Pets are a part of the family and sometimes even referred to as ‘fur-babies’. The continuation of pet humanisation has expanded into a variety of trends, of which we discuss three here: homemade meals, raw diets and vegetarian products.
Complete home-cooking meal kits are readily available and projected to have 11 million regular customers by 2021 in the United States. Devices have entered the market, which will cook your pet’s meal in 20 minutes while you cook your own dinner. Leftovers are even kept in the fridge next to your own.
Aside from the health claims, preparing a home-cooked meal for your pet can also just be really good fun. It contributes to the feeling of really caring for and looking after your companion. Unfortunately, a meal made with love does not guarantee a healthy diet, whether it is raw or cooked. A study at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, Germany analysed 95 raw pet food diets, of which 60% were found to have significant dietary imbalances. A study at UC Davis showed 95% of 200 home-food recipes (including raw and cooked) resulted in pet food lacking required levels of at least one essential nutrient, with more than 83% having multiple nutritional deficiencies. There are instances where animals have suffered severe health consequences, such as bone deformities, from a nutritionally unbalanced diet.
In line with giving pets a custom meal, like humans do for themselves, the trend of raw meat diets has also entered the scene. The rationale is that raw meals are more in line with the animals’ natural diet, where animals do not receive cooked, extruded or pelleted feed. However, there is lots of debate about contamination.
Scientists are raising concerns about the raw diets available. The University of Utrecht analysed 35 commercially available frozen raw pet foods for bacteria and parasites: 23% were contaminated with species of Escherichia coli, 54% with Listeria monocytogenes and 20% with Salmonella. Warm-blooded animals carry these bacteria in their intestines, which risks meat being contaminated during the slaughtering process. The PFMA in the UK and FDA in the US have issued guidelines for consumers on handling raw food and raising awareness of the risks. Thorough cooking kills some harmful bacteria, which is where home-cooking your pet’s diet can address bacterial contamination.
Vegetarian and vegan diets
In contrast to the raw diet trend, there is the trend of feeding a vegetarian or vegan diet. Consumers are increasingly becoming more conscientious. The University of Sydney estimated in 2017 that pet food is responsible for 25-30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption regarding use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides.
One of the ways consumers are looking to reduce their pet’s carbon ‘pawprint’ is through feeding a vegetarian or vegan diet. YouthSight data shows those classed as ‘Millennials’ and ‘Generation Z’ are willing to spend up to 20% more on goods that meet their values and are more sustainable.
However, cats are true carnivores and some nutrients that are essential to them are only found in meat as a natural source. Taurine is a commonly quoted nutrient in this issue, although in the additive industry a synthetic source is available. The industry therefore has answers to wanting to create a non-meat diet, although this requires careful nutritional formulation.
Meeting nutritional needs
The home-cooking and raw feeding trends seem to address the desire to feed just the healthy sources of nutrients and avoid the intimidating words listed on the back of pet food packaging. The hazard is for pet owners to serve their pet just a bit of raw meat from the store thinking that is their natural diet and therefore healthy. But natural is not equivalent to healthy and risk-free.
It is tempting to think the information accessible through the click of a button is all that is required, but consumers risk learning about product quality and raw material variability the hard way. Unless a diet is nutritionally balanced, pets can and will suffer.
Supplements are available both to the industry and the consumer for mixing with raw materials or for addition within the bowl in order to meet the nutritional needs, while still enjoying the home-made diet.