Here's Why You Should Rethink What You're Feeding Your Dog

The co-founder of The Farmer's Dog has us thinking about fresh food and why it matters.

What You Feed Your Dog Matters
Deena Bustillo

I'm probably not alone in this, but if I had a genie this would be my one wish: I want my dog to live forever. Seriously. Kai is my best friend. We share a love for food that knows no bounds, she comforts me when I'm sad, gets excited for all of the little things in life, and is the best snuggle buddy ever. Alas, I know she won't actually live forever — I'm better off asking that genie for a private island. But she's five so I'm trying not to focus on the inevitable heartbreak and instead give her the best possible life now. And in doing so, I've taken a good, hard look at what she eats.

I started this process after switching Kai to The Farmer's Dog fresh dog food in May. TFD is a subscription dog food service that is customized to each dog, made with natural ingredients + vitamins — the company says it's tested on humans — and shows up at your door within days of it being made. My poor pup has terrible allergies and I noticed a significant difference in her coat and demeanor (she drools with excitement every time I feed her) shortly after making the switch from kibble.

What You Feed Your Dog Matters
Deena Bustillo

After Kai's success, I spoke with The Farmer's Dog co-founder Brett Podolsky about the company's mission to bring fresh food to our four-legged friends and change the way people think about dog food. I, for one, certainly had no idea how poorly I was feeding Kai before my TFD experience. "I genuinely believe every pet parent really believes that whatever they're feeding their dog is the best. Whether it be Blue Buffalo or Purina or the worst brand on the market, they believe it's the best and that's why they're buying it for their dog," he told me. "It's our job to give them the education that they're clearly not getting — like 'Hey, this is terrible and there's something better out there' — and give them the chance to think about it."

It's literally food for thought. And here are a few of the many reasons you too should rethink your pup's meal plan:

1. Food is Medicine.

"Now that the human beings are finally in tune with the fact that food has a direct correlation on our health and the way that we feel, now were making this connection for dogs," Brett told me. "If you go back to the original doctor, Hippocrates, he said: 'Let food be thy medicine.'"

It's no wonder that when you take your dog to the vet for an upset tummy, the "magical 'cure' that the vets give you is just chicken and rice," he said. "Veterinarians use fresh food as the magic bullet to solve a lot of digestive problems. Whenever I ask people, 'What does the vet recommend when your dog is sick?' and they say 'fresh food,' I say, 'Isn't that interesting?'"

And feeding your dog fresh food — food that hasn't been sitting on a shelf for months (at best) — is very important even when they're not sick. It's also about making sure that said food has the right vitamins and nutrients too. "It's not only about high-quality fresh food. It's also about getting them the right vitamins and minerals. Long-term you do need this balance of vitamins and minerals to make sure all of their organs can thrive," Brett added.

Making your own dog food at home is a good start, but often isn't a complete solution. According to TFD, "recent research found 95% of recipes online to be lacking in crucial nutrients for dogs." If DIY is more your jam, there are great recipes on the TFD site and you can also purchase nutrient packs to make sure your fur baby is getting the right vitamins etc.

What You Feed Your Dog Matters
Deena Bustillo

2. You'll see noticeable physical results.

Although The Farmer's Dog obviously can't guarantee that your dog will experience all of these benefits, Brett explained that TFD clients have reported back results like: "Shiny coat, less oily coat, no more red eyes, their poop is much smaller and firm — the way it's supposed to be." It can also "eliminate bad breath and bad odor in general."

Weight management is also easier with The Farmer's Dog, as the portion size is exactly determined by a customized plan that's created when you sign up. Once your dog has started on the fresh food, nutritional experts monitor your dog's weight gain or loss and can suggest adjusting servings accordingly. No more looking at a bag of kibble and guessing how much to feed your dog based on a one-dimensional weight category.

In Kai's case, the most noticeable change was the splotchy fur on top of her head (sign of allergies) was almost completely regrown after the first two weeks of her new food.

3. You'll see the results in their attitude.

"They can't really express it to you, but you'll be able to see it in their day-to-day activity and how they act," Brett said. "You can tell when your dog's not feeling well and you can tell when your dog is in super high spirits and that's typically the result of a great diet. It's the same thing for human beings. If you go over to Sweetgreen for lunch today you're going to feel a lot different than if you go to McDonald's tomorrow for lunch. The rest of the day is just shot when you do that."

Since starting TFD, Kai now runs to the fridge at breakfast time (exactly 5am, ugh) and drools in front of the refrigerator while I open the package. She'd start humming the Jeopardy theme song if she could. Let's just say that was never the reaction to her kibble.

4. You probably picked out your dog food pretty arbitrarily and never thought twice about it.

How did you decide on your dog's kibble? You more than likely walked into your local pet food store and picked a bag based on the picture on the front and the price point you desired. You're not alone. And that's where Brett hopes to shift the thinking of pet owners and the industry as a whole.

"We felt the whole retail dog food buying experience was broken because you walk into a pet store there are 100 brands and 1,000 different options and you don't really know what to feed," he explained. "One bag says all natural the next one says organic the next one has a picture of your dog's breed... and then you do a little bit of research you find out it's all exactly the same with different marketing."

These are things I would love to get people to think about. We really need people to reflect on the decision they've made and not necessarily feel bad about it, but feel empowered to make a change.

TFD makes it easy to pick the right food for your dog, without doing a massive amount of research. "We provide a completely opposite experience. Instead of having to go pick up the food and get educated and make decisions, we only offer you options that will work for your dog as opposed to the pet food stores. You come to our website, you fill out the information about your dog and essentially the technology almost mimics what a veterinary nutritionist would be going through to figure out exactly what to give you for your dog. At the end, what you'll see is the recipes and feeding program that suits your dog."

Kai's meal plan consists of turkey with parsnips, chickpeas, carrot, broccoli, spinach and a ton of vitamins too.

Another great thing about fresh food vs. kibble? It isn't filled with a bunch of overcooked starch, which creates acrylamide, a potentially cancer-causing chemical.

5. Even your picky dog will like it.

My mom's dog is picky. Well, actually we thought she was picky until we realized that she just didn't like her food. So now instead of lacing her kibble with cottage cheese and treats, she feeds her TFD. Brett says this isn't too surprising. "We have a ton of very picky dogs. Funny enough most of their parents think that they're picky but they just realize they had just been feeding them food the dogs didn't want to have and once they come to our food they're ravenous."

Violet checking out Kai's food.
Violet checking out Kai's food.
Deena Bustillo

6. It's worth the investment because it's an investment in your dog's well-being.

Even though the fresh food costs more than kibble, the benefits far outweigh the fact that my tighter budget involves eating out less and not spending money on crap I don't need at Target. I also think of it as an investment, since Kai gets ear infections on the regular and the vet says they're allergy-related. If her allergies go away with this better food, I'd like to think that means her other issues will too — and she'll really live forever, or at least as long as doggily humanly possible.

Brett told me: "People have said to me 'Is your food very expensive?' and I say how about this, 'Picture your child — or your dog — and I'm going to give you two options; you pick which one you want. Option 1: Free McDonald's for life but you have to eat McDonald's every single day for every meal — but it's free (kind of like kibble). Or you have to pay for food but you can eat anywhere you want. Which one are you going to go for? Remember food is expensive, so be careful with this decision.'

I try to lead them toward McDonald's, just to see, and every time they're like 'Oh my God, of course not, I'd rather pay for food and eat something healthy.' Well there you go."

He said kibble is actually "worse than McDonald's — because it's way more processed, it's way more chemical, and there's no variation. It's the same thing for their entire life. Can you imagine if you ate Spam every meal for your whole life?"

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The Managing Editor at Livingly and lover of all things sparkly and sprinkles.
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