How would you feel if you had to eat the same food at every meal each day? Not the same type of food. The same exact food in the same dish, day in and day out. You’d most likely turn your nose up at the idea. While we’re lucky to have options, from a simple BLT to a rich and sultry lamb vindaloo, our pets don’t have the same range of choices when it comes to their meal time.
It’s a challenge that caught the attention of Nicole Marchand, an entrepreneur with over a decade of experience running an investor relations firm on Bay Street. As her maltese poodle Charlotte got older, Marchand began noticing that her dog was eating less and less each meal. Marchand decided to make home-cooked dog meals from recipes she found searching on the internet. Marchand said she quickly found that Charlotte was eating more and regaining some of her youthful vigour.
“I'm a big cook, and I thought I should just start cooking for her. I found a recipe that was beef, rice, and carrots and she absolutely loved it. I thought I was the best dog parent in the world—and then I mentioned it to my vet who gave me a really stern lecture about canine nutrition,” she recalled.
Like all animals, dogs have unique nutritional needs based on size and age. Marchand’s veterinarian told her they saw dog parents bringing in dogs who suffered from nutrient deficiencies due to poorly planned home-cooked meals.
“I started looking for nutritionally complete recipes that I could make my dog, and they were very complicated and included ingredients that aren't common at a grocery store. I also discovered that 95% of the recipes found online for dogs lack essential nutrients. That’s when the light bulb went off, and I saw the need in the market to empower dog parents to be able to cook for their dogs at home,” Marchand said.
Our relationships with pets—and dogs in particular—continue to evolve. Even more so now with the increasing number of homes with pets. There are currently more households with pets than children in the U.S. alone. Marchand said this global trend is changing how we treat animals, including everything from what meals they’re served to throwing birthday parties for their dogs.
“Almost anything people traditionally do for their kids, they are now doing for their dogs. That’s what led me to start Dog Child,” she noted.
Dog Child has developed homemade recipes and meal mixes for nutritionally-minded dog parents. The startup offers dog owners a combination of recipes and mixes developed with veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure they are nutritionally complete. The recipes are available online for dog parents looking to discover new meal options that meet the unique needs of their dogs.
For dog parents looking for more than recipes, Dog Child offers meal mixes and a nutrient mix product. The nutrient mix can be added to any Dog Child or other online recipe and has all the nutrients a dog needs to thrive. The meal mixes are an almost complete meal pack with everything a dog needs to be healthy.
“All the dog parent does is buy their own protein—ground beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, whatever you want—and then add in a scoop of our meal mix with water and oil, and then they have fresh food for their dog,” Marchand said.
Marchand joined the Accelerator Centre’s AC:Studio program last year to help drive awareness of Dog Child and its products. She said AC mentors like Rob Farnham have helped them reach new and expanded audiences. Dog Child has seen massive uptake on their videos, including an Instagram Reel that racked up over 1.2 million views.
“We've been able to skyrocket our organic traffic. The number of people who now go to our website every day just to look at a recipe or to read one of our blogs has grown exponentially. For social media, we now have 20,000 followers on Instagram and 13,000 on TikTok. That’s all thanks to the mentorship from the AC,” she said.
While their reach has increased, Marchand and the team have been working with AC mentors to look at how they sell their products. One challenge is changing how dog parents think about dog food purchases. Traditional dog kibble is sold in large bags, which doesn’t require the dog owner to think about purchasing other than when the bag is empty.
“The dog parent is feeding kibble to their dog every day. There's this predictability, and the dog parent keeps buying again and again. The dog parents who we target are very adventurous. They're not necessarily buying and feeding our products every day. It’s a challenge we’re working on by trying different product offerings,” Marchand noted.
The benefits for dogs and dog parents are there. According to a recent report from the Humane Society of the United States, cancer rates in dogs are increasing—and happening at earlier ages. Marchand said reducing the amounts of processed food we feed our pets can help reduce this trend.
“Many studies are pointing that back to the way we feed our pets. There was another study that looked at the world's oldest dogs. These are dogs living between 20 and 30 years old, and the one common link is that they were eating fresh whole foods. We should be looking down at our dog's food and wondering why we feed them that. When it comes to dog health, the best preventative measure you can take is feeding your dog fresh whole foods.”