MOOSE JAW, Sask. — A small Winnipeg company is gaining ground in the premium pet food market with its formulations based on whole superfoods, many of them sourced in western Canada.
The list of ingredients in Smack Pet Foods products is similar to what pet owners themselves might eat.
Free-range chicken from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, wild pink salmon and organic fruits and vegetables from British Columbia, and products such as mango and coconut from farther away are among the ingredients in several types of raw dehydrated foods that Michael Giller developed as he sought to create a better dog food.
He was 21 in 2007 when the family dog was diagnosed with, and died from, a fast-moving cancer. The Giller family had long been advocates of homeopathy and holistic nutrition for themselves.
“That was the catalyst,” Giller said. “We thought maybe we should be treating his health and his nutrition.”
He agrees that treating cancer with raw foods, for people or for pets, goes only so far, but says it’s better than the alternative.
Without any science or animal health background himself, Giller ventured into the pet food world via what he calls “an extremely well-researched hobby.”
The benefits to people of superfoods such as blueberries are well known.
“There’s not a lot of benefit (to pet food companies) to research and spend money on why carrots are great for dogs,” Giller said.
But they will eat them, along with blackberries, spinach, millet, cranberries, strawberries, cilantro, marjoram, hemp, thyme, peppermint, celery, eggshell powder, alfalfa and rosemary. Each ingredient was chosen for its specific health benefits.
The company, which began in Giller’s parents’ basement and now employs nine people, built relationships with suppliers and set about selling its products.
Smack, named for the expression “lip-smacking good,” is now found in about 230 stores and veterinary clinics, with names like Very Berry, Chunky Chicken and Caribbean-Salmon Fusion. Production has doubled twice in the last year.
But it isn’t cheap. Giller said about 13 kilograms of raw food goes into every 3.5 kg bag of dehydrated food. It is dense and nutrient-packed, he said, meaning dogs won’t have to eat as much of it. He suggests one cup for an average 22-kg dog.
It is fed dry or with added water, depending on the type.
“It is more expensive than kibble but we’re one-third the price of our competition,” he said. “It has to rely on extremely high quality ingredients to make a difference.”
He suggested spending more on quality food could result in fewer veterinary bills.
It can also be more convenient for pet owners who feed raw diets. Instead of packing frozen food they can take the dehydrated food and add water. A new product just about to hit the market will include alpaca meat.
He said alpaca is one of the healthiest red meats. He declined to say who would be supplying it and is protective of all his suppliers.
In Moose Jaw, local dog trainer and kennel owner Gary Overs was impressed by Smack and last fall convinced the Moose Jaw Police Service canine unit to try it with its two dogs.
Const. Chad Scheske said his charge, four-and-a-half-year-old PSD Loki, has been eating the food for eight months. He is stronger, more agile and performs better, he said, and digestive issues are non-existent.
The dog’s weight dropped from 82 pounds to 75 lb. of lean muscle, Scheske said.
“He is built like a high performance athlete,” he said. “He has no eye discharge and his energy levels very definitely increased. And he has a great coat.”
At a recent meeting of canine units in Moose Jaw, Giller was hoping to increase his business to police services across the country. One dog, for example, has a throat stricture, and a powder version of Smack mixed with water could make it easier for him to eat.
Working dogs are clearly a target market but even family pets, particularly those with allergies, might benefit from the food, Giller said.
Comments on the company’s website and Facebook page praise the food for reducing dogs’ bad breath and digestive issues. As a bonus, there is less waste.