Fresh Dog Food Delivered: Our Interview with Lyka Pet Food
With the rise of pet ownership, and with dogs moving from being just a pet to a full-fledged family member, people are wanting to give their dogs the best of the best, whether it’s their accessories, grooming tools, or their food.
With the rise in dogs experiencing preventable health conditions, the focus for many dog owners has shifted to setting their dog up for success in their health, behaviour, and wellbeing through their diet. From this philosophy, Lyka Pet Food was born. Founded by Anna Podolsky, Lyka Pet Food uses your dog’s breed, size, activity levels and health conditions to customise their meal plan, delivering freshly cooked, human-grade meals straight your door.
I sat down with Anna to discuss the pet food industry, the ingredients found in your dog’s food, and how fresh, homemade-style meals can make a difference to your pet.
Q: Tell us about Lyka and how you started the business.
The inspiration for Lyka Pet Food came from my own dog Lyka. She’s 11 years old, and my best friend. Starting from when she was only 4 or 5 years old, she was battling health problems, with itchy skin so severe she developed bald patches and scarring from how intensely she was scratching herself. The last straw came when the vet told me she would have to get some teeth pulled out because of how bad her dental decay had gotten. On paper, I was doing everything right: taking her to the vet frequently, exercising her three times a day, and feeding her premium commercial pet food, so I started to do some research to see what I could do to help.
I travelled frequently for work, taking Lyka with me, and having to translate pet food labels to English to make sure I was giving her the right foods made me realise what was actually going into the meals I was feeding her. I began to home cook her meals and noticed the difference in her health within weeks. Even my friends were commenting on how good her coat looked, and how much more energetic she was!
I always knew I wanted to start my own business, so this is when the inspiration to bring this transformation to as many dogs as I could struck.
Q: What’s the difference between human and pet grade food?
The main difference here is with ingredient quality. Human grade ingredients are fit for human consumption, with a set quality bar on the food itself, as well as how it’s processed. The human-grade standards that we follow at Lyka are the same as for the food you would buy for yourself at the supermarket, or at restaurants.
Animal feed grade food is not safe for human consumption, and it’s defined quite broadly so there’s a big variety of the type and quality of ingredients that make it in. Even dying and diseased animals can be classified as pet grade. I only wanted to give my Lyka the best, so I knew that human grade was the way to go. We take this really seriously at Lyka, our team tries our food and we have a tasting panel when we’re developing new recipes. You can normally see our kitchen manager Katie tasting a bit of our food throughout the week when we’re cooking up food to go to our customers, too.
Q: We all want to give our dogs the best, so human-grade food is a great way to take that to the next level. If I wouldn’t eat it, why would I give it to my dog?
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there about grain-free dog food. Should dog owners opt for grain-free food, and what are the myths?
There is so much information out there, and lots of misinformation too. The grain-free movement started a few years ago when people began to realise that dogs don’t need grains, and that they’re just cheap fillers in dog food, so why were we still using them? Commercial food brands began to take the grains out of their food so that they could market them as grain-free, which isn’t actually as simple as it sounds. In order for kibble to get its biscuit-like consistency, it needs to have around 50% carbohydrates or starch, so something else has to replace those grains. Manufacturers starting to add legumes like chickpeas or lentils, or other starchy ingredients like potatoes, in really high quantities to maintain the texture of the kibble.
In 2018, the FDA released a study linking grain-free diets to DCM, or dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a really serious condition, and a lot of dogs were unfortunately dying from this. This is where the misinformation started: people thought that if they just added the grains back into the food, it would remove the DCM link. This is an oversimplification of what is a really complex issue: the problem isn’t that grains are missing; it’s that they’re being replaced with legumes. Studies indicate that legumes deplete taurine in dogs, which is an amino acid linked to heart health, so it’s thought that adding in lots of legumes makes dogs more susceptible to DCM.
The real solution here is to do a grain-free diet the right way: we know that grains are not nutritionally beneficial to dogs, and lead to inflammation in their bodies. Instead of substituting with legumes, we want to use high-quality, healthy ingredients, like more meat, vegetables and superfoods. This is something we focus on here at Lyka; there are no grains or legumes in any of our meals. It’s a complex issue with more information still emerging, so we’re keeping a close eye on it as it develops.
Q: That’s really interesting, since legumes are marketed as such a healthy food, so I wasn’t expecting to hear that they can cause problems.
It’s all about quantity and proportions; everything in moderation, right? The issue is when companies are making their food using so much legume content, even more than 50% of some dry dog food is legumes, so balance is key.
Q: Tell us about some of the main ingredients that go into Lyka meals.
The biggest ingredient category by far is meat, we use both muscle meat and organs in our meals. Organ meat is really underrated, even for humans, it’s packed with vitamins and minerals and is super lean. We opt for ethically sourced options, which means we only use free-range chicken and eggs, and our lamb and beef is grass-fed. Our next biggest category is fish: we use sardines and mackerel, they’re both high in Omega-3s, another thing we’re really focused on is making sure our ratio of Omega-3: Omega-6s is high, as Omega-6s can be inflammatory, while Omega-3s are great anti-inflammatories. Vegetables are the next category, it’s mostly things that you’ll find in your own fridge at home like broccoli and cauliflower, with some more exotic veggies like purple sweet potato too. Last, we’ve got superfoods, including ginger, blueberries and shiitake mushroom powder, which all have lots of antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory.
Q: Do you cater for allergies and intolerances?
We do! We have a variety of recipes, and we use a dog’s profile to determine which recipes are best for them. We make sure not to give a dog anything they’re allergic to, and we also try to address the root cause of intolerances.
The gut microbiome is a big focus for us, which is why we introduced our Sensitive Chicken recipe. When an intolerance presents itself, it’s mostly driven by another underlying issue that the dog is experiencing. There is an increasing link between leaky gut syndrome and intolerances. Leaky gut syndrome occurs when there’s an imbalance in gut bacteria which can cause food particles to leak into the bloodstream and it’s thought to set off an immune response. When your dog’s body is experiencing these bad symptoms of leaky gut, it might decide that the chicken it’s getting every day is what causes the symptoms instead of their illness, so they’ll develop an intolerance to chicken. If you keep changing up their food, it’s just a band-aid solution for this, and their body will just keep developing an intolerance to whatever you’re giving them. That’s why you see some really exotic foods out there, like boar or crocodile.
At Lyka, we aim to address the root issue of the gut microbiome, so that you can reintroduce those foods to your dog without the health problems.
Q: This makes so much sense, I used to feed Molly fish kibble because she had flaky skin, but when I tried chicken, she started getting sores on her paws, so I steered clear of anything chicken from then on. I go to a naturopath for my own stomach issues, and they’ve said the same thing as yourself: that I have to address the underlying cause of these issues to make sure I can reintroduce foods without the symptoms.
What are some benefits or changes you can expect to see when changing to a homemade-style food?
We hear lots of feedback and stories about dog’s health improving with Lyka, and one of my favourite parts of running this business is seeing the transformations of health of so many dogs. Typically, within the first few days people notice that their dogs have more energy, and they’re usually more excited for mealtimes especially if they’ve been eating kibble since fresh food tastes so much better, and you might also see that their fur is becoming softer and shinier. After a few weeks, we normally see improved digestion: smaller, less stinky poos and little to no gassiness. It’s important to note that with any change of diet for your dog, the transition period can involve a bit of an upset tummy: maybe some softer stools, diarrhoea or a bit of gas, but it’s key that you stick it out here.
In a few months, most people will see an overall improvement in their dog’s health. There was an interesting study done in the Nordics, which showed that dogs who ate a homemade diet lived on average 3 years longer than those who ate commercial foods.
Q: When we humans eat a more natural, unprocessed diet, we notice similar changes to these too.
Definitely, our vet uses the comparison of us going to the supermarket and picking up cereal, protein powder and a multivitamin, and eating only that every day. Imagine how you’d feel after a lifetime of eating that diet! Dogs notice the difference when they eat healthy food too.
Q: Who develops your meal plans?
I cofounded Lyka with Dr Matthew Muir, our in-house vet who’s been with us since the start of our journey. He’s an integrative vet at All Natural Vet Care here in Sydney, and he’s been working with natural feeding for over a decade now, so he’s really experienced and passionate about what he does. He’s also done so research about how a dog’s microbiome relates to their nutrition. We work with some other global experts too when we develop our recipes.
Q: There’s so much thinking and science that goes into designing these recipes. It’s so different from just going to the supermarket and grabbing some mince and frozen vegetables for your dog, even though that’s still probably better than commercial foods.
It’s definitely possible for people to make their dog’s fresh food at home, and it is something you can do yourself. The danger is making sure your dog gets the right balance of nutrition: we eat such a big variety of foods as humans that we get different nutrients every day, while dogs who eat the same thing every day can develop a serious long-term deficiency if their food is missing something. It’s really important to make sure their food is complete and balanced.
Q: It’s important to know about the dog you’re feeding, and on the Lyka website that’s a big part of the process of getting your dog’s food. Talk us through the process of finding out about your dog.
When your sign up to Lyka, the first step is to input your dog’s profile, which we use to determine the best plan and serving size for your dog. Serving size is very important; it’s key to making sure your dog stays a healthy weight, and is especially key for puppies (in particular large breed puppies) to get the right amount of nutrients and calories. Their profile also lets us recommend the right recipes for any health issues so that we can give every dog the right meals for them.
Q: If people want to find out more about Lyka, where should they go?
Head to our website, lyka.com.au. We’re a direct to consumer company, so you won’t find our food at retailers or stores. You can use the code MOLLY at checkout to score 20% off your first Lyka box!
After seeing the difference a change in diet has made in my own health journey, it’s clear to me that I can get these benefits for my dog too. With so much information and misinformation out there, it can be really hard to tell what’s actually the best way to go for your dog, so knowing that Lyka is a reliable source of nutritional knowledge, formulated and backed by vets, makes it easy to give your dog healthy food to help them thrive. After reading their testimonials and reviews, it’s a no-brainer for us!
If you want to give your dog all the benefits of fresh food, without the fuss of cooking it yourself, let Lyka do the hard work for you. They’ll come up with the best meal plan for your dog, package the food in easy-to-serve pouches, and deliver all your dog’s nutritional needs straight to your door. All that’s left for you to do is wash up their bowl!
Head to lyka.com.au to learn more about their story and ingredients, and use the code MOLLY to get a 20% discount on your first order.