By Eric Stenson
Beef, chicken, lamb, fish—pet owners are used to seeing some variation of these proteins dominate their choices when they’re shopping to feed their companion animals. Some manufacturers, however, are looking at alternative sources of protein, and they run the gamut from the expected to the unusual.
Many people think of their dogs as carnivores, only slightly removed from wolves in the wild stalking prey for their next meal. Jordi F. Verite, general manager of KetunPet in Miami, takes issue with the notion that dogs are little more than flesh-tearing beasts. His company has launched a line of vegan-based dog foods, encouraging pets not only to go beyond animal protein but away from animal-based products entirely.
“Sure, dogs were carnivores—2 million years ago,” Verite said. “Now they’re domesticated. If we feed them just meat, they will have health problems.”
Ketun makes varieties for puppies and adult dogs, using vegetable proteins, chia and quinoa for Omega 3 and Omega 6, taurine for heart and vision health, beet pulp and chicory root for fiber for digestive health, tyrosine and iodine to combat infections, dry skin and obesity, calcium and phosphorous for bone and joint health, and selenium to fight free radicals.
Verite said all his company’s food is made in a human-grade facility and that a vegan diet also helps improve muscle tone and ligament strength, and helps battle allergies.
“Dogs live longer, and they don’t have to go to the vet,” Verite said. “Also, a vegan diet makes it easier to pick up their stools when they need to go.”
His company has only been in Miami for a few months but has been operating in Argentina, Chile and Japan for the past three years.
“It’s a great, wholesome product,” he said. “It’s cruelty-free, no animal by-products, no artificial color, flavors, gluten, etc. With animal protein, who knows where it comes from? It’s like giving animals fast food every day of their lives.”
Alternate proteins from animal sources don’t only deal with critters that walk, swim or fly. Jiminys of Berkeley, California, makes treats from ones that hop: crickets. Anne Carlson, Jiminys’ founder and CEO, got the company started because she wanted to find a protein source that didn’t carry a big environmental footprint.
“We were looking for something really sustainable,” she said. “Most animal agriculture is really problematic. Crickets are most accessible. We call them ‘the gateway bug.’”
Carlson says that crickets have more protein than beef, have great Omegas, and even provide fiber. She says that using crickets is a very humane practice in that they live about 80 percent of their natural life and then go into hibernation, at which point they’d be harvested. She maintains that her treats have excellent palatability, with a taste reminiscent of sunflower seeds.
Now available in about a dozen stores in the San Francisco Bay area, her products are also available on her company’s website. Jiminys got started in October developing the treats and launched for retail sale earlier this year.
“Millennials embrace this,” she said. “More and more people think sustainable and natural—these treats have been a double whammy.”
Carlson also believes her treats can play a role in determining allergic reactions in dogs, providing a hypoallergenic snack that canines can enjoy regardless of food sensitivities.
“We need alternate protein sources for dogs with allergies,” she said. “With vets using elimination diets, often owners fail to stick with them because owners give [the dogs] treats.”
She plans on expanding her company’s footprint, developing new treats, formulating full diets and spreading out into cats.
“We’re at the starting line,” Carlson said.
Koha Super Premium Pet Food of Delray Beach, Florida, features some proteins one might expect on the menu at a restaurant specializing in wild game. In addition to the basics like chicken, turkey or duck, Koha also makes pet foods with guinea fowl and kangaroo.
“Kangaroo is high in protein and not very fatty,” said Lonnie Schwimmer, Koha’s founder. “Lots of vets are suggesting alternative proteins for pets with allergies, and we were looking to give people more of an option.”
Kangaroo is a truly sustainable protein, Schwimmer said, because in Australia, kangaroos are so ubiquitous they are considered pests.
“You’re using a pest and feeding a pet,” he said.
He said his is the only company making kangaroo-based food for cats, which he described as Koha’s best seller. He has also intentionally kept the distribution chain simple, emphasizing small, independent retailers as opposed to big, online dealers.
Nature’s Gourmet of Pomona, California, uses more “staple” proteins, such as chicken, lamb and whitefish, according to sales manager Robert Bemis. But what he feels sets his company apart is that all of its formulas use single meat proteins. This helps in controlling allergies, he said.
“If your dog is allergic to lamb, that’s hard to tell that if they’re eating food that’s lamb, chicken and fish,” he said. “This takes care of that.”
His company is sticking to the “more popular” proteins, he said, but it might offer food based on boar or venison in the near future.
From a retailer perspective, Jon Michelson, owner of Lofty Dog in Austin, Texas, actively recommends alternative protein foods to pet owners, mainly based on allergy concerns. Brands he carries include Primal, Stella and Chewy’s, and Zignature. Proteins include rabbit, pheasant and venison.
Michelson added that he’s noticed a goat-based diet and heard of a possible squid-based pet food.
“(Alternative-protein diets) are becoming more popular, and allergies are the reason,” he said. “The development of grain-free foods was to help with allergens; the second step was going to alternative proteins.”