Biologically appropriate pet foods of all types attempt to mimic the diets a pet’s wild ancestors would have encountered. While dogs have evolved to digest foods differently than their wolf forebearers, other pets’ tastes haven’t been tamed down. Parrots, parakeets, conures and cockatiels, for example, don’t have the multi-millennia history of domestication that dogs dp. Polly wants a biologically appropriate food identical to what a macaw in the Amazon would enjoy. However, pet bird foods haven’t always copied the blend of hard and soft items a wild parrot might find in the canopy. Likewise, small mammal foods may have overlooked biological differences among various rodents and rabbits. New products on display at Global Pet Expo included superpremium ranges of exotic bird and small mammal foods.
“We start with the animal,” Martin Pratt, director of customer marketing for Central Garden and Pet, told Petfood Industry. “What do we need for the animal? Then we build it out from there.”
For example, one of his company’s brands, Kaytee, released a new superpremium line of pet bird foods. Kaytee NutriSoft is a complete diet with formulations for parakeets and cockatiels, parrots and conures or macaws and cockatoos. While the food is pelletized, it has a soft texture.
“All pet bird foods are hard,” Pratt said. “They're crunchy, they break… It's really going back to what is the ancestral diet. What does an animal have when they're out in the wild? A lot of parrots eat fruits and vegetables that are not hard and crunchy, along with hard nuts and seeds.”
The Nutrisoft line allows pet bird owners to give their animals a balanced diet that is soft with textures the bird would find in nature, he said.
Small mammal and bird new product development
Creating the soft exotic bird diet took years to develop and has been a major project for the company.
“It’s very hard to do something soft,” Pratt said. “It involves moisture. It involves mold and going bad. So, it's something that's taken a while.”
The natural habitats of exotic birds also influenced Kaytee’s new Food from the Wild snacks for pet parrots and other avians.
In small mammal products, Kaytee came out with a superpremum line at Global Pet Expo 2022, Field and Forest. For these small mammal foods, product development was based on not only the ingredients, but also looking at the different shapes of the items, he said.
“A guinea pig wants a different shape for their teeth than a rabbit does or a chinchilla does,” he said. “It's going back to the natural things.”
Along with biologically appropriate products, at Global Pet Expo, many new exotic bird and small mammal foods followed similar premiumization trends to the wider pet industry. For example, Lafeber’s Gourmet Pellets exotic bird pellets included labeling claims of human-grade ingredients. Versele-Laga Goldenfeast exotic bird feeds included ingredients from named regions, such as star anise from India and mangoes from Thailand.