With a plethora of options available to owners, walking down the pet food aisle can be an overwhelming experience, noted Sara Farmer, DVM, of Pet Coach, whose mission is to provide the best care and attention to pets. There are a variety of flavors and brands to convince you to purchase that food.
Perhaps you have seen pet food labels such as “gourmet,” “holistic,” or “human-grade.” These labels sound nice but they are not regulated and should not influence your purchase, as they are not meaningful. There are also myths that you can gauge the pet food’s quality by looking at the ingredient list and seeing “meat” as the first ingredient or finding one that does not have corn as an ingredient.
Study Underscores Pet Food Purchasing Decisions (2019)
In total, 2,181 pet owners completed the survey, consisting of 1,209 dog owners and 972 cat owners, according to Molly Schleicher, Sean B. Cash, and Lisa M. Freeman of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC. 89% of respondents bought commercially-prepared food while 54.7% fed primarily dry food. 18% fed their pets equal amounts of dry and canned food. 6.8% and 3.8% fed their pets primarily canned food and home-prepared food, respectively. Only 0.6% of owners fed equal amounts of canned and home-prepared food.
Food that is ever part of the pet’s diet included dry food (85.8%), packaged treats (63.5%), canned (51.9%), table food (35.5%), home-prepared (24.4%), and other. The respondents’ preferred retail outlet for purchasing pet food were large specialty pet store (23.6%), small “boutique” pet store (16.4%), veterinarian’s office (10.6%), grocery store (9.7%), mass market store (5.3%), farmer’s market (1.1%), and drug store (0.09%).
Primary sources for pet diet or nutrition included their veterinarian (40.65%) and the internet (24.6%). Respondents also cited other sources of information (15.6%), which included animal nutritionists, owner-initiated research, and a combination of information sources. The participants also mentioned books/magazines (5.67%), breeder/trainer (4.03%), friends/family (3.32%), veterinary staff (2.91%), and pet store staff (1.94%).
74.9% of owners were aware of calorie labeling on pet food; however, only 52.4% said they use or notice the calorie labels on pet food. When asked their agreement with the statement, “Information on pet food labels is misleading,” 63.02% agreed. 41.1% agreed and 47.2% disagreed with the statement, “Information on pet food labels is easy to understand.”
Using the owner-pet “Health Prioritization Gap,” 53.1% of participants had equal priority for themselves and their pet when buying healthy food (Health Prioritization Gap = 0, Equal Priority group). Meanwhile, 43.6% of owners indicated a higher importance for buying healthy for their pet (Higher Priority Pet group) whereas 3.3% prioritized buying healthy food for themselves compared to their pet (Higher Priority Self group).
Members of veterinary healthcare teams need to understand the underlying motivations of pet food purchases and the reasons why a pet consumes a certain diet, said the authors. This would help veterinary teams to provide sound nutritional advice to owners.
How to Choose the Right Pet Food
1. Watch Out for the Label and Nutrition List
Avoid choosing pet food based on the ingredients alone, said Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, of Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, a provider of high-caliber, advanced, and specialty veterinary care to patients and a rich clinical learning environment for students.
Don’t purchase pet food just because the ingredients sound good to you, rather than finding one that offers the most nutritional benefit for your pet. It is recommended to purchase pet food that is manufactured with the best nutritional expertise and quality control. Be aware of marketing tactics used by the pet food industry. Pet food products may contain grains and superfoods, but it does not mean they are the best for your pet. In fact, most of the information on pet food is marketing, rather than scientific facts.
2. Choose A Reputable Company
A reputable company should have a veterinary nutritionist as its staff. The company should also abide by quality control measures and discloses calorie and nutrient information. It should also release the full energy and nutrient analysis online or is willing to share it when you call and request it.
3. Consult Your Veterinarian
Talk to your veterinarian to ensure that you are buying the best food for your pet. Schedule an appointment with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, and some of them even do remote consultations.
4. Look for the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) Statement or Local Pet Feed Statement
For example, most pet food products in the US have an AAFCO statement on the packaging, which can vary depending on the life stage of the pet and the type of diet. Examples include the phrase “formulated to meet” or the words “feeding trials/tests.”
The former means that the diet contains the necessary energy and nutrients on paper. The latter means that the actual diet was fed to animals to show that the food was nutritionally adequate. It is recommended to choose a product that has been used in feeding trials to help you determine its nutritional adequacy. Some products may look in theory but the ingredients are not digestible, causing your pet to develop deficiencies.
5. Choose A Product That Is Appropriate to Your Pet’s Life Stage
Many products will have the words “life stage” on the packaging to indicate that it has been formulated to be nutritionally adequate for puppies and kittens or adult dogs and cats. Bear in mind that puppies and kittens have different nutritional needs than their adult counterparts. If you are opting to buy food that has the label “appropriate for all life stages,” the product may contain more of certain nutrients than necessary for your pet’s life stage. Claims such as “senior” or “large breed” don’t have specific regulations.
What If the Pet Food Contains Fruits and Vegetables?
Meat should always reign supreme when looking for cat food, said an independent retailer of pet supplies. Dogs are more capable of digesting plant matter than dogs as they developed to be slightly omnivorous over thousands of years. Fruits and vegetables can be healthy for your dog but be sure not to let them comprise the majority of your pet’s diet. Dogs can only handle a limited amount of fruits and vegetables.
Owners should not be swayed by marketing tactics or believe myths about pet food. An appointment with a veterinary nutritionist is a prudent move as they can offer sound advice about nutrition and recommendations on a pet’s dietary needs.