Pet parents around Pakistan have been shaken by news that their beloved pets' food is on the list of banned imported goods announced by the government on Thursday as part of its Import Policy Order. For many pet owners, the situation isn't as easy as switching to another brand because their often fussy or senior pets have already adjusted to particular brands of food over the years and are unlikely to take to local alternatives.
Many pet food providers and pet owners have taken to different online platforms to address the issue, asking for healthy local alternatives that offer high quality ingredients. After eating a particular brand for years, you wouldn't be too keen to shift to another brand in a week, and neither are pets. Cats and dogs in Pakistan have been eating expensive and healthy food by brands Royal Canin, NutraGold, Purina, Pedigree, SmartHeart, Reflex, Josera, Taste of the Wild and Mera for many years.
Pet food suppliers
Shan Saleem, who runs pet food and supplies shop Pet Smart with his RPK Critter Care Hospital in Karachi's Nishat Commercial, told Images that the ban has created panic and is being taken in a "negative way" instead of being taken positively. “The ban is negative in the sense that importers have already dispatched the supply to different retailers and have more orders lined up which won't stop. The payment for containers on-board are on the way so for five to six months there won't be any shortfall,” he said.
“But what came with this import ban is negative marketing that the stock has ended. Everything is being sold in the black market by importers and wholesalers who have increased the rates and removed a lot of products from the shelves to sell these products in black,” he explained, mentioning that in the next few months it's unlikely that stocks will run out.
Saleem also said that the current situation has scared consumers and so a person who only needs one bag or perhaps two is purchasing six to eight bags. "The thing we used to buy at Rs12,000 is now at Rs15,000 to Rs16,000, with an increase of Rs5,000 per bag. Just imagine the loss a consumer has to face when one single bag costs twice as much as before? If a container carries 600 to 700 bags, and a single bag has increased by Rs4,000...we're talking about millions being at stake," he said.
According to Saleem, people are being misguided to cause a scene in order to take advantage of a person's need. He said consumers are being ripped off, but he wasn't too sure of the alternatives. "Unfortunately the local industry has failed to maintain the quality of food. The local market suffers because the price is similar to the imported one but the quality is way below that even the pets refuse to eat it," he said.
Abdul Rafay Irfan, general manager of Pawltoo, a pet food and accessories retailer, told Images that the ban is "temporary" and will soon be over. "For example, take EffeEffe, Lavital, Econature and Pronature that we import. They are almost 30 years old. They have spent millions of dollars into R&D and have now reached a stage where these products are safe and healthy for our pets. They have hi-tech facilities and are maintaining the production quality in European standards. So how can we expect our local food to compete with such products?" he asked.
For Irfan, what's important at this time is creating an awareness campaign through which people realise that pet food isn't a luxury — it's a necessity. "The food that's being imported annually is very less in volume. Many more luxury products that are being imported in larger volumes should be banned and local alternatives should be arranged for those but pet food isn't one of them. Most people don't even know the rights of animals here so how will they understand the need for pet food?" he demanded.
Healthy Tails, a pet hospital and retailer in Karachi, said that they have limited stock available now but they plan on keeping some of it in reserves for senior pets in need.
A vet's advice for pet parents
On the other hand Dr Abrar Pirzada of Pirzada Pets Clinic was of a different view.
“If there is a ban on imported pet food, it will prove to be good for pets in the long-run because fresh home-made food is good for your pets,” he told Dawn.
“I have a cat coming to me who is 27 years old and she is so healthy because she is fed clean home-made chicken and mutton. Your pets, be they cats or dogs, live longer on fresh food. Now after the impending ban I also have worried pet owners coming in, saying that pet food is not a luxury but a necessity. But I am telling them that it is a luxury and a convenient way for them to quickly feed their pet and be done with it. Honestly, your pets will be better off if you offer them home-made meals,” he insisted.
When informed that some pets absolutely refuse to have anything else but the packaged imported food, the senior vet said that many imported pet foods carry addictive substances making the animal addicted to them.
“Believe me, it is happening. It might take time to get them off the food they are so used to eating but you can do it,” he said encouragingly.
That said, he added that there were, however, certain medicated pet food varieties that some animals with liver and kidney conditions might need.
“But again, those, too, have alternatives. My father, who started our pets’ clinic some 58 years ago, can educate you more on that. There used to be a time when there was no imported pet food the pets used to have no other choice but to eat healthy wholesome homemade meals,” he pointed.
Local food options
The ban on pet food caused an uproar online on platforms such as Pet Talk, a Facebook group for discussions about pet food, vets, boarders and treats. While many were protesting against the ban, some asked about local brands that cater to both dogs and cats. We were able to find few named Waggles, Purrs and Woof.
Rafae Dossal, founder and CEO Waggles Pet Foods Limited, told Images that his start-up was founded in early 2020 and is now a full-fledged pet food production company that will be exporting to the UAE staring this July. "We started with natural recipes that are simple and uncomplicated while being complete and balanced for pets. We only use 100 per cent whole-food natural ingredients in our recipes that are minimally processed to retain essential nutrients.
"Initially, we launched our dog food recipe range, and then started Purrs, our cat food line of products. The pet food segment is rapidly growing in Pakistan, almost at the rate of 20 per cent segment growth per year," Dossal explained.
As of now, the brand offers wet food recipes for both dogs and cats and is soon going to launch a dry food line. Waggles is currently operating at a "1,200 tonne annual production capacity with a facility that is ISO certified". According to Dossal, Waggles is an omnichannel retail brand that retails via traditional retail stores, online stores like Daraz and their own website. This means they deliver all across Pakistan in 45 different cities.
Dossal also said that pet parents are "sceptical of trying out new brands with their pets due to questions and concerns over product quality and ingredient usage etc" and agreed that introducing a new food brand can indeed be tricky.
While he understands pet owners' concerns around local brands, as the owner of Waggles, Dossal is offering owners the chance to sign up for a sample for their pet to try out. All you have to do is fill out details such as your name, email, shipping address, pet (cat or dog), pet's name, breed and age in order for the product to arrive at your doorstep.
Cats, dogs and pets in general form their flavour preference after years of having a certain type of food. While many argue that a healthy option such as boiled chicken or meat is the way to go, some pets often prefer cookies or biscuits on the side to nibble on. But these cookies aren't always a treat — some pets need to eat them for health reasons or dietary restrictions.
While we understand the need to reduce imports, pet food isn't a luxury item and shouldn't be on the list. Pets are living breathing beings and should be given access to food they can eat and prefer. Over time, their digestive system adjusts to what they've been eating. Why is pet food being considered a luxury when it's a basic need for a living being?