If it moves, it dies.
By ALMA J. BUELVA
A startup dog food company, Escuin Pet Food Manufacturing, is making a strong pitch for raw feeding with its fresh line of frozen uncooked meat with vegetables and dog treats made from natural ingredients.
Its brand, Natural Goodness Real Food for Dogs, hit the ground running at the start of the year with two ready-to-serve raw dog meals (chicken or beef) and three varieties of dog chews – pumpkin biscuits, chicken strips and sweet potato chips.
Necessity is the mother of invention and for Donna Escuin, a self-taught canine nutrition expert, she built Natural Goodness from the ground up to save her little dog Audrey from obesity due to unhealthy diet.
Back in 2012, Audrey, a Pomeranian that should ideally weigh 2kgs max, tipped the scales at 4kgs. For a year, Audrey would see a vet every three weeks for check-ups and x-ray tests. As the dog got heavier, Donna's purse got lighter.
Fast forward to 2016, Donna not only got her dog healthy again after putting her on a natural diet, she also left the corporate world for the kitchen where she developed her first batch of Natural Goodness products that are “homemade, human grade dog food that the consumers can trust,” she said.
Aside from ground meat of fresh raw chicken or beef, every pack of frozen Natural Goodness Real Food for Dogs contains nutritious and calcium rich meaty bones such as necks, wings, and backs for chicken and ribs, necks, tail for beef. It also contains organ meats like liver and muscle meat such as thighs, tenderloin and hearts. For added nutrition and flavor, a cooled slow-cooked vegetable stew is added to the mix along with fresh eggs, virgin coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, raw honey, turmeric and malunggay.
“We have four resident testers (two Pomeranians, an Aspin, and a cross-breed) plus dogs of breeder friends who tried our products and they loved them,” said Donna.
A 2-kilo bag of frozen chicken doggie food costs P570, and P710 for beef. Donna gives discounts for bulk orders.
For treats, Natural Goodness' sweet potato chips (with malunggay flakes) and pumpkin biscuits are both priced P120 each for a small bag, and P370 each for a big bag.
A small pack of chicken strips costs P150 while the big pack sells for P450.
The raw meals can be frozen for four months from manufacturing date, while the treats are good for one month when kept in room temperature not exceeding 30ºC, and two months in a refrigerator. She also keeps her products fresh by preparing them based on demand. Most of her initial customers are dog breeders.
Donna arranges meet-ups at BF Homes Parañaque with customers who order the frozen doggie food. The treats, however, can be delivered to customers from Metro Manila for a minimum P60 shipping fee.
A popular local online pet store is interested to carry Natural Goodness products, said Donna, adding that supplying to other retailer pet stores later may be the way to go to give her more time to focus on product development and marketing.
WHAT'S (not) COOKIN'?
With Natural Goodness now in the market, Donna plans to enroll herself in an online course in Australia to formalize her education in canine nutrition to boost her and her products' credibility.
To date, she has relied on her own intensive self-study on raw feeding and advice from veterinarians to come up with her own carefully balanced dog food close to the “natural prey model” of eating that is intrinsic in every dog.
“I came to fall in love with the Biologically Appropriate Feeding method...I kept sharing my recipes in groups on Facebook. The only thing that saddened me was too many people I talked to would say they could not continue the diet because it was too much work. So, in my head I was like, okay I'll do it then,” said Donna.
She believes raw feeding is gaining traction among local pet owners though misconceptions such as how bones will choke dogs or raw meat will turn them into blood-hunting monsters continue to dissuade others from trying it.
Raw feeding advocates like her believe that switching a dog's diet of kibbles to raw food should be second nature.
“All dogs are designed to consume raw so it should be natural for them to love this diet. However, when a dog is too accustomed to over processed kibbles or canned food, it may find it strange at first. If you are feeding cooked, try mixing some raw little by little. However it is not recommended to mix raw to a kibble because these two foods require a different level of acid to be digested and may confuse the dog's digestive system which may lead to upset stomach,” said Donna.
The suggested amount of raw feeding is 3 percent of the dog's ideal weight, but Donna said it is best for a dog owner to first seek a veterinarian's expert opinion before changing a dog's diet and for how much more or less.
“Feeding dogs raw food can start with one meal once a week. One natural meal a week is better than nothing,” she added.
Meanwhile, she plans to move Natural Goodness' kitchen out of her house in the coming months and to open a Natural Goodness store next year.
“We are a very small company—so small that the owner who answers the emails also does the cooking, packing and arranging shipping and meet ups,” Donna revealed.
But she's not complaining because advocating raw feeding and offering alternative dog food is what she really wanted to do ever since she saw how it helped improve her dog Audrey's health.
“I decided to go into this business to spread awareness and knowledge. To be able to offer much better option for pet owners to better care for their loved ones. If there are any Audreys out there suffering, I hope to help them through our product,” said Donna.
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NESTLé Purina PetCare Co. is in the receiving end of a class action suit recently filed in a California federal court for the alleged presence of a mold byproduct in its kibbles that caused thousands of dogs to die.
The dog food in question is called Beneful which is being blamed for the reported deaths of dogs that ate it and later died from internal bleeding, diarrhea, seizures liver malfunction.
In a report by The Daily Beast, Jeff Cereghino, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff Frank Lucido in the lawsuit, said they interviewed to a lot of people whose dogs, like Lucido's own German Shepherd, died a slow agonizing death apparently due to their Beneful diet.
The harmful additive in the dog food was pinpointed to be propylene glycol which has the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be safe even in human foods. Purina maintains the type of propylene it uses is perfectly safe for consumption and believes the lawsuit is without merit.
The lawsuit, however, identifies another irritant in the dog food mix called mycotoxins, a toxic byproduct of mold found in all types of grains.
In The Daily Beast's interview with Dr. Gregory Möller, professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at the University of Idaho and Washington State University joint School of Food Science, he explained that it's hard to detect the mold even by scientists.
“You can go into a sample that is known contaminated,” Möller noted. “But the particular sub sample you pull may not have enough on it to actually see. There is that challenge.”
Beneful is yet to be tested for mycotoxins. If the brand tests positive, the lawyers' next job is to prove that the toxins are really dangerous to dogs when ingested.
An online petition seeking to “Stop Purina from making the Beneful food line” has gathered 624 supporters so far. The petition, started by one Amelia Gronvall from Ohio, aims to have as much as 10,000 online petitioners to send a strong message to Purina about the alleged toxins in its Beneful line of dog food.
The petition is more or less about six months old and has been sent to dog lovers, dog owners, veterinarians, and product activists. It comes on the heels of hundreds of letters to Purina reportedly by people who complained about how their dogs were vomiting, pooping blood, and have numerous reactions to Beneful dog food.
Purina's Beneful line of dog food is not commercially available in the Philippines.
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