broth, fish oils, joint supplements, and an immune
support supplement.”

Supplements include food fortifiers and vitamin mineral mixes. Digestive enzymes are easy to add to existing diets — ask your local pet merchant for recommendations suitable for your best friend.

Brown Bag it

Don’t forget left overs! Perhaps add a little broth (sans onions), steak, veggies, and anything wholesome they may enjoy.

Waiting for the lunch bell

Frozen Kongs are a great way to keep a pooch waiting for the [lunch] bell happily occupied. And they — or puzzle toys — can make mealtime more fun than a bowl. Freeze dried meat or veggies are great stuffers. Frozen edibles kick in primal instincts, turning a meal or after-school snack into a fun and interesting task! 

There are many ways to enrich mealtime, and it’s a wonderful thing to challenge our lovebugs’ minds while giving them a healthy diet they love.  

As a Certified Vet Tech, longtime PR veteran and content marketing expert, Christy Caplan brings her unique understanding of social and digital media to connect dog lovers to brands both on and offline. She lives with three hounds – two Doxies and a Beagle/Basset Hound
mix, who constantly teach her about life and companionship. Follow Christy at


Nutrition & Senior Pets


We know how unique our animal companions are, especially those we’ve loved and lived with for many years.  As our dear friends age, we pay a little more attention to their mobility, vision and hearing, and rightfully begin to consider whether dietary changes are in order . . . which they usually are.  While dietary needs indeed change with age, what is best for one animal won’t necessarily be what another pet needs.

“You run the risk of stereotyping; of taking an age level and saying, ‘here’s your senior,’ and putting them on a senior formula,” says Joe Aschoff, owner of Whole Pet NW Distributing (formerly Solid Gold NW) based in Vancouver, WA.  “Dietary needs should be assessed dog by dog.”

Heather Macfarlane, animal nutritionist and owner of Portland-based Balanced By Nature, agrees.  “There is not one perfect food for all dogs or all cats.”  McFarlane points out that “Most ‘senior’ pet foods are a reduced-calorie formula.  This isn’t necessarily what most senior pets need since not all seniors are overweight.  It’s best to calculate the daily requirements for each individual and feed accordingly.  It is also important to examine the ingredients and make sure the calories are coming from biologically appropriate sources.”  Macfarlane says this should include fresh foods such as meats (including organs), vegetables and fruits, and exclude things like grains, which not only do dogs and cats not require but can be detrimental to their health.

Macfarlane recommends regular veterinary exams and once-yearly senior blood panels to watch out for common imbalances such as kidney disease and so your veterinarian or nutritionist can create an informed dietary plan. 

Both Aschoff and Macfarlane believe that helping dogs nutritionally before they reach their golden years is the best way to stave off ill health.  An important part of that is feeding a diet free of unnecessary additives. 

“There is so much junk food out there,” says Aschoff, “dog food that’s filled with fillers like corn, wheat, soy and animal by-products that their poor little bodies are processing.  If you really focus on superior nutrition it will help their overall health throughout their life.”

Macfarlane also cautions that feeding a pet a lifetime diet of dry food can cause many health issues.  “One of the major problems with dry pet food is that it lacks the appropriate moisture levels vital for good health.  Correct moisture content is so important for dogs and cats to be able to assimilate nutrients without robbing their other systems.”


When it comes to making dietary recommendations, Macfarlane focuses on ingredients specific for each individual pet and rotates proteins and nutrients, since feeding the same foods, day after day, can lead to food allergies.

But even older pets getting a balanced diet can use a boost, she says.  Like humans, senior animals can benefit from certain supplements such as high quality fish body oil for maintaining a healthy heart, joint support for inflammation, and digestive enzymes to aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals.  She stresses the importance of discussing supplements you’re considering with your vet or nutritionist since it can be difficult to wade through the products available.

Ultimately, when it comes to nutrition for seniors, it’s important to treat each elder in the pack as the individual she is and continue to fill the bowl with healthful food that is specific to her dietary needs.

Aschoff sums it up this way:  “The bottom line is, don’t just buy something because it says ‘senior’ on it.  Flip over the bag and take a look at the ingredients you are going to feed your best friend.”

Animal nutritionist joins with Irvington Veterinary Clinic

Photo-FetchHeatherMacfarlane - 2 1.jpg

Heather Macfarlane, nutritionist and founder of Balanced By Nature in Portland, has joined Irvington Veterinary Clinic as Nutrition Consultant.  With more than 15 years of experience in the field, Macfarlane says she is excited to “assist people with what they decide to feed their pets as part of their veterinary experience.”  Macfarlane will continue to practice privately and offer house calls as part of her work in bringing awareness to the importance of nutrition as a foundation of pet health.  “We have overlooked pet foods as being the most powerful part of their health for too long,” she says.  “For better or for worse, pets are what they eat.”

The Dog Food Dude dishes nutritional wisdom

Rick with his pack (l to r): Baxter, Raleigh, Duncan and Chloe.  All photos by Alicia Dickerson-Griffith of Four-Legged Photo.

Rick with his pack (l to r): Baxter, Raleigh, Duncan and Chloe.  All photos by Alicia Dickerson-Griffith of Four-Legged Photo.

Rick Woodford’s personal collection of canine cookbooks has steadily grown over the years.  Between friends and family and his own proclivity for researching the subject, Woodford owns dog-themed cookbooks dating back to the ‘70s.  Ironically, he found every one of them lacking.

“All these cookbooks, even those written by veterinarians, had recipes for a 30 lb. dog,” says Woodford.  “And, maybe I’m sensitive to it, but I don’t have just a 30 lb. dog, I have an assortment.”  Woodford and his partner Gregory currently live with four dogs, two with special needs, so he kept returning to the same question:  how can food prep be made easier?  Five years later, he delivered the answer with what he calls his “dog food manifesto” in Feed Your Best Friend Better.


The Portland, Oregon native’s foray into cooking actually began well before he ever considered writing a book.  Several years ago Woodford’s beloved Belgian-Malinois/Lab mix Jackson was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and given one year to live.  His appetite waned and he was growing weak.  Woodford began cooking turkey and vegetables to “lure him back to the bowl.”  It worked, and as Woodford continued cooking all of Jackson’s meals he saw his friend grow stronger and more active.  Jackson lived four more vibrant years, mostly cancer-free.

Woodford’s success with Jackson compelled him to cook for other sick dogs.  He started Dog Stew, a home-delivered dog food company, and began teaching others how to care for and nurture their dogs with healthy, homemade meals.  He eventually closed the business to focus on the book, driven by the passion to spread the word about the power of healthy nutrition, especially for dogs who are ill.

“The first reason I wrote the book was for the ‘Warm Nose Meals’ section,” says Woodford, “because when I closed down Dog Stew I wanted to make that information readily available.  I kind of kick ass when it comes to feeding a sick dog, and they seem to do so much better on my food.”  The key, says Woodford, is that he provides real food that dogs want to eat.   

“I also wanted to write it for the ‘Foods to Share’ part,” he continues.  “People tend to cook for their dogs when it’s too late and their dog is already sick.  I’m hoping people will do it sooner, including things like vegetables and fruits in their diet.”  Woodford speaks knowledgeably about how the body can absorb antioxidants and phytochemicals in a way that fights disease.  “Those foods seal the deal on long-term health,” he says, encouraging people to provide variety to their dogs “right off the cutting board.  Apples, carrots and green beans, in the right amount, are snacks too.  It can be really simple.”

Woodford loves simplicity.  However, while that’s exactly what he aimed to give his readers, the five years he spent researching and writing . . . wading through nutritional databases and veterinary manuals, and studying amino acids, minerals and vitamins  . . . was anything but simple.

“I want people to be able to say, ‘Oh, this has five instructions and five ingredients — how hard could that be?’  In my [book] proposal I cited the two types of books currently available on the subject:  very technical veterinarian books, and boutique books that say, ‘And this is how you make a sugary frosting for your dog’s cupcake.’  I’m like, ‘Oh no, no, no; you’re not putting frosting on a dog’s cupcake, you’re using mashed potatoes.’”


Feed Your Best Friend Better is filled with recipes that at a glance seem like simple comfort food you’d prepare for your human family.  Woodford smiles and acknowledges that he hears that frequently, adding that in fact it’s fine for people.  “Just add some salt and pepper.  I did use very simple, familiar preparations and techniques.  I didn’t want to alienate people by requiring special skills.  I mean, it is dog food . . . you don’t have to garnish.”

Woodford fell in love with the kitchen early, watching his mother cook.  “When I think of myself as a young kid I think of myself like this,” he says, cupping chin in hand and gazing lovingly upward, “watching my mom cooking.  She would be cooking and I’d be watching and talking, or reading my schoolwork to her.  I always loved being in the kitchen.  It was me, my mom, and the dog . . . always in the kitchen.”

His mother’s own culinary skills came from his paternal grandmother, says Woodford.  “Until she was 18 my mother never had a fresh tomato, but after my parents married, my grandmother said, ‘Sit down.  You’re going to eat some stuff.’  I’ve realized that when it comes to feeding my dog, I trust the wisdom of my grandmother as much as I trust the education of my veterinarian.”

Turning his thoughts to Jackson, still a sensitive topic, Woodford says the two met after a series of failed adoption attempts had him ready to give up on getting a dog.  Then a friend shared that a family who was relocating needed to rehome their beloved dog.  Woodford connected with them but nearly lost out to another family.  A final plea and in-person meeting later, Jackson was on his way home. 

The bond wasn’t immediate though, says Woodford.  After the initial greeting, there were days when neither quite knew what to do with the other.  “We were really just staring at each other,” he recalls.  “That got boring so I started doing weird things like hide so he would hunt me down.  As crazy at is sounds, I would climb up on the washer and dryer, shut the closet door and whistle to see if he would find me.  We turned into buddies.”

Woodford was in the throes of the book when he lost Jackson.  “I went into hyper drive after he died,” he says.  “I called in sick and said, ‘My dog died.  I can’t come in for a week; I need to work on my book.’  I was just a fiend.”  His fervor at the time was born of grief, but he also wanted to finish and get the book published.  “I wanted to honor my dog who gave me so much.” 


Among the more burdensome tasks involving the book, Woodford says, was frequently having to make 12 batches of a cookie recipe to get it just right, or to woo potential publishers.

“The worst was when my agent would call and say, ‘Okay you need to make more dog cookies.’”  While his cookies for dogs are simple squares, his gift packages are filled with delicate shapes and designs.  “So I was cutting out moons and fish and Xmas trees, and people would come over to help and they’d say, ‘This isn’t really fun when you’re grumpy.’ I would yell, ‘I hate shaped cookies!’  Woodford is quick to point out that he does recommend a simple pizza cutter when filling the pups’ cookie jar.

A favorite task was creating recipes and naming them.  The book is filled with dishes with smile-inducing names — Good Girl Gizzards . . . Mutt Loaf . . . Tiny Tuna Noodle Casserole.

As to the book’s content, despite all the research and dedication to nutritional detail, Woodford’s work hasn’t been unanimously accepted by the traditional veterinary community, though it’s slowing growing, he says.  Jackson’s oncologist had a hard time appreciating Woodford’s efforts, even after the dog’s health improved.  Eighteen months after the doctor issued Jackson’s grim prognosis, she said one day, “I don’t often get to tell people this:  I don’t know what it is, but you don’t need to bring him back.”  Woodford insisted it was the homemade food he was providing.  “The doctor would say, ‘No, you don’t know what you’re doing,” says Woodford.  “I’d say, ‘No, you don’t know what I’m doing.’”

As to what might drive such pushback, Woodford says, “I don’t know.  I mean, if your husband is diabetic, you’re allowed to cook for him.  If your child has kidney disease you’re allowed to cook for your child . . . but you can’t cook for your dog?  I don’t get it.  I think they’re worried that people won’t do it right and won’t do everything they need to.  But I could never imagine a pediatrician saying you must only feed your child commercial foods and a vitamin — it would incite a riot.  I think it’s because home-cooked nutrition for dogs, even to veterinarians, is a still a little bit of a mystery.”

Not surprisingly, Woodford’s research into nutrition for dogs has informed his own eating habits which now include much more vegetables and whole grains and much less meat.  He was struck by the impact of food on Jackson’s recovery, and the other dogs in his Dog Stew network.  He says he came to realize “food is kind of amazing.”

Rick with Jackson (l) and Raleigh

Rick with Jackson (l) and Raleigh

Woodford has frequently taught cooking classes for dogs at In Good Taste in Portland.  One evening he received an email from a student who lauded his work.  “I said, ‘It’s not me; it’s really the food that’s amazing.’  And people who love their pets enough to cook for them?  That’s amazing to me.”

“Food and love are the currency in our contract with dogs,” it says in Feed Your Best Friend Better, conveying Woodford’s passionate view of the relationship between people, dogs and food.

“If you have a treat in your hand you can actually get a dog to behave because they are saying ‘that’s important to me,’” says Woodford.  But I feel sometimes we take the easy way out of paying our bill by saying ‘oh, here’s your scoop of plain old boring food.’  Or we overdo by saying ‘I’m going to pay you in gold pieces of cheddar cheese’ (I always tell people, don’t over cheese your dog!).  There is a middle ground.  When I pay my bill to the dogs, I want them getting something good that is also good for them.”


Woodford is proud that his book addresses a range of needs and doesn’t lecture at the reader.  “This is not a book saying what you must do,” he says.  It’s saying there are a lot more options — let me lay them out for you.  I just wish people could get this book when getting a puppy — and I hope people discover how much food can do sooner rather than later.  Because when it’s later, sometimes it’s too late.”

Woodford says he has worked to make advice from respected veterinarians and veterinary journals more accessible. 

“And my Grandma,” he says, “‘Cause Grandmas made us eat our vegetables.”  He smiles and adds, “The first thing my mom said when she saw the book was, ‘Your Grandma Crist would be so proud.’  And I think she would be proud . . . especially since I included her recipe for Dutch Baby Pancakes.” 

Learn more about Woodford and his work, check out his blog and find nutritional analyses of all the recipes in his cookbook at

Watch Rick whip up a batch of those Dutch Baby Pancakes in this fun video:

Dog Food Dude dishes up new cookbook for dogs


“Food and love are the currency in our contract with dogs,” says Rick Woodford, AKA the Dog Food Dude, whose book, Feed Your Best Friend Better: The Dog Food Dude’s Guide to Easy, Nutritious Meals and Treats is already garnering praise.  The book features 85 recipes, tips and other nutritional nuggets including the section “Warm-Nose Meals,” which lists recipes designed to help dogs with persistent medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer.

Woodford began working with homemade pet food when his dog Jackson was diagnosed with cancer.  Uninterested in food and growing weak, Woodford enticed Jackson with freshly prepared fare.  Seeing improvement, Woodford started cooking with zeal, giving Jackson three more happy years than expected.  Woodford has spent the last five years researching dog nutrition, testing and providing nutritional analysis for nearly all the recipes in the book.  “My goal was to take all my research and make it simple for any dog owner to provide wholesome lovin’ from the oven.”  Learn more at


Going Holistic - It sounds good, but what does it really mean?

Organic . . . GMO . . . All-Natural . . . Free Range. . . No Preservatives . . . Toxin-Free  

These terms may seem like marketing buzzwords, smattering the labels on everything from pet food to toys, health treatments and more, but in fact their purpose is to help consumers know what is actually in the products they buy.  But what, exactly, are we looking for?

Everyone wants what’s best for their pets, and when asked to choose a food with no added fillers and pure ingredients over a product that makes no such claim, most will want the more natural choice.  But what do these words really mean, and how does one make the best choices for their pets?

Keeping tabs on the ever evolving, fast-changing matter of FOOD

Part 1 in a series 

Once there were essentially two options: wet or dry. Today food choices for your furry family member abound, and choosing can be confusing! Which is best? Why such different opinions among raw feeders and kibble feeders, home-made feeders, and veterinarian recommendations? In this series we’ll debunk some of the common misconceptions about various feeding methods, share some of the pros and cons, and leave it up to you to choose what’s best for your baby.

Don’t Eat That!

If you are grossed out by your Cophrophagia dog, aka a dog THAT EATS FECES, read on. Most of us can deal with the fact that our beloved fido is eating the feces of other animals, however, when they turn to eating their own, it’s a lot to handle. Imagining our dogs chowing down on a pile of poo and then later licking our face — without the consideration of brushing or even rinsing — is cause for nausea. 

Why do dogs eat poop? For a variety of reasons. Poor diet, boredom, instinctual habits from mother dogs eating their pups’ feces to hide them from predators, and sometimes an accidentally reinforced behavior are just a few of the possibilities. So how do we fix this natural but disgusting habit?