To get the inside scoop on fresh pet food meal plans, we asked the founder of Pet Plate to provide some tips.

By Tracey L. Kelley
February 17, 2021
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Yorkie licking lips next to bowl of food
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You're likely familiar with subscription box services that cater to treats or toys for your dog (how many do you have? We have so many!). Now, fresh dog food delivery services with personalized meal plans are not only hugely popular, but also possibly disrupting the pet food industry forever.

To provide some insight into how these services might benefit your favorite pooch (we'll talk about cat food another time!), Daily Paws talked with Renaldo Webb, former Shark Tank contestant and now founder and chief product officer of the fresh pet food meal service, Pet Plate.

As a dedicated pet parent (that's Webb below with Cooper, his adorable mini Bernedoodle!), he understands why choosing the right nutrition for your canine pal establishes health for life. Prior to founding Pet Plate, Webb worked as a consultant in the pet food industry. Seeing the ingredients used in traditional kibble and pet food sparked an interest in creating something different. He now works closely with his company's veterinary nutritionist to design meals and treats and conceive new real food products.

Young man holds fluffy copper-colored dog outside
Renaldo Webb, founder of PetPlate
| Credit: Courtesy of Anderson Group Public Relations

Webb says there are two primary advantages modern-day dog lovers appreciate about fresh pet food delivery services: convenience and simplification of nutrition. "At the end of the day, we all love our pets and want to do everything we can for them, but we're also very busy, with back-to-back Zoom meetings and phone calls every day. But just because I'm busy doesn't mean I don't want to put forth the effort to make sure Cooper's getting a balanced and nutritious diet." 

Choosing a fresh pet food often starts with the opportunity to personalize your pet's diet. You input her age, fitness and health needs, and special requirements, such as allergies, as outlined by your personal veterinarian. Services such as Pet Plate, The Farmer's Dog, Ollie, Tailored Pet Nutrition, Spot and Tango, Nom Nom, and Hungry Bark then use this information to customize a meal plan. Webb says it's essential to choose a service with a veterinary nutritionist on staff who influences how dog meal plans are designed. 

"We work very closely with our board-certified veterinary nutritionist, who also practices. Often when customers reach out to us with questions, we forward them directly to her to help us understand how to answer them, then document those answers for future use cases," Webb says. "I would say that if you don't see a pet food company with a vet on its homepage or that has a vet heavily involved in the design of its products, ask questions just to make sure you're getting something that's properly balanced and appropriate for your pet."

Three Things to Look for in a Fresh Pet Food Service

Webb offers these additional considerations for choosing the meal plan for your dog:

1. How is the company making the food?

If it claims "fresh", then it should be created in USDA-approved kitchens or FDA-approved facilities, just like people food.

2. Is the food truly human-grade?

Some pet food companies list human-grade ingredients, but the food itself doesn't fit this definition. Webb says this means a company might be using premium ingredients, but these products are made alongside others that aren't very premium, or their sanitation policies and other aspects are different than what's required by USDA or FDA guidelines. 

3. Does it meet specific caloric requirements?

At a base level, are personalized plans designed to meet specific caloric requirements? Webb says obesity is one of the leading causes of premature deaths for dogs and also the source of complications as they get older. "Research suggests that keeping your dog in a healthy weight range can extend their life by as much as two years," he says. Another important aspect of personalization he sees companies doing is crafting portions to help ensure you're feeding your dog the right amount of food, and another factor to consider in your decision-making process.

Pet Food Meal Plans for Dogs With Special Dietary Needs

Webb says personalized dog food plans based on caloric needs are good for senior dog nutrition, too, especially if they're complete and balanced. "If you have a senior dog with potential issues such as a sensitive stomach, joint issues, and other concerns, ask for the service's nutritional information just to make sure you and your vet are aligned with what your pet needs," he says. 

He extends this recommendation to any other pets with health issues as well. "For the average dog, a lot of the pet food meal companies are going to be totally fine," he says. "But if your pet has specific issues, whether it's pancreatitis, heart disease, etc., have a conversation with your vet to determine if there's a better-suited meal option and what they recommend you ask the companies for. Then choose the ones that are open and transparent." 

He adds a caveat: Just because the meals are personalized doesn't necessarily mean they're good for a dog with a specific ailment. "Unless a company is mentioning those meals as being therapeutic or prescription, you might end up doing more harm than good to your pet."

Cost of Pet Food Delivery Services

The cost for fresh pet food varies considerably (and dry kibble, like what Jinx provides, is assessed differently), but the information isn't always readily available from some companies without first submitting a form about your pet and preferred plans.

Others, such as Nom Nom, provide a general estimation of daily and weekly costs, based on a dog's size and weight—for example, fresh food for a small dog weighing 10–20 pounds might cost $4 per day or $28 for seven days. Pet Plate outlines that plans start at $2.50 per day, plus free shipping. The Farmer's Dog indicates the base price for its plans being at $2 a day, along with free shipping. 

While most companies are subscription-based, others allow for one-time purchases. Some companies also offer two-week trials, and others will refund your entire order if you're not satisfied. The type of plan you choose, in addition to treats and add-ons, affects cost, too. Webb says that product innovation with these services is constantly changing, so if you don't find a service that fits your needs right now, visit the sites again. 

"We think about it as 'should you be investing more in your dog's health?' Just because you used to feed your dog for $1 or so per pound, does that mean they're really getting the best nutrients?" Webb says. "So we think it's important to reevaluate the cost structure. We also think it's incumbent upon pet food meal plan companies to also have more accessible options for pet parents, so more people can afford human-grade food." 

Bottom line? Do your research and find a company that fits with what you're looking for. Then, bring the information to your vet so you can make an informed decision together on what's best for your particular dog's needs.