Quinoa Dog Food is Now a Thing

Feras Antoon
5 min readNov 15, 2017

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We may now label quinoa as the most in demand food — even for pets. All-meat chomps for our furry friends may have become a thing of the past. Meat-loving brands are now selling dog foods mixed with different plants and healthy vegetables. Apparently, plant-based ingredients may benefit your pooch. So, prominent brands are adding more leafy ingredients to the list, besides high-protein sources like soybean and corn-gluten.

Blue Buffalo Co. Ltd. Is now offering a Chicken & Quinoa Ancient Grains recipe, and Nestle Purina Petcare Co.’s Beneful is now “accented with blueberries, pumpkin & spinach.” Furthermore, the Honest Kitchen Inc., which has been selling its Chicken & Quinoa recipe since 2006, has expanded its selection, and now offers Beef & Chickpea, Duck & Sweet Potato, and Fish & Coconut.

Anna-Kate Shoveller, an assistant professor of animal biosciences at the University of Guelph, in Canada, says dogs are actually omnivores. Domesticated pups aren’t wolves after all. “They do quite well on a vegetable-based or a lower-protein diet,” she said.

Shoveller has been researching about nutrition in animals. She has been conducting experiments about this controversial topic about what kinds of food are better for dogs. The gist of the controversy says: despite the fleeting documentaries and marketing trends, Shoveller says, dogs must not be fed like a beast.

For years, popular dog food brands have been marketing that real-meat is what’s best for canines. Such as, the newcomer Blue Buffalo, features a wolf portrait in each of their bags; and Beneful, brags of “real” chicken, beef and salmon as “the #1 ingredient.”

These two brands sold billions of dog food last year, making them the 2nd and 3rd top dog food sellers following Pedigree, Mars Inc.’s, which was the top-selling dog food in the US in 2016.

Blue Buffalo admitted in a 2012 lawsuit that their ingredients weren’t always as marketed. Despite that, the company conquered 7.5 percent of the U.S. dog food market last year, making it the fifth-largest seller in the country.

For decades, pet owners were told that meat is the best food for their dogs. Now, presumptions about vegetables begin to arise. However, just like meat-based chows, which get skepticism attacks, new plant-based food faces a hoard of skeptics, too.

“If soy is bad, why is pea good?” said Ryan Yamka, an animal nutritionist certified by the American College of Animal Sciences, as well as founder and independent consultant with Luna Science and Nutrition. “It all comes down to marketing,” he said.

puppies and food

Choosing the right food

So when choosing the right food for our furry friends, how should we do it? Experts say, pet parents should look for the “Complete and Balanced” nutritional adequacy statement on the package. But is it enough? Perhaps. Since the statement is based on the dog or cat food nutrient profiles set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Those few words may be your guarantee that the food you’re buying is nutritionally balanced for your pet.

“Pets don’t need ingredients, they need nutrients,” said Mary Emma Young, the communications director at the Pet Food Institute. Though AAFCO isn’t a reliable enforcement on its own, pet food sellers comply with its profiles, no matter what ingredients are in them. Besides the importance of nutrients in your pup’s chow, pet food must be digestible. Your pets must like it so they will eat it.

There a hefty amount of people who are questioning the safety of pet food in the market, since the massive 2007 pet food recall. The recall caused the poisoning of thousands of pets. Due to this, the pet food industry assures they follow the guidelines set by Aafco. Such as, Nestle Purina has more than 500 scientists on staff, including food scientists, nutritionists and veterinarians.

Yamka links the massive recall to the obsession for pet food ingredients, saying Chinese suppliers added contaminants to wheat gluten and rice protein to boost protein levels.

“Somehow soy and corn got rolled in,” he said, and companies began advertising “absence claims” to bring in concerned customers. “It made it easy to make wheat and grains the boogeyman.”

In a study conducted by Shoveller, she and her co-researchers compared the palatability and digestibility of animal-based and vegetable-based diets. The results “suggest that dogs do not have an innate preference for animal or vegetable ingredient-based diets.”

They examined the tools of eight adult beagles to determine how much of the foods’ mineral content had been digested. “All dogs had great stools on both diets,” she said.

Shoveller added, “If there is a vegetable-based formula that meets the Aafco targets, it would be entirely safe to feed it to your dog.”

“The reality is that the dogs and cats don’t get to push the grocery carts and pay for the food,” said Daniel Smith, vice president of research and development at Nestle Purina Petcare Ptc. “We have to be sensitive to what the owners choices are and deliver what the dog or cat enjoys.”

dog face

Pet Food Choice Can Save the World?

Sustainability and carbon footprint; these are two major factors why consumers choose to veggie shift. However, it’s not that simple in the pet food world.

Usually, and most likely, meat parts that land in the pet kibbles are the animal parts that Americans don’t want to eat. So, instead on landing on landmills, these meat parts become your pet meals.

“We’re not competing with the human side,” Smith said. “We’re taking away a stream that’s going to go to waste.”

With plants, however, unwanted plant portions are not part of the equation. There is no such thing as veggie by products. Meaning, plant-based food may be less sustainable than meat. Non-GMO-certified quinoa grown by micro-farmers in Bolivia is “the same quinoa that would be grown for human food,” said founder Lucy Postins.

“If we can’t get to the complementary side, it gets competitive,” he said. “Is the consumer willing to pay the amount that it would cost to get that ingredient?”

The same question must be the reason why why a four-pound box of Honest Kitchen’s dehydrated Chicken & Quinoa blend, which with water added makes 16 pounds, costs $43.99. While a 17-pound bag of Pedigree costs $16.09.

With all these factors to weigh out when choosing between veggie and meat pet chows, how can a concerned pet parent choose? We should probably choose something sustainable, healthy and fairly priced. Does the quinoa-based pet food has it all? Clearly not. But it’s all just a matter of choice.

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