To succinctly capture the strangeness of how Americans feed their house pets in the year 2018, there are perhaps no better five words than pumpkin-spice lattes for dogs. If there’s room to use a few more qualifiers, then non-GMO, American-made goat’s-milk pumpkin-spice lattes for dogs would probably be more evocative.
That is a real product, sold by a real company—“Just add warm water!” the label says—and it would not feel too out of place on the shelves of many pet-food aisles, where these days one is almost just as likely to encounter labels boasting “grass-fed beef” and “high-protein” recipes as anywhere else in the store.
As these aisles indicate, pet food—particularly high-end pet food—is edging ever closer to human food, and the overlaps between the two categories can be uncanny. “People are putting whole berries in there, whole cranberries, whole blueberries,” says Don Tomala, the president of Matrix Partners, a pet-products branding firm. “They’re putting kelp in there, they’re putting turmeric in there, they’re putting apple-cider vinegar in there … These are all trends within the human-food side.”
Tomala, who helped launch the dog food Kibbles ’n Bits in the early 1980s, remembers that back then, “it was food for your dog—that was about as far as it went.” Ingredients weren’t fussed over, and the packaging was playful; he remembers cartoonish labels, say, with “a bubble-faced dog on it smiling.” That wouldn’t fly today. Tomala says packages now are more likely to display “a serious-looking dog … It looks nutritious and healthy—it looks like something I’d buy at Whole Foods.”