Pets are family. When you choose a food for them, chances are you look at ingredients and nutrition just like you would for the humans in your household. But a number of companies are taking things one step further. You can order personalized meals — often with fresh ingredients and no additives — and have them delivered right to your home, customized for your pet's particular needs.
Brett Podolsky started The Farmer's Dog as a solution to his Rottweiler Jada's health issues.
"She had a lot of health problems, mostly surrounding a sensitive stomach … and was having loose stools every day," Podolsky says. "It was heartbreaking to me to see that my dog was uncomfortable like that."
Vets recommended foods to try and nothing helped, until one suggested that Podolsky try home-cooking for her for a few days.
"The solution I was so desperate to find was right in front of me," he says. "And I found that a lot of people were looking for better food with better ingredients."
Podolsky and his business partner, Jonathan Regev, offered their food to a few pet-owning friends, who helped spread the word. By the time their business launched in July, they had a waiting list with a few thousand names on it.
"The common denominator really is people that understand the power that food has on health. It pretty much is as simple as that," Podolsky says. "All our customers love their dogs and treat them as part of the family. But really they all understand that food has a major effect on health."
Although their company is based in Brooklyn with nary a pasture in sight, Podolsky and Regev named their company The Farmer's Dog because they believe their mix of fresh ingredients is what a pastoral canine would eat.
"When you think of a farmer's dog, you think of the healthiest, happiest dog. A happy dog eats fresh, real food and has a big yard to run around in," Podolsky says. "The farmer's dog embodies what we want all of our dogs to be."
The Farmer's Dog uses an algorithm developed by veterinary nutritionists and tech experts to determine the right formula for your pet. You answer a few questions about your dog's age, breed, activity level and a few other features, and you get a personalized food recommendation. The food is then shipped directly to your dog's doorstep.
Of course, this kind of personalized pet nutrition isn't inexpensive, and can easily run three or four times the cost of even premium packaged foods.
"I can tell you from my own personal experience that I haven’t had to take my dog to the vet in 2 1/2 years except for her shots and I used to take her every month," says Podolsky. "We tell people to give it a try and see the benefits and then reassess to see if you think it's worth it."
Here's a look at four companies that offer customized, home-delivered foods for your dog. (Because prices range significantly depending on your dog's size and the proteins in the food you choose, the examples below are based on the information entered for my dog — a 30-pound, border collie mix — so you can get an idea of cost.)
The Farmer's Dog
After answering questions about your dog's age, weight, breed — and how picky he is and how often you feed him treats — you'll get a recommendation for meals that come in frozen, proportioned packages. Everything is made to order for your pet and shipped out shortly after it's made.
Customer service reps will check in with you to monitor your dog's progress so serving sizes can be adjusted accordingly if your dog is gaining or losing weight. And if your dog doesn't like any of the food, the company will replace it and send a return label so the food can be donated to a shelter. There are also DIY recipes on the website if you want to try making your own food.
Although small dogs start at $3/day, Brodie's recommendations were either the turkey, beef or pork formulas, which ranged from $36 to $39 a week. There's also a free two-week trial.
Ollie co-founder Gabby Slome started investigating dog food nutrition when the rescue dog she brought back from Colombia immediately gained 25 pounds, but he was always hungry, his coat looked bad and he had problems with his stools. "I didn’t feel like there were good alternatives out there to feed him to give him the health he deserved," she said.
She and her partners developed Ollie, hoping to offer a nutrient-rich, fresh food alternative with responsible sourcing. The beef comes from corn-fed, humanely treated cattle on family-run farms and the chickens are vegetable-fed with no hormones. There are no byproducts, fillers, artificial flavorings or preservatives.
To get the right meal for your pet, you enter info about your dog's age, breed, activity level and any allergies. Then a formula spits out a recommendation for the right meal for your pet: hearty beef or chicken goodness.
The food arrives cold or frozen and comes in insulated, recyclable, sealed trays. It comes with a custom scoop so you can measure the exact amount recommended for your dog. All you have to do is scoop, serve and remember to wash your dog's bowl after every meal. "You wouldn't use the same salad bowl day after day without washing it would you?! Same goes for your pup when you're serving them fresh food," the Ollie website points out.
My dog could have his choice between hearty beef for $75.58/two weeks or chicken goodness for $84.66/two weeks.
Just Food for Dogs
Several years ago, founder Shawn Buckley became curious about what was in the commercial foods he was feeding his dogs. When he discovered all sort of byproducts, preservatives and chemicals, as well as cooking processes that reduced the nutritional value of healthy ingredients, he assembled a team of business partners, nutritionists, a pet chef and plenty of canine taste testers. Buckley opened a Just for Dogs kitchen and store in Newport Beach, California, where pet owners could come in and buy freshly made dog meals.
All ingredients are food-grade, certified for human consumption, with no preservatives. Every recipe is made in small batches for quality control in their kitchen and is immediately vacuum sealed and frozen to preserve nutritional value.
These days, Just Food for Dogs sells food out of four locations in California, delivers locally and ships nationwide. The company sells six regular recipes including fish and sweet potato, venison and squash, and beef and russet potato, and eight special recipes for pets with health issues, including skin, kidney and liver concerns. Company reps will also work with you and your vet on custom formulations for allergies, cancer and other health problems.
After filling out a simple questionnaire, you get several recommendations for diets and feeding amounts. You can also live chat with a nutrition consultant or send an email if your dog has health issues, dietary needs or you need help choosing a formula.
Brodie could choose any of the six regular recipes. One difficult thing to figure out in our case, however, is that the foods are not packaged in the same recommended feeding amounts (for example, it said to feed 16 ounces a day of the turkey mix, but it only comes in 7, 18 and 72 ounce packages). Prices depend on the protein, but in my dog's case, it would be about $175 and up per month.
Just Right by Purina
Unlike the other options mentioned, Purina's Just Right personalized offering is dry dog food. Unlike the other foods mentioned, it's obviously a processed food, which means the price is considerably cheaper and (bonus!) you get your dog's photo on each bag.
To find out which blend is right for your dog, you'll answer similar questions about your dog's age, breed, weight and activity level. You'll also be asked about how quickly he eats his food, the quality of his coat and his stool, and whether you want to avoid grains or any other ingredients. Red meat, poultry and fish are the three main proteins. There are also grain-free formulas available.
In Brodie's case, they suggested salmon with ground rice and oatmeal. It would cost $37.99 for 12 pounds (a month's supply).