Are dog-food startups like Farmer’s Dog and Wild Earth worth the price? We asked an expert
After my Bernese mountain dog, Huxley, had a bad run-in with a rawhide bone, I learned the hard way that dogs can have sensitive stomachs. But the wrong food can cause much worse than tummy trouble. All it takes is a few minutes of research to find tons of food recalls and class action lawsuits about bad kibble. A new batch of boutique, direct-to-consumer dog foods promises to keep your best friend happy and healthy. They have beautiful branding and gorgeous Instagram ads, and they feature buzzwords such as “human-grade,” “grain-free,” and “fully transparent ingredients.” But are they worth it? We got in touch with Hunter Finn, D.V.M, TikTok’s favorite veterinarian, about dog-food marketing myths—and the best tips to avoid them. “Instead of falling for marketing tactics, we as pet owners need to be more diligent in selecting the food we choose to feed our pets,” Finn says. Here’s how.
Tip 1: Ignore the buzzwords
“We’ve seen a similar trend in pet food fads that we see in human health fads,” Finn says. “The pet food industry is an extremely competitive market, and buzz words like premium, holistic, gourmet, and others instantly appeal to people, and in turn increase sales.” Dr. Finn recommends researching new food brands using guidelines from the WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association). Some specific questions to research: Does the company employ a full-time veterinary nutritionist? Who formulates their foods and what are their credentials? Where are their foods produced and manufactured? What kind of product research has been conducted? Tailored, a personalized dog kibble brand that creates a formula specifically for your pup based on their needs, has a team of six experts on board to create their formulas—including Dr. Emily Luisana, D.M.V., who is enrolled with the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists. Similarly, PetPlate–which makes fresh-cooked, human-grade dog food–employs Dr. Renee Streeter, a dedicated vet nutritionist who has been advising PetPlate on a weekly basis for the past 4 years.
Tip 2: Don’t cancel kibble
Kibble has a bad reputation for being full of fillers and devoid of nutrients. But a dog food should be judged by its formula, not its form. “If you are buying kibble from a reputable company who has put more money into researching and developing their product rather than marketing, then you should be able to rest easy knowing you are feeding your pet a nutritious, completely appropriate diet to help them thrive,” Dr. Finn says. Jinx, a kibble company backed by Alexis Ohanian, also employs veterinary nutritionists to design its formulas. Another option that meets Dr. Finn’s standards is Wild Earth, a high-protein DTC subscription kibble that was formulated by scientists and canine nutritionists. Wild Earth employs a full-time veterinary officer (Dr. Ernie Ward) and is a member of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a voluntary-membership association of local, state, and federal agencies that regulate the sale and distribution of animal foods.
Tip 3: Human grade gets a passing grade
Unlike most labels in the world of dog food, the term “human grade” is actually regulated, Dr. Finn says. “If you want to feed your pet human-grade foods it will be more expensive, but if your pet finds it palatable and really enjoys their meals, I think it’s worth the extra cost.” And as always, Finn only recommends brands that employ a full-time veterinary nutritionist on their staff and are open and honest in answering your questions regarding research, manufacturing, and nutrient profile studies. We recommend the Farmer’s Dog, a DTC human-grade dog food that is backed by research—and one of the first to change the dog food game.
Tip 4: Supplements are great—but only in certain cases
In most cases, if your pet is eating a balanced diet and is generally healthy, then there is absolutely no need for any supplementation. But there are special cases: “I will personally give my own dog—who suffers from osteoarthritis—a joint supplement for daily joint support. It can extremely improve quality of life in large breeds,” Finn says. Additionally, he’s a fan of omega-3 supplements for dogs with skin conditions. Newcomer Finn (which has no relation to the doctor) has both a Hip & Joint supplement and a Skin & Coat supplement, which are both made in an FDA-registered lab and certified with the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).