You are on page 1of 5

In cooperation with

Timely Topics in Nutrition
Attitudes of pet owners toward pet foods
and feeding management of cats and dogs

Kathryn E. Michel, dvm, ms, dacvn; Kristina N. Willoughby, vmd; Sarah K. Abood, dvm, phd;
Andrea J. Fascetti vmd, phd, dacvn, dacvim; Linda M. Fleeman, bvsc, phd;
Lisa M. Freeman, dvm, phd, dacvn; Dorothy P. Laflamme, dvm, phd, dacvn;
Cassondra Bauer, dvm, ms; Brona L. E. Kemp, bvsc; Janine R. Van Doren, dvm

P et owners necessarily play an active role in deter-
mining their pets’ diet, and their nutritional choices
are likely to be influenced by numerous factors, includ-
Significant differences have been found be-
tween cats and dogs regarding types of food that
are fed and some aspects of feeding management. 4
ing their knowledge of the nutritional needs of their In that study, investigators found that a greater
pets; their perceptions regarding the nutritional value, percentage of cats (98.8%) were fed at least half
wholesomeness, and safety of feed ingredients; their of their diet as a commercial pet food, compared
thoughts about the pet food industry; and their sourc- with the percentage of dogs (93.2%) receiving at
es of information regarding the dietary management least half of their diet as a commercial pet food;
of their pets. Communicating effectively with owners hence, significantly more dogs than cats received
about nutrition and dietary management of companion noncommercial foods, including table scraps, left-
animals can be difficult, particularly when the goal is to overs, or home-prepared foods, as part of their diet.
persuade a pet owner to alter feeding practices. Circum- Cats were more likely to receive at least half of
stances frequently arise in which a change in feeding their diet as canned commercial pet food and were
management may be in the best interests of a pet (eg, more likely to be fed ad libitum but were less likely
when a patient with organ failure could benefit from to receive treats, compared with results for dogs.
a diet restricted in certain nutrients or when a pet is On the basis of these findings, it may be discerned
receiving an unbalanced home-prepared diet). Under- that the attitudes held by pet owners regarding the
standing how and what people choose to feed their pets, proper nutrition and feeding management of com-
as well as behaviors and attitudes that may influence panion animals reflect differences among cat and
these choices, could facilitate better communication dog owners.
with clients regarding dietary choices for their pets. It is important to gain a better understanding of
Studies1–4 have indicated that > 90% of cats and dogs attitudes regarding nutrition for companion animals
in the United States and Australia consume commercial because they are an integral part of feeding behaviors
pet food for at least half their intake. However, noncom- of pet owners and of successful communication with
mercial foods, such as table scraps, home-prepared diets, owners regarding nutrition. Therefore, the objective
or bones and raw food, are fed as part of the main diet to of the study reported here was to investigate attitudes
a substantial number of pets (13.1% of cats and 30.4% of regarding pet foods and feeding practices held by cat
dogs).4 and dog owners.

From the Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (Michel, Wil-
loughby); Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
(Abood, Bauer); Department of Molecular Biosciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616 (Fascetti, Van
Doren); School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia (Fleeman, Kemp); Department of Clinical Sciences,
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, North Grafton, MA 01536 (Freeman); and Nestlé Purina PetCare Research, Check-
erboard Square, St Louis, MO 63164 (Laflamme). Dr. Willoughby’s present address is The Animal Medical Center, 510 E 62nd St, New York,
NY 10065. Dr. Fleeman’s present address is Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Dr. Laflamme’s present
address is Nestlé Purina PetCare Research, 473 Grandma’s Place, Floyd, VA 24091. Dr. Bauer’s present address is Southwest National Primate
Center, PO Box 760549, San Antonio, TX 78245. Dr. Kemp’s present address is Mandeville Veterinary Services, 131 Carlton Ave East, Wembly
HA9 8PN, England. Dr. Van Doren’s present address is Laguna Creek Veterinary Hospital, 5060 Laguna Blvd, Ste 129, Elk Grove, CA 95758.
Supported by Nestlé Purina PetCare Research.
Presented in part in abstract form at the Nestlé Purina Nutrition Forum, St Louis, October 2004, and the Annual Meeting of the American
Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, Baltimore, June 2005.
Dr. Laflamme is employed by the Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, and Drs. Michel, Abood, and Freeman serve on an expert advisory council
for the Nestlé Purina PetCare Company.
Address correspondence to Dr. Michel.

JAVMA, Vol 233, No. 11, December 1, 2008 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition 1699

mildly agree. *Respondents had the following options for each statement: 1.992 my pet's diet is important to me. Because the responses were owner was asked to identify only 1 animal that was to based on a limited noncontinuous scale of 1 to 5.15  0. Whole wheat. the Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA on ranks. a be the subject of the questionnaire.02 1.02 0. opinion or not sure. and owner attitudes toward statement.05. or other foods prepared for human consumption.44  0. Dogs (or cats) need a variety 2. mildly agree.02 1.05 2.02 0. and 5. the experimental protocol was reviewed and ap. er when ≥ 75% of their pet’s diet was in the form of versity of Pennsylvania.60  0.18  0. In addition to questions analyses were performed by use of commercially avail- regarding signalment.001 2.09  0.934 1.06 0.03 4. and the Uni. 3. Data from all 5 study locations were pooled Procedures—A telephone survey was conducted for analysis. strongly agree.59  0.5 Potential participants were than commercial pet foods. so the former analysis was themselves as veterinary medical students from their used.60  0.28  0. December 1. 2-treatment randomization list was used to methods (ie. I trust my veterinarian's advice 1.17  0.65  0.117 1.57  0.25  0. No. strongly agree.290 grains are good sources of nutrition for dogs (or cats).14  0. strongly proved by the respective institutional review board. See Table 1 for key. the survey par- ticipants were read 26 statements related to the pet food The study reported here was part of a larger survey industry and the pet health-care profession and asked conducted to obtain information about pet feeding hab.37  0. by veterinary medical students from the University of Respondents were classified as a commercial feed- California.02 0. Results for both Students conducting the interviews identified ANOVAs were identical. each statement: 1.19  0. such as home-prepared di- selected from local telephone books by use of a pre. I do not trust veterinarians to 4.06 0. table scraps.Materials and Methods sources of information about pet care.05 0. activities.62  0. 3. Statistical analysis—An ANOVA was used to de- ticipants who owned both cats and dogs. When required by an institu.03 0. Dogs (or cats) are carnivores so 2. disagree.05.10 0.114 best nutrition possible.13 0. or other foods prepared for human determined randomization process. strongly disagree. feeding behavior.64  0.02 1.43  0.53  0.05 0. Vol 233.26  0.36  0.38  0. I want to provide my pet with the 1. Feeding practice† Species of pet Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value‡ (n = 449) (n = 621) P value‡ I want to provide my pet with the 1.114 2.02 1. 11. commercial vs noncommercial feeders) determine which species would be the subject of the and between species of pet as well as to find interac- survey. †Respondents were classified as a commercial feeder when  75% of their pet’s diet was in the form of commercial pet foods or as a noncommercial feeder when  50% of their pet’s diet was from foods other than commercial pet foods.421 1.011 best care possible.50  0.03 1.24  0. ‡Values were considered to differ significantly at P  0. Table 2—Mean ± SD scores* for pet owners about statements reflecting attitudes toward feed ingredients.01 1. Respondents had the following options for their pets and pet care.30  0.04 2. such as home-prepared diets. or 5. and able software. When an owner had > 1 animal in a species.a Table 1—Mean ± SD scores* for pet owners about statements reflecting attitudes toward pet care on the basis of feeding practices and species of pet. mildly disagree.001 2.77  0. 4. table scraps. ets. when ≥ 50% of their pet’s diet was from foods other as described elsewhere. and other 2.04 1.93  0. Feeding practice† Species of pet Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value‡ (n = 449) (n = 621) P value‡ The quality of ingredients used for 1.4.04 4. no tion.122 1. Tufts University. Differences respective institutions and stated that they were con.03 0. Data were reported are mean ± SD. to indicate the extent to which they agreed with each its. corn.26  0.03 1.441 regarding health care for my pet. tect differences in attitudes between owners’ feeding generated. The survey was consumption. All ducting a survey of pet owners.470 they need a meat-based diet.04 0. commercial pet foods or as a noncommercial feeder versity of Queensland between May and August 2004. pet-owner interactions. the tions between these factors. a computer. 2.28  0. were considered significant at values of P < 0.074 provide sound nutritional advice.43  0. 1700 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition JAVMA.001 4. For par.06 2.03 2. Davis. 4. and all subsequent nonparametric analysis also was performed by use of questions pertained to that specific pet.61  0.05 0.08 0. administered to individuals who were the owner and primary caregiver of 1 or more cats or dogs.04 1.35  0. the Uni. mildly disagree.16  0. 2008 . no opinion or not sure. Michigan State University.152 of different foods. 2.02 1.22  0.

539 (86.05 2.001 2.258 2.8%) cat owners did not meet the criterion for ei.04 3.09  0.45  0.89  0.0%) and home-prepared diets.75  0.08  0.22  0. JAVMA.966 unhealthy.25  0.8%) tive in their responses to the statements regarding raw were classified as commercial feeders and 62 (10.22  0.04 2.001 a high priority on pet health and well-being.03 2. Vol 233.42  0. 11. the commercial feeders.64  0.04  0.04 0.04  0.18  0. December 1. Dogs (or cats) need more meat 3. 429 (95.235 in pet foods.18  0.76  0.03 2.16  0. tween commercial and noncommercial feeders for 19 of Among cat owners.58  0.33  0.Results ing 20 (3.7%) dogs reported that their pets were fed among dog owners.05  0. Feeding practice† Species of pet Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value‡ (n = 449) (n = 621) P value‡ Information on pet food labels is 2. Genetically modified foods and 2.98  0.13 0.75  0.332 easy to understand. At least 200 surveys feeders was greater among cat owners. Cooking destroys nutrients 3.20  0. Significant differences were found be- 621 dog owners were included in the study. whereas the were completed for each site.194 telephone calls were made from the ference in the feeding practice between cat and dog 5 study sites.7%) met the cri. Among dog owners.45  0.05 2.02  0.05 0.13  0. Information on pet food labels 3. feed owners of pets fed nontherapeutic diets. and raw and home-prepared of incomplete data.001 foods contain all the nutrition my pet needs. Good-quality commercial pet 2.03 3. The noncommercial feeders also were more posi- ther feeder category.179 than provided in commercial pet foods. 2008 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition 1701 . The proportion of commercial and 635 dogs completed the survey. Feeding practice† Species of pet Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value‡ (n = 449) (n = 621) P value‡ Processed foods for pets are 3.04 2.04 2.18  0.03 2.25  0.05 2.11  0. See Table 1 for key.46  0. Owners of 17 (3.47  0. ers.03 3.90  0. quality products.222 ingredients are safe to use.03 3.012 provide nutritionally sound.45  0.01  0.05 2.001 2. reflected greater mistrust of commercial pet foods and terion for a noncommercial feeder.57  0.001 pet foods are wholesome and nutritious.13  0. therapeutic diets. Additives used in pet foods have 3.37  0. the remaining 8 food processing than responses of the commercial feed- (1.80  0.677 healthier than other foods. com- cats and 3 dogs were removed from the data set because mercial pet foods (Table 4).001 2.079 2.04 0. Organic foods are safer and 2. because of the good nutrition provided by commercial pet foods.11  0.05 2.14 0.001 3. See Table 1 for key.01  0.43  0.25  0. Most pet food companies place 2.12  0.35  0.11  0.03 2.294 is misleading.32  0.04 0. Table 3—Mean ± SD scores* for pet owners about statements reflecting attitudes toward food processing.6%) cats proportion of noncommercial feeders was greater and 11 (1.38  0.650 unhealthy.78  0.05 0.97  0.34  0. Thus. responses to the statements were from reflecting attitudes regarding pet care (Table 1).05 3.001 3.78  0.001).34  0.03 3. An additional 3 ingredients (Table 2).2%) dog owners did not meet the criterion for either feeder category.001 3.358 unhealthy side effects.04 2.001 2.11  0.05 2.05 2.41  0.5%) met the criterion 26 statements.05 3.04 0. No.23  0.04 0.001 2.02  0.97  0.06 2.001 2. Table 4—Mean ± SD scores* for pet owners about statements reflecting attitudes toward commercial pet foods.12  0.04 3.001 2.05 0.1%) owners representing 469 cats owners (P < 0. 1.079 in part. data from 449 cat owners and diets (Table 5). Processed foods for people are 2.04 0.17  0.25  0.05 2.04  0. I trust pet food manufacturers to 2.04 2.22  0. The responses of noncommercial feeders for a commercial feeder and 12 (2. 2.001 2.36  0.04 0.12  0.83  0.13 0. Additional data were not collected for Statements were grouped into 5 broad categories these pets.03 2.30  0. thus.05 0.12  0. There was a significant dif- A total of 18.001 3.04 0.98  0. Pets are living longer today. the remain.11  0.59  0.05 2. Ingredients used in commercial 2.104 (6. food processing (Table 3). compared with responses for were classified as noncommercial feeders.

06 2.64  0. although the difference in response was signifi. both dog and cat owners were in strong agreement care professionals should be prepared to discuss con- with the statement (Table 1). ingredients in commercial pet foods. Dog owners also were more positive in their respons.05 3. 3.167 nutrition than cooked foods. diet or feeding practices will be recommended for a pa- mercial and noncommercial feeders when the responses tient.14  0. it is necessary to obtain in- ly.12).15  0.8%) and on the basis of species of pet owned. circumstances arise in which a change in advice).95  0.001) more likely to agree with the statement (2.73) were some differences between cat and dog owners. joyment gained from preparing food for the pet.28) feeders.64  0. for veterinary health-care professionals with regard to cies was detected for only 2 statements.95 ± to the attitudes of commercial feeders. On the basis of these findings. to those recommendations. For the more concerns and misgivings about commercial pet second statement (Good-quality commercial pet foods food.001). practice. cerns owners may have about commercial pet foods. December 1. The mean ± SD value for owners who fed practices.65  0.06 3.001 to pets. differ among pet owners is an important consideration The necessity for veterinary health-care professionals to 1702 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition JAVMA. more. For the other 7 statements. See Table 1 for key.04) than were the noncommercial feeders (2. their cats commercial foods (4.57  0.029 provide better nutrition for pets than commercial pet foods. In 1 situation (I being able to communicate effectively on these topics. responses for statements about variety and quality of uted to pet species rather than feeding practice.04 1. Analysis of results of the study reported here sug- cantly (P < 0. dog owners who did owners who fed commercial pet food as ≥ 75% of primarily fed commercial foods were significantly (P < their pets’ diet.9%) of cat and dog owners.23). respectively.78  0.03) differed significantly or home-prepared foods. 11. Further. and can be strongly biased toward a specific feeding compared with responses of cat owners.14  0.05) or noncommercial (1. 2008 . For dogs.Table 5—Mean ± SD scores* for pet owners about statements reflecting attitudes toward raw and home-prepared diets.92 ± 0.06 3. To succeed in persuading a pet owner to adhere of cat owners and dog owners were analyzed separate.05 0.32  0. An interaction between feeding practice and spe.001) higher. and the pet food industry than contain all the nutrition my pet needs). as has been reported elsewhere.04 2. there were no significant (P = 0. Both dog owners and cat owners who fed primarily formation regarding how the pet is currently fed and commercial foods were more likely to disagree with this develop an understanding of the rationale for those statement.80  0. owners who fed (P = 0. found much more frequently between commercial and When responses to the statements from cat owners noncommercial feeders. compared with the mean val. significant may have for feeding a noncommercial diet is the en- differences were found for 8 of 26 statements.04) was signifi.001 3. compared with the mean value for owners noncommercial foods as ≥ 50% of their pets’ diet had who fed noncommercial foods (4. veterinary health- cant.01 ± 0. do not trust veterinarians to provide sound nutritional Frequently.003 Raw meat provides better 3.001 3.04 2. Responses fed alternatives to conventional pet foods.23 ± 0.57 ± 0. Pet owners were more divergent when respondents were categorized were queried in this survey regarding how they obtained on the basis of feeding practice than when categorized information about pet nutrition. They were also more positive in their at- 0.91  0. whether Recognition of how perceptions about proper diet they be a recommendation to switch to a commercial and feeding management of companion animals can pet food or to a properly balanced home-prepared diet. cited dog owners reflected greater mistrust of commercial pet the Internet and other media as their primary sources of foods and food processing than did responses of cat own. In general. I enjoy preparing foods for my pet. there were significant differences between com.64 ± 0. ity of information from such sources is quite variable es to statements regarding raw and home-prepared diets.05 0. However.79  0.68  0. food processing.001 3. Although there 0. No.79  0.4 The qual- ers.001 3.10).10  0.53  0. differences between cat owners who were commercial clear-cut differences in responses to the survey were (2. Foods sold for human consumption 3. Correcting misperceptions or directing own- ers to reliable sources of information regarding com- Discussion panion animal nutrition can help to allay concerns and aid in negotiating any dietary modifications.13 titudes toward raw and home-prepared diets in contrast ± 0.75 ± 0. gested that there is an association between concerns of ue for owners who fed their cats noncommercial foods pet owners about commercial pet foods and the prac- (3. Vol 233.04 0. and for only 1 statement (I want to provide my pet with the having this perspective could potentially influence the best care possible) could the difference clearly be attrib. One possible reason an owner were compared with those from dog owners. information. The responses of 105 (16.62  0. and 71 (15. Feeding practice† Species of pet Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value‡ (n = 449) (n = 621) P value‡ Raw bones can safely be fed 3. However.13  0.12  0.03 2. es- there were significant differences in responses based on pecially when a dietary history reveals that the pets are feeding practice as well as type of pet owned.05  0. the mean value for owners who tice of feeding substantial amounts of noncommercial fed commercial foods (4.

229:531–534. version 9. JAVMA. Conn: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006. (commercial feeders). dogs. feeding their pets. In this survey. The study was conducted as 50% of the diet. NC. The influence of diet and other factors on owner- fered both by feeding practice and species of pet owned. it could be speculated that some of Owners representing 469 cats and 635 dogs com- the noncommercial feeders were more likely to be feed. J Am nutrition and access to reliable sources of information to Vet Med Assoc 2008. compared States and 1 in Australia). commercial feeders (< 3%) were exclusively feeding and it was designed as part of a larger survey conducted home-prepared foods. with pet owners about these matters and directing them to 6. Kirk CA. No. Communicating effectively proportions of dogs and cats that receive therapeutic diets or dietary supplements. SAS Institute Inc. prepared diets. the difference between cat and dog owners was driven by 2. Cary. a telephone survey during which cat and dog owners ers often had significantly different attitudes toward were contacted in 5 geographic areas (4 in the United feeding management of companion animals.6 However. 2001–2002 APPMA national pet owners survey. The the greater percentage of dog owners who were noncom. et al. Lund EM. Analysis of the results of this survey suggests that 2002. 1999. and pet foods. 11. Robertson ID. there is an association between pet owners’ concerns 3. Attitudes of owners who fed their ing commercial pet foods that were marketed as alter. The association of exercise. the students who conducted the interviews identi. Clinical Summary edgeably on such subjects underscores the importance of nutrition education in the veterinary curriculum and The objective of the study reported here was to in- after graduation. Pet feeding practices dogs. Veterinary health-care professionals need the ca- ple. food processing. pleted the survey. Western Australia. including concerns among dogs and cats in the United States and Australia and about commercial pet foods. Another limitation of the study was that the number of cat owners in the References noncommercial feeder category was small. mercial feeders. pability and confidence to address issues of pet owners fied themselves as veterinary medical students from their related to proper diet and feeding management of com- respective institutions. Vol 233. Fascetti AJ. compared with attitudes of owners who ment characteristics of the study sample resembled those fed their pets ≥ 75% of the diet as commercial pet foods of patients at primary care veterinary clinics. especially when a dietary history reveals that it is conceivable that some owners may have provided the pets are fed alternatives to conventional pet foods. Laflamme DP. Prev Vet Med 1999. organic. Abood SK. different responses to an interviewer who was not affili. substantial amounts of home-prepared foods to cats and 4. pets ≥ 50% of the diet as home-prepared foods (non- natives to mainstream products (eg.1. Data were pooled. Health status and factual and unbiased sources of information are of particu.58:75–83.have the capability and confidence to converse knowl. It is possible that in situations in which responses to a statement dif. Veterinary health-care professionals need training in of dog and cat owners in the United States and Australia.214:1336–1341. Fascetti AJ. however. a. mercial pet foods. These data suggest that there there may have been factors related to the likelihood of is an association between pet owners’ concerns about an owner agreeing to participate in the survey that could commercial pet foods and the practice of feeding sub- have introduced bias with regard to attitudes toward the stantial amounts of home-prepared foods to cats and feeding management of companion animals. 2008 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition 1703 . commercial foods commercial feeders) reflected greater mistrust of com- marketed as natural. J Am Vet Med Assoc are being fed alternatives to conventional pet foods. Because others in this category to obtain information about feeding habits for pets and fed commercial pet foods for a variable portion of up to pet-owner interactions. population characteristics of dogs and cats examined at private lar importance when a dietary history reveals that the pets veterinary practices in the United States.232:687–694. including concerns about commercial some owners more or less willing to participate. Abood SK. mals and feeding practices held by cat and dog owners. Prev Vet Med 2003. Robertson ID. or holistic). we did not collect information about commercial feeders on the basis of their practices for the specific brands of pet foods being used by the re. Greenwich. owners were categorized as commercial feeders or non- ers. vestigate attitudes regarding diets for companion ani- Only a small subset of owners classified as non.40:75–85. spondents. perceived obesity in privately owned cats from metropolitan Perth. Freeman LM. This information may have made panion animals. ated with the veterinary profession. For exam. Armstrong PJ. and pet with attitudes for owners who were commercial feed. diet and other fac- about commercial pet foods and the practice of feeding tors with owner-perceived obesity in privately owned dogs from metropolitan Perth. WA. it is curious that noncommercial feed. American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc. and the pet food The pets represented in this survey appeared to be industry and were more positive toward raw and home- typical of the general pet population because the signal. December 1. 1. et al. Disease prevalence management of companion animals. SAS.4. be able to address issues related to proper diets and feeding 5. et al.