How home-run pet startups are giving big-chains a run for their money
From trading in commercially-made kibble for a species-appropriate diet, demanding better, cleaner, and more natural ingredients in topical pet products, and using holistic medicines instead of western medicines to choosing minimally-processed chews and treats, pet parents in India are making assiduous efforts to provide a better life for their four-legged best friends.
Most commercially available pet foods and products in India today are usually inundated with preservatives and chemicals to increase their shelf-lives. Kibble, for example, has earned a bad reputation because of the amount of “fillers” such as wheat, maize, and sugars used, as well as the low quality of meat products used — all of which have led to harmful bacterial or fungal outbreaks in recent years across major brands.
On the other hand, shampoos and miscellaneous skin products use chemicals such as sodium laureth sulphate, silicones, and poisonous chemicals to combat ticks and fleas — all of which have caused grave skin issues in pets, and have even led to instances of hospitalisation.
Tired of waiting for the big pet companies to mend their ways, some Indian entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands and set up boutique businesses that focus on holistic pet healthcare.
From nutrition-consulting services to fast-growing startups that home deliver fresh pet food, here are some small, but fast-growing businesses making a world of a difference to beloved pets in India.
Nutrition and health
Founded in 2016, Georgina’s Kitchen is a dog nutrition consultation service launched by Lee Georgina, a certified canine nutritionist. She set up the company after her dog (and supervisor) Vladimir Stitchkoff was diagnosed with epilepsy, and she was researching diets that could help him.
She decided to pursue a profession in canine nutrition after she realised how harmful commercial kibble was. Among the most renowned animal nutritionist in India today, as well as a leading advocate for balanced, fresh, and meat-based diets for dogs, Georgina has prepared over 3,500 diet charts till date, each customised to the dog’s breed, weight, existing health conditions, age, and other factors.
“Commercial dog food has no transparency. For example, a bag of kibble will say ‘chicken by-product’ - this could mean feathers, beaks, or any part of the chicken that is not used for human consumption. How much meat is actually in kibble is debatable, plus the amount of food coloring, preservatives, and fillers that go into keeping the food out until expiry is quite concerning,” she says.
“Balancing fresh diets is very important, and just adding meat protein into the bowl is not going to suffice. When you make the switch (from kibble to fresh meals), meal preps are going to seem a bit cumbersome and a lot of people hesitate to make the switch because of this very reason. It gets very easy after a few days and the changes people notice in their dogs are sometimes immediate,” she adds.
The company’s Instagram page contains lots of diet tips and home remedies for common pet ailments that can be used to supplement medication when needed.
The diet consultations can be booked online on Georgina’s website, and follow-up correspondence can be done over emails. In addition, the venture — which is entirely self-funded — also sells homemade food boosters such as Spice Mix and Ocean Flakes that can be added to a dog’s bowl.
As for whether she thinks any real efforts are being made by commercial pet food companies to provide more wholesome, nutritious food, Georgina says:
“It is going to take a long time for us, believers in wholesome foods, to see a change, at least in the commercial pet food industry. But we will continue to share information, spread awareness and hope that sooner than later, our furry companions eat better meals and live a healthier life.”
Dr Ashima Nath (left), Dr Renu Nath (right)
Established by Dr Renu Nath and her daughter, Dr Ashima Nath, Homeocare Online provides homeopathic medication consultation services for animals and human beings.
Dr Renu, who has been practicing homeopathy since 1978, graduated from V H Dave Homeopathic Medical College, Anand, Gujarat, over 40 years ago. She says she prefers to take the classical homeopathy route, which seeks to treat the underlying cause of the disease, instead of just the symptom, which is what most western medicine does.
Her daughter, Dr Ashima, has been practicing homeopathy for nearly two decades now, and has undergone training in canine behaviour and body language, which helps her provide treatment for mental health issues in animals — something she’s very passionate about.
The mother-daughter duo has treated all kinds of animals, including cows and turtles, apart from cats and dogs. Pet parents especially laud the holistic approach they take in their treatments, and many have found long-term relief for ailments such as tick fever, distemper, and arthritis in their pets.
The service is available for pets (and their humans) all over the country as the company provides online consults done over the phone. The venture also helps animal welfare organisations and is entirely self-funded.
Founded in June 2020 by Ashritha Siddantham, Zianne Vaz, and Dr Nidhi Sastry — all of whom hold certifications in canine nutrition, Carni Kitchen provides customised cooked and raw-meat based diet plans for dogs via its Instagram account and over email.
The startup also conducts regular, paid pet nutrition seminars online on topics ranging from fresh feeding for beginners and puppy feeding to DIY recipes and supplements-usage guidance.
Last year, the company launched a specialised nutrition service where it offers a range of diets, including one for senior dogs, for liver support, kidney issues, tick fever recovery, joint support, and weight loss, among many others.
The trio are among the fresh foods nutritionists in India that advocate against kibble or vegetarian diets for animals, and believe that pets should be fed the way they would generally eat if they weren’t domesticated.
Happy Puppy Organics
An organic pet products company, Happy Puppy came into being when Drishti Brahmania turned to ingredients in her kitchen to soothe her dog’s atopic dermatitis, having found no relief in commercial pet shampoos and lotions.
She started her journey by conducting her own research into ingredients that are typically used in pet products, and realised there is no regulatory body that checks what goes into these often doctor-recommended bottles.
After earning certifications, Drishti started creating a range of products that use only natural, certified-safe ingredients, devoid of any chemicals — all from her home.
“Our USP has always been using the power of natural botanicals and ingredients. Some of the ingredients we use were never used before in the Indian pet market - like our hemp range,” she says.
She continues to sell these products — organic soaps, shampoos, tick and flea oils and calming sprays — out of her home, and makes these products by hand, in small batches. The products are made by using only plant-based ingredients, which are locally sourced from certified organic farms.
The company, which sells its products via its website, processes over a thousand orders each month — although those numbers have been steadily increasing.
Animals require more sleep than humans do in a day, and sleeping on an uncomfortable bed that does not allow one to get their much-needed rest is bound to make one cranky — animals and humans alike.
Pawffles, a pet company started by Garima Gupta and her mother Nisha Gupta, makes customised bedding for pets depending on their size and age. The company also makes orthopedic beds that can help take the pressure off of senior pets’ joints.
Other than beds, the company sells pet bean bags, car seat covers, floor mats, futons, and comforters — all designed to help pets stay comfortable.
Garima says it was her love for dogs and the fact that she couldn’t find affordable, durable and high-quality products in the market that led her to setting up Pawffles.
“All of our solutions are centered around utility, practicality, durability, comfort, and affordability,” she says. The company has serviced over 2,000 customers so far.
The home-run business, based out of Nagpur, is entirely funded by Garima and Nisha, and processes over a hundred orders each month.
Species-appropriate pet foods
Founded in 2018 by Swagata and Sundeep Dhar, Canine Craving makes and sells healthy and preservative-free pet food that’s entirely based on the philosophy of species-appropriate feeding.
In their quest to feed their own dogs better, more nutritious foods that wouldn’t worsen their preexisting health conditions, the duo set out to research available options in the market, which ultimately revealed the dangerous ways in which commercial treats and chews were produced.
This led them to experimenting with fresh meats in their own kitchen — and their efforts paid off once they noticed their own four-legged best friends’ health improving.
Based out of Bengaluru, the self-funded DTC company sells raw bones, animal meat supplements, and meat-based treats, all of which are dehydrated and contain zero preservatives. The treats and chews do not undergo bleach processing like commercial ones do, and their booster powders contain herbs and spices that animals can benefit from.
One of Canine India's 'Quality Control Managers' testing a new product
Founded in 2018 by Germany-born Julia Pape, Canine India provides species-appropriate chews, treats, meals, and supplements for dogs and cats.
The pet food startup sells only farm-sourced meat products, and says the only processing the food goes through is dehydration. Unlike most commercial kibble that contains fillers such as grains, sugars, preservatives, and other harmful chemical additives, Canine India says its products don’t contain anything other than meat and other animal by-products such as bones.
The company, which ships its products across the country, is entirely self-funded, and has not hit profitability yet.
But Julia says she is not too focused on the bottomline since the business is still growing. All the money the business makes is invested back in the company, and what little remains goes towards the care of over 25 street dogs she has adopted.