Guy Sandelowsky and Shiv Sivakumar want you to know that dogs aren’t carnivores and can thrive on a vegan diet with their pet food brand Omni.
It took more than 20 iterations of pet food recipes for Omni to come up with its perfect vegan dog food blend — a proprietary mix containing 30% plant-based protein, which the brand claims is more than most meat-based dog food companies that cater to even the most athletic of dogs.
Before that was a lot of trial and error, which took a year of research. Behind this process was Gun Sandelowsky, co-founder of Omni, who oversees research as well as product development and formulation. He’s a veterinary surgeon and biomedical scientist, who has witnessed many health problems associated with feeding poor-quality, processed meat diets to dogs.
Sandelowsky’s co-founding partner is Shiv Sivakumar, who has a finance background and is responsible for the brand’s business development, strategy and planning. Sivakumar grew up in Sri Lanka, with dogs who ate completely plant-based diets and lived to 14 and 16 years old, well above the average eight- to 11-year lifespan.
“Our friendship developed through our mutual love of dogs and because we both knew that they deserve to eat better and live happier, healthier lives with food that’s also kinder to the planet,” says Sandelowsky.
The brand’s name is a pushback to the common conception of a dog’s natural diet. “We chose the name ‘Omni’ to raise awareness that dogs are actually omnivores, not carnivores, and that they thrive on plant-based diets in the same way many humans do,” Sandelowsky explains.
In addition, “omni” also means “all” in Latin. “Our vision is that one day, all dogs, all over the world will enjoy eating Omni and reap the positive health benefits. We’re also working towards taking all animals out of the supply chain, so that all can live in harmony with the planet.”
Omni was born out of the lack of communication to pet owners unaware of the latest science and research on a fully plant-based diet for dogs. Sandelowsky explains: “In the west, dog parents have become accustomed to feeding processed meat diets to their fur-babies over many years and it can be a challenge to convince them that there is a better way.”
But in reality, it’s nutrients — not ingredients — that dogs need. “They can get all the goodness required from plant-based ingredients, without the nasties in processed meat diets like animal fat, fillers and preservatives,” the vet says, adding that the biggest challenge for vegan dog food is communicating this evidence to “dog parents who never thought this was possible”.
Sandelowsky feels that misconception stems from a worry that dogs only like to eat meat, and that plant-based means bad-tasting. This is why it was important for the Omni research and development team to create a recipe that isn’t just healthy and sustainable, but also as delicious (if not more so) as meat-based dog food.
And that effort has been validated. The brand has been posting video testimonials of plant-based meat taste tests with dogs on Instagram. The tests have found that 91% of dogs love Omni’s vegan food, according to feedback from 250 dog owners in the UK.
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It’s a combination of a nutritionally complete and medically approved product that sets the brand apart from other vegan dog food companies, at least according to Sandelowsky. He says more than half of British dog owners choose to feed their pets based on veterinary advice: “Despite this, hardly any of the plant-based dog food brands have the clinical credibility that comes with a vet founder, nor are they endorsed or recommended by the veterinary community.
“Omni’s founding team is rooted in the veterinary sector and comprises industry experts who have over 70 years [of] combined clinical experience treating sick pets and formulating healthy diets for dogs.”
Sandelowsky explains that many dog owners need to know the products they’re buying will deliver what they promise and make their pets’ lives easier, longer and happier. And, he says, this is what Omni does. “Omni is also the first in the world to have a variety of dry foods on the horizon, including life-stage diets, breed-specific formulations and those for dogs that have health problems like allergies or sensitive tummies,” he adds.
To add to the quality of the product, Omni does not use “unwanted leftovers or cheap animal byproducts”, instead opting for ingredients you’ll find at your dinner table. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, peas, lentils, pumpkin as well as a few superfoods like cranberries and blueberries — they’re all part of the proprietary plant-based protein blend.
“We chose our ingredients based on what is wholesome, delicious and, of course, highly digestible for dogs, so they can derive the most goodness possible from the ingredients,” explains Sandelowsky. “We’re also naturally low in fat and fibre, making us the ideal choice for dogs with sensitive tummies.”
Now, Omni is planning to expand its range with the dry food variety as well as wet food pouches and tins made from plant-based beef and chicken. It’s also working on vegan treats and supplements for dogs.
“We know not everyone will switch their dogs on to plant-based diets overnight,” Sandelowsky acknowledges. “Habits can be hard to change and people tend to like what they know. But the fact is, farming animals for their meat is not sustainable in the long term, and processed meat is bad news for dog health.”
Omni’s end goal is to facilitate all dog owners with a switch to either a 100% plant-based diet or, for those who want to continue to feed meat, at least a proportion of Omni in their pets’ diets (so that, like many humans, they end up getting a mixed ration). “This will help make dogs everywhere happier and healthier, reduce vet bills for dog parents and help protect our precious planet.”