I value transparency in the pet food industry and so I set out on a mission to find AS MANY Australian fresh food manufacturers that value transparency as I can.
Full disclosure, when I first approached Big Dog, it was acknowledged that I had not previously had a favourable opinion of the company and their products. It was an opinion that was developed a few years ago by industry rumours. However, when I approached Big Dog, I was genuinely excited to meet them. Why? Because they are the forefront of commercial raw food and I wanted to put these rumours to bed. To save you all the wondering, I did.
What was the point?
The whole purpose of visiting Big Dog’s manufacturing facility was to see what happens behind the scenes. When Pet Fooled was released, pet owners started questioning the standard of manufacturing facilities, and whilst being more aware is fantastic, it inadvertently lumped all the commercial brands together, which is not so fantastic.
Having previously owned and operated a raw dog food manufacturing business here in Australia just 2 years ago, I know that not everyone is bad, we certainly weren’t. Our facility was cleaner than most kitchens I have worked in, in the hospitality industry. Sure, there are certainly people that cut corners but that is in every industry. There are companies out there that take pride in what they do, and whilst generating income is what they set out to do, their passion emanates through the entire business.
The purpose of reaching out to these manufactures, is to help you as pet owners develop that trust that was lost. Show you that people ARE doing the right thing by our pets. And finally, show you that THEY VALUE TRANSPARENCY, JUST AS MUCH AS WE DO.
Who are Big Dog Pet Foods?
Big Dog started 18 years ago by Chris Essex, who has remained the owner to this very day. Big Dog products are sold both nation-wide and internationally.
Their facility is located in Lawnton, Qld and are regulated under Safe Foods Qld. They have a clear layout of process, which is something that Safe Foods definitely values and look for; The produce comes in, moves through refrigerators and freezers and gets processed (mix and minced) and packaged, then stored. Their facility is clean, tidy and their safety procedures are displayed all over the walls. The staff wear safety gear, are hygienic and honestly, enthusiastic to be there.
Unlike what most people think of manufacturing facilities, there are no buckets of animal waste sitting in the sun, nor is anyone scraping anything off the floor at the Big Dog facility.
Big Dog offer a range of products, but their most popular range is their raw commercial dog and cat food that comes in a variety of flavours. They offer single protein, smaller portioned packs for smaller animals and occasionally they do a limited-edition variety to suit the season. They also have freeze-dried bites and small frozen bites. They manufacture their own supplement and treat range as well.
Big Dog is definitely your bang for buck product. You can pick up their products in most pet stores, with Pet Stock being their big box retailer. I have seen their products as cheap as $20.00 for a 3kg box (variety pending) to as expensive as $27.00. The average being around $24.99. This works out to be around $8.33 per kg, which is pretty good considering you would pay $8.00 a kg for human grade beef mince alone from Coles or Woolworths.
My Hard Questions:
I am sure both Chris and Jean (the marketing manager) will both agree that I am not one to beat around the bush. My mother often describes me as “as rough as hessian undies” (Not a very nice visual) but somewhat true. I hijacked their initial presentation with my hard-hitting questions, all of which they answered with ease.
How do you go about sourcing your ingredients?
All their ingredients are sourced within Australia and where possible, sourced locally in Queensland. They have long standing relationships with some of their suppliers dating back since the company began 18 years ago. They have visited and inspected the facility, processes and quality of ingredients of every single approved supplier the company utilises.
What recall policy/ strategies do you have in place to ensure pet safety?
All their stock is traceable and they have implemented a mock recall process to ensure that they are constantly adhering to their safety procedures should a problem arise. Once a problem is identified, all managers communicate within 60 minutes and within 24 hours the pet parent with affected product will have an answer, or the company will have begun pulling affected stock.
Nose to Tail Philosophy – What is this?
This is something that I was particularly interested in hearing about. Five years ago, if I heard that a dog food company was using feathers or the feet of an animal, I would be mortified. As a DIY raw feeder and certified animal nutritionist, I actually TRY and source these ingredients. Why? Because they are SO nutrient dense. Again, it comes back to perception. When a company says they include beef, our brain automatically processes beef cuts just like Google images would do and I am sure for a few people, they imagine an eye fillet with a fresh branch of parsley on top going into their dog’s food. Reality check – Unless you pay $1000.00 a kg, highly unlikely you are receiving eye fillets in your dog’s food.
However, that being said, does it mean your pet food is just scrapes? I can’t speak for all manufactures, but for Big Dog, that is not the case. Quality ingredients are being used.
So, what does nose to tail actually mean?
Big Dog believe in utilising the whole animal. They do not hide this philosophy, they are proud of it, because they understand that the some of the best nutrition is from what nature would provide.
This Complete and Balanced Thing
There is A LOT of pressure for manufactures to abide by the ‘complete and balanced’ tagline that was originally created to regulate kibble. This tag line is one that you will hear most vets recite when they chat to you about why you should consider feeding your pet a prescription diet of dry food.
Years ago, when fresh food or raw food feeding was a relatively novel concept and at the point of a lot of contention, the BARF percentage formula created by Dr Ian Billinghurst was what manufacturers of raw food were following. As the pressure was continually placed on raw food manufactures, we started to see an increase in manufacturers employing food scientists and like roles to formulate their food to become ‘complete and balanced’.
So here is my beef (no pun intended) with Big Dog. Their product is complete and balanced ‘by nature’. What does this mean? It means that their product, whilst completely nutritionally adequate for dogs and cats, doesn’t have that AAFCO tagline.
Before you decide to boycott, let me explain a few things. I don’t feed my dogs or cat a ‘complete and balanced’ meal every single day. I take a common-sense approach, like my own diet and provide a range of fresh wholesome foods, commercial products included.
So why does it matter if Big Dog is complete and balanced? I believe that one of the biggest hurdles for pet owners is this tagline. Vets use this tagline to induce fear, not because they are evil people, but because their education lacks in the fresh food department. There have been studies (1) to show us that complete and balanced can be achieved using fresh foods. It isn’t a statement that only kibble companies get to claim. If raw manufacturers can make their food ‘complete and balanced’, then there is absolutely NO hurdle; it would make sense to feed your pet fresh food and not highly processed food.
Big Dog is arguably one of the biggest raw food manufacturers in Australia. Their price point, product quality and accessibility makes them the product that a lot of first time raw or fresh food feeders are exposed to. All of these AMAZING qualities make for an excellent staple product for vets to recommend, HOWEVER, again, that complete and balanced hurdle gets in the way. The great news is this, there are vets that are opened minded and have bettered their education and actually recommend Big Dog products, I’d just like to see this happen a lot more.
ALL THAT SAID, when I quizzed Chris on why they haven’t formulated their products to be ‘complete and balanced’ to the AFFCO/ NRC guidelines, his response was because they wanted to achieve it NATURALLY in the future without the use of synthetic vitamins and nutrients. Whilst he acknowledged that it can be done naturally, he didn’t want to compromise the price point for the very reasons I have just discussed. They are working towards it. This is something I totally respect and value.
The whole complete and balanced tagline, is just a tagline. The company has been successfully operating for 18 years and have transitioned a decent percentage of pet owners to a species appropriate diet.
Because their products aren’t completed and balanced, my recommendation is that you feed them in rotation. Rotate through the various varieties and even in conjunction with other brands to ensure you are receiving balance over time.
Would I feed Big Dog to my own dogs? Absolutely. I would have absolutely no issue rotating Big Dog products through my DIY feeding routines. The team at Big Dog value transparency and honesty. My time with them was filled with laughs, detailed conversations about the future of fresh food feeding and passion behind our pet’s health.
If you would like to know more about their products or company, I suggest you visit their Facebook page or their website https://bigdogpetfoods.com/
They value the relationship with their customers, so if you have a question, feel free to contact them directly.
** This review is my own opinion. I did not receive any compensation, free product or remuneration for this review at all. **