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Canadians extend health and wellness diets to pet food

Some dog owners ditching dry food for raw, cooked options

It seems like kismet that one of the inspirations behind Planet Pup, a Winnipeg dog bakery, was a pooch named Biscuit.

Deb Kurdydyk, who runs the business from her kitchen, said the idea came to her after she started cooking hot organic meals for her Shepherd-Rottweiler mix and wondered, why not start baking cookies and cakes too?

"When I started doing it, people thought I was crazy,'' laughed the 50-year-old.

"I had to explain to people that this was a thing. People do bake and cook for their dogs. I'm just a dog lover and a foodie and it just seemed like a perfect marriage.''

Planet Pup specializes in bone-shaped dog biscuits and birthday cakes. The treats, which are sold online and at some select local retailers, come in a variety of flavours including Wild Pacific salmon and smoked gouda, and elk, apple and blue cheese.

The niche business and others like it are hoping to corner a market that may be poised to grow in the future.

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According to market researcher Euromonitor, pet owners in Canada are still opting for prepared food due to convenience, but a rising number are turning to organic and raw pet food.

A Euromonitor report released in June says while prepared dog food accounted for an 87% share of total dog food consumption last year, that is expected to decrease this year.

"Consistent and pervasive consumer focus on natural or organic ingredients in dog food is a natural outcome and extension from a general trend in health and wellness in Canadian society as a whole and that has helped shape the growing humanization trend in pet food,'' said the report, titled "Dog Food in Canada.''

"As Canadians become more aware of the health impact of their diets and lifestyles so too are they paying greater attention to the diets and lifestyles of their pets.''

Last month, J.M. Smucker Co., a U.S. manufacturer of pet food, jams and other products, reported that sales in its pet food division declined six per cent due to a growing popularity of premium brands.

The company, known for its Kibbles 'n Bits brand, said it still believes pet food is a growth area, with the pet population expected to rise as more millennials and baby boomers adopt pets.

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The issue, said J.M. Smucker, is that more pet owners are looking to feed their animals food with higher protein levels and simpler ingredient lists.

Karen Schiavone has been selling raw dog food at Barkside Bistro in Toronto's east end for three years after her two dogs died on the same night, both from cancer.

"I realized it was probably the food,'' said Schiavone, who also offers a delivery subscription service. "Even if it didn't cause them to be sick, it likely contributed to it. It had to be an environmental cause.''

Barkside sells a variety of bones and meats, including beef, duck, elk, buffalo and kangaroo. She said the difference between buying raw dog food versus going to a butcher is being able to portion out the right amounts of bone, meat and organs for each meal.

The idea behind feeding dogs raw meat is that nutritional value is better retained because the food is not cooked. Others do it because they believe it's closer to the diet the animals would have had in the wild.

Meghan Elenbaas, president of Lucky Dog Cuisine Canada, said people want to know exactly goes into their dog's food and are now more willing to pay for it.

"We were brought up to believe that this is dog food and that's what we should be feeding our pets,'' she said.

"It's like if you ate Cheerios for the rest of your life. It's not necessarily bad, but you won't do well if that's the best food you ever ate.''

Lucky Dog Cuisine makes natural, human-grade food for dogs out of meat from high-end butcher shops and local produce. Elenbaas likened it to a "gourmet stir-fry'' for dogs, one that owners can also enjoy.

"A lot of people who do feed our food are into food themselves,'' she said. ``Their dogs have become part of the family. They love food and they want their dog to love food too.''

Deb Kurdydyk has since adopted another mutt she found on the side of the road after Biscuit died at the age of 16.

She credits Biscuit's long life, and the health of her new pup, to her decision to ditch the store-bought kibble and only cook "people food.''

"They really are our kids and should eat food of good nutritional quality and good sourcing as well,'' said Kurdydyk.

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