Gone are the days of merely giving a dog a bone.
Now soaring numbers of pets are being fed diets befitting of humans. It may sound barking mad, but just as the food industry caters to the health-conscious tastes of a modern generation, so does the pet food market.
For some canines, switching to gluten-free, pescatarian or even vegan meals is a result of being diagnosed with food allergies or intolerances – for others their owners simply want them to eat lean, clean or ethically. Or, perhaps most importantly, to mirror the way they dine themselves.
Here, six dedicated owners reveal the bespoke diets created for their hounds – and why, quite simply, nothing else will do.
Bentley will do anything for a vegan sausage
Charity worker Michael, 31 (pictured), from Birmingham, has been vegan himself since the age of 16 and has overseen Bentley’s conversion to veganism after adopting him from the Birmingham Dogs’ Home last year
Bentley may look tough but the seven-year-old pug/bull mastiff crossbreed is vegan – just like his ethical owner.
Despite his carnivorous past, Bentley is a changed mutt and now feasts on soya chunks, dry dog food and omega supplements made from seaweed – and will do anything for a gluten-based seitan sausage, according to his owner, Michael Summers.
Charity worker Michael, 31, from Birmingham, has been vegan himself since the age of 16 and has overseen his pet’s conversion to veganism since adopting Bentley from the Birmingham Dogs’ Home last year.
‘If I want him to perform tricks, one sniff of homemade seitan sausage and he’ll do whatever I ask,’ Michael says.
‘The vet said there was no reason why Bentley shouldn’t thrive on vegan food. My main concern was ensuring he would get enough protein, which dogs usually get from meat.’
Bentley’s staple diet is a ‘nutritionally complete’ dog food mix which looks like muesli and contains amino acids and omega oils to help keep him healthy.
But Michael makes sure he keeps it interesting. ‘It costs £30 for a 15 kilo bag which lasts four months and I often add beans to it, or veggie gravy. When his fur began to shed last spring, I was worried that it could be down to his diet and added extra omega supplements made from seaweed to his food. Within weeks, his coat came back and was shiny again.’
Michael says Bentley doesn’t appear to miss his old food. ‘If a vet ever told me that Bentley must have meat or other animal proteins for the sake of his health, I’d seek further professional opinion,’ he says, before adding: ‘But ultimately, I’d adapt his diet because his health is more important than my ethical beliefs.’
£4.50 Cod fillets for pampered Peggy
Peggy the puggle – a cross between a pug and a beagle – had a rough start to life. The runt of a litter, she was abandoned as a pup in a cardboard box and, after being rescued, had a tendency to over-eat in case the next meal was her last.
But after being adopted by Sunny and Danny Andrea, she is now so much a part of the family that she eats as well as they do. The couple, from Northamptonshire, decided to feed Peggy a strict pescatarian diet – fish and vegetables but no meat – after their vet suggested it could help her slim down and also benefit her general health and digestion.
‘We noticed quite quickly that her coat was shinier, she lost weight and had no tummy troubles,’ says Sunny. But Peggy’s favourite dishes of cod or salmon fillets – and the occasional shrimp as a treat – add £30 to the family’s weekly shop.
Sunny Andrea, 36, decided to feed puggle Peggy (pictured) a strict pescatarian diet – fish and vegetables but no meat – after their vet suggested it could help her slim down and also benefit her general health and digestion
For Sunny, 36, a full-time mum to three-year-old Harish, there is only one downside – Peggy has decidedly fishy breath, which requires the use of doggy dental sticks. ‘I always buy her boneless fillets at about £4.50 each, and either steam, grill or bake them, then serve them with green beans, broccoli or carrots,’ Sunny explains.
‘She scoffs the lot in about 30 seconds flat.
‘For snacks she has bananas, cucumber and apple slices. If my husband and I are eating steak or roast chicken, she’ll come straight over for a nosy, but never whines to try some.’
Terrier Ted had to go gluten-free
It’s a well-established fad among food-conscious humans and now even dogs can follow a gluten-free diet too, as Chloe Pillar can testify.
Her pet Ted, a Bedlington terrier, was diagnosed as gluten-sensitive by a friend after Chloe noticed he was a fussy eater, often only consuming one meal a day.
Chloe, from Chesterfield, switched him to expensive dinners without gluten, and soon noticed a boost in his energy levels. The mother of two, 28, who is on maternity leave from her job with the Environment Agency, said: ‘I considered giving him a raw, fresh food diet but I was concerned about handling raw meat a lot.
‘Instead, I put Ted on a powdered raw meat and veg dog food which you mix with water.
Chloe Pillar put her Bedlington terrier Ted (pictured) on a gluten-free diet after he was diagnosed as gluten-sensitive. After switching him to gluten-free meals, she soon noticed a boost in his energy levels
‘But at £40 for a month’s supply – twice the cost of his old food – it got too expensive.
‘He’s now on dog biscuits that do not contain gluten, wheat or barley, and they cost only £10 for a four-month supply.
‘They’ve worked a treat because as well as eating all his meals, Ted now has a healthy coat and is ridiculously energetic. Meanwhile, I’m not out of pocket.’
The biggest challenge now, Chloe acknowledges, is making sure that her two children – India, aged 19 months, and baby Archie – don’t feed Ted their own gluten-containing foods.
Chester wolfs his ‘holistic’ kale puree
She may be a vegetarian herself, but Caroline Wilkinson is still prepared to feed her two basset hounds meat – as long as it’s raw.
The dog trainer and animal behaviourist keeps nine-year-old Ezri and Chester, five, on a completely raw food diet to combat various allergies and infections diagnosed by a ‘holistic’ vet who specialises in alternative animal treatments.
The dogs are treated to a cordon bleu menu of raw duck or venison, and wolf down portions of pulverised raw vegetables such as broccoli, kale and carrots, sprinkled with almonds, coconut oil or flaxseed oil. And their biggest treat is a bowl of raw steak on their birthdays.
Caroline, 38, who lives near Bristol with her technology consultant partner Jonathon, 39, explains: ‘Basset hounds are prone to yeast infections because of their folds of skin and long, closed ears. And Ezri had recurring ear infections when she was a pup.
Caroline Wilkinson keeps Basset Hounds Ezri, nine (left), and Chester, five (right), on a completely raw food diet to combat various allergies and infections diagnosed by a ‘holistic’ vet who specialises in alternative animal treatments
‘With encouragement from our vet, who suspected her standard dry food, called kibble, was causing the problems, I switched her to a raw food diet when she was six months old.
‘She hasn’t had an ear infection since, she is full of beans despite being nearly ten, and has a lovely, shiny coat.
‘Ezri no longer eats chicken or turkey since a holistic vet pinpointed the proteins they contain as the cause of itchiness she was suffering on her coat. People assume it must be expensive to feed the pair of them fresh, raw food, as opposed to bulk-buying kibble, but in fact it adds only a few pounds to the weekly food shopping bill.’
Poorly pup Luna’s soya-free lifestyle
WHEN golden retriever puppy Luna fell ill, the problem was an allergy to soya – something that is usually more common in people.
Owner Stacey McCall, 32, from Cheshire, says that Luna developed an upset tummy and terrible lethargy after eating the commercial dog food she was reared on by her breeder.
But it was only after she was put on an allergy-friendly dog food – which, ironically, contained soya as the main ingredient – that Luna became so poorly that she could barely drink water.
Stacey, who has two daughters aged seven and nine, did some research and has kept her pet off soya products ever since.
Stacey McCall put her golden retriever puppy Luna (pictured) on a soy-free diet after developing an allergy to soya
‘For the past four months we’ve been feeding her soya-free food in dry biscuit form from a specialist pet food brand, including turkey with brown rice, and she’s like a different puppy,’ Stacey says.
‘It costs about £50 for a month’s supply, which is £10 more than we spent on her old food.’
The family has to be especially vigilant when other dog walkers offer Luna shop-bought treats, so the lucky dog gets homemade ones instead. ‘Most shop-bought treats contain soya or soya oil, so we have to decline and give her cooked chicken at home as a treat,’ Stacey explains.
‘Hypoallergenic’ meals for veggie Max
Poor Max often chances his luck at the Sunday lunch table, begging for a morsel of roast beef. But sadly for the cockerpoo, he has been forced to become a strict vegetarian – and is fed a hypoallergenic diet specially delivered to his home.
The move became necessary after a vet discovered that Max is allergic to meat and fish.
Owner Gareth Devaney, 39, a cyber security analyst from Boston, Lincolnshire, says: ‘It’s difficult not to feel sorry for him.
‘But after we got him from a breeder and kept him on a normal diet, he kept being sick.
Cockerpoo pooch Max was forced to become a strict vegetarian after his owner Gareth Devaney, 39, (pictured) discovered he was allergic to meat and fish
‘He scratched his skin, developed sensitive patches around his ears and didn’t like to be touched, so we took him to the vet.
‘We now have a specially formulated, hypoallergenic vegetarian dog food delivered to our house. It was recommended by the vet, costs £33 and lasts up to six weeks. Max’s coat has improved and he’s now a very cuddly dog who adores playing with our little boys and loves to be fussed over.’
Supermarket doggy treats are forbidden as most contain meat products. Even apparently meat-free chews, which remove plaque from dogs’ teeth, make him ill.
That means Gareth or his wife Joanne, 34, along with their sons Ethan, nine, and Lucas, seven, must brush Max’s teeth themselves to keep his breath fresh.