INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – With skillet hot and water coming to bubble, the chef mixed in oil and flour, creating a fragrant rue for what would become beefy macaroni.
“I will be cooking real food today,” the chef said, “for dogs and cats.”
More than 50 people took seats at the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County to listen to and learn from Veterinarian Dr. Amy Cousino, who has written a cookbook on the subject.
On the menu was beef and macaroni with tomatoes for dogs and salmon and rice balls for, of course, cats.
“Cats and fish just go together,” Cousino quipped.
Pat and Tony Fisher attended the free class to pick up a few tips for both their dog and cat. Pat said they’ve been cooking for their dog for some time and have been “very successful” at it – the cat is another story.
Tony asked Cousino during the class how to transition a finicky cat that prefers only the dry kibble to a homemade meal. Their Russian Blue refuses to eat anything other than the bag variety.
Pat said they came to class to “see if they could entice him” with real food.
Cousino recommended that they set down the cat’s regular food as usual and place the homemade food beside it – then, walk away.
“Never put a cat on a starvation diet,” Cousino told the audience, adding that if they don’t pressure the cat, he might come around to the real food.
After the class, Elizabeth Lawrence and Jeannie Ackman sampled a salmon ball – made of poached salmon, egg and white rice.
“I need salt,” Ackman said.
Lawrence agreed – “Salt makes it human.”
Cousino cooks with the tiniest pinch of salt when making meals for animals. They have better taste buds than most humans and don’t need all the seasonings home chefs tend to use, she said.
Along with sampling the pet food, Ackman said she was glad to have come because she learned that some of the foods she was feeding her dog are on the “no-no list.”
Food do’s and don’ts was the topic of most questions asked during the class.
Garlic and onion – bad for both cats and dogs.
“There’s no crying,” Cousino said of preparing dog and cat food.
Broccoli is toxic and peanut butter is risky.
For dogs, cooked rather than raw vegetables are best because they digest better. And cooked meat is better than raw due to possible bacteria, the veterinarian said.
“You’ve got to test things on your dog,” Cousino said – just like cooking for a young child.
Cats are the same way.
“You’ve got to see what your cats like,” she said.
As for fresh herbs, she recommends setting sprigs of various herbs on separate plates and see which one attracts the cat before using herbs in the food.
Cousino reminded the audience that they – if they chose to – would be cooking real food, meaning that if Fido or Fluffy didn’t feel like eating what had been prepared, their humans could make a meal out of it.
“I would recommend dill and a butter sauce” for the salmon balls, Cousino said.
Dr. Amy Cousino is a veterinarian at Cats Meow Cat Clinic in Sebastian and author of “How to Cook for Your Pet.”