Penny, a 3-year-old black lab, beagle and French bulldog mix has a set policy when it comes to eating standard-issue pet food: No can do.
“She’s picky and gets bored with her food," says Penny’s owner, Karla Modolo, of Oceanside. Respite for Penny and other canine foodies comes in the form of fresh-cooked dog food services that deliver straight to Long Island doorsteps. Now Penny dines on meals like Tail Waggin’ Turkey (ground meat with brown rice, carrots, apples and pumpkin blended with nutrients) prepped in a professional kitchen to the tune of about $95 a month.
Modolo, 46, a senior officer for the consulate general of Monaco in Manhattan, is among a growing number of dog and cat parents getting in on the fresh-cooked food delivery trend. They say it’s just as important for their pets to eat healthy, natural and unprocessed food as it is for people to cope with such problems as digestive issues and obesity.
Mollie Cohen, 35, of Amagansett, and her husband, Andrew, 36, used to order ingredient-and-recipe meal kits for themselves from a food service when they first decided to cook more and eat healthier instead of relying on takeout. The Cohens, who own a furniture business in Brooklyn, have since kept up with the cooking part — but they now go to the grocery store and farm stands for ingredients. Only one family member has fresh food prepared and delivered: Their dog, Ca$h. The 14-year-old Tibetan terrier loves his chicken, beef, lamb and turkey meals. "He is really food-focused," Cohen says.
HOW PET FOOD GOT FRESH
Pet food companies long have had an appetite for following human eating trends, experts say. Think Gravy Train created for dogs in the 1950s when gravy was popular for human meals, and the creation of Fancy Cat for felines in the 1980s, when the gourmet human food craze was heating up. The Manhattan-based Nielsen information, data and measurement company that tracks the multibillion-dollar pet food business, found the sales of fresh pet food in grocery and pet stores jumped 70 percent, to more than $546 million between 2015 and 2018.
Companies that now deliver fresh-cooked meals to dogs, cats or both include Pet Plate, Spot & Tango, Nom Nom Now, The Farmer’s Dog, Grocery Pup, Just Food For Dogs, Raised Right and Smalls, with these fresh meals being the most popular for dogs. Meals are commonly tailored for each dog’s profile. Pet Plate, for example, offers meats mixed with brown rice, butternut squash, sweet potato and vitamins that are blended into each meal. Once cooked, the food is flash-frozen and deposited into pre-portioned plastic cups that are microwavable, recyclable and can be stored in the freezer. Pet Plate CEO Gertrude Allen, formerly of Greenlawn, says 60,000 meals have been delivered to Long Island dogs, and that customers usually spend between $160 and $175 a month on their food subscriptions.
“It’s a trend — the humanization of dogs — people take their dog for a walk and put a coat on them, and I saw someone pushing their dog in a stroller,” says Allen.
SPLURGING FOR FIDO
"I think it's worth the money," Patricia Schneider, 67, of Ronkonkoma, says. The retired executive assistant for the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council Inc. says she's personally cooked treats like cheese and eggs for her 11-year-old yorkipoo, Libby, but about a year ago she began having fresh-cooked turkey and beef meals delivered for about $90 a month.
"It's a relief to me that Libby loves it," she says. "Plus, her digestive issues are no longer an issue."
Some veterinarians have questioned whether essential nutrients are being provided in these meals as they are in traditional processed dog and cat foods, and say the effect of the fresh food meals on dogs and cats hasn’t been tested over time.
“Pet owners should always be wary of food safety,” says Dr. Gary Weitzman, a San Diego-based veterinarian and author of the new book, “Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness" (National Geographic, $19.99 paperback)--with whatever food they're offering. Bacterial or nutrient contamination has been rare for any pet food but is happening with "some frequency" lately, Weitzman says, although he's less concerned about it in the new fresh meals because they're prepared in "much smaller batches."
Schneider says she would do whatever it takes to make her dogs happy and healthy because they're like family and give her love and affection. Her other dogs are an 8-year-old shihtzu named, Jackie, and an 11-month-old shihtzu, Francie.
Francie — an up and coming canine foodie — is being weaned on some of Libby's fresh cooked food mixed with Francie's kibble, and Jackie, "a small eater," is fed some of Libby's food as well.
Schneider adds, "I would hope other people treat their pets like humans."