What’s For Dinner, Dexter? Home Cooking For Dogs | Learn About Dexter The Dog’s Backstory

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What’s For Dinner, Dexter? The Backstory

Learning how to home cook a healthy and balanced meal for your dog.

What's For Dinner, Dexter? Learn about Dexter The Dog's backstory. Learning how to home cook a healthy and balanced meal for your dog. #raisingyourpetsnaturally
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Today I was remembering how What’s For Dinner, Dexter? all began. Since I became an adult with dogs, I’ve wanted to home cook for them. I knew it would be the healthiest option, but I was so afraid I would do something wrong, and not provide them with the nutrients they needed, or not balance their diet properly. A very valid concern, as you shouldn’t home cook for your pets until you learn how. But learning how isn’t impossible!

As a puppy, Dexter always had “toppers” on his premium dog food (sorry, that’s a terrible word because all processed, dry food is pretty crappy). I added things like cooked turkey, beef, chicken, and salmon. Yum. Perfect for high-value dog training treats too!

September 2012, my life changed. Dexter was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia. Chiari Malformation is a skull malformation. Syringomyelia is a neurological disease that progresses and varies in severity caused by this skull malformation. There is no cure, only various treatments to aid in comfort and less painful episodes. Symptoms vary and include head scratching, face rubbing, general pain, weakness in limbs, lip licking, seeking cool places, excessive body rubbing, nerve damage, stiffness in limbs, and the body forming into a C shape. This condition is widespread in toy breed dogs like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Griffon Bruxellois, Chihuahuas and other breeds with a “doll-like” head shape. 

Videotaped for the neurologist before diagnosis.

That first year was really tough.  I had to figure out what medications would help Dexter, what he could and couldn’t do, and how best to treat him, and help him lead a happy, and pain-free life. It was very painful to see my playful (he was 2) pup, full of life, being in pain, and having “bad days” needing extra pain pills. Luckily, I had Deb, and a great support group for dogs with SM that helped me through the learning curve, stress, and pain.

Cooking for health
Dexter waiting for his MRI

We managed our first year, but Dexter certainly wasn’t thriving. Then I met her. The woman who would totally change my life and give me my spunky Dexter back! Dr. Judy Morgan was (and is) a member of a great group of Cavalier folks on Facebook. She selflessly provides the group with helpful tips on holistic pet health and answers questions members have. A truly giving woman. I had a sneaking suspicion she would be able to help me figure out the best care for Dexter, so I set up a phone consultation with her. Sure enough, she modified his medications and added supplements. Within a few weeks, he was doing much better. However, he still was having “bad days” about 3 times a week, give or take.

Then Dr. Morgan started her dog food webinars on how to home cook for your dog. But the dog food webinars were more than learning how to make a healthy, balanced diet for your dog. Dr. Morgan explained how the right foods can help treat disease, and the wrong foods can contribute to disease and discomfort. In July 2013, I made Dexter’s first slow cooker dog food! I was super excited and started to post Dexter’s home cooked dog food recipes to Dexter’s Facebook page. You can read one here.

Healthy home cooking for dogs
Real Food For Dogs


Over the next few months, Dexter started to feel better! I didn’t realize what was going on, until my family and I were talking about how good he was doing, and how I hadn’t been giving him as many “extra” pain pills. And he was starting to get back to his silly self, being more playful, athletic, and goofy. Wow. I continued to post recipes on his Facebook page, and on his dog blog. It wasn’t long before our friends were asking us to make a dog cookbook, and the idea was planted. Within a few weeks, I started writing what would become What’s For Dinner, Dexter? Luckily I photographed all of Dexter’s meals along the way and kept a database of his recipes. In a couple of weeks, Dr. Morgan agreed to join me to co-author the dog food cookbook.

Dr. Morgan added a much-needed layer to the dog cookbook, not to mention the kick-butt title! She was able to go into great depth and detail about home cooking for dogs, food therapy, and treating disease with food. She truly is a food guru! The cookbook is now an in-depth manual for how to cook for your dog safely, and how to use the principals of Chinese Medicine Theory in your dog’s recipes. It’s pretty amazing stuff! Over the next year, she became quite an influence on me and has been a great mentor ever since. Without her and her expertise, What’s For Dinner, Dexter? would not be as fabulous as it is today. The book and the process of writing a cookbook was a truly amazing experience.

What’s For Dinner, Dexter? has been quite a success. One of my favorite parts is seeing readers posting their photos of the recipes they create, and their modifications to meet their dog’s needs. After all, it is a cookbook, and geared toward teaching the reader how to customize the recipes to meet their dog’s personal needs.

Thank you, to everyone in my life who has helped me with Dexter, and supported our journey. xo
Tonya and Dexter The Dog

Cooking for pets
Dexter Is Doing Great

Do you cook for your dogs?  Tell me in the comments.

What's For Dinner, Dexter? Learn about Dexter The Dog's backstory. Learning how to home cook a healthy and balanced meal for your dog. #raisingyourpetsnaturally
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Home Cooking For Dogs Book Healthy Dog Treat Recipes

49 thoughts on “What’s For Dinner, Dexter? Home Cooking For Dogs | Learn About Dexter The Dog’s Backstory

    1. Thank you. It’s amazing how Dexter’s health turned around, even from this serious disease.

  1. I had no idea that diet would influence the symptoms of this devastating condition…good info to know! It makes sense, once you think about it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Amy. I think as time goes by, people are becoming more aware how food, herbs, spices etc. can affect our health and our pets too. 🙂

  2. I’m so happy to hear that Dexter is feeling better! There is nothing worse than watching someone you love struggle with disease 🙁 Lately, my family has been focusing on a major diet shift for better health, so I’ll definitely need to look into your and Dexter’s cookbook!

    1. Thanks, Amber. I need to be better with my food. hahaha It’s easy for the pets, but those human candy bars can be tempting. 😉

    1. Thanks, Rachel. Yesterday was Dexter’s 4-year diagnosis. He’s come a long way. 🙂

  3. I’m glad Dexter is doing better every day with his new home-cooked diet. If the recipes contain rotisserie chick-hen, I’d love to try them. Concats on the successful cookbook.

  4. I’m so glad Dexter’s quality of life improved with the implimentation of home cooking for his food. It’s so nice to be connected with a resource who’s willing to assist. Cheers to a healthier pup and thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Thanks, Bryn. Yes, I certainly needed the guidance to figure it all out. I’m so thankful I kept looking for solutions. <3

  5. This is such a good post. My pup was diagnosed with EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency) when she was 2. Between home cooking and Nature’s Variety raw Diet, she was able to completely recover from that illness. It’s not supposed to be curable but..she has not had to be on meds for it in years! Yay for cooking for your pets!!

  6. Am really happy you found a solution with home cooking, I only cook for Layla and of course make her treats too, and since doing it her allergies are not perfect but a lot lot better.

    1. That’s great! If you are struggling, our vet does phone consultations. Just an idea. <3

  7. I currently don’t cook for my dogs but plan to change that soon. The health benefits are just too good, not to! Thanks for sharing this important info!

    1. That’s great, Maureen. If you need any tips or pointers, feel free to reach out.

  8. We do about half and half – half home cooked and half dog food. With working full time, this is about all I can manage, but I hope to eventually have more time to cook for both Ruby (dog) and my daughter and family.

    1. That’s a great start! I cook for Dexter and Nutter, but not myself. I need to do better. I do about 3 weeks in a big turkey roaster, then freeze in two day glass containers. Makes it easier. Yes, Dexter has his own freezer!

  9. I home cooked for my previous dog as she started really going downhill the last few months of her life. It was a labor of love. When I first got her six years earlier, I was walking down a wintry Chicago street and a gentleman I can best describe as “a crazy old man” shouted at me, “What do you feed your dog?” I was really taken aback because a) he yelled, b) I couldn’t tell if he really was a crazy person, c) it was such an odd question. I told him the brand of high-end kibble I fed her at the time. He ranted and said dogs should only eat real meat. That his dogs (which he had earlier in his life I think) only ate human food and raw bones, “And they lived to 17.” I don’t remember what breed, but it was a large breed and I was impressed. He then ranted some more about the evils of processed food. In hindsight, I don’t think the man was crazy at all–maybe just a dog lover who was a little rough around the edges.

    1. What a fun story. He’s right! Nothing like a healthy balanced diet full of fresh food. 🙂

  10. It is so wonderful that Dexter is doing better. I so believe in the power of diet. With my (now furangel) Gibson being an epileptic, another having bleeding GI issues, and myself having RA, nutrition, diet, and supplements are so important for good health. I do cook for my Huskies – sometimes it is as an add-in, sometimes a topper, and sometimes as a meal, and boy, do they love it!

    1. That’s awesome. A fresh diet can only help your pups with their medical issues. Amazing.

    1. Some dogs don’t tolerate raw, although it’s healthy. Dexter’s gut won’t take it. Give it a go! Just make sure it’s balanced. Dr. Morgan and I explain that and how in What’s For Dinner, Dexter?

  11. Thanks for sharing your and Dexters story. I went through a similar steep learning curve when my Charlie cat was diagnosed with IBD and nothing the vets recommended worked. We eventually switched to a raw food diet and natural supplements and today he is doing well.

    1. I am so glad Charlie is doing well. It’s tough since most vets are schooled in nutrition that is funded by not so awesome food brands. It means sometimes as a pet mom we have to look to holistic vets that are not as easy to find. 😉

  12. I am happy to hear that Dexter is doing much better and that you were able to find something that was able to help him with. When my Golden had started aging and not eating, I gave her homemade food. But saying that, it’s not for everyone and it’s so important that they get the proper nutrition.

    1. I had a golden before Dexter. Funny, lots of golden people downsize to Cavaliers. hahaha Balance is so important. It has to be balanced or a dog will suffer.

  13. What an incredible & wonderful story! It’s so true we are what we eat, even our pets. I have had the same fear you did early on, being afraid I wouldn’t be able to provide all the nutrients my dog would need. Thanks for sharing and good luck w/ your book!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Thanks, Cathy. It is so important to balance a pet’s meal and have the correct nutrients. I’m so glad I know how now!

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