Manufacturers of petfood tend to focus on one main goal: to
produce a safe, healthy product that cats and dogs will enjoy
eating and continue eating for many years. To accomplish this
goal, manufacturers spend a lot of time and money on R&D.
Based on the results of this costly and time-consuming
research, new and innovative petfoods are developed. In some
cases, these foods have the ability to prevent certain disease
states, prolong life and improve quality of life for many
animals around the globe.
We were interested to find out just what veterinarians
thought about current commercial petfoods, as well as what they
thought the future of nutrition might entail.
asked several veterinarians to respond to several questions
about dog and cat foods today.
Q: What is the most common question your clients ask you
about petfoods? What sources of information do you use to
answer these questions?
Bauer: The question I am asked most is, "What is the best
food to feed my pet?" I rely on the published literature. Also,
scientific publications and actual data from authors working
for petfood companies in collaboration with university and
other scientists are helpful. I try to help pet owners separate
marketing-based material from the science-based
Buffington: They ask what to feed their pets. I use my own
experience, biomedical literature, the Internet and colleagues
as sources of information as well.
Remillard: I am asked about ingredients. My information
sources are usually the AAFCO manual or FDA website.
Robb: Usually, they ask if the food they are currently
feeding is good or not. Honestly, I generally shoot from the
hip. I don't really read too much about petfood, although I
receive lots of information from many sources. Sometimes I
receive information from one client on what is working and pass
it on to another.
Q: How do you decide which petfood to recommend to your
clients? How could the industry help you make the best
Bauer: I address my responses to pet owners specifically for
their situations. The petfood industry should continue to
partner with the veterinary profession at many levels
(practitioner, university, organized associations and the
media) to maintain effective lines of communication appropriate
to each group. Much of the new information on pet nutrition is
proprietary. However, at some point in time, the industry
should consider releasing some of this information to
communicate nutritional advancements made by them to a broader
Buffington: Again, I use my own experience in making these
decisions. I don't know if there really is a best decision.
Remillard: It depends on whether you are talking about
healthy or sick animals. For healthy pets, anything that has
passed AAFCO feeding trials is worthy of trying. For sick pets,
whatever diet best fits their medical condition or conditions
Robb: I generally tell them to stick with a name brand food
like Iams, Eukanuba, Purina or the like. I recall problems in
cats when some "off" brands did not have enough taurine and
problems were seen. It made me feel that name brands were
better. My faith in any industry is so low these days it's
difficult. Companies say a lot of things, but what is really
true? Building integrity and trust would be key to me.
Q: Are petfood manufacturers meeting the needs of pets
today? What could the industry be doing better?
Bauer: I think responsible petfood manufacturers are meeting
the needs of pet owners. They are developing petfood products
that owners can relate to on a personal level. Many companies
are taking a proactive approach to the benefits and
responsibilities of pet ownership beyond nutrition as well,
which also helps elevate the health status of both people and
A commitment to advancing nutrition research should be high
on the list of things that the petfood industry as a whole
should be investing in. Have some kind of a check-off' program
whereby some small amount of the sale price of each bag or can
of food could be donated to a research fund or foundation. This
research could then be conducted freely, without any perception
of company bias or conflict of interest at all levels. Such a
program would allow more rapid advancement of the science-based
information that we sometimes find lacking on certain
Second, any significant effort to help separate fact from
fiction regarding pet animal nutrition for busy veterinary
practitioners, groomers, breeders and pet owners will have an
important multiplier effect on pet health, the human-animal
bond and, ultimately, everyone involved in pet ownership. This
could be in the form of print or electronic media, seminars,
owner forums, etc. Peer review of this type of information
would help assure its accuracy and usefulness.
Buffington: Yes, they are. I would recommend that
manufacturers fund more research to provide evidence for the
many unsupported claims made by marketers.
Remillard: Probably, although most pet owners do not seem to
believe it. The petfood industry could better explain their
industry practices and ingredient sources to the pet owner.
Robb: My gut feeling is that they are. It is not that one
food is so much better than another, but what works best for
that animal. I think if companies put live people on the phone
I would feel better about calling and getting information. The
Hill's company does a good job of this. If other companies had
a similar hotline, I would call more.
Q: What petfood product would you like to see available to
pet owners? What's missing in the marketplace today?
Bauer: Obesity and its related health risks and problems
continue to be the most frequently seen nutritional disorder in
companion animals. The development of products to aid in the
prevention and treatment of obesity, along with simple
strategies to assure owner compliance and monitor progress, is
Buffington: Products that are based on real evidence (funded
by independent sources, published in the peer-reviewed
literature for a start). Space on the shelves would help. A
visit to a local pet store with 85 veterinary students left us
all overwhelmed with the number of products crowded together
and clamoring for our attention, which I imagine is where the
temptation for unsupported claims arises.
Remillard: True weight loss, weight management or obesity
Robb: I think even I would like to see a greater focus on
dental products. In other words, foods that help the teeth,
especially in cats and small breed dogs.
Q: What trends are becoming more common in your practice?
What do you expect to see happen in the future of petfood and
Bauer: Various niches have developed, many in parallel with
owner lifestyles. Functional ingredients in foods will likely
continue to be an important aspect of pet nutrition, as is the
trend toward holistic-type products. Food safety will also
continue to be important. Further out will be the use of
molecular biology to help pinpoint specific metabolic traits in
an animal or breed that will then help provide information on
the best food to feed that particular dog or cat.
Buffington: Trends seem to depend on the economy. As Werner
Heisenberg [the founder of quantum mechanics and the
uncertainty principle] said: "Predictions are dangerous,
especially about the future."
Remillard: Clients are asking more about nutrition. General
practicing veterinarians cannot adequately answer those
questions. Clients will seek out nutritional advice from
nutritionists and sources other than their general or local
Robb: I have noticed humanization and the move toward more
organic products. I believe the public values animals more and