People and Places

A nutritionist for your pet

Allison Shalla, aka The Pet Chef, is a pet nutritionist and producer of natural “homeopawthy” products and recipes. We ask Shalla her advice for a healthy hound.

Allison Shalla, aka The Pet Chef, with furry friend. Photo by Julie Hearty

What is a pet nutritionist?

Basically, someone who has studied pet nutrition and contributes to a healthy dog from the inside out, often working in conjunction with conventional medicine. The key is to look at nutrition from all angles, both scientifically and holistically. They can be board-certified through veterinary colleges, but there are also natural holistic schools. My certification is through the Academy of Natural Health Sciences, but I’ve also completed several courses through the veterinary programs at the University of Guelph and Algonquin College.

Why is seeing a pet nutritionist important?

Ideally, for more preventative health care, but most of what we see is when a pet has a health issue, like kidney problems and heart disease. Allergies are a huge one right now — it seems there’s a bit of an epidemic. Improving the diet is an important part of any treatment plan.

When should preventative care begin?

Right from puppyhood. There are many fads in the pet-food industry, like strict raw diets and dehydrated diets, so puppy parents would come to me for help getting through all the misinformation and to guide the pet parent as to what is real, bona fide, researched information. I would help to develop either a homemade diet plan or recommend a commercial product and change it as the puppy grows into adulthood.

What advice do you give most often?

Be careful of homemade recipes and diets you read about online. The biggest thing to look for is that the diet is developed by someone who knows what a dog’s nutrient requirements are, because deficiencies over time can lead to more serious health issues.

Pumpkin Bones. Shalla says pumpkin is a good food for dogs as it contributes to digestive health, and is an excellent source of fibre. More recipes can be found on her website, Photo by Julie Hearty

What should owners look for in pet food?

Look at the ingredient list of your pet’s food closely. Be cautious of foods that don’t list meat as the top one to three ingredients, as this means there is more of a non-meat ingredient in the food. Choose grain-free recipes or recipes with only whole grains to avoid the possibility of developing an allergy. Look for locally sourced ingredients, since many products sourced from foreign countries or from farms using pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics pose a threat to the end product. The more detailed the ingredient list is, the better the quality likely is — the company should want you to know exactly what’s in the bag.

What do you feed your dogs?

I feed my dogs a combination of things. I’ve produced a homemade cooked diet called Meaty Muffins — they’re basically cooked meatballs made of beef, sweet potato, and spinach and a few natural supplements, like ground eggshell for calcium, and rosemary, a natural preservative … so I feed those for one meal of the day. For their other meal, I feed them a product called The Honest Kitchen, which is actually a human-grade dehydrated product. It’s great when you’re on the go — we’re back and forth to the cottage — so it’s easy to transport and I don’t have to worry about refrigeration. You just add water, let it rehydrate, and it’s a healthy meal.

For recipes and more canine nutrition advice, visit