How a husband and wife took the lead on creating healthy dog food
A Co Londonderry woman has developed grub that combats allergies and other nasty canine health problems. Linda Stewart finds out more
Dog groomer Joanne Tohill noticed something curious at her business - more and more clients were coming in with allergy complaints and other health problems.
It was this observation that set her on course to develop a new and healthier approach towards dog food.
Now, 32-year-old Joanne and her dairy farmer husband Kevin, from Kilrea, have launched their own new menu of dog foods that are going down a storm with their canine customers.
"I've been grooming dogs for about five years. Two years into the business we expanded to set up a pet hotel," she says.
"After a little while I started to notice that there were a lot of dogs coming in with skin issues and allergies, and a lot of them were on medication for things like diabetes, or they were overweight.
"A lot of customers were dropping their dogs in and saying 'if he doesn't eat for a couple of days, don't worry about'.
"But that doesn't add up to me - no way would a dog refuse food.
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"I thought 'these dogs aren't born like this, they've developed this as they went on in life'.
"It's a bit like ourselves - it's from the inside out, so I started looking into what they were eating. I decided to make my own dog food that I know I can trust.
"When I looked at the ingredients, a lot of the bigger brands were full of cheap fillers - things like maize that dogs would not be eating in the wild.
"Dogs have evolved from the wolf. They don't eat maize or barley or grains.
"You wouldn't see a wolf standing out in a cornfield eating maize."
Joanne noted that dog foods are required to contain a minimum of 4% meat and many brands don't contain much more than that.
"Their bodies are obviously rejecting those types of ingredients through skin allergies and other problems. If they're not eating their food, it's because they don't like it," she says.
Joanne spent the next two years working with a canine nutritionist to put together a recipe that dogs would enjoy and that would give them all the nutrients they need for good health.
"We even have a purpose-built kitchen here on the farm to make our own food," she says.
"The foods had to go for testing to make sure they contained the correct amounts of vitamins and minerals, like calcium and copper, but because the ingredients are so healthy and natural, there were very few vitamins and minerals to add. It was all naturally there."
Barkin Bistro now comes in three recipes, beef stew, chicken casserole and roast pork, and all contain 60% meat and 40% vegetables.
"We also put turmeric and linseed into it. Turmeric has so many health benefits. It's a natural anti-inflammatory and it's great for dogs with arthritis and things like that. And linseed is great for the coat and joints," Joanne says.
Two of her most satisfied customers are her own working border collies, Sheila and Ciara.
"They are very spoilt dogs," she says.
The new recipes are now selling in local pet shops and a couple of dog-friendly cafes are stocking it. And most importantly, the canine customers are lapping it up.
"Everybody has been amazed. Any dogs that were turning their noses up at their food just devour our food," Joanne says.
For information, search for Barkin Bistro on Facebook or chat to staff at the Barkin Bistro stand at the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo sponsored by We Are Vertigo.
Don't miss out, get your tickets to the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo here now. Tickets also available at the door.