As a new dog parent I need to know what dog food to feed my puppy. I have been asking other dog owners how they choose. There were a tremendous range of answers and one gentlemen delighted in telling me he fed his dog two weetabix with warm milk.
It seems deciding what dog food to give your new puppy is just as difficult as deciding on what to feed a new baby.
There has been a demographic shift over the last few years. More people live alone, retired people are living longer and the millennials are waiting longer to get married and have children. Therefore more people are treating their dogs as if they were children with the time, money and emotional space to devote to them. This is being termed ‘pet humanisation’ and it is helping develop pet products. That’s great news for the pet food industry.
Why is there is so much choice in dog food?
Pet food is big business.
Twenty years ago I started my puppy off on Pedigree Chum. A lovely can of meat in jelly and some dried dog biscuits. With the growth of the pet industry has come a diverse range of different foods for our dogs and it’s a minefield!
The range of wet and dried dog food is staggering. There is puppy food, small breed dog food, working dog food, large dog breed food, senior dog food (over the age of 8), obese dogs, dog food for dogs with allergies or easily upset stomachs, oral care and joint care. The list goes on.
And now to add to the confusion is a new wave of raw dog food. Basically mince (chicken, duck, beef, lamb, tripe and fish) mixed with offal and vegetables.
In 2016 the UK pet food industry was examined by the Pet Industry Federation (PIF). It found that pet owners spent £675 million on dog food with more natural dog food overtaking standard dry food. Although a report by the Mirror said that dog owners spent on average £393 a year on dog food. If there are 8.5 million dog owners in the UK, that equates to £3.4 billion.
How is dog food different to years ago?
Pet humanisation (treating our pets like humans) influences new product development in pet food. Food products for dogs are now more like human food. They are designed to attract human taste buds and are often marketed as the healthier option e.g. non GMO, organic, grain free, raw. Dog owners want the best for their dogs and their health comes at a cost. Just as people spend more on their own food with superfoods, premium products and convenience meals, they now do the same for their dogs.
And it doesn’t stop at the health benefits. For some it’s also a lifestyle choice. In the US Pet Brands like Young Again Pet food promises anti-aging benefits and Natural Balance offers a vegetarian option.
Internet retailing is also changing dog food choice. We now have the convenience of online purchases delivered to our door and regular ordering so our dog is never left without food.
So how do you know what to feed your dog?
Dog owners are very interested in the list of ingredients in their pet’s food. We look at what’s included in our food on the packaging and we do the same for our dogs. Unfortunately it can be very confusing with the terms meat and animal derivatives, analytical constituents etc. The Pet Food Manufacturing Association (PFMA) who aims to be “the credible voice of a responsible pet food industry” has developed its website to offer information to all us pet owners with some very informative factsheets and video (see below).
Who manufactures dog food?
Did you know that 90% of the pet food sold in the UK are from just 4 companies.
Guess which ones?
- Mars – Pedigree, Cesar, Pal, Chapi, Royal Canin, James Well Beloved
- Nestle – Bakers, Bonio, Winalot, Proplan, Purina
- Colgate-Palmolive – Hills Science Plan
- Proctor and Gamble – Eukenuba, Iams
These companies have the lions share of the pet food market and this will continue due to their large marketing budgets.They can afford the large, lucrative advertising campaigns and supermarket deals. This doesn’t mean they offer the best dog food in terms of dietary and health benefits although they may be the cheapest. Bakers and Pedigree are still the biggest brands.
So who supplies the best dog food?
When you are deciding on dog food, you may decide to just go to the supermarket and see what’s on offer. You may have a recommendation from a friend or colleague or dog breeders. Or you may believe that the best food is the one recommend by your vet.
9 out of 10 vets now recommend foods from one of the big 4. Have a look next time you are at the vets! What I have since discovered is that food sold through the vets often means monitory incentives for the vet and the big companies ‘sponsor’ nutritional modules at veterinary schools.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to go into the small independent pet shops. They often have great advice on products that you might not see in the supermarket and they also allow dogs into the shop!
Ultimately the choice of what to feed is yours. The dog’s happiness and health is our priority and if that means Weetabix for breakfast, so be it!