When you go into a store to buy a food for your dog or cat, the wide number of options can be almost overwhelming. Pet parents have a number of important decisions to make in the face of an avalanche of competing product claims.
To help provide clarity for you next shopping trip, petMD conducted a survey to determine what factors people look for in choosing a pet food. We also asked our own veterinary expert, Dr. Ashley Gallagher to help point pet food consumers in the right direction.
First, the survey shows that pet parents really want what’s right for the health of their pet. When asked what factor is the most important in their choice, only 4 percent said it was a low price. And while 10 percent focus on how their pet may like the taste of the food, nearly 4 out of 5 said they choose a food based on how nutritious or healthy they think it will be for their pet.
But finding that healthy choice may not be as easy as it sounds. According to Dr. Gallagher, pet food ingredient labels -- something 60% of pet food buyers say they always consider -- actually provide little value in determining the quality of those ingredients and their nutritional value. The problem is that official terms used in ingredient lists are often far different from what we imagine and do not provide important qualifiers that would tell consumers if that the ingredient is of low or high quality. “In my opinion, ingredient labels provide little help in determining the nutritional quality of a pet food,” said Dr. Gallagher. “However, there are a number of other factors pet parents should consider in finding the right food. “
- Veterinary recommendations: More than 3 out of 4 pet parents say they always consider their own veterinarian’s nutritional advice. According to Dr. Gallagher, the best information for choosing a quality pet food is the advice of a veterinary professional who knows the specific health needs of your pet.
- Brand reputation: Dr. Gallagher also agrees with 72 present of pet parents who say they rely on the quality reputation of the brand or manufacturer in choosing a nutritious food. “Many of the new start-up brands actually do not have veterinary nutritionists on staff, nor do they have facilities to test the nutritional quality of their food through feeding trials with real pets,” explains Dr. Gallagher. “The established, trusted brands also far more likely to have strong quality assurance programs in place to ensure the quality and safety of their products.”
- Regulatory Statement: Only 1 out of 3 of consumers say they pay attention to an often overlooked statement that appears somewhere on the bag, yet provides very important information in making a quality choice. Dr. Gallagher recommends consumers look for the “AFFCO Statement,” which is required by state pet food regulators to inform consumers if the product provides at least the minimum nutritional level necessary for your pets particular life stage. “Make sure this statement list your pet’s correct life stage, such as puppy or adult,” says Dr. Gallagher, who also cautions that the term “all life stages” is not appropriate for adult and senior pets and -- like “one size fits all” -- is not a mark of a quality pet food.
- Manufactured “by” the Brand: While only a third of consumers say they look for this line on the bag or label, Dr. Gallagher recommends you go with a product that is manufactured ‘by” the company or brand and not manufactured “for” them. When a product says it was manufactured “for” the company, this means it was not produced in a facility owned by the company under the supervision of its employees, but was actually made under a contract with an unnamed manufacture. “I think it’s best to trust a company that makes its own food under the watchful eyes of its own employees to make sure the food meets the company’s quality standards, rather than trusting the safety procedures of an unknown manufacturer.”
- Toll Free Consumer Line: While it was the least considered factor in our survey (28 percent), Dr. Gallagher said it’s wise to look for a toll-free number printed on the bag or label that consumers can call with questions about pet food quality. “If they don’t provide an 800 number, chances are they don’t want your questions because they don’t have very good answers,” warns Dr. Gallagher. She recommends choosing a brand that stands behind its products and is happy to provide you with this important information.