Friday, December 19, 2014

Food Friday: Stella & Chewy's Freeze-Dried Absolutely Rabbit Dinner

The food of the week is Stella & Chewy's Freeze-Dried "Absolutely Rabbit" Dinner, an incredibly convenient form of raw food for dogs. Most "rabbit" dog foods contain a small amount of fresh rabbit meat, and are actually based on chicken meal or some other inexpensive protein. Not Stella and Chewy's, this is the real deal. It contains ground rabbit including bone (bone is very important if you feed raw) plus some fruits, veggies, olive oil, and vitamins. No chicken fat, no egg products, no dairy. This is a grain-free, poultry-free, egg-free, beef-free, pork-free, lamb-free, single protein food that is awesome for dogs with allergies. It's fabulous for elimination diets. It's also crazy-expensive. Like really, really crazy.

As the World's Worst Dog, it's not enough for Brisbane to merely steal pizza off the counter and plot the destruction of the entire United States Postal Service, he also needs to warp my perception of reality. Briz accomplishes this by requiring so few calories that I am certain he must be performing photosynthesis when he's out there sunbathing. Aside from the occasion half a pepperoni pizza (somehow pilfered from the counter while leaving the box entirely undisturbed) this dog basically lives on air. I started by feeding Briz the recommended amounts of food on the label of the bag/box/wrapper/can, but quickly found that he ballooned up unless I fed him like a toy breed dog. This was not completely clear to me until I acquired a chihuahua and determined that they required the same number of calories. Six-pound Ru and 40-pound Brisbane eat the same amount of dog food.

Along with various training treats and stuffed Kongs, Brisbane and Ru both get about a quarter cup of kibble per day. I suspect that heelers are just super efficient, because 50-pound Ulysses eats between a quarter and a half a cup a day.

The point here is that, at a cup of food or less per day between the three of them, the dogs have completely warped my sense of how much it should cost per day to feed a dog. This has led to my willingness to try everything under the sun, from freeze-dried and dehydrated dog foods to super-ultra-extra-uber-premium kibbles. There is no way I would be able to afford to feed real, actual dogs Stella & Chewy's, no matter how awesome it is. (Note: Ru is not a real, actual dog.)

Stella & Chewy's freeze-dried dog food comes in 5.5 and 15-ounce bags. A large bag contains approximately 32 patties. One patty contains approximately 70 kcal, which I'm going to call calories because it rolls off the tongue (keyboard?) easier. Most of the kibbles I feed my dogs are around 400 kcal per cup, or a bit more. I feed them a quarter cup per day, so that's about 100 calories a day. For Brisbane, that's probably also breaking the laws of thermodynamics. Brisbane eats 1.5 freeze-dried Stella & Chewy's patties per day, meaning the large bag lasts about 21 days. A large bag of Stella and Chewy's Absolutely Rabbit costs about $32, so that's a dollar a patty, and about $1.50 a day to feed Brisbane. For amazingly high-quality dog food, this doesn't seem too bad.

When I contrast this to super-high-quality kibble, it doesn't seem so bad at first. I tend to get 5-pound bags of kibble, and at this size Orijen Six Fish costs about $25. At $5 a pound (about two cups of kibble) it costs about 62 cents per day to feed this to Brisbane. That's less than half the cost of the Stella & Chewy's, but they both seem pretty reasonable in the above quantities.

Here's the thing: Stella & Chewy's food doesn't come in a larger package, and it becomes prohibitively expensive to feed to a larger dog. How expensive? The Stella & Chewy's website feeding calculator says I should be feeding 40-pound Brisbane nine patties per day. That's $9 of dog food per day, $270 per month. Yikes! Meanwhile, the Orijen Six Fish gets down to $3 a pound at the largest size, and would cost a bit over $2 to feed Brisbane the manufacturer-recommended 1.5 cups per day, $67 per month. Big difference.

Questionable Claims
The biggest claim that this company makes all over their website is that, being made from raw meat, their food contains flavors that pets "naturally crave". My dog is a dog. Basically everything he does is "natural". Other things Brisbane "naturally craves" include flourless chocolate cake, smoked gouda cheese, and cold pepperoni pizza. Yes, this is a highly-palatable delicious food that can tempt picky eaters, but Im pretty sure that's just because it's stinky. Dogs love smelly stuff, the more it reeks, the more they love it. I need to start mentally replacing marketing phrases like "flavors your dog naturally craves" with "stinks to high heaven". I would also like to invent a drinking game involving this dog food's advertising and the word "natural".

Following the Trail
Stella and Chewy's food is made in Wisconsin, and the bag says "Made by Stella&Chewy's" so we know it isn't being manufactured in someone else's facility and doesn't share a supply chain with other brands. The bag also states that all of the ingredients are sourced from reputable North American and European suppliers. Hopefully this includes the vitamin and mineral supplements as well, since I've heard some sketchy things about various supplements coming out of China.

The Good Stuff
Basically it's all good stuff. Aside from poking fun at their marketing hype, this is an excellent food that I would readily choose to feed my dogs on a daily basis if I needed to just pick one food. The freeze-dried patties are an excellent way to add raw food to a rotational diet without sacrificing freezer space. They are great for bribing tiny dogs into eating, can be crumbled over or stirred into food to make it more appealing, and is really easy to stuff into Kongs. It's perfect for exclusively rawfed dogs while traveling, can be broken up into training treats, and just might be enough to tempt reluctant eaters in stressful situations like boarding. It's a fairly non-yucky raw food that pet sitters and squeamish relatives might be willing to feed my dogs for me, and also a nice gradual introduction into the whole world of raw dog food. The venison, rabbit, and pheasant varieties are fantastic for dogs on elimination diets, and for adding variety for dogs with many food allergies. Of course they are rated five stars on Dog Food Advisor.

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