For Dubai-based expats Robert Kelly and Katherine Cebrowski, this was their story too. The couple were thrilled to adopt their first English bulldog, Maximus, a few years ago, but soon found themselves spending 'mad money' on vet exams, antibiotics and commercial dog foods - all in desperate bids to find out why their pooch was constantly ill. As big believers in fitness themselves - Robert is former COO of Kcal, while Katherine used to be a yoga teacher - they were just as keen to ensure that their dog enjoy the best health too.
After much trial and error, the duo narrowed it down to one thing: poor nutrition. "Max was eating what was perceived to be the best pet food in the market at the time: a mix of 'premium' kibble and wet food - both heavily processed," says Katherine. She and Robert tried "everything in the market", but the products only seemed to suppress the symptoms of underlying issues - they didn't resolve them.
That's when they decided to switch Max over to a raw food diet. The results were both incredible and immediate, and their little guy became a happy dog again. When they witnessed the same transformation in the second English bulldog they adopted, Robert and Katherine realised this was their 'Eureka!' moment. After more than four years of studying raw nutrition - during which time they witnessed the same transformations in several other pet families they'd recommended the diet to - they decided to open Furchild, the UAE's first - and only - 100% raw pet food company.
They got the idea while formulating their own recipes at home, due to the unavailability of quality raw pet food in the country. "It was like a part-time job," laughs Katherine. "Max weighed around 30kg - so, that's quite a lot of meals. And when we adopted our second bulldog, Simon, it doubled the amount of food we were making. From sourcing the ingredients, and grinding the meat and vegetables, to mixing them all together manually, and cleaning the entire area, our little domestic kitchen was functioning like a mini commercial kitchen once a week. It was exhausting."
Despite the time-intensive nature of the work involved - and the fact that Katherine is vegetarian herself ("I'm a vegetarian butcher!") - the duo remained heavily invested in doing it for the sake of their dogs' welfare. "It's not a matter of simply throwing in some meat and veg - it's an actual science to learn how to balance a meal just right. But the results are worth it."
Tackling the controversy
In 1993, when Dr Ian Billinghurst published his book, Give Your Dog a Bone, advocating a raw diet, the book was an instant hit. He was convinced that evolutionary nutrition was the only way to truly sustain health, and that dogs and cats should have access to a diet of raw meat, just as their ancestors did in the wild.
"Nothing in their fundamental makeup has changed since these animals were domesticated," says Robert. Katherine adds: "Their phenotypes have evolved, in that all dogs don't look like wolves anymore. But their genotype [that is, their basic genetic constitution] - what foods are appropriate for them, how they digest them etc - hasn't." Pet food, she argues, needs to be "species-appropriate". Since dogs and cats are essentially carnivores, constantly feeding them kibble is the equivalent of asking humans to subsist on dry cereal and water.
The benefits of raw pet food have not gone unnoticed by the international pet-owning community. According to market research company GfK, sales of raw freeze-dried pet food in the US rose 64 per cent, and raw frozen pet food sales increased by 32 per cent, between 2014 and 2015. But although the diet has really caught on in recent years, it is not without controversy. Its main critics often warn of the risk of bacterial contamination and that such a meal plan would be unbalanced in the long run.
Neither of these are a concern for Furchild. "All of our food is stored in a human-grade facility with human-grade ingredients," says Robert, who has, in the past, even demonstrated the safety of the meat by tasting it himself! "It needed a bit of salt, but otherwise it was perfectly fine," he jokes. As far as nutritional balance is concerned, the products meet and exceed the nutritional requirements for pets, as dictated by the NRC (National Research Council), FEDIAF (European Union) and AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).
If anything, the results certainly speak for themselves. Since Furchild began, the entrepreneurs have received scores of testimonials from ecstatic pet owners, whose dogs and cats have "finally begun eating again" and who no longer suffer from a host of skin and digestive ailments. The feedback is the same across the board: shinier coats, healthier gums, leaner muscles, more energy and stamina, reduced vet visits.
The idea is to feed our pets so they thrive, not merely survive, says Katherine. "Look at it as preventative health care - as opposed to trying to fix a problem once it's too late."
Benefits of going raw
. Stronger immune system
. Glossier and less odorous coat
. Whiter, stronger teeth
. Improved digestion
. Allergy relief
. Weight loss
Furchild is currently offering a special introductory offer as well as an introductory booklet to educate anyone looking to help their pets make the transition. Visit www.furchildpets.com for more info.
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