Home Podcast TOP #56: Why Fresh Dog Food Is Better

TOP #56: Why Fresh Dog Food Is Better

More pet owners are becoming concerned over different controversies from the pet food industry, and many are now switching to homemade dog foods, and those who don't have the time to cook choose fresh dog food delivery instead. Fresh food for pets is exactly what it sounds – whole and unprocessed ingredients, something that we ourselves choose to eat. But how does fresh dog food compares to regular kibble?

In this podcast I've interviewed Brett Podolsky, the co-founder of The Farmer's Dog, a dog food subscription company that deliver fresh dog food to pet owners' homes. We discussed in greater detail what fresh food for pets actually is, how it's made and why it may be a better choice for our pets. So if you're interested in switching or not yet sure whether this is something that your dog needs, give this episode a listen.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

Why Fresh Dog Food Is Better
(podcast transcript)

Why Fresh Dog Food Is Better - Podcast

We've all been hearing the buzz about subscription pet food services and we know the benefits as far as the convenience of it. It's delivered right to your door. You don't have to go shopping. What other benefits does it offer and what types of foods are available were my questions. So I kind of have been searching around looking at the different options that are available. There's subscriptions for everything from regular commercial kibble through companies like Chewy who will deliver your name brand commercial kibble to your door to fresh food companies that are actually making meals catered to your dog and delivering those to your door. For me, the benefits of fresh food far outweigh commercial dog food and I think most pet owners would agree with that. However, the costs associated with that sometimes is what keeps pet owners from being able to offer the fresh foods to their dogs.

I know some people try to take the cheaper way out and make homemade food, but that is very difficult on two levels. One, you have to figure out your dog's nutrition and his nutritional needs — how much protein, how many minerals, how many vitamins he needs every day. You also need to figure out how much he needs to eat in those servings, how many calories he should be eating a day to meet all of his body's nutritional needs as well as keep up his energy and maintain an optimal weight. So making homemade food is very difficult. A lot of owners also don't have the time it takes to make homemade dog food.

So ordering these fresh meals could be a really great thing for a lot of pet owners that want to feed the fresh food but don't have the time or the knowledge to create the recipes that their dog needs. Today I was actually able to speak with a representative from The Farmer's Dog, which is a company that delivers fresh, homemade dog food straight to your door, and the recipes are based on your dog's size and his activity level, the calories that he's going to need every day.

Brett, who is the co-founder of The Farmer's Dog, talks to me today about their food in general, but also about subscription food and fresh food for dogs and the benefits of that.

Interview with Brett Podolsky

Samantha: Now more than ever, pet owners are worried about the quality of the food that they're feeding their pets. So what are some of the biggest concerns with typical commercial pet food products that owners should be mindful of?

Brett: Well I guess the simplest way to put it is that the status quo in pet food is highly processed kibble. There's been a lot of studies that have came out over the years, specifically there was a Purdue study that showed that if you give your dog even just a little bit of fresh food with their diet, it reduces their risk of cancer by 90%. What we're finding is that the high temperature process to make food, a byproduct of that is a carcinogen called acrylamides that has been found to cause cancer in adults. So there's that and then there's just the simple idea that I think everybody understands that even highly processed food, every single meal of your life is a less than ideal.

Samantha: Yeah I think especially humans we think about it a lot for ourselves, that you shouldn't be going through McDonald's drive through for every meal of the day and I think we understand that, but it's not thought about as much with our dogs. And people don't really take the time to think about how processed their kibble is.

Brett: Yeah well I think it's been just decades of being conditioned to think of dog food as like a thing. We've been taught to believe that dogs should be eating dog food and we forget that food is just food. Hundred years ago, even 50 years ago, dogs weren't eating kibble, in most other countries dogs are eating regular human food and we actually see that dogs are living longer in other countries. I think it just comes down to like pet food marketing and just decades of conditioning to believe that dogs should be eating dog food. In reality the reason why dogs… The only thing about dog food that's meant for dogs is the nutritional balance, which is extremely important. So if you were to cook food at home, it's a little risky because unless you're giving your dog a balance of vitamins and minerals. But if you do feed them at home and feed them a balance of vitamins and minerals, you basically get the best of both worlds.

Samantha: Yeah. I think that's something that a lot of pet parents don't realize. If they jump on that idea that homemade food, fresh food is better for their pet, they think, well that's fine, you know, they can just eat what I eat and I can make them meals with what I feed my human family. And they don't realize that the nutritional differences between humans and canines are a lot different. So where we can eat our fruits and vegetables and protein in a certain quantity every day, it's different for canines. So they can't just eat what you're eating,

Brett: Yeah, no exactly. At least not for an extended period of time. You know, it's okay to give your dog home cooked food. But if they're eating the same thing every single day, we want to make sure that it's complete and balanced.

Samantha: Absolutely. And fresh pet food offers many other benefits over traditional dry kibble. Can you explain some of those benefits?

Brett: Most of them are just anecdotal benefits that we've seen, whether it's allergies, sensitive stomachs. I mean, there has been so many of our customers that have came to us with dogs that have allergy sensitive stomachs, oily coat. We've even heard that our food is cleared up their dog's eyes, that we've started to see more even energy levels throughout the day as opposed to a spike in energy, which makes a lot of sense because kibble has a ton of sugar in it. There's been a ton of benefits.

But, I think the most interesting study that I've heard, there was a study done I believe over 30 years with Great Danes where they fed a portion, like a control group kibble, and then another portion of Great Danes fresh food with their kibble. And they found that the Great Danes were living twice as long when they had fresh food as a part of their diet. You can only imagine how those Great Danes would have lived if they had only fresh food in their diet

Samantha: Wow, yeah, absolutely. Some owners shop for pet food based on price alone or a brand that they really recognize from TV ads or ads that they see in magazines, which counts out fresh food most of the time. It's typically more expensive and it's not as well known as a lot of the big name kibble brands. So even for pet owners on a budget or pet owners judging based on brand, we know that that's not the best idea, but could you explain why fresh food is more expensive and why it actually might be better for your budget overall?

Brett: It's interesting, people do tend to trust brands. We look at it as, you shouldn't have to trust any brands. You should be able to look at the food and see that it's food. At the end of the day, if I were to take a bag of kibble from a brand that somebody trusted and then a bag of kibble from a brand that somebody didn't trust, then I switched bags and I gave it to them. They would have no clue what the difference was, because at the end of the day they're just these round balls that we have to rely on the brands to be honest about what they're using in the food. Whereas for us, you don't need to trust us, in our mind you shouldn't really have to trust anybody. Our food actually looks like food. You don't have to read our label to know that. Funnily enough our packaging, which kind of speaks to our brand is actually transparent packaging, because we want you to be able to see the carrots and the kale and the lentils and the chickpeas and the meat in the food.

Well, I think the main reason why people haven't heard much about fresh food companies is because it is a very new thing. But in the next couple of years, people will start to feel a lot more comfortable with the brand name recognition.

But then to answer your other question about why there such a price difference in the food? Well, I guess comparing like fresh food to kibble is pretty difficult because materials and the ingredients that they used for kibble are typically waste products and byproducts, which are obviously extremely inexpensive. And also the way that they process it and the amount of fillers that they use really drives down price. But if you take fresh food or any of the fresh food companies for that matter, and you compare it to just other fresh food. Like for instance, if you were to go to a grocery store and buy the ingredients and cook it for your dog, it actually turns out that our food will end up being cheaper than if you were to go and make it yourself.

Samantha: Yeah, I agree with that. For anybody that's wondering because you've touched on how kibble kind of all looks the same and your food looks different. I got to try some of the Farmer's Dog Food with my girl, so I've done a review on that and there's a video and some photos that go with it. So I'm going to link to that. If people want to see the product in real life, obviously they can see a lot of pictures on your website and things, but they can also see how I've used it with my dogs. And you can see, like you said, the chunks of the carrots, you can see the protein sources that are in the food. So you know right away what's in there. I think that is important. When we talk about price, I think you hit the nail on the head with it's just cheaper to produce kibble. They buy cheaper quality ingredients in bulk and so it's cheaper to produce.

But I also make homemade food for my dogs and I can speak on the expense of The Farmer's Dog and other fresh dog food options, you know, just going and buying the chicken that you need and the carrots and the kale and all this stuff. It is cheaper to go with The Farmer's Dog. There are other fresh food companies out there. Some are about the same price, some a little bit more expensive. Of course you have to shop around a little bit. But the thing that jumps out to me is not necessarily…. The price is fairly comparable, but it's the convenience. I don't have to take the time out of my day. If you're at work and you pay yourself per hour and factor your time into it, it's actually a lot more expensive to make food than it would be to just buy the commercial fresh food.

Brett: Yeah absolutely. The two things that we focus on here is health and convenience. And those are really the only two things that we really worry about the company. Number one, obviously our food and that kind of takes care of the health factor, but because there is a price gap and this is like a novel way to feed your dog we utilize this convenience to make it a no brainer. Because we know this is the right thing for dogs. We believe that every dog in the world should be eating fresh food and dogs shouldn't be eating processed food anymore.

So every day we are constantly thinking about ways that we could make our process, but our service more and more convenient to make it essentially a no brainer for people. But then also to kind of go back to price. We are always thinking about ways that we can try to drive down our prices. We definitely would love to get it as cheap as possible to again, make it just a no brainer for people to give their dog the healthiest diet.

Samantha: And one of the ways that you guys try to curb that expense is that you offer a subscription service and deliver it fresh to people's door. So you kind of cut out a lot of that middle man, you know, you're not shipping it to stores, you're not storing the food or anything like that. So that's one of the biggest benefits certainly of subscription dog food service.

But can you tell us a little bit about the subscription services, what the benefits are and why owners should consider that service for their dog food?

Brett: Yes. So what we're doing, so we're the only company that's doing it where essentially we're a pet health company, but we're also a tech company. By that I mean that you're able to actually go onto our website, you just fill out the information about your dog and we will give you a custom feeding plan. And then we cook the food. We pre-portion it specifically for your dogs caloric need and then we deliver it via subscription that we would call a smart subscription. We don't do it like a magazine for instance, where it's timed every month to receive a magazine. We do it where we understand exactly how much food you have left and we always make sure you have a little bit of overlap so you know, it might not arrive every single week. You actually have the flexibility to let us know what recipes you want. How much of each recipe, when you want your food, how much food you like. Maybe you want to get a month at a time. Maybe you want to get a week at a time. We have all of this flexibility in our technology.

Essentially we built this part of the technology and the subscription when we started to find that we have some customers with one dog living in the Midwest that has an extra freezer. So we can send them a lot of food at once, which will actually drive down the price for them a little bit. But then we also have customers who live in New York City with a tiny freezer and two large dogs, so we have to send them food once a week. So every time that we find that there's something that we could do to make our service more convenient, we go to our tech team and we build it.

Samantha: That's fantastic and it's a great way to make things more convenient. I know nowadays, like I said I make homemade food. I work from home. It's feasible for me, but so many people are on the go all the time. They love to feed their dog fresh food, but they just don't have the time for it. And I do try to prepare homemade food in advance and that works out great. But there are days where maybe you thought you had more in the freezer then you did, or you didn't get around to making the food for that week, whatever the case might be and you've run out so you have to do something for that day. But with a subscription service, I love that you talk about that overlap so you never have to worry about going to the freezer or going to the fridge and there's no dog food. And even with kibble that still happens if you've got your bin full of kibble and you forgot to get to the store today to get more, whatever it might be, you're constantly having to go out and get more before you run out.

Brett: Yeah, exactly. I remember before this company I was constantly calling the local dog store at like right as they were closing because I forgot to buy more food. You almost never know when you're going to run out. But with us once you sign up, you really never have to worry about your dog's food or their nutrition ever again.

Samantha: And that's one of the things that I wanted to speak to too was the pre-portioning. A lot of people, their biggest question when it comes to homemade food is one, how do I make sure it's nutritionally balanced, which you guys take care of that for customers. Because they have the questionnaire when you first sign up and you learn about their pet and you make sure that it's nutritionally balanced. Then the other question that I always get is — how much should I be feeding my dog? The way that you guys do it, it's pre-portioned. You don't have to worry about overfeeding, underfeeding, not meeting the nutritional needs or giving… A lot of pet owners don't realize that too much nutrition, too many nutrients is also a bad thing. Your dog can suffer from things like vitamin A toxicity when you do that. So you don't have to worry about too much, too little or anything like that.

Brett: Yeah. You know, one of the other reasons why we launched this, why we decided to pre-portion was because obesity is a big problem and aside from that our food is delicious. So whenever the dog's are done eating, they always look up at us like — come on, that's it? And you can't really say no to them, but you know when you empty the bag, you know for sure you've given them all that they need for the day and you don't have to feel bad about it. On top of that you never have to worry about them becoming overweight because first getting a dog to lose weight is always difficult because then you have to give them less food then they were eating before which they're never happy about, especially when it's like our food. But also a lean dog will will typically live longer. I think I saw a study that said a leaner dog will live 20% to 30% longer than a dog that's obese.

Samantha: Wow. Absolutely. Obesity is such an epidemic in our country, especially with our pets.

Brett: Yeah, it really is. I believe over 50% of dogs in America are obese.

Samantha: Wow, that's such a devastating statistic.

Brett: Yeah. One in two dogs in America getting cancer as well. Really, most of it comes back to the food.

Samantha: Is linked to nutrition, absolutely. Your company provides fresh food for dog owners, which we've talked about. There's a few companies out there that are starting to do this. So what would set your company apart from other fresh pet food brands?

Brett: What we do differently is that we are a service. I know there's like another fresh pet food company that sells in like retail stores. The tough thing is that it's pretty much impossible to make actually fresh food when you're storing it on retail shelves. There has to be sort of preservative to keep the food fresh. The other thing is that people know when they're going to us because we sell direct to the consumer, most of their money is actually going to the quality of the food. Whereas the other companies that are using a distributor in retail stores, retail stores take about 50% right there, distributors take a large percentage. So the question is how much money actually is going to the ingredients, to the actual quality of the food is a big question mark. For us our customers know it's going directly to the food.

Samantha: Brett, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. I know that our listeners got a lot of great information out of this and if anybody that's listening has any questions about The Farmer's Dog or fresh food in general and the benefits of that, feel free to jump on our website, theoryofpets.com. There's a section there for comments. You can send those questions to me. If I can't answer myself, I will make sure I forward those along to Brett and see if we can get an answer for you.

PREVIOUS PODCAST: What Are Puppy Mills and How to Avoid Them

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.