There are a few reasons I’m so picky about what I feed my dog. Over my six years with iHeartDogs, I have seen some truly scary recalls, and I have read every article about food, labels, and ingredients that live on our site. I have gotten to be pretty good about reading labels, guaranteed analysis charts, and looking up recall history. Some pet parents are “helicopter parents,” I’ve always been proud to say that when it comes to my dog’s food, I will hover over the bowl to ensure that my pup is getting only the best.
My standards for dog food are very high. I have friends who don’t understand and laugh at me because I choose to home-cook all my pup’s meals from food I buy at the same grocery store where I get my own groceries. I want to know every ingredient. I want to know where those ingredients came from. I need to ensure my dog’s food is balanced so she gets all the nutrients she needs to run, play, and snuggle.
For these reasons, bulk-bag food has been a no-go in our home since Lilo came to live with me. They never looked very appealing in the first place. All the kibble I had ever seen looked more like little decorative pebbles than actual food, and wasn’t something I felt should be in my dog’s bowl, much less her body. The ingredient lists on the bags in the store are an avalanche of not-very-delicious-sounding phrases like “chicken flavor,” “bone meal,” and “butylated hydroxyanisole.” Yuck.
So when I was asked to try out A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies, my first instinct was to pass. I immediately went to check out the ingredients list on the food so I could point out all the reasons why I didn’t want to give it a shot – and was pretty surprised at what I found. This is not kibble the way I know it. This is something new and different.
A First Look at A Pup Above
The first thing I noticed on A Pup Above’s website was the words “100% human grade”. I have never seen these words on a package of dry dog food before. “100% human grade” means that every ingredient used in the recipe is safe for humans to eat. This is not the kind of standard most companies go to just to grind up and press all their food into little brown pellets – but that’s not what A Pup Above is doing anyway. Seeing those words, I looked closely at the ingredients list to make sure. Everything listed looked like something I had eaten myself recently. Turkey. Chicken. Beef. Pork. Single-word ingredients that weren’t followed by the words “meal” or “flavor.”
I also noticed another word I hadn’t seen on any dog food of any kind, ever. “Nutridry.” I know that when any food is cooked, it loses some of the nutrients to the heat. A Pup Above’s Cubies are cooked using a unique cooking method called Nutridry that combines the best aspects of dehydration and air-drying cooking processes meant to preserve more of the natural flavor, aroma, and nutritional value of the ingredients they use in their food. And since they’re taking care to use such high-quality ingredients in each recipe, it makes sense that they would want to make the most of every morsel.
I asked every question I encourage friends to ask about their dog’s food. Where are the ingredients sourced? What’s in the food? Is it nutritionally balanced for a healthy meal? And every single answer was readily available on A Pup Above’s extra-transparent website.
I’ve never seen anything like it before, but on A Pup Above’s website, you can input the lot number from your packaging and find where all the ingredients in your dog’s food were sourced. I’m thrilled that A Pup Above is using animal-based protein (real meat!) from U.S. farms without hormones or antibiotics. Their other ingredients are listed and shown to be non-GMO and pesticide-free. Every ingredient listed is sourced from countries with good standards for food safety and it is made in the U.S. in a USDA-inspected kitchen. It makes me feel much better about giving Lilo dry food.
Just two days later, Lilo’s sample pack was at the door. You can try A Pup Above too and have great food at your door in no time. Try A Pup Above and get $50 off your first order of $100 or more with code IHEARTDOGS.
In the grand old tradition of iHeartDogs, I did try the food myself. I don’t recommend it for human use, even if it is safe for human consumption. However, I am not the target demographic for A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies so I didn’t have to like it. (It even has a note on the box for curious pet parents: not for you!)
Lilobean Gonzalez came to me at about nine months old from a friend who bit off more than they could chew with a new puppy. After losing my Ziggy, I was looking for a pup to mend my broken heart, and I agreed to take her in. I was hesitant because I knew she had been having some serious stomach problems for about six months. Her sensitivities encouraged me further to be the “helicopter mom” with her food. So long as she has been with me, Lilo has had homemade meals with grocery-store-bought meat and veggies. No table scraps, few treats.
It is both her stomach and her palette that are sensitive. It drives me crazy that I can spend forever preparing and cooking food for her, which she’ll give a single sniff and turn her nose up at. I may not be a great cook but I’ve seen some of the things she puts in her mouth, so I’m a little offended. I was concerned that her sophisticated tastes might put her off dry dog food, but I decided to give it a shot anyway.
Making a Great First Impression
I was surprised that the “samples” in the sampler pack were so big. These are each cereal-box sized, with the box of Pork Porchetta being a little larger than the others. I have to admit that I love the packaging. But I also know that anything could hide behind bright colors, pretty pictures, and flashy fonts. The real information is in the details. I notice that two of the recipes, the Beef Pot Roast and Pork Porchetta are grain-free, but the Chicka Pupatouille and Turkey Pilaf both state that they have “friendly grains.”
I prefer to feed Lilo a diet that contains grain, but I was wondering what “friendly” grains are. According to A Pup Above, these grains help ease digestion and add fiber to your dog’s diet. Both “friendly grains” recipes contain barley and oats, which I happily eat from my own bowl. I was on the lookout for things like corn, corn meal, and wheat gluten, but was glad to see that they’re not used in A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies.
There are several other phrases I’m happy to see on the box. “Whole food,” “farm-to-bowl,” and “complete and balanced.” Whole food means that my dog isn’t getting those meat or grain “meals” I mentioned earlier – which are often made from whatever is leftover after the tastier, more nutritious meat is cut out. They’re also often processed with added fillers and preservatives that are not the best for my Lilo, so I avoid them.
“Farm-to-bowl” means A Pup Above is using their ingredients soon after they’re harvested. This is fantastic because I want my dog to eat fresh, healthy food. Food that is stored away for long periods risks contamination, rot, and losing its nutritional value over time. The sooner it makes it into the bowl, the better.
“Complete and balanced” is what really makes me feel confident about giving this food to Lilo. As a healthy, 15 lb. adult Shih-Poo, she can get all the nutrients she needs to live a happy, healthy life from this box. Double-checking the guaranteed analysis, I can see that she will get plenty of protein, fat, and fiber from A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies. Every ingredient in the recipe has a purpose.
I do happen to have a bag of dry kibble on hand in case of an emergency. I pulled a few pieces out to compare. The big-brand kibble I got from a shelf reminds me of hamster pellets. And though A Pup Above says it’s made with real ingredients and whole food, I was surprised that I could see actual food in the cubies! I could see oats and what appeared to be sweet potato and turnip in the dry A Pup Above food. It looks exactly the way it would if I had put it into my dehydrator.
It looks good, it sounds good, and because she must have smelled something good, my taste-tester was eager to get a bite, making it difficult to get a picture.
The Taste Test
Before I opened the box I was worried I’d have a hard time getting my picky girl even to try the food. It must have passed the sniff test, though, because once the box was open, she appeared at my feet like a magician. Trying to get a photo of the individual cubes to show the visible ingredients, Lilo was pushing her muzzle against the lens to get the Cubies in my hand.
I was looking for four things when I served her: would she eat it, would she be able to feel full on the recommended serving size, would she still have enough energy to play, and would she maintain good digestive health?
The box gives a brief, simple guide for serving by weight. I was a little wary because the box recommends only 3/4 a cup per day for a dog Lilo’s size. I wasn’t sure she would be able to fill her belly on only that much. She clears her bowl of homemade food, about a cup a day, and sometimes still seems hungry.
Unlike when I cook for her, in which she acts like I’m feeding her slop, Lilo immediately took to the cubies. She dug right in. Not only was the suggested serving enough for her, she even left a few cubies behind and went to take a nap after her meal. I left her remaining cubies out in case she decided she was still hungry later, but she was content for the rest of the day. I wondered if she left some behind because she didn’t actually care for it, but the next day she ate just as enthusiastically as she had the first time. In fact, any time I touch the box to move it or look over the ingredients again, she comes running over, waiting for me to serve her.
Lilo is very excited about her Cubies. I’ve always known that she loves crunchy food, but it has been really hard to find a healthy way to incorporate some fun crunch into her fresh food.
I kept a close eye on Lilo’s energy levels for a few days. She’s a pretty lazy girl, but she gets her occasional bout of zoomies and loves chasing squirrels in the backyard. She has been much more playful with the cats this week (which they don’t love) and is eager to go outside. It looks like she’s getting enough from her food to maintain her regular energy levels, if not a bit more.
The final test took place in the backyard. Several things in dog food can cause an upset stomach, including low-quality ingredients, fillers, and a lack of substantial fiber. Before I adopted her, Lilo had serious stomach issues that left loose stools all over my friend’s house. She has a sensitive stomach that has reacted to every kibble she has ever tried. Her sensitivities are the number one reason I am so careful about how I feed her.
I wanted to ensure that Lilo would continue to have regular movements that are easy to pick up – an easy-to-see sign that digestion is going smoothly. I was prepared for a little mess because we were transitioning to a new food, but it never came. So far as the backyard test can tell me, Lilo’s new food keeps her digestive health right where it needs to be.
Homemade Food vs. A Pup Above Whole Food Cubies
As I said, I’m used to cooking for my dog. I’ll be honest, though, that it isn’t my favorite thing to do. When I first told her vet I wanted to cook for her, she raised her eyebrows and tried to talk me out of doing it. I learned pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to be all fun. I do have some complaints that I see A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies could help fix.
It sounds like a great idea to cook for your fur baby, but balancing food for your dog can be tricky. Like humans, your dog needs certain vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal health. You also must ensure that you’re giving your dog enough nutrition to live, but not so much food that they’re overeating. A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies are complete and balanced according to AAFCO guidelines, meaning that they hit the mark where your dog’s health is concerned. Your dog can live a happy, healthy life on just what is inside the box, so there’s no reason to worry that I’m giving Lilo too much food or too little of anything she needs.
It kills me to do it, but the food I make Lilo has to be stored in plastic bags. Once they’re used, they can’t be reused and though they’re recyclable, they have to be cleaned before they can go in the bin. I’ll be honest that they often just end up in the garbage. A Pup Above’s Cubies come in 100% recyclable packaging and there’s no mess to scrape off the bag or box. It makes me feel so much better to cut down on the waste we’re creating.
I have also known for a long time that dry food has some great dental benefits. Dry food scrapes tartar from a dog’s teeth as they chew, which can help prevent some plaque buildup. For a dog that hates to have her teeth brushed, this is something I really wanted for her, but I didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of her food. The Cubies have more texture and are larger than the emergency kibble I keep in my cabinet, but still a good size for her smaller-breed mouth. I can hear her crunching and chewing; it sounds like clean teeth to me.
Cooking for Lilo takes up a lot of time and space in the kitchen. I make enough food that I don’t have to cook every day, but I’m still in the kitchen for maybe a solid hour every time I make a batch for her. Then I have to find a place to store it in my freezer among all the food I keep for my family. I also have to remember to defrost a serving every day, which I’m not great about doing, so it often gets microwave defrosted, which I hate. A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies can be stored in any dry place and can be served immediately. It says “scoop and serve” on the box and it really is that simple! I also love that the bag inside the box is resealable, which makes it a bit easier to keep the cats out of it – apparently, they are also fans of the smell.
I also have a complaint about the smell that the food I make leaves in Lilo’s muzzle. If I don’t clean her up immediately after each meal, she smells like a dirty dish rag. The Cubies crumble, but don’t stick in her fur, leaving her smelling much better. It may not seem like that big a deal, but it becomes very unpleasant when she leaves the smell all over the furniture.
Despite the time and storage woes and the dish rag smell, I want to ensure that Lilo gets safe, high-quality, human-grade food so she lives a long, happy life. I didn’t believe that it was something that could be achieved with dry dog food. But every time I tried to find something wrong with A Pup Above, I only found things they were doing right.
Making the Switch Simple
I don’t know if Lilo would forgive me if I took her A Pup Above Whole Food Cubies away from her, and though I really like the Cubies, I don’t know if I’m ready to say goodbye to fresh food completely just yet.
A Pup Above has an option for pet parents like me, who want their dog to eat healthy food and still have all the convenience and crunch of dry food! You can create your own combo of fresh and dry dog food on A Pup Above’s website and have it shipped to your door! A Pup Above’s fresh food is held to the same high standards and made from the same quality ingredients they use in their Whole Food Cubies. I feel good about feeding Lilo a mix, so she gets all the benefits of fresh food as well as the taste and crunch she seems to love with the Cubies.
I wholly recommend A Pup Above’s Whole Food Cubies to any pet parent who wants to keep their pup happy and healthy. You can try A Pup Above and get $50 off your 1st Order of $100+ with code HEARTDOGS.