It is true that many dogs eat whatever you put in front of them – and many dogs also use treats from the litter box or the neighboring garden. They might even eat your car keys. But that doesn’t mean what they eat is good for them.
For Newport Beach serial entrepreneur Shawn Buckley, an insightful trip to the pet store in 2009 to buy his dog a bag of dry food spawned a business idea that would change the way dogs eat.
In 2010, Buckley founded JustFoodForDogs, an Irvine-based company that works with a team of in-house veterinarians to formulate pet-friendly meals that use only fresh, whole-food ingredients that are certified for human consumption. He is also the author of Big Kibble: The Hidden Dangers of the Pet Food Industry and How to Do Better by Our Dogs, which was released in November 2020.
While you could eat this whole food during a zombie apocalypse, meals for animals are nutritionally balanced. And if you think your dog is making bananas for pellets, just wait until you see how excited he is about eating real food.
Full Disclosure: My ex-partner and I fed our Newfoundland / Lab mix JustFoodForDogs to help with his allergies, arthritis and stiff joints. After a short time his skin problems disappeared, his mobility improved and although he was over 10 years old, he began to behave like a puppy again. He was so excited to eat his new meal that he howled and drooled with excitement as soon as we took it out of the fridge.
What drives dogs crazy for JustFoodForDogs? I asked Buckley five questions about his drive to bring real food to four-legged friends everywhere.
What made you realize that the dog food industry lacks high quality food?
In 2009 I fed my beloved dog Simon a very popular brand of croquettes, especially the lamb recipe. When I went to Petco one day to get it they were outside so I bought the same brand but the chicken recipe instead. I found it strange that the chicken recipe was the same price as the lamb.
Although I personally don’t eat meat, I know that lamb is more expensive than chicken, so I happened to start investigating what would cause or allow this in croquettes. What I learned shocked me.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a private organization and not a government agency, allows really terrible ingredients to be included in the manufacture of pet food. Unsurprisingly, these tiny pellets, commonly known as kibble, are heavily processed and, in some cases, downright dangerous.
That [giants of the pet food industry] own literally hundreds of brands of pet food. And these are not companies that started sitting around a table and wondering, “How do we make the best pet food?”
These companies are able to get rid of the waste that is a by-product of their other products and use these “ingredients” to make animal feed. The list of indecent ingredients the AAFCO allows in the manufacture of pet food should terrify anyone. One of the acceptable ingredients is poultry droppings (provided it is dehydrated to 15% moisture).
Why do you think people are increasingly interested in converting their dogs from “traditional dog food” to a decent diet? Why is this happening now?
It is multifactorial. For the past few years, we’ve had a pet food recall on average about every six days in the United States. That is a shockingly high number when you consider how small the pet food business in this country is compared to, for example, human food.
People love their four-legged family members more than ever. The days of sending your dog outside to a kennel for the night are almost forgotten, and yet we still feed him food that was invented before most (of us) were born. And just like we’ve seen in the big tobacco industry, Americans are questioning the big kibble industry because they want the best for their pets.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an industry that has so little contact with its customers and that’s why this is happening now.
Another trigger for “now” is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Pet Product Association, the number of households bringing a new pet into their homes during the pandemic has exceeded 5 million in the US, “Isn’t there something better?”
Last but not least, most importantly, pet parents who have tried fresh whole foods (either commercially or at home) have seen massive improvements in their dogs’ health and vitality and are eager to share the news with other pet parents. The movement of fresh pet food has really been pushed by the public.
What advantages do pet owners see when they switch from dry feed with pellets to this fresh whole food?
The changes are immediate and significant. Depending on the dog, most reports include one or more of the following symptoms: less itching and scratching, much better weight control, less upset stomach and GI problems, much better poop, general improvement in health, and more energy and vitality.
Do you have anecdotes about how to turn a skeptic into a believer?
One of my favorites was a veterinarian who had serious concerns about such a radical change in feeding arrangements. Many vets are used to recommending dry or canned food because they have done so in the past. She spoke out strongly against these changes in the pet food industry.
But after learning the science behind it, including numerous peer-reviewed, published research articles on our particular food in highly respected journals such as the Journal of Animal Science, Translational Animal Science, and others, she began recommending it. Since then, JustFoodForDogs has been the official food in hundreds of clinics and veterinary clinics across the country.
How are the recipes created? Do you have a dog food cook and dog taste tester?
We have an in-house team of veterinarians who create daily diet recipes, oversee quality control, and even teach nutrition and whole foods advanced training courses to thousands of veterinarians nationwide. In addition, they make our range of prescription nutritional products tailored for sick pets.
Consumers really need to do their homework when looking for pet food. There are many companies that post vets photos and bios as if they were employees when in reality they are paid to use their image and credentials and contribute very little to the development of their respective products. We are a real “veterinary” company.
In addition, JustFoodForDogs is the only pet food company in the country that makes its recipes (our most valuable intellectual property) available to the public for free. You don’t have to buy our food as we have the recipes so you can make it from scratch at home. Your dog doesn’t care who makes the food (neither do we), but eating real food will massively improve your dog’s health.
JustFoodForDogs cooks its pet food products in public kitchens in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and in Petco’s flagship store in Union Square, New York City, where pet parents can see how the food is made. The company also operates pantries and store-in-store formats at Petco and Pet Food Express locations nationwide.