If you were bio typing, 5:2-ing or gooping your way through January, give some thought to your four-legged friends: they probably should be doing it, too. New reports claim that a diet heavy in salt, sugar, oils and fats is not only bad for humans but is packing the pounds on our pooches.
Former pet-industry nutritionist David Jackson has just launched whichdogfood.co.uk, a website that analyses what we’re feeding Fido. The conclusion? It’s a dog’s dinner. Tins, packets and pouches produced by dog-food companies can contain additives, fats, sugars and oils that cause a range of health and behaviour problems from obesity to hyperactivity. A television documentary later this month will lift the lid further on the nasty secrets inside pet-food cans.
This is yesterday’s news, of course, to those of us Barf-ing, AKA feeding our mutts the sublimely acronymed Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet, the most contentious topic of debate among dog owners. The Barf diet, based on a mixture of raw meat, bones, fruit and vegetables, is designed to mimic what dogs would naturally eat in the wild. Advocates claim a wide range of canine health benefits and I can proudly boast a halitosis-free hound, as well other pleasing side effects. Detractors insist that homemade raw diets are often nutritionally unbalanced, and increase the risk of illness caused by meat-borne bacteria and gut perforations.
But is the raw dog-food revolution less about nutrition and more about the humanisation of pet cuisine? According to Grocer magazine this month, the trend is now “reaching new heights“. From fresh organic mince, popcorn and ice-cream to breakfast cereal and vegan snacks, dog food is beginning to look suspiciously like the stuff we eat ourselves.
Consumer monitor Mintel reports that the emotional connection betweenpets and their owners is getting stronger. And with a quarter of all UK households now owning a dog – that’s 8.5m hounds – and the UK pet-food market worth more than £2bn annually, it’s a trend that means big business.
Sales of dog birthday cakes are booming, according to Cheryl Alford, canine behaviourist and nutritionist, and owner of The Dogs Cake Bakery. Dog owners are happy to part with up to £30 for one of herlavishly decorated cakes or £15 for a kit that includes a small cake, treats, balloons and a card. “Business has gone so mad I have to open a shop because I just can’t keep up with the orders,” Cheryl says. “Of course the dogs don’t appreciate the time or money that goes into the cakes – to them it’s just food – but these are owners who really want to spoil their dogs.” The cakes, made from wholemeal flour, free-range eggs, oil and honey, with no added sugar or chemicals, are safe for humans to share with their mutts. But isn’t this taking dog food too far? “Humanising a dog’s behaviour is the problem; like letting them sleep in your bed, lie on the sofa and eat at the table. The problem isn’t the food. Buying a cake as a treat helps create a bond between owner and dog, which is always good.”
But not everyone is celebrating. Berlin’s first restaurant for dogs and cats opened in December to howls of protest. Youth workers complained thatPets Deli offering luxury meals and treats (cookies a snip at €4.50 each), gave the impression the city cared more about its pets than its children. But it looks as if doggy diners could be a growing trend. The Chew Chew Pet Restaurant in Sydney offers a three-course meal for a medium pooch (including pudding and “coffee”) for around £14. The DUG Cafe in Balloch, Scotland, opened this month, serving meals and snacks to humans and hounds who like to dine together. Owner Laura Davies offers “organic and holistic” doggie dinners, along with mats to wipe muddy paws, and towels to dry off damp coats.
We all know that dog owners look like their pets, but do we really want them to eat like us, too?