Have you ever noticed dogs sometimes resemble their owners? Well, perhaps it’s a gradual assimilation caused by people’s habits. I started thinking about this after attending a session at the recent Pet Food Forum in Kansas City, where a University of Illinois, animal sciences professor, Maria de Godoy, shared research results from a web-based survey of pet parents. In this instance, the sample was dog owners. The objective of the study was to understand pet parent beliefs and knowledge and see how it translated into the nutritional needs and daily care of their dogs. Dr. de Godoy basically suggested there’s a knowledge gap when people select pet foods. While well-intentioned, people tend to choose pet foods that fit their own lifestyle and nutritional needs rather than those of their four-legged friends.
Here’s a look at the survey and some of the results. While the more than 4,000 study respondents were able to complete the survey in one of four languages, more than half completed it in English, and of those, more than 90% lived in the U.S. or Canada. So, unless noted otherwise, the following discussion will be about the English results only. Nearly all of the respondents agreed with the statement, “My dog is part of my family,” indicating a strong human-animal bond. When asked about physical activity frequency for pets, 84.5% of respondents said their dogs participated in it three times a week or more. And 65.8% of people said they exercised with their dogs. (What’s good for me is good for my dog.)
More than half of respondents 57.6% believe their dogs have similar nutritional needs to themselves. And what is eating healthy for pet owners? A healthy diet is well-balanced (85%), eating fresh (75%), whole grains (54%), low-sugar (53%), low sodium (35%), no additives (29%), low fat (25%). And eating healthy for their dogs is well-balanced (82%), eating fresh (25%), meat 1st ingredient (63%), no byproducts (43%), low sodium (24%), low sugar (29%).
People who read Nutrition Facts labels on food also tend to read the Guaranteed Analysis labels on dog food. And even those pet parents who don’t ever read Nutrition Facts labels do read Guaranteed Analysis labels on their dog’s food at least half the time. These label reading findings reflect the clean label food trend that has spread throughout the food industry. People want the same label transparency on pet food.
Just as snacking has become a meal occasion for many Americans, so it seems has it for dogs. Whether it’s human snacks or pet ones, dogs are snacking. The survey results show more than half of dogs are snacking daily. There may be a lot of snacking going on, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t price conscious when it comes to pet food. More than 50% of those surveyed said cost was important when selecting a dog food, yet 91.5% said they would pay more for a healthier food for their dog.
Putting a leash on it
Some of the conclusions Professor de Godoy drew were:
- Dogs are considered family members
- Pet owners are concerned about their pets’ healthy eating
- Pet owners underestimate the Body Condition Score (BCS) of their pets. (Think BMI)
- Most reported their pets having an ideal body weight
- The animals’ BCS correlated with the body weight of the pet owners
- Most pets exercise at least three times a week
- Animal dietary supplement use correlated with owner’s use and pet’s age
- Dogs snack daily, but their consumption is not correlated with their owner’s snacking habits
My takeaway other than dogs and owners taking on each other’s habits was the importance of incorporating healthy ingredients in pet food formulations. People want their pets to eat nutritious, well-balanced foods, and they want to be able to recognize ingredients on the label.
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