Consumer Trends in Pet Food

Pete Wedderburn
14th January 2021 - 3 min read

The way that pets are fed today is very different from twenty or thirty years ago. A stroll around any supermarket pet food aisle or pet shop will reveal what consumers are interested in today.

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“Breed specific” diets are partly science-based, but different breeds can thrive on the same food: the breed-segmentation of pet foods is partly designed by marketing departments to appeal to the hearts of owners of particular breeds of dogs and cats.

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Diets that sound like human meals, with descriptions that are more fitting to a luxury restaurant rather than animal feed. Who wouldn’t want to feed their beloved pet on a fillet steak dinner, with bespoke roasted vegetable sides?

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“Grain free” is a trend based on a false belief that dogs can’t digest carbohydrates. We know from genetic studies that five thousand years ago, dogs evolved to produce amylase, the enzyme that digests starch and grains. Domestic dogs have always eaten scraps from the human table, including bread and rice. There is no scientific reason for them not to eat grain, and indeed, there have been some reports from the USA that some grain-free foods may even contribute to health issues, such as heart failure, either because of missing nutrients or because of extra ingredients in cereal-alternatives that may in some way interfere with cardiac health. Research is still underway on this topic.

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“Natural” seems to appeal to many owners, who seem to think that their dogs are frustrated wolves who want to tuck into meat or fish freshly caught in the wilderness. Wild boar, venison, and freshly caught fish are popular examples.

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“Raw meat and bones” are also popular these days, largely because this is more “natural” than processed foods. While this does suit many dogs, it’s not ideal for every pet: there are issues to do with the zoonotic risk of bacteria being carried in the raw ingredients, and ultra-careful hygiene is needed to avoid vulnerable humans being exposed to risk.

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New formulations of kibble are continually being produced, with novel formulations and ways of manufacturing, including vegetarian, or insect-based, or cold-pressed. Each of these has its own pros and cons.

Dry Kibble

There is a common misunderstanding about dry kibble, with pet owners falling for the lie that kibble is similar to ultra-processed human foods like crisps and frozen pizzas. The truth is that commercial pet food has been formulated to be nutritionally balanced: they could not be more different from human junk-food snacks in this way. A carefully-chosen dry kibble, with clearly identified, specific ingredients, is the ideal way to feed many pets.

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My own pets have thrived for many years on simple, good quality kibble, with specific listed ingredients. I can see no reason to change from this type of diet onto a product that has become popular for no scientific reason.

– Pete Wedderburn

Pets should enjoy eating the food you choose, they should have healthy digestive systems and they should enjoy visible good health, with a shiny coat and bright eyes. If your pet ticks these boxes, there is no need to feed anything different.