The field of pet nutrition has become more science-based than ever, according to the Veterinary Practice News article "Pet Food Nutrition Mimics Human Health Trends." Large petfood companies are using scientific research to provide petfood options to consumers that claim to prevent or combat common health problems such as kidney disease, arthritis and cancer. Obesity continues to be one of the largest health problems among humans today, and the problem among pets sadly mirrors that. When the human trend in food was low-carbohydrate and high-protein, pet diets followed suit. More recently, organic, USA-sourced, gluten-free and vegan foods are emerging from the fringes of human foods once thought to be too expensive, too hard to find or too pointless to purchase as niche markets pet parents are more than willing to pay for.

The recent push of popularity for these foods should come as no surprise. Health and how what we eat affects our health are at the forefront of the human food movement, so an emphasis on nutrigenomics, novel ingredients and holistic methods has been the answer petfood manufacturers have served up to the "But is it healthy?" call. As with human diets, antioxidants, omega fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroprotectives are also being paired with specialized pet diets to help improve health. Declining oral health has been linked to heart disease and other health problems in both humans and animals, and our industry responded with formulas to manage tartar, plaque and gingivitis, fight cavities and other oral health quandaries.

Another trend in  previous years was the use of novel proteins in solving adverse reactions to foods. Some manufacturers now use hydrolyzed proteins that contain no intact animal proteins and are backed by comprehensive clinical studies to validate their effectiveness, while others develop vegetarian, vegan or fruit-based diets. Most recently, Halo Purely For Pets, a petfood company co-owned by Ellen DeGeneres, released a new vegan formula dog food, Vegan Garden Medley for Dogs. According to the company, this plant-based dog food contains no preservatives or meats found in other petfoods. "Halo recognizes there are limited options for owners wishing to feed vegan," says Donna Spector, veterinary advisor for Halo Pet Foods. "Halo’s motivation behind creating the Vegan Garden Medley Wet and Dry Formula for Dogs was to provide a healthful, complete and balanced option using the highest quality natural ingredients possible."

Consumers are also  seeking out food products to extend the lives of their companions and are relying on major petfood manufacturers to use cutting-edge technology and nutritional enhancements to increase both quality and quantity of life for their pets. And today’s pet parents are more educated with regard to nutrition, they know how to read a label and they know what they are looking for. JustFoodForDogs took the concept of increasing the quality and length of life for as many dogs as possible and ran with it. The company produces daily food for healthy dogs and custom-formulated, nutrient-profile, specific diets for dogs with special health issues like liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes, cancer and overweight. All ingredients are certified by the US Department of Agriculture for human consumption—including restaurant-grade meats—and the recipes are developed by a team that includes a veterinarian, nutritionist, pet chef and a cadre of dogs and dog lovers, says the company website.

JustFoodForDogs even embraces the DIY food trend by offering all its recipes (free of charge) to consumers who prefer to make the meals in their own home. The company also holds classes at its dog kitchen and dog bakery where pet parents learn how to make healthy food for dogs at home. Five recipes make up the primary menu: Lamb & Brown Rice, Beef & Russet Potato, Turkey & Whole Wheat Macaroni, Chicken & Rice and Fish & Sweet Potato. The food is fresh and then instantly frozen.

Exclusively Pet Inc. creates dog treats made with natural ingredients that resemble popular people snacks but are specially formulated for dogs. Its dog "cookies" are kosher certified and contain no meat or by-products and are flavored with an ingredient derived from plants, the company says. Their newer, chewy treats are wheat, corn and soy free and contain no added sugars. And all Exclusively Pet products are 100% sourced and made in the USA, according to the company. Treats like Jerkeez are available in three flavors: BBQ Chicken, Pizza and Taco, while Lick-O-Rish Chews are available in Carob, Cherry and Strawberry.

PowerPoint: Functional foods for dogs

Check out a presentation from Petfood Forum Asia 2012 from Dr. K.B. Kore on functional foods for dogs and how they use prebiotics, probiotics and synbiotics to mirror human health food trends and to improve the well-being of the pet.