When we started Evermore in 2009, the “Gently Cooked” category was brand new. In fact, we’re pretty sure we even coined the term in our original tagline “thoughtfully sourced, gently cooked.” At the time we were a retail brand, and convincing store owners to take in our products was an uphill battle. There was a lot of confusion around the idea of a commercially available “home-cooked” diet amongst retailers who wholeheartedly supported fresh raw foods. Often, store owners would bring in Evermore envisioning it as a gateway to converting pet owners to raw feeding—as if our products couldn't stand on their own merits.
In the intervening years, the fresh marketplace has exploded, and it seems like every day we come across new companies selling cooked, frozen-fresh food. Raw feeding, while already popular a decade ago, has experienced a similar renaissance. Yet, even taken together, sales of fresh foods make up a small fraction of nationwide pet food sales. According to Pet Food Industry magazine, both categories combined only make up a minascule 4% portion of the US pet food industry, which hit $42 billion in 2020.
Food is a fundamental part of life. As such, it seems natural that we have a way of anchoring belief systems around diet. I’m often struck by how regularly people describe their diets as identifying traits. When selecting a restaurant with a group, someone usually chimes in “I’m keto/vegetarian/gluten-free”—framing these dietary preferences as personal attributes. Similarly, pet parents take the superiority of certain forms of feeding as an article of faith.
Each category comes attached with its attendant logic. Raw feeders view their dogs through an ancestral lens and believe that they should eat like their wolven forebears. Even a tiny maltese has a carnivore’s sharp teeth and short intestinal tract. Raw diets tend to be comprised of 90% meat and bone, with very few added fruits or vegetables. Raw feeders swear by the benefits of raw feeding: improved energy levels, healthier immune systems, shinier coats, and any number of other claims.
Proponents of cooking a more varied diet point to the coevolution of humans and dogs. We share similar gut flora, and the genes for pancreatic amylase production in dogs is 28 times more active than in wolves. Amylase is the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches. This trait was likely selected for over time, allowing dogs to take advantage of scavenging on scraps from early human settlements. In essence the ability to eat our food in its many forms is what led dogs to become dogs in the first place. (Taken to its logical extreme, processed food companies argue that since dogs can digest starches, then it’s alright if this makes up the majority of their diets. That would be the same as saying that since people can eat fast food, then it’s ok if that makes up the majority of our diets. Unfortunately for both of us, this is often the case, with disastrous health consequences.)
Gently cooked food companies tend to offer foods between 60-80% meat, with the
rest of the formulations being fruits, vegetables, and grains or other starches (not necessarily in that order). Fresh cooked feeders swear by the benefits of this food: improved energy levels, healthier immune systems, shinier coats, and any number of other claims.
Maybe you’re noticing a similarity between the health claims associated with raw and gently cooked foods. You’ve probably also seen examples of dogs thriving on each style of food. As is often the case, people tend to focus on the features that differentiate the two, rather than what they have in common. Each style of feeding features fresh, whole food ingredients that are minimally processed. For that reason, many pet health professionals lump these into the single category of “fresh.”
If you’re switching to fresh feeding from a highly processed food like kibble or canned, you may be a little confused about whether raw or cooked is better for your pup(s). We firmly believe that in a lot of cases, the answer is both. As they say, variety is the spice of life. Phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables bring a lot to the table (or should we say bowl), and cooking is considered to be the most effective way to make them more bioavailable. Your dog will best be able to reap the benefits if they are broken down into smaller pieces and made more digestible through the cooking process. Also, please disregard the often repeated myth that you can’t mix categories in the same feeding.
You may notice that a lot of raw and cooked brands still include a laundry list of supplements on their ingredient labels. This is an indication that the ingredients themselves are not providing enough nutrients on their own to fulfill your dog’s needs. Supplements are less bioavailable than natural forms, and in some cases can even be harmful. No matter what though, a fresh balanced food is more beneficial for your dog than a highly processed one. If budget is a big concern, you may be better off starting with raw food, as it is generally more cost effective.
That said, there are clear cut cases where cooked food may be the better option for your pup. Senior dogs often begin to develop more sensitive stomachs; since cooking begins the process of breaking down food, it can be easier for them to digest. Even dogs that were raw-fed earlier in life (like spokespup Connor) may begin to need something gentler and stop wanting or thriving on raw food. Cooked meat is more aromatic than raw meat and may be just the thing to help entice a picky dog. Immune-compromised dogs, such as those with cancer, also tend to do better with cooked foods. The increased ease of digestibility allows their bodies to dedicate more resources to fighting disease processes. Even some younger, healthy dogs just don’t seem to thrive on raw, or glean some benefits at the expense of some drawbacks. Our new spokes-pittie Pirate is an example of this.
Like many pitbulls, Pirate developed skin issues and sensitivities at a young age. After a lot of research, his mom Asha made the decision to switch him to a raw diet. Almost immediately Pie’s health began to improve—sores healed, fur grew back, and Pirate became the outward picture of health. However, not everything about raw feeding agreed with him. He developed terrible acid reflux, which was accompanied by vomiting spells. Along with the discomfort, he began to display signs of panic and anxiety. Asha’s vet recommended that Pirate resume a kibble-based diet. This was something she was (rightfully) not willing to do. Again, she spent months investigating and trying natural solutions and landed on Evermore. We’re thrilled to report that Pirate’s stomach has settled, and he is now happy, healthy, and thriving. You don’t have to take our word for it, check out this super cute video and follow Pie on Instagram @piratepitbull.
Do Your Research
No matter what you are looking into, whether it is dog food or climate change, there is information out there that will support just about any point of view. Whether or not it is grounded in fact is an entirely different discussion. In the case of feeding your dog fresh food, there’s really only one way to figure out what is best for your pup—try different options and see what works. There are so many choices out there. One way to narrow it down is to think about the values that you would like a company to embody, such as transparency and a commitment to animal welfare and go from there. At the end of the day, every dog (and human) is different and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for all. That said, in whatever form, fresh food always trumps processed food. We're proud to be pioneering members of this category, and are here to answer any questions you may have about Evermore or fresh food in general.