Keto, gluten-free, organic: If a pet owner is on a particular diet, chances are their dog will also be on that diet, a new study from the University of Guelph shows.
But when it comes to a grain-free diet, owners seem to choose them for their dogs rather than themselves, according to the study.
“It shows that many variables, not just dietary habits, influence dog food choices,” said study director Sydney Banton, a graduate student in the Department of Animal Biosciences at U of G.
The International Survey of Pet Food Consumers’ Habits is the first of its kind to examine factors influencing the selection of grain-free dog food by pet owners in Europe and North America. It was just released in PLOS One.
The study found that dog owners following a gluten-free, organic, or grain-free diet are likely to look for the same traits in the dry dog food they buy.
Feeding their dog grain-free pet food was common among pet owners who prefer “premium” foods, avoid grains or processed foods, follow vegetarian, vegan, or ketogenic diets, or follow strict eating routines.
“Grain-free brands make up more than 40 percent of the dry dog food available in the US,” said Banton, who conducted the study with animal nutrition and pet nutrition expert Dr. Anna Kate Shoveller, Animal Biosciences, with help from Dr. Mike von Massow, Department of Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics. “We wanted to identify the variables that predict why dog owners choose grain-free foods for their pets.”
The research was supported by an agreement between the university and the Montreal-based Rolf C. Hagen Group, the world’s largest multinational manufacturer and distributor of privately owned pet products.
The researchers interviewed 3,300 pet owners from Canada, the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Participants were asked where they get their information about dog food from, where to buy it, and what factors are most important in their selection.
A little more than 21 percent said they look for “no grain” as an attribute that influences their purchase. Dog owners in Germany showed the highest preference for grain-free dog food with 30 percent, followed by 27 percent in the USA, 22 percent in Canada and eight percent in France.
According to Shoveller, the pet food industry is heavily influenced by human trends and what pet owners believe about nutrition. Researchers focused on pet food innovations for dogs and cats need to consider consumer trends and try to come up with the best food formulations for consumer beliefs, she said.
“We felt that we should best understand the risks associated with feeding a non-grained and legume-free pet formula. We should understand the consumers who have chosen this food and whether they are doing anything else that could put their dogs at risk for secondary metabolic disorders, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). “
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2018 that grain-free dog food may be linked to the occurrence of secondary DCM. The agency is continuing to investigate the possible association between DCM and grain-free dog foods in dogs not believed to be genetically susceptible to its occurrence.
While some pet owners feed their dogs similarly to theirs, Banton said it was unclear why vegetarian or vegan pet owners would choose grain-free for their dog.
While most European and North American dietary guidelines recommend eating whole grains as part of a healthy diet, grains are viewed by many pet owners as unhealthy for dogs, Banton said.
“This is happening even though there is no scientific evidence that grains affect dog health. Marketing strategies in the pet industry can influence these attitudes. “
Research can provide a lot of scientific evidence for pet food evolution, but it comes down to what the consumer chooses, Shoveller said.
“You are the one who makes the choice in the pet store,” she said. “If we can fully understand how they make decisions, we can better fill the knowledge gap and help them make the right decisions.”
Banton S, Baynham A, Pezzali JG, Massow M von, Shoveller AK. Grains in the Brain: A Survey of Dog Owners’ Purchasing Habits Associated with Grain-Free Dry Dog Food. PLUS ONE. 2021; 16 (5): e0250806. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0250806
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