Califonia Bountiful

Doggie dining

May/June 2017 California Bountiful magazine

Fresh food choices have dogs begging for more

Loading video player...

Roscoe strikes a pose with his fresh meal, made with wholesome ingredients such as California-grown rice. Photo: © 2017 Matt Salvo

Joker, a finicky eater, loves his meal of venison and lentils. Maybe it's the touch of green peas or spinach that makes it so appealing. Roscoe and Cash aren't as picky—they enjoy chowing down on turkey with brown rice and chicken with russet potatoes.

Though they dine in style, these three aren't your typical foodies. Joker is a border collie, Roscoe is a basset hound and Cash is a flat-coated retriever mix. All are rescues adopted by Dana and James McKellips, and they're pretty doggone satisfied with their fresh food diets, according to their owners.

The dogs are examples of a growing trend in doggie dining. As owners such as the McKellipses focus on developing their own healthy eating habits, they're also making nutritious, fresh food choices for their furry friends.

People are becoming increasingly label-conscious, and the habit of scrutinizing ingredients has carried over to pet food choices. More pet owners are switching from kibble and cans in favor of fresh recipes featuring USDA-certified meats, whole grains and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and green beans.

California has been quick to pick up on the trend, perhaps due to the availability of local, fresh produce and the healthy lifestyles embraced by many people who happen to be dog owners, according to Justin Shmalberg, a veterinarian who specializes in veterinary nutrition.

Some people have begun cooking at home for their pups, and a growing number of busy dog owners are relying on businesses that deliver freshly cooked, premeasured portions of Fido's food to their front door each week.

Tim Tseng, co-owner of Healthy Hounds Kitchen in Sacramento, visits with Dana and James McKellips and their dogs, Cash, Joker and Roscoe. Photo: © 2017 Matt Salvo

The farm-to-bowl connection

In Sacramento, the McKellipses and other dog lovers have discovered Healthy Hounds Kitchen, which opened last August. Its open kitchen allows customers to see firsthand what goes into formulating recipes that meet each canine client's nutritional needs. Packaged meals are sold both fresh and frozen, and include a variety of meats combined with whole grains or potatoes, as well as fish with white rice.

"Three of our six recipes use rice grown here in the Sacramento Valley," said Healthy Hounds co-owner Tim Tseng, who oversees daily operations. "Rice is an easy choice because it's a good product that's sustainably grown, local—and dogs love it."

Tseng estimates the business purchases 600 pounds of rice each month from second-generation rice farmer Michael Bosworth of Rue & Forsman Ranch, which has been in operation since 1946 and is located just south of Marysville.

The relationship with Bosworth began with another Healthy Hounds owner: Billy Ngo, a Sacramento chef and restaurateur known for his creative approaches to sushi and Japanese cuisine. Ngo lends not only his culinary skill to the endeavor in developing beg-worthy recipes for his canine customers, but also his commitment to employing high-quality ingredients that are locally grown when possible.

Sacramento Valley farmer Michael Bosworth supplies rice to Healthy Hounds Kitchen. Bosworth is pictured near his rice fields with Drake, his black lab. Photo: courtesy Brian Baer/California Rice Commission

Weekly deliveries from Rue & Forsman include premium, short-grain sushi rice for Ngo's restaurants and a medium-grain variety for the Healthy Hounds Kitchen. The Healthy Hounds delivery also includes broken rice: fragments of rice grains typically used in food processing. Broken rice is a good choice for dog foods because the small pieces are easy to digest, Tseng said. It's proven to be a nutritious, economical byproduct for Healthy Hounds, and the dog food supply chain offers Bosworth an additional outlet for his broken rice.

"Healthy Hounds Kitchen is an example of how local farms are producing high-quality foods for all to enjoy," said Bosworth, whose black lab, Drake, is also a fan. "While it's not the same quality meal you'd find at a restaurant, it's still a great, healthy product for dogs."

Bosworth and Tseng say they view their collaboration as a win-win.

"We appreciate California farmers and want to grow our relationships with them as we continue to grow our business," Tseng said. "Our goal is to make the highest-quality products as affordable and
convenient as possible."

Sometimes that takes a bit of culinary ingenuity. Healthy Hounds Kitchen recently developed treats for its canine clientele using beef lungs supplied by Panorama Meats, a grass-fed beef producer in Woodland. The kitchen crew also created a new lamb and rice recipe using another locally available protein: lamb livers from Superior Farms in Dixon. Tseng and his partners continue to reach out to other California producers as they expand their offerings.

Sacramento pet sitters Dana and James McKellips say they try to eat a healthy diet and want their dogs to have the same opportunity. Photo: © 2017 Matt Salvo

More than just pets

It costs about $100 a month to feed a 30-pound dog Healthy Hounds meals, but customers such as the McKellipses justify the expense because their three dogs "are like our children," Dana McKellips said. "It's important to us that they eat fresh ingredients. I like knowing what's in their food."

The couple, who own a Sacramento dog-walking and pet-sitting business, have cut back on personal expenses to invest in their pets' nutrition.

"Part of the cost is offset by the convenience of delivery or the savings of buying our dog food in 25-pound packages from Healthy Hounds," McKellips said. "I think it keeps them healthier. Plus, we like supporting local businesses."

Their attitude mirrors that of many pet owners.

"People are spending more on their pets than they ever have before," said Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association.

APPA estimates people spent more than $24 billion on pet food last year—more than twice what they spent in 2001.

"We try to make good food choices for ourselves, and we've always done the same for our dogs," Dana McKellips said. "We considered cooking their meals ourselves, but we realized it's not feasible to research and make their meals with our busy schedules. We've found it's better to rely on a company to provide us with a well-balanced variety of foods."

Healthy diets—for animals as well as humans—must include a variety of foods that provide essential ingredients, including vitamins, minerals and calcium. Veterinarian Shmalberg recommends owners work with a veterinarian or vet nutritionist to ensure their pet's fresh food diet meets its nutritional needs.

"It's great that people have the option of using companies that can provide them with complete and balanced nutrition for their pets," he said.

NomNomNow's fresh dog food offerings include vegetables grown in California. The company is based in the Bay Area and ships to eight Western states. Photo: courtesy NomNomNow

Canine haute cuisine, delivered

As a consultant for pet food companies, Shmalberg researches and formulates fresh food recipes, which can take up to a year to develop, locate ingredients and test.

One of the companies he works for is NomNomNow, which delivers fresh food from its San Francisco kitchen to dog owners in eight Western states. Customers provide details about their pup's age, weight and activity level, and NomNomNow tailors a nutritionally balanced meal plan that's cooked and shipped weekly. Meals are individually portioned and weighed to track calories.

NomNomNow's meals include Chicken Chow-Wow, Heartland Beef Mash and Porkalicious Potluck. Recipes feature mushrooms from Gilroy, carrots from Kern County, kale from Ventura, sweet potatoes from Merced County, and zucchini and yellow squash from Santa Barbara County. Customers can alternate their orders among five meal choices, including a vegetarian option.

How are dog owners supporting this company, founded in 2015? NomNomNow co-founder and CEO Nate Phillips says his organization is growing 100 percent each quarter and a crew of 30 people is kept busy cooking, packaging and shipping products.

Dog owners are making room in their budgets for the convenience of NomNomNow. Phillips estimates the cost of feeding a medium-sized dog is $7 per day. He said about one-fourth of NomNomNow customers own more than one dog, each with its own meal plan.

Phillips and Tseng, who both started their businesses when they saw there were few fresh alternatives for their own pups, agree with owners who say that their pets have increased energy and healthy-looking coats. Owners report their dogs' food allergies and stomach issues are improving.

"We're making it easy for people to choose to feed their dog fresh-cooked food," Phillips said.

Jolaine Collins

Photo: courtesy NomNomNow

Fresh food tips for Fido

Thinking of making your own fresh meals for Fido? You'll find plenty of recipes online and in books. Before making your first batch, though, talk with your veterinarian or a canine nutritionist who can help determine your dog's nutritional needs. This is especially true if your pet has health issues or is pregnant or nursing, said Justin Shmalberg, a veterinarian who specializes in veterinary nutrition. In the meantime, here are some tips from Shmalberg and online sources such as WebMD:

  • Your dog needs a balance of protein (meat, seafood, dairy or eggs) and carbohydrates (grains and vegetables). Fido also needs fat from oil or meat, calcium (eggshells, dairy or a supplement), and essential fatty acids (plant oils, cooked egg yolks, oatmeal and other foods).
  • Plan to give your pet supplements to ensure it is getting enough of the nutrients it needs.
  • Cook all foods well, without heavy seasoning.
  • Use lean cuts of meat. Remove bones and visible fat, including poultry skin.
  • Dog-friendly veggies include carrots, green beans and zucchini. Baked (not raw) potatoes are good, too.
  • Slice fruit treats such as apples, oranges, bananas and watermelon for your pup. Be sure to remove seeds, stems and leaves.
  • Plain, cooked white rice with boiled chicken can help your dog feel better when it's having stomach problems.
  • To change Fido's diet from kibble to fresh, blend the new food with the old during a week's time, gradually giving it more of the new.
  • Once your dog is on a fresh diet, you can vary its meals, such as turkey with rice or beef with pasta.
  • Continue to consult with your vet to ensure your dog is getting essential nutrients in its fresh diet.

Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest Pinterest