“There is pressure on the pet food industry to go ahead and do research on pet foods. But sadly, despite 140 million pets in the U.S. today, in the many years of the pet food industry, we do not have tons of good studies,” said Donna Raditic, DVM, CVA, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist with Nutrition and Integrative Medicine Consultants. “And I can tell you that many veterinarians are not aware of that, they think there’s a vast amount of research on pet food. And I know pet parents also think that there’s tons and tons of research.”
As part of a pre-recorded presentation on categorization of pet foods, particularly fresh and other diets, for the on-demand version of Petfood Forum 2021, Raditic was referring to research on different types of diets. But really, her comments could extend to pet food in general.
Many people in the industry (including yours truly) have lamented that pet food suffers from a dearth of widespread, scientifically based research in a number of areas. That contributed to the industry being caught off guard by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) investigation into canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and a potential link to grain-free pet food; the studies simply didn’t exist to show one way or the other whether ingredients in such foods were safe.
That suspected link has been mostly debunked since the launch of the investigation in 2018—partly due to industry researchers looking into cases of DCM, both the ones in the investigation and over the years, to show that the condition is a very complex, multi-factorial one with multiple causes, as FDA finally admitted in September 2020 after being confronted with that scientific background.
A start at addressing the issue: Pet Food Industry Needs survey
In terms of pet food nutrition and other research, it’s true that the largest pet food companies do extensive studies, some of which they publish in peer-reviewed journals to share with the industry, veterinarians and other interested parties. But much of their research is proprietary, understandably kept in house for the companies’ own product development and competitive advantages, and may not be shared for years, if ever.
The only other continual source of pet food research is through academic programs, if they can obtain funding from companies in the industry or occasionally available (often private) grants. Thankfully, though, there are low-cost ways to try and improve the pet food research situation, at least to ascertain the areas of most need.
Case in point: Lonnie Hobbs, an agricultural economics Ph.D. candidate at Kansas State University, has focused his research on pet food—first with a study comparing consumer perceptions with pet food brand marketing, and now with a new study attempting to ascertain the industry’s research needs, via a survey.
“The information obtained in the Pet Food Industry Needs survey will help to identify the most important and relevant research areas for addressing challenges faced by pet food industry decision makers,” Hobbs wrote. “This survey is part of my Ph.D. dissertation research study designed to identify and generate research insights needed to inform decisions in the pet food industry.”
The survey seeks to determine research needs in areas such as raw materials, production and marketing and distribution. The more input Hobbs receives from the industry, the better informed his analysis and needs assessment will be.