Laura from Sparkle Heart’s Q&A with Phoenix Bark on Canine Nutrition

Well you would have to ask Barbara our head of Quality Control! She is four years old and has worked with us since she became part of our family (at 9 weeks old). Long story short, there are global (AFFCO) and European (FEDIAF) guidelines on nutrient content for dog food. We align our formulas with these, we calculate and test extensively (with all recipes regularly lab tested).

For us though simply lining up our formulas with the guidelines isn’t enough, it’s a scientific and dependable approach to make sure every box is ticked; so was the emissions test for cars, right? But by learning from our own personal nutrition journey, our Canine Nutrition qualification, home-cooking for our own dogs (for decades now) and after lifting the lid on the dog food industry both at home and around the world – we know there’s waaaay more to it than just matching a standard nutrient profile. Processed and synthesised food and vitamins alike are not as good for either us or our dogs as freshly prepared, high quality food that is readily absorbed and also feeds a healthy microbiome.

Each member of our team plays a key role, closely monitoring each carefully tracked stage of our process. We feed our own dogs Phoenix Bark, so we are still more motivated to be quite particular about making sure each pack is perfect. The last safety inspector that came to see us was genuinely ‘wowed’ by our kitchen and hygiene standards. Niall, our Cook Supervisor even insists on regularly sampling the food himself (he especially likes the lamb, just like a kebab he says!).

First and foremost, our protein sources are absolutely unique. We use only Irish, free-range and wild meat and offal. We visit the farm weekly, and Billy (our farmer) is as passionate about his business as we are about ours, he is a wonderful and highly-principled farmer. The meat we use is the exact same as you see on the shelves of Dunnes, and many great restaurants and butchers around in Dublin and all over Ireland . Our veg comes from a local business. Our herbs are all organic, so too our blueberries, these are also wild. Uniquely, our calcium comes from sustainably harvested seaweed and is (uniquely) fully bioavailable; it helps decrease inflammation in the body and assists in repairing leaky gut! Our vitamins and minerals are from wholefood sources, never synthetic, which is very rare even in the fresh dog food market. Our seeds are freshly milled and added raw (because heating can send these rancid). You can tell by the smell that the quality of the ingredients are special. All this ensures the dogs we feed get above and beyond the nutrition they need to thrive!

We have a fantastic relationship with our customers, and it shows – five years in, and we’ve received exclusively five-star reviews! We believe our success stems from our unwavering commitment to communication and consistently delivering top-quality packs, every time, to the doorstep (#alwaysfreedelivery). If we make mistakes, we own them, we always put them right until customers are satisfied. Our customers’ feedback means the world to us, even if our product isn’t the best fit for a customer, we’ll always guide and advise on alternatives, what’s right for each dog is what drives us, not forcing a sale if there’s a more appropriate option out there. We stay informed, keeping up with the latest research and studies, and we actively seek our customers’ opinions and include them when considering any improvements. Sometimes, these discussions even turn into lively debates, which we find both stimulating and beneficial. Responsibility is at the core of everything we do, we have a duty of care to our customers; this radiates in our interactions with customers. In fact, many have been so impressed that they’ve become investors! We’re truly passionate about our work, connecting with our customers and of course… our single highest priority is happy healthy dogs!!

Alfie (a soppy basset hound) at ten years old, was finding he just couldn’t make it up onto the family sofa like he always used to. He appeared frustrated, and despite veterinary support his left leg had such little movement in it his guardian knew something needed to change. Poor Alfie, he felt so incredibly sad, he would regularly simply stare at the fence in the back garden, it was considered he possibly had canine dementia too. Canine massage therapists often call this kind of situation silent pain, where pain we are unable to understand causes a shift in a dog’s behaviour beyond the level vets consider normal for joint issues. Luckily for Alfie, his mum decided to reach out and find out if a switch to a fresh food diet might make a difference for him. We created a plan tailored to Alfie’s needs and sent over his first batch of Phoenix Bark.

Fussiness had never been an issue, Alfie was a complete foodie! So, the test was really to see if he felt better after milling the food. To our great delight we received such wonderful feedback that we were moved to share his story with you all. His guardian shared that within weeks it was as if “he had reverted back years in age”. Apparently he was jumping on the couch again, jumping up to say hello to people, and even kept escaping from the front door to run around the perimeter of the house, running so fast and was simply so happy. They couldn’t believe how much he had changed!

Before we look at anything commercial, we ask: “will we do any more damage to this planet than we have already done as a species?” – we cannot sponsor it if we do. With this aspect and the duty of care we have to the welfare of the animals in the farms we use too, we don’t allow ourselves to be blinded to the practices and disconnect from the reality of what happens in dog food (or any food…) production. We don’t ask that people recycle responsibly, there is a risk that with the tens of thousands of packs we ship each week, it won’t always happen. Instead we make sure that once we ship, no harm can possibly be done to the planet once it’s left out stewardship – if a pack of ours is disposed of, lost, dropped in the sea, fired out of a car window, it is impossible for it to cause any significant environmental damage. The wrapping, sleeves and even the gum on the back of the personalised stickers will all degrade quickly. No plastic is used in wrapping the packs. We do of course hope that customers will compost & recycle the wrapping – however, if not – they’re still environmentally benign. So we can sleep easy every week after deliveries, no archaeologists in hundreds of years time will be digging up any of our stuff!

We are aware that there is a fear of ‘transitioning’ and an illusion that feeding fresh, whole foods to dogs is a scary prospect. We’re gentle and sympathetic to this, when we first set out to home cook and move away form commercial formulas, we had the very same entrenched fears. 25 years in with fresh feeding now, and with hundreds of thousands of packs produced and fed, we know that, in reality, there’s nothing to actually worry about. Somehow we were, back in the day, absolutely convinced that we might be hurting our dogs by not ‘prescribing’ their food, missing something critical from their diet that would cause harm. Baffled by the packs, their ingredients, nutrient tables – we’d been convinced that there was something we’d just never understand, and should just go with the flow, pick the right pellets and ask no questions. A great way of looking at it now we reflect – is to look at how we nourish and nurture our kids – we don’t administer food to them, measure nutrients. We know that feeding a good spread, eating the rainbow, using great quality produce, cooking with love and care, ensuring variety – that’s the key. Really, although some nutrients (calcium/phoepperuos, Vitamin A for example) do require precision and care, and we ensure this – the general idea of feeding biologically appropriate, fresh, lovingly prepared food – it’s OK to go with this idea as a basis. There are caveats, but simple ones – there exist a handful of risky foods (cooked bone, grapes, etc…), but these can be quickly understood. So we know now that it’s perfectly OK to feed fresh, more sensible in fact, without the fear that somehow you’re depriving your baby of something necessary, or that it’ll trip a terrifying domino reaction in their health and wellbeing; the opposite in fact, we find it triggers quite remarkable changes. We now rely on common sense first principles when feeding our dogs, just like we do without our own human nutrition.

Our food is fresh food, which is highly digestible… so it suits all life stages . All our nutrients come from wholefood sources and we have ingredients that also support gut health. It’s rich in moisture, a very important factor for all stages but especially senior dogs. Our mix of freshly milled seeds provide the essential fatty acids needed for all stages of life, especially early stages and seniors. We calculate how many calories your dog needs based on age, breed, activity levels, etc… but we also understand that each dog is unique.  So we stay in touch with each guardian to make sure their dog is at their ideal weight and is thriving. We can readily adjust as required. We also offer support to guardians, if we feel additional supplements may be beneficial or introduce them to another professional who can help improve their dogs quality of life.  Our extensive network of professionals shares our values and commitment to your dog’s well-being, this include holistic vets, canine behaviourist and physiotherapists. If for some reason our food is not suitable for your dog, we can suggest alternatives; we’ll always keep in touch to help as needed, customer or not. We have a rich network of professionals who all share the same values as us.

Firstly, our food is a complete meal, so although we leave room for healthy treats, which we advise for teeth cleaning, also mental stimulation and enrichment. There’s no necessity for other meals. We offer 5 different recipes, variety is important! Kathy’s tutor, Caroline Griffith, once said: “it’s not you-are-what-you-eat, rather you-are-what-you-absorb”. So when considering dog food, the question should be: “Can this be readily digested, and does the body ultimately benefit from the ingredients?”. Ultimately, if a dog cannot make use of a nutrient in a food, it may as well not be there, right? As far as processing goes, fresh food is far more digestible than highly-processed (extruded). One study compared the macronutrient digestibility in fresh-cooked, human-grade foods and extruded dry food. The overall digestibility of the chicken meal in the dry food was significantly lower than that of the raw and steamed chicken. Only 60% of the chicken meal was digestible, compared to raw chicken (75.9%) and steamed chicken (76.5%). So, gentle cooking increases bioavailability. The proteins we use are also from high-quality, free-range or wild Irish meat. Our calcium source is also (uniquely) fully bioavailable, even high-availability is rare in the vast majority of fresh and particularly dry foods. A unique point about Phoenix Bark is that we don’t add synthetic vitamins and minerals, everything comes from a wholefood source, making them significantly more bioavailable for dogs!

Numerous studies demonstrate that fresh food positively influences the microbiome, enhancing microbial diversity. We understand that microbial diversity is crucial for maintaining a healthy internal environment. environment. Fibre promotes normal peristalsis in the gut and nourishes the microbiome in the intestine, essentially feeding (friendly) indigenous bacteria in the gut and preventing the growth of the bad bacteria. This produces metabolites that reduce inflammation, preserve immunity, maintain a healthy electrolyte balance and help to protect the gut barrier (we could write a thesis on this!).

Over the years, many guardians have reached out to us to share how much their dogs’ skin, coat, and joint issues have improved. I am certain that this improvement is largely due to not only the quality of our ingredients but also our omega 3:6 ratio. We primarily source our omegas from flax, chia, and pumpkin seeds. To maintain the integrity of these nutrients, we freshly mill our seeds daily and add them raw to our cooked mince. These essential fatty acids are prone to going rancid and losing their amazing anti-inflammatory and health properties, especially when heated. It brings us great joy to know that the dogs we feed are receiving what they need. An especially important reason for this is their joint and cognitive health, as issues here really impact their quality of life. For more on this, see Alfie’s story above, his owner said he became mentally and physically ten years younger after being on our food. It notably improved his cognitive function!

Thank you to Laura at Sparkle Hearts for your interest in Phoenix Bark and for taking the time to interview us!

Select your currency
EUR Euro
GBP Pound sterling
× Got a question? Available on SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday