WASHINGTON — According to the American Kennel Club, a dog has far fewer taste buds than H. sapiens — 1,706 vs. 9,000, respectively.
Another thing that dogs lack compared with humans? Birthdays.
Yes, it’s unfair. Don’t we, as a species, owe it to the planet’s puppers to make their too-few birthdays as awesome as possible?
Yes again. And a great way to do that is delight each dog’s 1,706 taste buds with their very own birthday cake — complete with icing, candles and a badly sung song.
Fortunately, cakes for the barking, shedding set have become a thing.
“Dogs are elevated now in families,” said Janie Smyser, co-owner of K-9 Granola Factory. The York, Pennsylvania, company makes cakes that are available around the D.C. area. “They hold a different place in the family than they did 30 years ago, 40 years ago. A birthday cake for a dog was probably unheard of years ago.”
It’s something of a postmillennial development. Two area canine bakers — Doggy Style’s Krista Heinz and Dogma Bakery’s Sheila Raebel — each say that was when owners started asking about something more substantive than the everyday post-walk treat.
“There really wasn’t much on the market that was natural and cute and fun for your dog at the time, so we started out with the bakery and grew from that,” Heinz said of her D.C. shop (at 1642 R St. NW), which also carries smaller treats, toys and such.
Demand begat supply. And through the years, that demand has jumped.
“The last few years have been pretty incredible,” said Raebel, whose store has locations in Reston and Arlington, Virginia. “We probably get two cake orders a day minimum.”
After all, cakes aren’t just for birthdays or adoption days. Maybe your pooch graduated from obedience training and deserves a treat. Or perhaps it dropped out in disgrace … and still deserves a treat.
Cold, slobbery cash to be made
“Bah!” you bark?
“Bourgeois silliness!” you growl?
First of all, check your tone. Secondly, be advised that the pet care industry is lucrative. According to the American Pet Products Association, total U.S. pet industry expenditures topped $69.5 billion last year. That number is projected to top $72.1 billion in 2018.
That’s a lot of slobbery Kongs, yo.
What exactly separates a dog cake from a regular cake? It’s usually free of questionable ingredients. It’s also extremely light on the sugar. Heinz will use a little bit in the icing (“it’s really hard to make icing without sugar,” she said). Raebel and K-9 Granola avoid it altogether.
Would you find it delicious? Doubtful, but then it doesn’t take very much to dazzle a pup’s 1,706 taste buds.
“They’re much healthier than a human cake,” Raebel said of her creations. “The only challenge is that it’s a little more dry and it’s also a little less tasty to a human.” To that point, Raebel’s peanut butter cake “kind of tastes like a peanut butter dry muffin.”
Other favored dog cake flavors include banana and pumpkin. As chocolate is toxic to dogs, carob can be used instead.
All pooches have their preferences, Heinz said, so it’s important to have some variety.
“Some dogs have a sweet tooth, and some dogs have a savory tooth,” she said.
The lucky taste-testers
And as you’d expect, there are a few lucky dogs that get to help with product development. For Heinz, she has a focus group of sorts in her home: Mia, Poochie, Koda and Bacon.
“Bacon will not eat my banana-flavored cakes,” Heinz said. “But other than that, my dogs are pretty supportive of my treat-making skills.”
Smyser and K-9 Granola rely on a “houseful of dogs” for the taste testing. The dog show community helps, too. Those fancy dogs test the treats, then the groomers and handlers report back.
“We would take our recipes to those [AKC] shows because we knew we were going to get honest feedback from those people,” she said.
Raebel’s dog, Bailey, isn’t so food-motivated, so her friends — a Jack Russell terrier and a dachshund — help with R&D.
“We would do birthday parties with them. … Those two would just go to town. And then Bailey would just wait for them to eat a little bit. She’d have a few bites, and then they’d go play,” Raebel said.
“She is always a sharer,” she added.
Which brings us back to why each dog deserves a cake. Its divine love graces our lives all too briefly. Even if they’re not food-motivated like Bailey, they still deserve an edible reminder, every so often, that they’re special.
Then of course, there are more-practical considerations.
“You really don’t want them eating your cake,” Raebel said.