Is it your imagination, or are the dog and cat food aisles at your local pet store getting bigger?
New ingredients, new formulas, and new types (where did that freezer come from?) are popping up every year, each promising to keep your pet healthy, treat existing health issues, or imitate what their ancestors ate in the wild.
While it’s great that pet parents are asking for more of their pet food, with higher quality ingredients and allergy-friendly options becoming readily available, some of these pet food trends are just that - trends.
Learn about the top five pet food trends from the past few years and what you should know before switching to the latest diet for your dog or cat.
- Raw food for pets also known as biologically appropriate raw food (BARF), usually consists of uncooked muscle meat, organs like liver, gizzards, and kidney, and whole raw bones. A raw diet can also include eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, plant oils, and/or fermented foods. Raw feeding pets is nothing new, with sled dog racers, greyhound racers, breeders, and others feeding a raw diet for decades, and predecessors of our domestic animals eating fresh, raw meat for thousands of years prior.
In the past few years, raw feeding has become popularized amongst regular cat and dog parents. Raw feeding is controversial amongst veterinary professionals, and it’s not for the faint of heart. DIY raw feeders must calculate their pet’s daily nutritional requirements or work with a holistic veterinary nutritionist to prevent deficiencies, shop for hard-to-find ingredients, then prepare and store meals.
Recently, complete and balanced, commercially available raw pet foods have made it easier for pet parents to feed a raw diet. While it’s not possible or feasible to perfectly replicate what a dog or cat would hunt and eat in the wild, a raw diet potentially has health benefits like improved dental health, better digestion, and better skin and coat quality. Anecdotal reports have seemed promising, but more research is needed to determine if the mess, risks, and costs are worth the potential benefits of giving your pet a raw meat based diet.
- Insect based protein sources replace protein from animal-based sources like beef, chicken, and fish with protein meals derived from ground-up crickets or grubs. Crickets are touted as a highly digestible, eco-friendly source of protein that’s suitable for pets with sensitivities to animal-based protein sources. So far, research studies on the subject of cricket food for pets have had promising results, offering high digestibility and supporting a healthy, diverse gut microbiome. While more research is needed to assess the long-term effects of an insect-based diet for pets, cricket pet foods, like most other commercial pet foods, are formulated to provide complete, balanced nutrition and might be a suitable option for pet parents looking for an alternative to a more typical diet.
- Vegan pet foods are another controversial pet food trend, offering diets made entirely free of animal based protein sources, instead using peas, chickpeas, lentils, nutritional yeast, and other plant-based sources to meet or exceed AAFCO requirements, including synthetic vitamins to supplement nutrients that only exist in meat. Though vegan and vegetarian pet foods may contain the nutrients your pet needs, the plant-based ingredients and synthetic vitamins may be more difficult for your pet to digest, break down, and utilize than nutrients found in meat and animal-based ingredients. Vegetarian and vegan pet diets could help dogs and cats with animal protein sensitivities, but are generally not recommended by veterinarians for typical cases. Preliminary research shows that pets can survive on vegetarian and vegan pet foods, but more research is needed to determine the long-term effects and potential complications of feeding pets meat-free.
- Grain Free vs Grain Inclusive Grain-free pet foods, which use peas, potatoes, lentils, or chickpeas as a carbohydrate source rather than rice, corn, or other grains, became popular in the early 2000s, touted as a healthier alternative, especially for pets that suffer from itchy, inflamed skin.
In 2018, the FDA reported an increase in cases of dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart disease that was considered hereditary, suddenly seen in dogs of breeds not known to be susceptible. Some dogs with DCM were found to be deficient in taurine, an amino acid that protects heart health, and it was suspected that legumes could interfere with the body’s ability to synthesize the amino acid.
However, research has not been conclusive, and has not ruled out other possible causes like improper breeding. At this time, the FDA has closed the investigation and stated that grain-free foods do not have a proven link to DCM. Even so, many pet parents have switched to grain-inclusive pet foods, especially those with newly DCM-prone breeds like the Golden Retriever
- Fresh food for pets encompasses foods that are less processed than typical kibble and made with higher quality ingredients, sometimes even made in manufacturing facilities that are licensed to make food for people. These can range from dehydrated pet foods that are mixed with warm water just before serving, to freeze-dried raw pet foods that are processed at extremely low temperatures to help preserve nutrients that can be lost when food is cooked at high temperatures, and gently cooked foods that can look a lot like what you might eat for dinner
What Should I Feed My Pet?
If you want to feed your pet the healthiest diet possible, but don’t know which direction to take, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Based on your pet’s age, weight, and existing health conditions, what may work for another pet might not be the best option for them.
While there’s no single best diet for your pet, their food needs to, at minimum, contain balanced vitamins and minerals in a format that’s digestible, tasty, and readily available and affordable for you. You can combine multiple types of food, add fresh ingredients, and offer healthy treats to create a menu that’s the perfect fit for the unique needs and personal taste preferences of your cat or dog.
Every pet deserves to live a long, happy, healthy life.