See Spot eat homemade food

"Feed Your Best Friend Better."

Sounds like a pretty good idea, right?

Those of us who have four-legged furry friends often consider them a member of the family. We want to do whatever we can to make sure they are as healthy and happy as possible.

For Rick Woodford, that often means cooking for them. His venture into homemade dog food began when his dog Jackson was diagnosed with lymphoma. Jackson stopped eating his dog food and became lethargic. In an effort to get him to eat, Woodford began preparing home-cooked meals and noticed a marked improvement in Jackson's energy and spirits.

Between chemotherapy and homemade food, Jackson lived beyond his original 9-12 month sentence. And Woodford started a new business, becoming known around his Portland-area home as "The Dog Food Dude." His business, Dog Stew, was hurt by the recession, but Woodford's passion was not -- he recently released a dog food cookbook "Feed Your Best Friend Better: Easy, Nutritious Meals and Treats for Dogs."

"When I helped my dog who was sick, I only wanted him to eat -- I didn't expect him to get better," said Woodward during a recent phone interview, adding that he mostly feeds dogs who are sick with issues such as allergies, arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

While he was compiling his cookbook, Woodford read pet food books written by veterinarians and had veterinarians approve the changes he made to recipes to ensure they were healthy for pets, as well as accessible to the humans preparing the food.

Woodford stressed that he wanted to make the recipes easy to follow, even though he's heard plenty of people say how complicated it sounds.

"It's easy once you start doing it," he said. "I (also) don't want people to think they have to cook everything for their dogs."

Though he has one diabetic dog who eats only homemade diabetic food and one older dog with heart disease who also only eats homemade food, his other two dogs are fed a half-and-half diet of homemade food and store-bought kibble.

Woodford said the half-and-half diet combines the benefits of homemade food, plus the nutrients in packaged food.

"You're not going to see the benefit (of homemade food) today, except that your dog will lick the bowl clean," said Woodford. "But over time, the dog will be healthier."

Even though Woodford worked with a veterinarian and developed his recipes from veterinarian-penned cookbooks, not all vets agree that what we make at home is as good or better for our pets than packaged food.

James Thorsen, DVM, owner of Animal Health Center, said that he generally discourages people from homemade food and remedies for their pets.

"Most people don't fix themselves healthy diets," Thorsen said, so it's hard to expect people to fix healthy diets for their pets as well.

Thorsen also noted that part of the problem with homemade pet food is that while people may start off motivated, that can taper off and they might drift away from the original recipes, which can be harmful.

"People tend to see dogs as little humans and overfeed them," he added, leading to overweight pets.

But for those who wish to make their pet food, Thorsen suggests researching, staying meticulous to the preparation process and maintaining the same sanitation standards as for human food preparation.

He said diets that recommend raw meat can be problematic because most meat sold in the supermarket is not meant to be consumed raw and can spread bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.

However, many packaged pet food companies are becoming more aware of offering healthier products. Thorsen said that a high quality pet food will have all the benefits of homemade food, including more whole ingredients and less filler, plus all the additional nutrients that pets need.

While Thorsen said he doesn't have a lot of people asking about homemade pet food, he does get pet-owners who voice concern over recent recalls of pet food. But, again, he points to higher quality kibble as a suitable alternative.

"You can achieve the same results with kibble (as with a homemade diet)," said Thorsen. "You just have to be careful and do your research."