by Mary Tully
Our country appears to be in the midst of a food revolution as companies race to rebrand and even reformulate their products to jump on the organic, non-GMO, all-natural, sustainable, holistic bandwagon. In the very recent past, this change has even trickled down to the lowest peg on the food industry totem pole—what we feed our pets. Indeed, even the pet food and livestock feed industries have been massively overhauling their marketing and branding to appeal to the new buzz words (organic, "natural", etc.) of the moment. Although dog food commercials are touching, and dog food bags and labels are full of pictures of bright happy farms and whole delicious foods, these companies are not even close to making necessary nutritional changes to their actual food product.
We thought it was worth diving into this topic. It's hard to navigate the food industry for ourselves, let alone our dogs. A small company making great quality dog food can exist one day, then be bought out by a corporation the next day where the formula will be degraded in quality to make a bigger profit.
Let's talk about the history of the pet food industry and how one little company is changing the game—a company that seems to have all of the right "Answers".
What is dog kibble and where did it come from?
Let's start with a little bit of background on what most pets are eating: kibble. The commercial dog food (and "kibble") industry as we know it today came into existence to use (and profit from) byproducts of other industries. As as example, one of the first dog foods ever introduced in the United States was canned horse meat after WWI as a means to dispose of deceased horses.
The AAFCO regulations on what constitutes "food" inside your dog's kibble is super questionable at best: feathers, feet, beaks, tendons, ligaments, various plant matter leftovers, etc. Byproducts are hard for your pet to digest and most likely have been treated with a number of potentially harmful chemicals before they arrive at the kibble-making facility. These are some surprising things you may legally find inside commercial dog food products: road kill, animals that died from disease, euthanized horses, flavor/smell chemicals to make the kibble smell like food, artificial colors and dyes, ethoxyquin (a stabilizer for rubber), and here's the kicker—euthanized cats and dogs. Yep, there are no laws preventing companion animals being made into pet food, so long as pet food companies don't go over their limit of pentobarbital, the drug used to euthanize pets.
Another reason dog food kibble was invented was for convenience. You can buy it in bulk, it lasts forever with no freezing/refrigeration, there is no prep time, and it's incredibly cheap. Even if you're buying a fancy high-grade kibble, in comparison to how much money humans spend on their food typically, it's cheap. If you can think of any human food products that you can buy in bulk, is a dry good, lasts forever with no refrigeration, has no prep time, and is cheap, would you eat it or feed it to your family as their only food source? I sincerely hope not. Why is it acceptable then to feed our dogs something that really borders the line of what can be considered "food"?
It's no wonder that we see dogs looking terrible and having serious medical issues starting at age six—we aren't giving our animals the nutrition their bodies need to thrive, and commercial pet food companies aren't in the business of good food.
Let's be real, it's difficult to decipher what's best for us to eat, let alone our pets. It's convoluted, or at least the dog food conglomerates have made it that way.
Here at Tully's Training, we pride ourselves on being a holistic dog training company that takes a "whole picture" approach to training, and we believe nutrition and exercise contribute to good behavior. Which is why we knew immediately that we had found something special when we stumbled upon Answers Pet Food, a small-operation raw dog food company that is truly revolutionizing the way we feed our pets.
What is Raw Dog Food and should I feed it to my dog?
Before we go into Answers and what makes them unique, let's review what a raw diet actually is. Basically, a raw dog food diet consists of raw meat, organ, bone, and other ingredients (like vegetables and eggs) to ensure that the food is in its most complete and whole form. Because the ingredients are whole (kept as they are) are not processed into any other form, raw dog food is arguably the highest quality—your pet's digestive system will have a much easier time absorbing nutrients from it and you can actually see and smell the contents of the food for yourself. There's nowhere to hide with raw so if it's poor quality, you'll know it.
What makes Answer's Pet Food special?
Answers Pet Food is completely changing the game in a revolutionary way, even among other raw dog food companies.
A small eight-person family-operated company working out of the owner, Jacqueline Hill's farmhouse in Pennsylvania, Answers Pet Food is a labor of love for a group of food science geeks (with degrees in microbiology, chemistry, food science, and decades of research and combined experience with animal nutrition) who are dedicated to producing the purest dog food they possibly can. Literally every decision about their product is based on maintaining the purity and nutritional value of the ingredients, not profit margins.
Recently, all of our trainers here at Tully's Training from Los Angeles and San Diego sat down for a conversation with Billy, Answers' Science Coordinator, to talk about nutrition and how it effects behavior. In fact, the Answers operation is so quaint and modest that you can talk to Billy yourself—the 800 phone number on the Answers food packaging goes straight to his cell phone. You can literally ask Billy anything about the food and their operation and your questions will be answered (no pun intended). He IS their customer service.
This level of transparency and accountability for a dog food company is astonishing, and it's one of the many reasons why we've aligned our brand with theirs. So here are some digestible (!) tidbits about Answers raw dog food and why we like them so much:
1. Answers Pet Food products are fermented, not pasteurized.
For humans and animals alike, pasteurization essentially leaves your milk "dead" and devoid of any nutritional value. Not only that, fragile milk proteins are radically transformed from health nurturing to unnatural amino acid configurations that can actually worsen your health. Pasteurization is not good for us or our dogs, you guys.
Most other raw dog food companies use form of pasteurization called High-Pressure Pasteurization, which is a method of preserving and sterilizing food in which a product is processed under very high pressure. But the problem is: the food processed this way can still technically be labeled "raw" because it wasn't heated, but it chemically alters the proteins and enzymes as if it were cooked with heat. High-pressure pasteurization not only kills bad bacteria, it kills the good stuff too like microorganisms and enzymes the body needs to help digest the milk.
So how do you destroy bad bacteria while preserving the good bacteria/enzymes for digestion? Answers Pet Food uses a raw goat milk whey and kombucha to ferment their products. This means that your dog is getting that healthy bacteria they need in their system, plus lots of pre and probiotics from the fermentation process!
2. The raw dog food formula is 90% meat and 10% other good stuff
Answers Pet Food mixes their raw meat, bones, and organs with other ingredients such as: organic vegetables, herbs, cow pasture-raised eggs, sea salt, cod livers, and high-vitamin butter oil.
3. No one compares to their ingredient sourcing… well except maybe Whole Foods
What GAP-5 means for:
Cows — the cow was grass fed, in same herd it's whole life, then slaughtered and processed on same farm it was raised on.
Eggs — the eggs come from chickens that are raised in a pasture with cows, as opposed to being kept in confinement and fed primarily grains. Eggs from pastured chickens contain up to 20 times more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than factory chickens. These eggs also have 10 percent less fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, and 34 percent less cholesterol than eggs obtained from factory farms.
Pigs — pigs are similar to cows in that they spend their entire lives and are processed on a single farm.
Answers source their goats milk from a farm where the goats are raised and milked. The milk is then fermented on site by the Amish farmer named Ervin who tends the goats, and is packaged right there on the spot. Answer's fish stock is made by Ervin's father-in-law, Steve. All on the same property. Obviously.
The mother of the owner herself, Julia, makes the batches of kombucha for fermentation. (We feel like we're making this up! But we're not!)
4. Even the packaging is purposeful
Answer's products are offered in cardboard packaging because these cartons are recyclable, compostable, and maintain the nutritional content of the food—plastic does not.
- The carrots you will find in the cat food are there to make sure the cats get insoluble fiber. Before cats evolved to domestication and were wild, they would get this nutrient from the hair of their prey.
- The sardines are sustainably caught in the North Atlantic.
- Every ingredient is Certified Organic.
- The food contains Azomite which contains every known mineral and trace element.
- The beef, chicken, turkey (which is GAP-4 certified), and pork diets are made in a processing facility in which everything else made there is produced for human consumption. The staff of this processing plant swears the pet food is higher quality than the stuff they make for the humans, true story.
Can I afford to feed my dog raw? Isn't it expensive?
They say you can either pay the doctor or the grocer—I know this to be true. The same goes for our pets: we believe it's the choice between paying for the higher quality food now, or paying for the veterinarian bills later. Your choice!
Here's the average cost you might be paying to feed your pet a whole raw diet from Answers Pet Food:
- The average 15-pound dog would be $1.50 a day
- The average 30-pound dog would be $2.73 a day
- The average 50-pound dog would be $3.34 a day
Still out of your price range? I would suggest a compromise! Maybe you feed your dog half kibble and half raw! Or all kibble, with the goats milk and fish stock as supplements. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. There is much middle ground in between.
We started Kai on a raw dog food diet because at the age of four, he started a horrible itching habit that we couldn't seem to shake. At his worst, he was on four Zyrtec and two Benadryl per day. Needless to say, it's been almost two years now and the difference is palpable. We got rid of Kai's itching, but we also got other things we didn't anticipate: the fullest shiniest dog coat Kai's ever had, teeth that have remained clean and white for going on two years now, and a curious absence of odor—no more "dog breath", yeasty ears, or smelly gas. At 95 pounds, two years ago Kai would regularly clear the room. Little did I know, his digestive system was trying to tell me something.
Our dog no longer needs his anal glands expressed because he has bone content moving through his bowels that expresses them as they are meant to be expressed. His poop is now, typically, what you would expect from a dog that weighs about 15 pounds. Why? Am I feeding him less? I'm not—he gets a pound of meat per day, the difference is that his body is absorbing what he's eating because his food is no longer full of fillers.
This isn't miracle food, this is just good whole minimally-processed food—the way it should be.
We're very happy we get to align ourselves with such an awesome company like Answers Pet Food and support a small operation that is doing the right thing. Let's choose to be the consumers who decide that cheap prices aren't the only thing we are concerned about when it comes to our food, and make the same decisions about what we feed our pets.