Verve from The Honest Kitchen
24 Jan 2009
Back in October I ran across several articles, podcasts, and videos that all happened to be talking about how terrible conventional dog food is. Everything from lax and deceptive regulations on labeling, to what is actually getting into the food, to even the fact that the product, as advertised, is not a good option for dogs. Now of course no one is coming out and saying “product X by brand Y is made out of plastic bags,” so you always come away from these reports a little more paranoid but just as clueless as when you started. If they really want to help consumers make a decision and improve quality of life for dogs, they really should just be saying “here are the facts we have on these products, so as best we can tell avoid these and use these.” Even if they can’t say a single product is 100% reliable and a perfectly balanced diet, at least it would help polarize the endless options when you are standing in the middle the pet superstore.
So at the end of the day when you are actually filling your dog’s bowl, it can at best be with a food that someone you trust has said good things about, that a website as had some praise for (though mostly with no comparison to any other products), or that comes from a company you just have a good feeling about.
After all the googling I could stand, the two things that floated to the top for me where “kibble is hard to trust” and “raw is good”. Even the premium kibble that I had been using from Science Diet, in my mind, seemed “susceptible” to the inclusion of animal renderings and other strange byproducts that, while probably perfectly fine, didn’t do much to help the image of kibble in my eyes. Cow brain and the tendons of a goat may be organic and full or protein, but I didn’t run across a single bit of evidence that said “the major problem with dog foods of late is the lack of grey matter.” If it’s in there and they’re not advertising it on the bag next to oats and carrots, there’s probably a reason.
As far as raw goes, like most people I had the initial “well that makes sense” kind of reaction – dogs are animals, they should eat like the other animals. Then you start to think, “well, they’re domesticated so they probably have different needs, like humans” or, “maybe all the other animals would live longer and be better off if they ate kibble.” As far as I can tell there’s enough evidence for and against raw diets that it really just comes down to a personal decision. I’m sure there are dogs that ate kibble everyday for 18 years that were just as healthy as ones that were only fed raw squirrel and peanuts.
That being said, many many times, even in having a discussion with my dog’s very own vet, the biggest risk with a raw food diet wasn’t the food itself, it was simply not meeting the dog’s basic nutritional needs. It certainly would be a problem if you fed your dog a diet for 15 years that didn’t include some vital mineral, but it seems to me that it’s very easy to determine what a dog needs and how to provide that on a daily basis. Or I should say, it’s at least as easy as determining what’s going into your dog when you feed them the same kibble year after year. The dog food bags list a meager number of nutrients, so I would have to believe the vets that are saying, “don’t go raw because you’ll probably miss the vitamin K” have the inside scoop that all the dog foods out there are overflowing with vitamin K, right?
Since there’s clearly no right answer, I ended up going essentially with my gut and took the commercial-raw food path. This is a pretty tight range of products from a few manufacturers (it’s important to remember the food is still coming from a food processing plant) that are more inline with organic and sustainable people food than premium dog food. In general they are, in fact, largely organic, a complete list of ingredients is available, and the companies are much more accessible. Commercial raw foods also, theoretically, eliminate the worry of a non-balanced diet.
The forerunner in my own comparative research was The Honest Kitchen, out of California. The biggest thing that I didn’t like about their product matrix was how many options there were. I would actually prefer if they said “here are five diets, they’re all great they just taste different so Fluffy doesn’t get bored.” Instead there are seven seemingly very different products. Some do have very specific purposes, like sensitive stomachs, dogs that can’t do grains, and puppies, which I have no problem with.
Things got a little fuzzier once you start actually comparing the products. Force is grain free for sensitive stomachs; Embark is grain free but for everyone! Verve is “an excellent option for those who want a more wholesome and less processed meal for their pets”… But that doesn’t really differentiate it from any of their other products, now does it? And it’s great that you can see exactly what’s in each of these products, but I really wish they said why one has zucchini and the others don’t. Is it replaced with something else? What is it good for in the first place? I’m not saying they don’t have very good reasons for having it in there or not, but I think most people reading between the lines on dog food websites are like me and want more information than they can handle.
Those were really the only problems I could find with THK. The advantages were many: 100% human grade ingredients, processed in a FDA human grade facility in the USA, very helpful customer service, and the format, if I can call it that, was more appealing than some other options. A few other raw food diets were based on wet products that needed to be refrigerated, purchased much more frequently, or cooked. THK food is dehydrated, comes in 10lb bags that last a while, and is prepared just by mixing with water.
My dog actually sits and waits for the oatmeal-like mixture while it absorbs the water for about 10 minutes. Not once in the two years she was on kibble did she ever get excited about eating it, to the point where I could put as much of in her dish as I wanted and she would never eat more than she needed. I very much doubt I could do that with THK food.
Here’s some of the math I’ve done, specifically regarding Verve. I got my last 10lb bag for $52 shipped. Those 10 pounds equate to 33.35 cups of dry food. That means each cup of dry food costs about $1.56. My dog is on a bit of a diet, and it’s the winter, so I feed her half a cup a day (two servings of 1/4 cup). At that amount I get about 66 days of food from a single 10lb bag, at a cost of 77 cents a day. Those numbers will change obviously when the diet ends and during the summer when she’s more active.
In terms of calories, Verve contains 428kcal/cup. The latest energy requirement guidelines for a dog on par with mine to sustain weight are 580 for an inactive dog and 790 for a very active dog. When my dog is not on a diet I’m usually doing some sort of treat training, so a cup of Verve will get pretty close to the low end for calories, but take care of almost all the other required nutrients (vitamins and minerals), and then relatively cheap home made treats, or good quality commercial treats will fill in the caloric gap.
I actually just found some good dietary guidelines for dogs, so I’m going to compare the numbers with Verve and the other THK recipes to see how they stack up. Regardless of those results, I do feel confident in my decision to switch, and will stick with the commercial-raw diet for the time being. I would be tempted to go true-raw, but it’s tough just finding organic food for myself right now, so trying to manage proper nutrition for my dog, like the vet suggested, would be difficult without the help of packaged, dehydrated food like THK. I think it would be very easy to go true raw with conventional meats, veggies and grains, but organic by itself has a good deal of value to me.