The Triton


The science of feeding Fido as a guest


More and more often, the yachts I find myself on have a non-human guest onboard. Creatures of the four-legged variety, especially dogs.

As the principals on the boat aren’t there to work, it usually falls on the crew to see to their care. Feeding time falls to the chef, usually. Either that or the pooch has parked itself in the galley. He’s really only there for the free food.

So let me tell you of one such pup and my challenges in meeting his dietary needs onboard. His name is Jupy, an unusual mix of ridgeback and retriever. Charmingly, Jupy is the master of many facial expressions designed to garner goodies above and beyond his dog food. Watch out for these, they work.

First there’s the “I’m not leaving till you give me something” look. Jupy likes to plant himself right in your path and he won’t budge for anything. His eyes lock on you like radar. Although not aggressive, this hound isn’t moving until he gets a sample of your cooking.

Even more effective is the “I’ve never been fed in my entire life and you’re the only one who can save my life” look. This is the sad-sack look that always breaks my heart. Then there’s the look that I really like: “I’ll be your best friend for one minute.”

But the problem is that what you have on your prep table or in your sauté pan may not be what’s best for Fido. In fact, it could be downright harmful. For example, most dogs will love a bite of your chocolate bar, but it will cause pancreatic problems.

Crew might think that they’re being nice by sharing their snack but instead are unknowingly harming the dog. Corn and wheat can trigger allergic reactions such as itching. The sodium, nitrates and nitrites in bacon can upset a dog’s digestion.

Should you find yourself provisioning for a dog and you’re looking for doggie treats, beware those tempting-looking ones you see in the bins by the register at the pet food store. They’re there for impulse buying and if you read the ingredients, you probably wouldn’t touch them with a 10-foot pole.

Many times, they look incredibly appealing in fancy burger shapes. I’ve even seen some made to look like little cupcakes. But then read what they’re made of. That’s not beef giving it its appealing red color, its food dye, sugar galore and wheat. Then there’s the litany of fillers and preservatives in them. When the owner says to buy some dog food but doesn’t name a preference, watch out for these items.

Meat meal: Meat meal contains the boiled down flesh of animals we would find unacceptable for human consumption, including zoo animals, road kills and the 4 Ds (already dead, diseased, disabled and dying animals). It is scary to think that this also includes cats and dogs in shelters that are killed due to not being wanted. I am serious when I say this.

Fillers: Most dog food companies find that by using white rice as a filler will save them money. The problem is the dog gets empty calories and an increased risk of diabetes. White rice is a refined carbohydrate. Remember that dogs age differently than humans, seven times as fast. So what we feed an animal today will deliver results much more quickly. If you give them cheap food filled with fillers, then diabetes and other health issues will show up much sooner.

Human food: I have watched countless crew give the owner’s dog their leftover snacks. These foods often contain refined ingredients such as white sugars, chemical additives, and over-processed ingredients. Not only will these things give the animal unhealthy side effects and shortened life span, they might even kill them. One such item is onions, found in many processed spice mixtures such as a meat rub. Onions can interfere with the production of a dog’s red blood cells, resulting in anemia and death. I know one of the key ingredients in my cooking and seasoning is onions, including the powder form.

We might think that giving our dogs what we eat is best for them but it is not.

Here is a list of foods not to give the dog onboard:
Avocados. Recently I saw a brand of natural dog food that included avocados. It claimed to give dogs a healthy coat, full of vitamin E and potassium as a result. Avocados contain large amounts of a substance called persin, and can be fatal not only to dogs but also to cats and other animals because it interferes with their heart,  lung and liver productivity.

Alcohol: There is a bar in Costa Rica where patrons all have a turn at feeding the resident pig beer. Don’t do it. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause vomiting and damage their liver and brain.

Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine, which can cause a dog’s heart to beat irregularly. The dark and semi-sweet variety is especially toxic.

Candy: The fake sugar Xylitol is to blame here. This can cause a sudden drop in the dog’s blood sugar level and can lead to seizures or even death. Humans also can suffer the same kind of effects but with artificial sweeteners, we suffer diarrhea if we consume too much.

Grapes/raisins: These can lead to kidney failure. Even a few pieces can result in a quick cumulative effect.
Onions (as well as onion powder, minced onions): They interfere with a dog’s red blood cell production, destroying them, resulting in anemia and breathing difficulties.

Wheat and corn: Most dog foods have wheat in them, modified food starch or are made with wheat or corn. The problem is, we buy them and wonder why our dogs have skin problems. Just as humans can have wheat allergies, so can dogs. Look for a wheat-free, corn-free pet food such as Evo, one that is grain free and all natural.

Cheap dog food: Ever notice the list of ingredients in your dog’s food? The first ingredient should be chicken or beef, not animal parts. Most of the animal parts are parts of animals we never knew would be used for dog food, including cow brains and hoofs.

Food produced in China: Remember back in 2007 when pets were dying from poisoned food that was traced back to China? Do we really think that strict laws were enacted to protect the ingredients in the future? A friend’s dog who ate dog food that we see on the shelves in our grocery store was poisoned and died. Go to any dog food company Web site to see what brands or names are recalled.

Caffeine: Coffee can cause heart palpitations, just as it does in us.

Just as we provide the best ingredients for the owner of the yacht, we should do the same for their pet. Check the ingredients of the food you feed the pooch you were put in charge of.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Material in this column was adapted from Manhattan  Animal Control Pets for Adoption, and Natural News. Comments on this column are welcome at

Healthy and simple dog biscuits
These can be made by combining any of the following leftovers from your refrigerator to create a mix:

• Pieces of meat (unseasoned)  Approximately 3 cups.
• ½ cup potato
• ½ cup vegetables (no onions)
• ¼ cup fruit (no grapes or raisins)
• 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour (substitute regular flour or oats if your dog is sensitive to wheat)
• 1 tsp. salt (or less)
• 1 egg
• 1 tsp. beef or chicken bouillon granules (can substitute beef or chicken broth/stock)
• 2/3 cup hot water

1. In a food processor, combine the meat, potatoes, veggies and fruit. Blend into a paste.
2. Combine the above mixture with the balance of the ingredients and knead into a dough.
3. Cut the dough into ½ inch thick by 1 inch slices or bone shapes (you can purchase a bone shaped cookie cutter)
4. Place dough pieces on a lightly greased cookie sheet
5. Cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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