Talking Trade with Lucy McKinna

Lucy McKinna is the founder of Noochy Poochy, a complete vegan dog food. As a qualified vet and a vegan, Lucy wanted to feed her dog a plant-based diet but struggled to find a complete food for her pet. So, she embarked on a journey to create her own recipe.  

Lucy McKinna

You’ve launched Noochy Poochy, a vegan dog food. Tell us about what inspired you to create the dog food?

About five years ago, I’d been a vegan for a few years and I was finding it harder and harder to make it to the pet shop till with my chosen dog food; clutching my bag of lamb and rice for my dog, knowing full well I’d feel infinitely better about the whole transaction if there hadn’t been lamb anywhere near it — as long as I could be sure the food contained everything my dog needed. There was no doubt in my mind that my dog (Kizzy, my beloved Dobermann) couldn’t have cared less whether there had been a lamb anywhere near it or not, as long as it tasted delicious.

Searching through the very limited vegetarian and vegan dog food options at the time, I couldn’t find one where I was happy with both the recipe ingredients and the ‘analytical constituents’ on the back of the pack that could convince me I would be doing a good thing for my dog, as well as all the lambs. It struck me that there had to be other people like me, who would opt to buy vegan for their dogs if there was a really premium option available — a complete recipe backed by experts, with an ingredient list that I would like reading through. I thought that perhaps if could provide such a recipe, and dogs felt it tasted good, we could revolutionise pet food. 

How did you manage this with your vegan dog food Noochy Poochy? Tell us about the ingredients and how they provide all the nutrition a dog needs. 

The right nutrition is absolutely vital for every animal’s body to work correctly and for cells to carry out their various duties and processes as they should. Essentially, dogs’ bodies have a checklist of nutrients that are needed for cells to do their thing and these nutrient requirements change as the dog changes; for instance, throughout puppy growth and development, when they are sick, have a medical condition, or for a bitch feeding her puppies. While it is vitally important that at all these times, the dog is getting the right nutrients in the right proportions, there is no evidence to suggest that it matters whether the source is vegetable or animal. For example, the amino acid Arginine (amino acids being the building blocks of protein) is the same to the body, whether it comes from soybean or from turkey.

So, for the same reason you can’t just feed a dog chicken and rice, you obviously can’t just feed a dog chickpeas and rice — in both cases they will be missing out on vital nutrients. It has to be a carefully balanced recipe, where everything is accounted for, right down to the microminerals. 

FEDIAF, the trade body representing the European Pet Food industry, outlines a list of nutrients that every dog food that claims ‘complete’ on the front of the pack, must have in a certain proportion in the final product — this is a good thing. However, one of the drawbacks at the moment is that there is no way for the pet owner to realistically be sure of the quality of those nutrients in the final product, only the amount. 

For instance, going back to amino acids: are they readily available to the body or might they have been denatured through processing? Our nutritionist at Noochy Poochy John Murray likes to illustrate this point using a leather boot — a leather boot is made up of protein of course, and a dog can eat it but you wouldn’t feed that to your dog and expect it to thrive.  The quality of the protein and its constituent amino acids (how available those amino acids will be to the body) is poor. It is very possible that the requirements for labelling will change in the next few years and more information will need to be provided by each pet food company on the back of the packs. This will make it easier for pet owners to get very vital information and compare foods, like for like.

FEDIAF have historically been writing nutrient requirements for complete dog foods that have a meat component. It possibly never occurred to them that suddenly the whole world would be concerned about the environmental impact and ethical question of livestock. This means plant-based dog food companies have to think about two things, complying with FEDIAF guidelines of course, but also we have to go a little further about it — is there anything that a meat-based dog food might provide that a vegan dog food might not, or might give in only marginal amounts? This is why Noochy Poochy has added amino acids Taurine and Methionine to ensure the dog has adequate supply. 

Noochy Poochy has a 30% organic ingredient component, a 28% protein content, can claim ‘complete’ as per FEDIAF guidelines, plus it is supplemented Methionine and Taurine, and what we are most proud of: an Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid ratio of 4:1. 

Noochy Poochy is now on the market. What was the reaction to the launch of the food? 

We weren’t expecting the incredible interest and sales we’ve had already, and we certainly weren’t expecting the unbelievable uptake over Veganuary but I’m thrilled that this seems to be a consumer-led change for the market. For that reason, I think vegan dog food is here to stay and we have an obligation to provide the very best recipes and ingredients, based on up-to-date science and food technology, to provide everything that our pets need and deserve.

Your background is as a qualified vet. How was it embarking on a journey into the world of pet food manufacturing? 

Well, I didn’t know very much about the whole process so it has been an eye-opening journey for me! Pet food manufacture was not a large part of the syllabus when I was graduating from university. Now there is a lot more interest in nutrition and the gut microbiome, I am so excited about the future of pet food and gaining more and more information on how much what both we and our dogs eat makes a difference to health.

How do you think the vegan pet food market is growing? Do you think there is still a scepticism about feeding a vegan dog food? 

I think until it has been around for a good many more years there will always be scepticism. However, while studies continue to support and help tailor dog food manufacture, and while pet owners care more and more about what goes into their pet’s food and the quality of the ingredients, then I think we can only be heading into great territory, for our pets and the rest of the world’s animals.

What are the benefits of the vegan diet? 

If you are a vegan or vegetarian owner, it can simply be that getting an appreciative lick on the chin from your dog straight after dinner is an altogether more pleasant experience for you! 

Many owners advise their dogs have a better stool quality, healthier coat, and more energy after switching to a plant-based diet. Of course, this is not going to be the same for every dog and depends on the reasons that those stools, coats, or energy were not optimal beforehand. Itchy dogs who have food allergies will often respond to a wheat-free vegan diet such as Noochy, as it naturally omits 6 of the 7 most common canine food allergens. 

What are your targets for the brand moving into this year? 

We are excited to be launching Noochy Poochy Puppy soon, our first wet food option, launching our TikTok platform, and working with more retailers to engage with customers and educate the public on the very real option of feeding plant-based.

How can independent pet shops get in touch to find out more and stock the food? 

Interested retailers can give us a call on 0208 6386219, email [email protected] or simply click on the ‘trade enquiries’ tab on our website and fill in your details.