Bruno and Max celebrated their first birthday at their home with a chicken liver-oats-cheese cake, a mutton carrot cake and ‘pupcakes’ in different flavours. “I wanted them to enjoy the treats with their street pal Brownie,” says Jessie Priya, who adopted both rescue dogs, adding that she chose “doggie face cakes instead of the regular bone-and paw-shaped ones.“
Jessie is one of the many loyal customers who order from Rukmeni Sarathkumar’s Paws N Tails-The Pet Bakery in Chennai. “Once a client had asked for a Captain America pet cake. It was the theme for his son’s birthday and he wanted a cake with the same theme for their pet so that they could cut the cakes together. I made a chicken-carrot cake with the colours of Captain America’s shield,” says Rukmeni, who started her pet pâtisserie a year ago.
Stating that she gets at least 15 orders for pet cakes every month, Rukmeni says so far the best-sellers are her chicken-carrot cake and chicken liver-oats-carrot cake. “It started with making treats for my golden retriever, Simba. As friends began placing orders, I launched this enterprise, adding cakes, ‘pupcakes’, ‘dognuts’ and ‘lollypaws’ to the menu,’ says Rukmeni, who also has a miniature Pomeranian, Silky. She adds that Simba is not fussy about food, while Silky is choosy. “Silky loves chicken liver and mutton flavours. And she doesn’t touch any vegetarian food!” she says.
The pandemic and lockdown saw many people adopting dogs and cats, thereby giving a boost to the pet care industry. Over the past couple of years especially, in response to a growing demand, there has been a surge of bakers making preservative-free, human-grade cakes.
Best for the pet
Shruti Saha, who has been in the business of catering for pets, in Bengaluru for 10 years, with Bone Appetite says that though the city has had pet bakeries for many years, there is an increased awareness about pet food. “Owners are cautious about food allergies, which vary from pet to pet,” says Shruti, pet parent to a Labrador retriever named Aioli. While Chicken Little (whole wheat, chicken, carrot, eggs) is the hot seller on her menu, Shruti adds that Aioli enthusiastically eats eats everything she makes, even the experiments.
Instead of ingredients like sugar, salt and refined flour (maida), oats flour or wheat are used for pet cakes. Since chocolate is harmful for dogs, carob, a flavouring agent, is often used as a substitute. Pets enjoy cakes with chicken, mutton, beef or even fish. Among their favourite veggies and fruits are carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, apples, beetroot, spinach and bananas. Store-bought or homemade peanut butter, which does not have xylitol or natural sweetener, is a common ingredient. Frosting is done with natural yogurt or biscoff. The shelf life is generally between one to four days when refrigerated.
“Grapes and onions are not good for dogs. Some dogs are allergic to wheat as well. In that case, I make cakes with oats and brown rice or white rice,” says Monaz Mehta of Snuggle Barkery in Thane, Maharashtra. Owner of a nine-month-old Shih Tzu, Zoey, Monaz recently launched yogurt-based ice-creams for pets.
Delhi-based Nishna Varma opened The Barkery in 2017 because of her pets, Hugo, the Labrador, and Figo, the Chihuahua. Hugo was allergic to wheat and Fido was a fussy eater, says Nishna. She has “gluten-free” products on her menu that include blueberry chicken, coconut honey, peanut butter and apple cakes, besides pupcakes in six flavours. She adds: “When I started my venture, we had to educate customers about our products. That is no longer needed now.”
All these bakers test the products on their pets. Rukmeni says that she sometimes asks her customers to rethink flavours, especially in the case of small dog breeds because of her experience with Silky. “Besides Simba, I have tested my products with street dogs and my neighbours’ pets,” she says. Monaz adds that all her products are taste-tested by Zoey and if she is “happy with it” samples are given away to “dog friends”.
Outside the metros, cities such as Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi too have a growing market for pet cakes. Bengaluru- based Shajini Sasidharan was pleasantly surprised with the cake she ordered for her Siberian husky, Skye, when they were in Thiruvananthapuram on a vacation. The cake, chunky with minced chicken, carrots, beetroot, pumpkin and mashed potatoes, from Varsha Prabhakaran’s The Barkery. Inc and his birthday was celebrated at a pet store.
Varsha had resigned from her job as a HR professional in 2020 to start the venture last October. “I thought I was taking a risk because I wasn’t sure about getting clients in the city. But the response has been overwhelming even though I do business only via our Instagram handle,” says Varsha.
In the Kerala capital there are home bakers who make both regular cakes and pet cakes. “Several pet shops have opened in the city and when I got enquiries for pet cakes through one of them, I stared making them. Now I have a separate oven and utensils for pet cakes,” says Bitty Manu of Elza’s MagicBites. She launched her new venture for pet cakes, PAWCAKES, recently. Another homebaker Anjitha BJ (Cloud9 Cakes) points out that earlier her clients used to buy regular cakes for their pets as well. “Not any more. Once I started getting enquiries specifically for healthy pet cakes, I took the effort to learn more about them,” she adds.
Kochi-based Jayalakshmi Deepak was running a baking venture, Sugar Craft, which she closed down to concentrate on the pets’ only segment. Hooch and Bailey’s Barkery, launched in 2019, is named after her two dogs, both boxers. “Bailey was the reason I started this. She is allergic to many foods, including rice, carrot, pumpkin and potatoes. She can eat oats, wheat and veggies such as beetroot, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, and broccoli. But I didn’t want to give her food from pet shops as they contain preservatives. So I began making treats for her, starting with oats- and wheat-based biscuits,” says Jayalakshmi.
Stating that she does research before launching each product, Jayalakshmi says her training as a baker has helped her experiment with the recipes. “My dogs and my sister’s pets taste my menu first,” she says, adding, “In the beginning I used to get orders for two or three cakes a week. Now I bake at least two cakes per day... Besides birthdays, some pet owners celebrate their pets’ half birthdays or even their homecoming after training! Some order cakes for their pets when there is a birthday of a family member.”
While rates of the cakes vary according to the ingredients, they usually starts from ₹500 for one kg. Some bakers prefer a fixed weight: For example, Jayalakshmi keeps it at 700 gms ( ₹850) for all dogs. “For small dogs they give it as two meals or pupcakes. These cakes are like meals as they are made of what the pets eat everyday” she says.
As many of these bakers do business via social media handles, there is a focus on stress on design and packaging. The cake boxes are sturdy, but also fancy. Homemade colours made from carrot, beetroot, spinach leaves and red cabbage are used so that cakes are aesthetically beautiful.
A pet cake from Hooch and Bailey’s Barkery, Kochi
Nishna Varma of The Barkery in Delhi with her pet, Hugo
Rukmeni Sarathkumar who runs Paws N Tails-The Pet Bakery in Chennai with pets, Simba and Silky
Varsha Prabhakaran who runs The Barkery.Inc in Thiruvananthapuram with her pet, Whiskey
Shruti Saha who runs Bone Appetite in Bengaluru with her pet, Aioli
Chicken and veggies pupcakes with yogurt icing from Varsha Prabhakaran's The Barkery.Inc in Thiruvananthapuram
Cake from Bone Appetite in Bengaluru
Chicken and veggies cake and cupcakes from Varsha Prabhakaran's The Barkery.Inc in Thiruvananthapuram
A pet cake from Snuggle Barkery, Thane, run by Monaz Mehta
The Barkery in Delhi has cake flavours in chicken, chicken and cheese, blueberry chicken, coconut honey, peanut butter and apple
Pet cake from Rukmeni Sarathkumar’s Paws N Tails-The Pet Bakery in Chennai
A giant cupcake from Hooch and Bailey’s Barkery, Kochi
Monaz Mehta who runs Snuggle Barkery in Thane with her pet, Zoey
Bitty Manu from Thiruvananthapuram with her pet, Scooby, who was treated to a mango cake on his first birthday
Jayalakshmi Deepak of Hooch and Bailey’s Barkery with her pets, Hooch and Bailey